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Chocolate is good for you – kind of”
You’re a choco-holic, me too.
As a card carrying member of the “I LOVE CHOCOLATE CLUB”, any time a group of scientists provides evidence that chocolate, has health benefits, I sit up and take notice.
Let’s be honest, most of the time, especially healthy foods, are not especially tasty foods.
Chocolate is the exception !
Okay, okay…………. chocolate itself may not be THAT healthful, it is the cocoa inside chocolate, that is the especially healthful thing.
And it is SERIOUSLY healthful.
In mice !
This is what a group of researchers from Pennsylvania State University discovered. And of course, anything that is healthful in mice, MUST be healthful in humans. Right ?
Snacking on cocoa
The team set about creating podgy mice – something that is not too difficult to do. Mice, just like people, will tuck in…..
In this study, the overindulging mice were sub-divided into two groups
- Group 1, enjoyed chocolate flavoured food, the team supplemented their daily rations with 80 mg/g of unsweetened cocoa powder
- Group 2, had to settle for “ordinary” food.
18 weeks later, the team assessed the impact of the cocoa snacking.
The mice were still fat
Unfortunately, overindulging ALWAYS has consequences……..
But, storing extra pounds is not necessarily a bad thing – a full cupboard can be most helpful, should food supplies become short. Something that used to happen quite frequently, in past times.
Having extra supplies on board, is NOT the health risk, per se.
The health problems happen, when along with the extra fuel, you suffer from insulin resistance.
It is this BAD BODY CHEMISTRY that creates trouble, with a capital T.
And, now for the cool part….
Cocoa snacks created BETTER BODY CHEMISTRY
The team found that the mice receiving the cocoa supplement, ate just as much as their companions, but they did have BETTER BODY CHEMISTRY.
The first sign things were better, was insulin levels were significantly lower in the cocoa snacking group. Along with lower insulin levels, the animals also had less fat floating through their veins, both fasting plasma triglyceride levels and fatty acid levels were lower.
These FAT mice, were not just, HEART ATTACKS waiting to happen.
The cocoa supplement was protecting them by…..
Adding more cupboards
When the team explored further, they found the fat cells were different in the two groups of mice. The cocoa munching mice, had more fat cells and the fat cells were not quite as full.
MORE FAT CELLS !
How can this be a good thing ?
Believe it or not, more fat cells is actually a good thing. In fact, this is one of the ways, the anti-diabetic drugs classed as glitazones work – they encourage the fat cells to actively divide. More fat cells, means there is more cupboard space. And this is good….
Because a FULL cupboard is stressful !
Think about it……….. if more fat arrives and the cupboard is full, what do you do with the stuff ?
Fat cells facing this dilemma, are freaked out………
Freaked out fat cells
Express their distress, by spitting out, all manner of chemicals……..
These chemicals, get the attention of the immune system – who rush in guns blazing and….
Create a fire in your belly.
It is this inflammation, that is responsible for the health troubles.
Cocoa snacks make fat cells happy
And happy fat cells, are LESS INSULIN RESISTANT.
The team verified, that fat cells inside animals supplementing with cocoa, were less freaked out, using two different techniques.
In the first set of tests, they used gene expression testing to determine to what extent the cell was producing specific ‘inflammatory” proteins. The four “inflammatory” genes they looked at, were
- tumor necrosis factor-?,
- inducible nitric oxide synthase, and
- EGF-like module-containing mucin-like hormone receptor-like 1
All four genes expression levels were down, between 40- 60 %, in the cocoa supplemented group.
In the second set of tests, they looked at the membrane composition of individual fat cells. This test, revealed the cells had approx. 33 % less arachidonic acid, suggesting the cells were a whole lot calmer.
I’ll have chocolate
Before you get too excited…….and order chocolate for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I do need to point out, the mice were not eating CHOCOLATE, they were eating unsweetened cocoa powder.
Cocoa powder is responsible for giving chocolate it’s flavour.
But, what makes it more-ish, is the chocolate flavour combined with sugar and fat. And…………sugar and fat, are calories. You need them, but too many calories are troubling.
So the take home message is not
EAT lots of CHOCOLATE, to avoid metabolic troubles.
The take home message is more………….
Add cocoa to your diet
You can drink it, add it to puddings and things.
You’re not going to ever be able to consume the amount these mice were eating as part of your “normal” diet. Remember they were getting 80 mg/g/day.
The researchers estimate in human terms, this would be a dose of 54 g/day.
That is A LOT OF COCOA…………………..and without the sugar, it is rather B-I-T-T-E-R.
Cocoa is definitely a condiment that will be healthful and can be tasteful too. So boil the kettle and sip on some hot chocolate today, be sure to serve it in an orange coloured mug ………………….. Your fat cells will appreciate it.
Formally designing a little ceremony around your chocolate eating, will make the chocolate taste a whole lot better and this will make chocolate better for you
The single serve package is just an innocent pleasure, but the bite size morsel causes a dopamine spike bringing very pleasurable feelings, so you have another.
Health gurus are always telling you to cut nice things out of your life, if you like sweet things, chocolate may be one way you can have your “cake” and eat it.
Interested in learning more about the chemistry behind those extra fat layers ?
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