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Cocoa powder may benefit people with obesity, reduce risk of fatty liver disease

Cocoa powder is a good source of fibre, iron and antioxidants. © Shutterstock

However, the researchers do not recommend obese people to simply add five cups of hot cocoa to their daily routine without making any other changes in their diet. Read on to know how you can add cocoa powder in your diet to fight obesity and associated liver disease.

Written by Longjam Dineshwori |Updated : April 19, 2021 9:51 AM IST

Cocoa powder, a common food ingredient used in the production of chocolate, has been associated with reduced risk of cardio-metabolic diseases including stroke, coronary heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. A study recently published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry suggested that cocoa consumption may also have a positive effect on non-alcohol-related fatty liver disease, which is commonly associated with obesity. Penn State researchers added cocoa powder in the diet of mice with liver disease and found the severity of their condition reduced significantly. The results may have implications for people too, they said.

In the study, the researchers used a commercial cocoa product at a "physiologically achievable dose" -- equivalent to about 10 tablespoons of cocoa powder a day or about five cups of hot cocoa a day for people. They tested the protective effects of cocoa in high-fat-fed obese mice with non-alcohol-related fatty liver disease. The mice were treated with a diet supplemented with 80 mg cocoa powder per gram of food -- roughly a pinch per quarter teaspoon -- for eight weeks. According to the researchers, cocoa-treated mice gained weight at a 21 per cent lower rate and had smaller spleen weights -- indicating less inflammation -- than the high-fat-fed control mice. By the end of the study, cocoa-treated mice also had 28 per cent less fat in their livers, 56 per cent lower levels of oxidative stress and 75 per cent lower levels of DNA damage in the liver compared to the control mice.

Cocoa powder may prevent digestion of dietary fat

Although the researchers don't know exactly how cocoa imparts these health benefits, previous studies in Lambert's lab had found that some of the compounds in cocoa powder can inhibit the enzymes that are involved in digestion of dietary fat and carbohydrate. Lambert hypothesizes that these compounds in the cocoa powder may prevent the digestion of dietary fat, which then passes through digestive systems of the mice. He believes a similar process may occur in humans.

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However, Lambert doesn't recommend obese people to simply add five cups of hot cocoa to their daily routine without making any other changes in their diet. But he does advise people to consider substituting cocoa for other high-calorie snacks, along with a healthy overall diet and increased physical activity. For example, he said having a cup of cocoa after a workout may help get you off the couch and moving around. Cocoa powder is also a good source of fibre, iron and phytochemicals, including antioxidant polyphenols and methylxanthines, which are associated with positive health benefits.

Obesity and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

Obesity is associated with an increased risk of developing several chronic diseases including diabetes, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, gout, gallstones, colon cancer, sleep apnea and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, which is the most common liver disease in worldwide, refers to a wide spectrum of liver diseases ranging from simple accumulation of fat in the liver (also known as steatosis), to Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (liver inflammation), to cirrhosis (irreversible, advanced scarring of the liver). Insulin resistance, a condition resulting from obesity, is thought to be responsible for all of the stages of Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

Citing the high proportion of people with obesity and non-alcohol-related fatty liver disease, study leader Joshua Lambert, professor of food science in the College of Agricultural Sciences underscored the need to develop potentially effective dietary interventions rather than just preventive agents.

With inputs from agencies

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