Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Cocoa cuts heart disease mortality

Eating or drinking cocoa products such as dark chocolate may help lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of death from any causes including heart disease in older men, according to a new Dutch study.

The study found that older men who ate the highest amount of cocoa were half as likely to die of cardiovascular disease as those who ate less or no cocoa.

Scientists believe the health benefits are largely attributed to flavanols, which have been linked to lower blood pressure and protect the endothelial cells lining the blood vessels from being damaged.

Consuming cocoa in a range of forms - in dark or milk chocolate, biscuits, spreads, mousses, and drinks appeared to cut the risk of death overall and could even help guard against some cancers. The researchers said the elderly men got two-thirds of their cocoa from chocolate confectionery.

In a study at the Agriculture Research Service, here in Beltsville, researchers evaluated the total amounts of flavanols and antioxidant capacity in cocoa and chocolate.

How about cocoa instead of a chocolate bar? A cup of hot cocoa may sound like a healthy drink filled with antioxidants, but almost all cocoa drink mixes contain cocoa treated with alkali (also called Dutch cocoa) to produce a darker, richer taste. This process significantly reduces flavonoid content.

Unless you find a chocolate mix made with untreated cocoa, start with plain cocoa (not Dutch) and add your own sweetener and milk to make a flavonoid-rich cup. The result is a low fat, healthy drink. You can try Hershey's. (Notice the Hershey's Special Dark is dutch processed, so avoid this one.)

If you like those chocolate bars, don't worry. Surprisingly, the fat content of chocolate is not a reason to avoid it. Chocolate contains cocoa butter, which is high in saturated fat, yet one-third of chocolate's fat comes from stearic acid. Although it's a saturated fat, stearic acid does not raise LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) as do most other saturated fats. Stearic acid is converted in the liver to oleic acid, a heart-healthy, monounsaturated fat.

Another one-third of chocolate's total fat comes from oleic acid itself. In a recent study, volunteers followed a diet with the majority of their fat calories coming from either chocolate or from butter. The volunteers who consumed chocolate fat did not show an increase in their cholesterol levels, but those who ate butterfat developed elevated LDL cholesterol levels.

I'm hungry. Gotta go.


At 8:22 PM, March 01, 2006, Anonymous Mike Marcus said...

Since this research was first published, we have been putting a teaspoon of Hershey's cocoa in our coffee. Taste's great and is good for you!


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