Can hot cocoa help you lose weight?

The impression is that hot cocoa is synonymous with high calorie and is a taboo food for all dieters.

But a preliminary study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN) showed that drinking unalkalized cocoa supplemented with epicatechuic acid (more than 1.6mg per kilogram of body weight) was effective. Eat less food [1].

So does that mean we finally have a reason to have a cup of hot cocoa without guilt?

About hot cocoa

Can you tell the difference between cocoa paste, cocoa liquid, cocoa butter, cocoa powder? 

Although these ingredients have the word “cocoa”, their nutritional contribution to the human body can be completely different. 

Cocoa beans gradually soften after grinding to form a thick, greasy pulp, which is known as “cocoa pulp”; after cooling and solidification, the cocoa pulp forms a “cocoa liquid block”. Cocoa paste and cocoa liquid blocks have a bitter taste, but also have a chocolate flavor and a certain mellow taste. 

As far as nutrients are concerned, cocoa butter is present in both cocoa pulp and cocoa liquid blocks, and contains all the polyphenolic components in cocoa. Cocoa liquid blocks are further processed to separate out about half the weight of the fat component to obtain cocoa butter, while the remaining residue continues to grind to form a powder called “cocoa powder”. 

Cocoa butter is a yellowish oily substance, almost 100% fat, chocolate became a synonym for high energy, in large part because of cocoa butter. Not only that, it has little to do with the health effects of chocolate, because most polyphenols are found in ingredients other than fat. Why add cocoa butter to chocolate when it’s so energy rich and doesn’t have any health benefits? Wouldn’t we be able to eat chocolate without the mental burden of getting rid of it? 

The truth is: if cocoa butter were removed, no one would want to eat chocolate again. Because chocolate that smooth delicate taste, fragrant attractive smell all rely on cocoa butter! Generally speaking, the higher the content of cocoa butter, the better the taste of chocolate, in other words, cocoa butter is mainly used to regulate the taste of chocolate. 

Since the nutritional value of cocoa butter is not high, then the health ingredients of cocoa powder must be very rich. Indeed, cocoa powder is not only the main source of brown-black chocolate, but also concentrated in the vast majority of cocoa beans polyphenols, potassium, magnesium and other bioactive substances directly related to health efficacy, so health care is the strongest. 

Medical studies have shown that unsweetened cocoa is helpful in controlling blood pressure, reducing blood clotting and reducing the risk of heart disease [2]. The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) has also identified the role of flavonoids in cocoa (one of the polyphenols) on vascular function in healthy adults by helping to maintain endothelium-dependent vasodilation and normal blood flow [3]. 

Therefore, if you simply want to pursue the health benefits of cocoa, cocoa powder products may be a better choice.

What is unalkalized cocoa?

Cocoa powder is divided into two kinds-natural cocoa powder and alkalized cocoa powder.

Natural cocoa powder is a kind of light brown cocoa powder which is produced without any additives during the processing of cocoa beans, while alkalized cocoa powder is used to neutralize the acidity of cocoa beans by adding edible alkali during the processing of cocoa beans. Under the action of baking soda, the color of cocoa powder is deepened, and the aroma is much stronger than that of natural cocoa powder.

If the general food manufacturers are the production of solid products are basically using natural cocoa; and the production of liquid milk, beverages and other liquid products on the use of alkaline cocoa.

In the world, chocolate is basically made from natural cocoa powder, while chocolate flavored milk tea is made from alkalized powder. The PH value of natural cocoa powder is between 5.0 and 5.8, and the PH value of alkalized cocoa powder is between 6.2 and 7.5 [4].

Active ingredients in cocoa

Cocoa is rich in polyphenols, flavonoids, and epicatechuic acid.

Polyphenolic compounds are a general term for a class of metabolites in plants. Their molecular structures contain several phenolic hydroxyl groups, including flavonoids, tannins, phenolic acids, anthocyanins and so on. It is found in common vegetable foods such as cocoa beans, tea, soybeans, red wine, vegetables and fruits.

The ingredient that gives chocolate its unique charm is polyphenols. It is a natural ingredient found in cocoa beans. Cocoa beans are particularly high in polyphenols compared to other foods [6]. Polyphenols are best known for their antioxidant effects.

Epicatechuic acid and procyanidins are phytochemical constituents of flavanols in cocoa flavonoids. Studies have shown that they are a major contributor to cocoa’s ability to help people control their weight [1].

How cocoa can control appetite

The latest study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition [1], in an experiment recently published in the authoritative Journal of Nutrition, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (American Clinical Nutrition, The researchers recruited 30 healthy, young adult male classmates as participants. Finally, 28 people were formally enrolled in the randomized placebo-controlled trial. The experiment was divided into two stages. 

