Obesity is a growing concern all over the world. It has far-reaching effects on one’s health and billions of dollars are spent on obesity related disorders all over the world.
In the US alone, over 300,000 premature deaths are caused due to obesity. There are various disorders that are caused due to obesity.
- Obese people suffer from high blood pressure since heart rate increases and blood flow to blood vessels reduces due to additional fat deposits. The workload on the heart increases.
- Diabetes (type 2) occurs mostly in overweight people. Insulin resistance and elevated blood sugar is caused in obese people that lead to diabetes.
- Atherosclerosis is present more in obese people. This hardening of arteries can cause coronary heart disease as a result of fatty deposits being built-up in the arteries, narrowed arteries, blood clots and reduced blood flow to the heart. This increases the risk of strokes, angina and heart attacks in obese people.
- The hips and joints of obese people are overloaded and this leads to arthritis and joint problems.
- Overweight women are more at risk of uterine, breast, gallbladder and colon cancer. Overweight men can contract prostate or colon cancer.
- Sleep apnea and other respiratory problems can affect overweight people since the added weight puts pressure on the chest wall and lungs.
- Elevated blood sugar and cholesterol levels, glucose intolerance, clotting and other inflammatory conditions affect overweight people.
- Obese people can have psychological problems since society places great emphasis on physical attractiveness.
All these disorders demonstrate the need for weight loss programs and foods that can help with weight loss. Becoming calorie deficit is one way to enable weight loss.
It forces the body to use up stored fat for energy enabling weight loss. When we burn more calories than we eat, we are said to be ‘calorie deficit’. E.g. If we burn 2500 calories and consume only 2000 calories, the extra 500 calories is got from stored fat and this helps us lose weight over time.
Of course, for this, we need to keep a count of our daily calorie intake and try to ensure we eat less. A calorie deficit can be created in 2 ways – eat less and exercise more.
When we diet, we need to eat less of unhealthy foods and increase intake of healthy foods that can promote weight loss by keeping us full for longer periods, therefore reducing the urge to eat more often. The food we eat must also be nutrient rich to ensure we do not develop nutrition deficiency.
The other way is to exercise and burn up energy. Doing the required cardiovascular exercises and strength training can burn calories, increase muscle mass and metabolic rate.
Cacao is said to be a ‘superfood’ since it is rich in many nutrients, offers various health benefits and has very few side effects.
Both cacao beans and cacao nibs have been used for several centuries in the countries of their origin – South and Central America.
The Spanish conquerors introduced the cacao bean to Europe and in later centuries, it was combined with milk and sugar to make chocolate as we know it.
These days, the main cacao growing countries are Indonesia, Philippines, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Venezuela, Ecuador, Brazil, Mexico, Togo, Papua New Guinea and some Caribbean islands.
There are three types of cacao beans and they are categorized based on their flavor and hardiness. Forastero is the bulk bean and produces 90% of the world’s chocolate. Criollo has a fruity flavor and is used to make 10% of chocolate.
Trinitario is a hybrid combination of the first two varieties.
Nutrients in Cacao
Raw cacao and unsweetened dark chocolate offer us many health benefits. Cacao contains flavonoid antioxidants that can protect us from free radicals and promote heart health.
Cacao beans contain about 50% fat that comes from oleic acid, stearic acid and palmitic acid. They do not raise blood cholesterol levels as long as we consume the low-fat variety.
The carbohydrates found in cacao are mostly soluble dietary fibers that keep us feeling full for longer.
Other nutrients found in cacao are stimulants like caffeine and theobromine, serotonin, phenylethylamine, essential vitamins like A, B2, B3, B1, E, C and pantothenic acid, essential minerals like calcium, magnesium, manganese, copper, zinc, sulfur and potassium.
Benefits of Cacao for Weight Loss Programs
It is difficult to think of chocolate as a weight loss food since it is full of sugars, milk and starches. However, the raw cacao bean and its by-products – raw cacao nibs and raw cacao powder can help promote weight loss.
Pure cacao contains chemical compounds that can increase the serotonin levels. These help the brain feel that you are full and suppress hunger. Tryptophan, an amino acid and the action of MAO (monoamine oxidase enzyme) inhibitors help raise serotonin levels.
They act by reducing the ability of the body to break down serotonin. More of it remains in the body and this keeps us feeling full for longer. Apart from containing tryptophan and MAO inhibitors, cacao beans also contain antioxidants that improve our moods.
Depression is one cause for weight gain and feeling happy by consuming cacao means that our desire to overeat reduces.
Since we need to be conscious about the calories we consume, we must know the amount present in different forms of chocolate.
Cacao beans that are low-fat have only 60 calories. High-fat cacao has 90 calories and processed cacao made into chocolate contains 150 calories.
Those who wish to incorporate cacao for weight loss need to consume low-fat cacao products. In fact, cacao can be considered to have a negative calorie value since the body uses up less energy to oxidize it.
Raw cacao beans do not contain sugar and hydrogenated oils found in processed chocolate.
Eating the latter can cause weight gain and insulin spikes. Processed chocolate also lose beneficial nutrients during the heating process that is found in cacao beans.
Precautions with cacao
Cacao beans eaten in excess can cause some side effects. Those with chocolate allergies can react to active ingredients like polyphenols found in cacao.
The presence of caffeine in cocoa beans means that eating excess can trigger reactions in pregnant women, those with hypertension, diabetes and other diseases.
It can increase anxiety levels and heart beat, cause migraines, diarrhea, nausea, intestinal discomfort and other gastric problems.
Consuming around 50 grams of dark unsweetened chocolate or 40 raw cacao powder a day can provide various health benefits including promoting weight loss.