Obesity is a growing concern all over the world.
It has far-reaching effects on one’s health and billions of dollars are spent on obesity-related disorders all over the world.
In the US alone, over 300,000 premature deaths are caused due to obesity.
Obesity is a condition which is defined by the presence of excess body fat. Though obesity and being overweight are used as interchangeable terms, excess weight need not be from excessive fat, but can also be due to muscle, bone or body water content.
What is Cacao?
Cacao is said to be a ‘superfood’ since it is rich in many nutrients, offers various health benefits and has very few side effects.
Both cacao beans and cacao nibs have been used for several centuries in the countries of their origin – South and Central America.
The Spanish conquerors introduced the cacao bean to Europe and in later centuries, it was combined with milk and sugar to make chocolate as we know it.
These days, the main cacao growing countries are Indonesia, Philippines, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Venezuela, Ecuador, Brazil, Mexico, Togo, Papua New Guinea and some Caribbean islands.
There are three types of cacao beans and they are categorized based on their flavor and hardiness.
Forastero is the bulk bean and produces 90% of the world’s chocolate. Criollo has a fruity flavor and is used to make 10% of chocolate.
Trinitario is a hybrid combination of the first two varieties.
Nutrients in Cacao
Raw cacao and unsweetened dark chocolate offer us many health benefits. Cacao contains flavonoid antioxidants that can protect us from free radicals and promote heart health.
Cacao beans contain about 50% fat that comes from oleic acid, stearic acid and palmitic acid. They do not raise blood cholesterol levels as long as we consume the low-fat variety.
The carbohydrates found in cacao are mostly soluble dietary fibers that keep us feeling full for longer.
Other nutrients found in cacao are stimulants like caffeine and theobromine, serotonin, phenylethylamine, essential vitamins like A, B2, B3, B1, E, C and pantothenic acid, essential minerals like calcium, magnesium, manganese, copper, zinc, sulfur and potassium.
Benefits of Cacao for Weight Loss
Cacao can help in weight loss because Cacao beans help in controlling high-fat induced obesity and reduce oxidative stress. They are also known to prevent the occurrence of high blood sugar. Cacao can also help cope problems arising due to obesity, for example, heart problems and hypertension.
It is difficult to think of chocolate as a weight loss food since it is full of sugars, milk and starches. However, the raw cacao bean and its by-products – raw cacao nibs and raw cacao powder can help promote weight loss.
1. Cacao beans help in controlling high-fat induced obesity.
High fat intake is known to lead to obesity.
There are several factors which promote this. High-fat foods are known to have a very low effect on satiety, that is, they do not curb hunger.
This leads to overeating, thus promoting obesity.
Also, most of the fats which are consumed, tend to be stored for use when the body energy levels are low.
In such conditions, the stored fats are oxidised to provide energy. In obese patients, this doesn't happen. The fats tend to get accumulated and worsen the condition.
A study conducted in 2005 tried to analyse the effects of Cacao Beans on patients who are suffering from high-fat induced obesity.
The study showed that consumption of Cacao beans along with a high-fat diet prevented weight gain due to the diet.
The anti-obesity activity of Cacao works on a genetic level. In very simple terms, it turns off the genes which are responsible for the synthesis of Fatty Acids.
Hence, these fats do not get accumulated in the system and prevent weight gain.
Use of Cacao beans in combination with foods that promote fatty acid oxidation can be a very good preventive measure against high-fat induced obesity.
What does this mean? Consumption of raw cocoa will prevent weight gain and obesity induced by a high-fat diet.
2. Cacao beans reduce oxidative stress
Oxidative stress is caused by the build of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) like superoxide anions in the body.
It is associated with cellular apoptosis and inflammation.
Under normal conditions, the body produces certain Antioxidant compounds which have the ability to scavenge these free radicals and neutralize them.
It has been found that in obesity, a certain hormone called Leptin is produced, which promotes the production of ROS and causes oxidative stress. Obese patients also show impaired antioxidant production.