In the first stage, there are four groups of drinks for the participants: 

  • Unalkalized cocoa blend (containing 0.6mg epicatechuic acid, 0.2mg catechol and 2.9mg procyanidins / kg body weight); 
  • Mixed Alkaline Cocoa drink (there is no active ingredient of the first group); 
  • Epicatechuic acid; 
  • Procyanidins. 

Participants were tested every other week, each time taking one of the above drinks.

After completing the first phase, the researchers selected 14 more participants for a new round of experiments. In this experiment, participants ate unalkalized cocoa or a placebo with higher epicatechin content (1.6mg/kg) to test the effect of high concentrations of epicatechin in cocoa on appetite.

The participants ate pizza randomly for 150 minutes after drinking cocoa (2.96mL / kg, each of the same size as a mug, according to their weight ratio), and were given an appetite test by how much pizza they ate. Compared to the placebo group, those who drank unalkalized cocoa with a high content of epicatechuic acid in the second phase reduced pizza intake by 18.7% (P0.04). However, people who drank unalkalized cocoa with low epicatechuic acid content (stage 1) had no effect on pizza consumption.

This experiment suggests that natural cocoa added with epicatechuic acid can reduce food intake. But it is important to note that this is only a small sample of the experiment, and only men. In addition, they recorded pizza intake in a crude way to estimate appetite, and did not measure hormone levels to provide more reliable information about satiety and hunger.

Therefore, the use of cocoa can only be said to have some potential to control appetite, but still need to be careful to verify.

Theoretically, how does cocoa control appetite? 

The studies described above show that only when the content of epicatechuic acid exceeds 1.6mg per kilogram is helpful in helping people control their appetite, suggesting that epicatechuic acid may be the main reason for cocoa to control appetite. 

But so far the biological mechanism of this effect is not clear. 

A human experiment by Massolt et al. showed that cocoa may affect intestinal hormone production. People who had smelled 85 percent of cocoa chocolate experienced a sharp increase in satiety, accompanied by a drop in plasma levels of peptide, a hunger hormone. As a result, people who had smelled 85 per cent of the cocoa compound were more likely to control their food intake [7].

Who is better for losing weight than cocoa or dark chocolate

The above study shows that cocoa is more effective in suppressing appetite. 

Assuming that 1.61 mg of epicatechuic acid per kg of body weight has a significant effect: 100 g of 70% cocoa unalkalized dark chocolate (containing sufficient essential catalysts) contains approximately 80 mg of epicatechuic acid; A 70-kilogram young adult man needs about 140 grams of such dark chocolate to consume 112 milligrams of epicatechuic acid, but that contains 840 calories. 

By comparison, 31.5 grams of unalkalized cocoa drinks added with epicatechuic acid ensured the same intake of epicatechuic acid, 112 milligrams, but only 98 calories, or about 12 percent of that of dark chocolate. 

Therefore, from the point of view of weight loss, cocoa may be a better choice, both to achieve the effect of appetite suppression, but also to reduce the intake of calories [1].

Note, however, that cocoa and epicatechuic acid in cocoa beverages available on the market are variable and contain a lot of sugar and creamy fat, which greatly increases the calorie content of cocoa beverages.

So, if you want to lose weight with cocoa, you still have to be able to stand the bitter taste of unsweetened cocoa.

Focus on

  • The nutrition of different cocoa products varies greatly. In general, cocoa butter has no health benefits, cocoa active ingredients in the cocoa powder is better enriched.
  • Cocoa is rich in polyphenols, especially epicatechuic acid, and there is evidence that its antioxidant activity is beneficial to cardiovascular health and may help control body weight.
  • New research suggests that cocoa, which is high in epicatechin, can control appetite, but it remains to be seen whether it can be used for dieting and weight loss in the long term.

This article quotes:

[1] James A Greenberg, Ryan O ‘donnell, Miriam Shurpin,et al. Epicatechin, procyanidins, cocoa and appetite: A critical trial. Am J ClinNutr 2016(09): 951-952.

[2] zhang yanhong, Chen ran. Healthy “qiao” eating [J]. Health and nutrition,2015(1-2): 110-113.

[3] EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA). Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of a health claim related to the cocoa flavanols and maintenance of normal endothelium – dependent vasodilation pursuant to Article 13(5) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006. EFSA Journal 2012,10(7):2809.

[5] xiao yuanyuan (compilation). Cocoa powder, flavanols (catechins and health)[J]. Chinese and foreign food, 2005(5): 50.

[7] Massolt ET, Haard PM, Rehfeld JF, Posthuma EF, van der Veer E, Schweitzer DH. Appetite suppression through smelling of dark chocolate correlates with changes in ghrelin in young women. The Regul Pept 2010; 161:81-6.

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