Guest Author - Deborah Markus
A friend of mine was telling me the other day that her father is having trouble with his cholesterol levels. Though he is otherwise fit, with a healthy lifestyle, he needs to take medication to address the problem.
"I wish you could give him some good news on the chocolate front," she said jokingly. "That would really cheer him up."
I seemed to remember that there was good chocolate news when it came to managing cholesterol, and promised my friend I'd do the research.
It turns out that several studies confirm the idea that cocoa powder and dark chocolate can have a beneficial effect on LDL, or "bad," cholesterol.
Science Daily summarizes a Penn State-led study in which ten men and thirteen women participated. The researchers compared the results of consuming a diet rich in flavonoids (plant-based antioxidants) with a diet sadly lacking in them. Specifically, the diet high in flavonoids contained, among other things, daily doses of cocoa powder and dark chocolate.
This study concluded that such intakes of chocolate products could be helpful in both reducing LDL cholesterol and raising levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol.
Another study, undertaken in Finland, tested the effects of white and dark chocolate on cholesterol levels. White chocolate had an undesirable effect, dark chocolate a good one, and dark chocolate enriched with cocoa polyphenols (antioxidants) was best of all.
The most recent study, reported by WebMD, studied twenty-five Japanese men. The subjects were in good general health, with either normal or only mildly high cholesterol levels.
One group of men was given a sweet cocoa beverage to drink every day for twelve weeks. The other had a similarly sweet beverage without any cocoa in it.
The researchers really went all the way with the cocoa they gave the participants. They actually made it from scratch -- from cacao beans that they processed all the way down to cocoa powder in their own lab. The antioxidant levels in the resulting cocoa were then tested. Apparently the researchers wanted to make sure that they hadn't processed out a lot of the antioxidants.
Again, cocoa came through. The group that consumed it had a 24% increase in HDL levels (compared to a 5% increase in the control group).
All of the researchers in all of the studies stressed that their results did not give carte blanche to chocolate lovers. As always, a balanced diet is important. Drinking a cup of cocoa each morning doesn't mean that you can eat whatever you want the rest of the day. Loading your plate with lots of vegetables at least two meals out of three is probably the biggest single favor you can do for your health.
But if you're going to have a treat -- well, so far dark chocolate keeps getting the nod from researchers all over the world.
Unfortunately, if you're a milk chocolate lover, the news isn't so good. Either resign yourself to the fact that your favorite treat is only good for your morale and make sure that the rest of your diet is extra healthy, or try to make the switch to a dark with a good high cocoa content.