Also, consumption of a high-fat diet is a contributor. This leads to the build-up of toxic free radicals in the body and inflammation.
Cacao beans are known for their high polyphenol content. In fact, the bitter taste of cacao arises due to these polyphenols.
The polyphenols in the beans are categorized into three major categories, catechins, anthocyanidins, and proanthocyanins.
Due to the presence of such high phenolic content, Cacao beans have excellent antioxidant property.
Extracts of Cacao were found to be able to inhibit the production of superoxide, thus further supplementing its antioxidant activity.
What does this mean? Consumption of Cacao beans prevents the oxidative stress which accompanies obesity.
3. Cacao beans prevent High Blood Sugar
It has been found that obesity is linked to Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 Diabetes is caused by Insulin Resistance.
In patients suffering from obesity, the cells of the body tend to become even less sensitive to insulin.
Also, more amount of fat cells than muscle cells in obese patients further reduces insulin sensitivity.
This leads to high blood sugar, which aggravates the condition of obesity.
A study was conducted in 2007 examined the effects of Cacao extract on patients with type 2 diabetes and obesity.
The results showed that Cacao extract was able to reduce the blood glucose levels. Diabetes in obese patients is induced by the accumulation of fats.
These fats tend to increase oxidative stress in these patients, thus contributing to insulin resistance.
Cacao Beans can alleviate the state of high blood glucose in patients with obesity due to its high polyphenolic content.
What does this mean? Consumption of cocoa from Cacao Beans by obese patients can control the incidence of Type 2 Diabetes.
4. Cacao beans help in controlling Obesity-Related Hypertension
Obesity can be one of the several causes for the development of Hypertension. Patients who suffer from obesity tend to have greater cardiac output and a glomerular filtration rate.
Along with this, the kidneys of obese patients tend to retain more sodium. This is what leads to hypertension in obese patients.
Obesity causes deposition of fat around the kidneys. Hyperfiltration by the kidneys during obesity causes an increase in the arterial pressure and hence, hypertension.
A study was conducted in 2009 to study the effects of Cacao Beans on patients with obesity-related Hypertension.
The study revealed that Cacao has potent antihypertensive effects.
They are rich in a wide variety of polyphenols. The antihypertensive comes from the activity of these polyphenols. Epicatechin is a flavonoid.
It has been found that epicatechin is responsible for reducing the arterial pressure and thus it reduces the occurrence of Hypertension in patients with obesity.
What does this mean? Patients with obesity can prevent the incidence of Hypertension by consuming Cacao Beans.
5. Cacao Beans prevent Obesity-induced Cardiovascular Diseases
Obesity causes excess fat deposits in the body. The relationship between this and the occurrence of Cardiovascular Disorders (CVD) is not very well established.
It can occur due to the indirect means of diabetes, hypertension, etc.
Obesity might cause changes in cardiac hemodynamic, or increased rate of blood circulation.
The metabolic demands of the fat deposits are higher and hence the heart pumps blood at a higher rate than usual, leading to CVDs.
It has been reported that consumption of Cacao beans can prevent the occurrence of CVDs in obese patients.
This activity is associated with the presence of Flavonoids and other polyphenols in these beans.
Cacao beans have the ability to reduce the levels of Angiotensin-converting Enzyme. This prevents an increase in blood pressure. Apart from flavonoids, the epicatechin in Cacao beans also has this activity.
Consumption of Cacao also has shown an improvement in the coronary function. The polyphenols in the beans have the ability to curb weight gain and hypertension, thus contributing to the prevention of CVDs.
What does this mean? Consumption of Cacao beans allows the prevention of CVDs in patients suffering from obesity.
Dosage of Cacao
Cacao beans can be included in the form of chocolate or ground in the form of cocoa powder.
The recommended dosage is usually 6.3g of dark chocolate a day.
Cacao bean consumption is generally regarded to be safe. But it must not be consumed in excess.
This is mainly due to the presence of Caffeine in it.
Excess caffeine can be harmful and hence the consumption of Cacao beans must be regulated and should not exceed the recommended amount.