Cocoa powder's surprising obesity-related benefits

Becky Oberg's picture

Cocoa powder may have some obesity-fighting benefits.

A Pennsylvania State University study divided mice into two groups, a low-fat diet group and a high-fat diet group for 18 weeks. After 8 weeks, the high-fat diet group was divided into two groups, a control group that remained on the high-fat diet and an experimental group which supplemented a high-fat diet with cocoa powder.

The study concluded that the mice who ate cocoa powder in addition to their high fat diet had reduced obesity-related inflammation, reduced insulin resistance, and reduced risk of fatty liver disease.

According to, insulin resistance occurs when the body is unable to properly use insulin to push glucose into cells. Signs include type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, heart disease, obesity and kidney damage.

Another Pennsylvania State University study reported "chronic inflammation represents a potential mechanistic link between obesity and its related pathologies: insulin resistance, dyslipidemia, and hypertension, which comprise the metabolic syndrome." This study, conducted in 2013, also noted "cocoa is rich in polyphenols, methylxanthines, and monounsaturated fatty acids."

According to Wikipedia, dyslipidemia occurs when there is an abnormal amount of lipids, or fats such as cholesterol, in the blood. In the United States, this is usually due to high LDL cholesterol.

"There is increasing evidence that moderate consumption of cocoa and cocoa-containing foods may have beneficial effects on the health including vasodilatory, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory effects," notes the 2013 study. "Polyphenols in cocoa, including monomeric flavanols, as well as polymeric proanthocyanidins, may play a role in these observed beneficial effects."

A study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture notes similar results as the two Pennsylvania State University studies.

"Short-term intake of cocoa and green tea flavanols does not appear to improve glucose metabolism," the USDA study concluded. "They do affect selected markers of one or more measures of oxidative stress, inflammation or hemostasis in obese adults at risk for insulin resistance." In other words, it influences anti-oxidant levels, inflammation and blood flow.

A Spanish study found that cocoa powder may also lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.

"These results suggest that the intake of cocoa polyphenols may modulate inflammatory mediators in patients at high risk of cardiovascular disease," the study reads. "These antiinflammatory effects may contribute to the overall benefits of cocoa consumption against atherosclerosis." In other words, cocoa powder may protect against hardening of the arteries.

A Japanese study found that cocoa may help prevent obesity.

"Ingested cocoa can prevent high-fat diet-induced obesity by modulating lipid metabolism, especially by decreasing fatty acid synthesis and transport systems, and enhancement of part of the thermogenesis mechanism in liver and white adipose tissue," the study concluded.

Image Source: Wikipedia