April 8, 2014

Chocolate News: Obesity and Diabetes Fighter

Could eating chocolate prevent obesity and type 2 diabetes? An April 2 press release from the American Chemical Society describes a recent study at the Department of Food Science and Technology at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University that suggests it might.

We’ve heard in recent years that dark chocolate seems to possess special qualities that might boost cardiovascular health, improve thinking, lower blood pressure, and decrease appetite. Can we now add control of weight and blood glucose levels to the list of chocolate’s benefits?

Chocolate -- like grapes and tea – is rich in antioxidant flavanols. But cocoa, the active ingredient in chocolate, contains different types of flavanols. Which of various antioxidants in cocoa carry the most beneficial flavanols?

Another Rodent Study
To find out, Andrew P. Nielson and his Virginia colleagues fed groups of mice different diets, including high-fat and low-fat diets, and high-fat diets supplemented with three different kinds of flavanols: monomeric, oligomeric or polymeric procyandins (PCs). I'd need a PhD in chemisty to understand the differences.

In addition to their food, the mice received 25 milligrams of these flavanols each day for every kilogram of their body weight.

The researchers discovered that adding the oligomeric procyanidins to high-fat diets (yes, only high fat diets) worked best to keep the rodents’ weight down and improve their glucose tolerance – a result that could help prevent type 2 diabetes. 

The study --- published in the Journal of Agricultural Food and Chemistry – indicates that the doses of flavanols in this study were considerably lower than those that mice received in previous tests. Researchers consider that difference important, because corresponding levels of the flavanols would now be feasible to use in human studies – clearly the next step in this investigation.

The “French Paradox”
The positive effect of procyanidins on health isn’t new. In the early 1990s, scientists began talking about the French Paradox. How could the French – who consumed 50% MORE saturated fat than Americans (according to 2002 figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) – have LOWER rates of coronary heart disease (CHD) than Americans?

The British Heart Foundation reported in 1999 that American men 35-74 were 39% MORE likely to develop CHD than their saturated-fat-loving French counterparts. Since high levels of saturated fats are a proven risk factor for heart disease, the figures presented a paradox, indeed.

These reports – including a 60 Minutes piece in 1991 -- prompted a 44% increase in red wine sales in America within a year. Wine merchants began promoting their product as health food in a bottle.

The remarkable properties in red wine – with its high oxygen radical absorbancy capacity, like dark chocolate's – was put forth to explain the paradox. According to Wikipedia:
These studies provide data supporting the French Paradox that hypothesizes that intake of procyanidins and other flavonoids from regular consumption of red wines prevents occurrence of a higher disease rate (cardiovascular disease, diabetes in French citizens on high-fat diets (emphasis is mine).
Add Chocolate Companies to the Portfolio?
This new information about cocoa’s affect on weight and blood sugar will likely spark even greater sales and consumption of a product – dark chocolate – already increasing sharply in popularity from earlier reports of its cardiovascular benefits.

According to a story carried by Reuters in 2007, dark chocolate sales in America increased 49% (to $1.88 billion) between 2003 and 2006. Industry giant Mars launched its CocoaVia line of dark chocolate in 2006 sold “purely on a heart-healthy platform."

If these recent rodent tests can be replicated in humans to show similar antiobesity and antidiabetic properties, more and more Americans will likely become chocoholics.

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Many news outlets picked up the latest chocolate news. Here are just a few:

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