Dark Chocolate Combats Unhealthy Cholesterol


The news just keeps getting sweeter for chocolate lovers. A new review of 10 previous studies of chocolate consumption and cholesterol reports that the cocoa found in dark chocolate is linked to significant reductions in total and LDL (bad) cholesterol.

This is the second such meta-analysis to find a link between cocoa consumption and cholesterol improvements, notes Jeffrey B. Blumberg, PhD, director of Tufts HNRCA Antioxidants Research Laboratory. A similar review published in 2010 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition included eight trials totaling 215 participants; it found that cocoa consumption significantly LDL cholesterol, by an average of 5.87 mg/dL.

In the new meta-analysis, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Luc Djouss, MD, DSc, and colleagues from Brigham and Womens Hospital and Harvard Medical School combined studies totaling 320 participants. Half the trials tested more than 500 milligrams daily of the flavanols that seem to give cocoa its healthy effects and half less than 500 milligrams. Overall, consumption of dark chocolate was linked to average reductions of 6.23 mg/dL in total cholesterol and 5.9 mg/dL in LDL. There was no apparent effect on healthy HDL cholesterol or triglycerides. Eating dark chocolate seemed more beneficial than drinking cocoa-containing beverages.

Researchers noted that the cholesterol benefits were observed despite the saturated fat and calories contained in chocolate along with those healthy flavanols. The flavanols in dark chocolate, they added, are thought to inhibit cholesterol absorption as well as the bodys receptors for LDL cholesterol.

It may also be that the saturated fat in chocolate is different from that implicated in boosting unhealthy cholesterol. Stearic acid makes up 33% of the total fat in cocoa butter and more than half the saturated fat. Says Blumberg, Some lipid experts (and chocolate manufacturers) note that stearic acid is a neutral saturated fat as it does not appear to increase LDL.

The new meta-analysis, Blumberg adds, confirms earlier reports that dark chocolate/cocoa does not induce untoward lipid profiles and can even lower slightly LDL and total cholesterol as determined in randomized clinical trials. But note well that all these trials were essentially short-term in duration and some used quite high doses.

Do these meta-analyses mean chocoholics can indulge without guilt? Blumberg says, The findings suggest that this indulgent treat can reasonably be included in a heart-healthy diet-in small amounts that do not increase body weight.

TO LEARN MORE: European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, August 2011; abstract at dx.doi.org/10.1038/ejcn.2011.64. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, July 2010; abstract at www.ajcn.org/content/92/1/218.abstract.


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