HACKETTSTOWN, NJ (March 20, 2008) V Daily consumption of chocolate bars made with a patented combination of plant sterols and cocoa flavanols may affect cardiovascular risk by lowering elevated cholesterol levels and improving blood pressure, according to a new study published in the Journal of Nutrition.
A study conducted in collaboration with researchers from the University of Illinois and Mars, Incorporated found that, as part of a balanced, low-fat diet, the daily consumption of CocoaVia® dark chocolate bars with added plant sterols (natural plant extracts) significantly lowered total cholesterol by 2 percent and LDL cholesterol (or "bad" cholesterol) by 5.3 percent in individuals with elevated cholesterol. In contrast, when the same study participants consumed dark chocolate bars without added plant sterols, neither total nor LDL cholesterol level was significantly affected, supporting that the consumption of plant sterols was responsible for the cholesterol reductions. Interestingly, the regular consumption of these flavanol-rich chocolate bars was also shown to result in a significant reduction in systolic blood pressure, reducing systolic blood pressure by 5 percent after 8 weeks. Of importance is that these improvements in cholesterol and blood pressure were observed without any adverse affects on HDL ('good' cholesterol), triglycerides, or body weight.
The study authors suggest that specially formulated foods, like the chocolate bars used in this research, could have potential to help support cardiovascular health as part of a healthy diet. This is important, since, according to the American Heart Association, nearly half of all Americans are living with high cholesterol levels and one third are afflicted with high blood pressure, putting them at risk for serious cardiovascular disease.
"We know that Americans are increasingly looking for foods to help them maintain their health," said study co-author Catherine Kwik-Uribe, PhD, research scientist for Mars, Incorporated, creators of the CocoaVia® line of heart-healthy snacks. "Our study supports the possibility that chocolate products specially formulated to contain both plant sterols and cocoa flavanols can, in the context of a balanced diet, be a practical and enjoyable dietary strategy to help support healthy cholesterol levels and a healthy blood pressure"
In this double-blind, placebo controlled, cross-over study, researchers studied 49 men and women with elevated cholesterol. Following the adoption of an American Heart Association Step I diet, the study participants ate the flavanol-rich dark chocolate bars formulated with or without added plant sterols daily for four weeks. After this time, the products that study participants were consuming were switched and the study protocol followed for an additional four weeks. All the chocolate bars contained approximately 180 mg of cocoa flavanols and were matched in calories, nutrients, and the amount of theobromine and caffeine, natural compounds in cocoa that can affect blood pressure. The only difference in the products was the addition of plant sterols. The plant sterol containing chocolate bars (CocoaVia®) contained 1.1 grams of plant sterols. Researchers recorded blood cholesterol levels, blood pressure, body weight, and other cardiovascular measures throughout the eight-week study.
Plant sterols, natural compounds found in certain vegetable oils, cereals, fruits and vegetables, have previously been shown to be safe and effective in lowering cholesterol levels, and this study adds to that body of research. A 2006 study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association produced similar results with the daily consumption of CocoaVia® snack bars for six weeks. Sixty-seven men and women with elevated cholesterol consumed either the CocoaVia® snack bar or a snack bar without plant sterols. Those consuming the bar with added plant sterols had significant reductions in total and LDL cholesterol, while participants consuming snack bars without plant sterols showed no significant reduction at the end of the study.
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