The study by Gu et al. published in the European Journal of Nutrition found that mice supplemented with cocoa had improved diabetes risk indicators including lower plasma insulin levels, reduced liver triglycerides and a drop in body weight gain compared to mice not fed cocoa.
Joshua Lambert, associate professor of food science at Penn State and an author of the study, said: "Most obesity researchers tend to steer clear of chocolate because it is high in fat, high in sugar and is usually considered an indulgence.”
"However, cocoa powder is low in fat and low in sugar. We looked at cocoa because it contains a lot of polyphenolic compounds, so it is analogous to things like green tea and wine, which researchers have been studying for some of their health benefits."
Method & findings
The researchers took blood and tissue samples from 126 male mice, which were either fed a low or high fat diet for 18 weeks. After eight weeks some mice in the high fat group had their diet supplemented with 8% cocoa powder – the human equivalent of 10 tablespoons of cocoa powder.
The unsweetened cocoa powder was provided by Blommer Chocolate. Analysis showed 4 kcal/g of the powder contained 4.6 mg of epicatechin and 2.2 mg of catechin.
Plasma insulin levels in mice eating cocoa was 27% lower compared to those not supplemented with cocoa. Liver triglyceride levels (a sign of fatty liver disease) were also 32% lower, while body weight gain was 15.8% less.
"What surprised me was the magnitude of the effect," said Lambert.
"There wasn't as big of an effect on the body weight as we expected, but I was surprised at the dramatic reduction of inflammation and fatty liver disease."
The paper called on future human intervention studies and research to identify the active chemical components in cocoa.
Other research on diabetes and chocolate
A recent study published in the Molecular Nutrition & Food Research journal said that epicatechin, a main flavanol in cocoa, abundant in dark chocolate, improved insulin levels, which could help people manage diabetes.
However, charity Diabetes UK doubted whether there were enough cocoa flavanols in chocolate to benefit diabetics and said the extra fat, sugar and calories from chocolate would far outweigh any potential benefit from flavonoids. See HERE.
Eur J Nutr
Dietary cocoa ameliorates obesity-related inflammation in high fat-fed mice
Authors: Yeyi Gu, Shan Yu, Joshua D. Lambert