Category Archives: Cocoa

Need a really good excuse to eat more chocolate? Read this.

Cocoa-flavanols-can-protect-cardiovascular-health (1) really loves it when scientific research comes up with great reasons why we should all eat more of our favorite foods. If you’re a chocolate lover, you’ll want to read about the new research that links cocoa flavanols with improved cardiovascular function. It will provide even more great reasons for you to continue your love affair with chocolate!

Two recently published studies in the journals Age and the British Journal of Nutrition (BJN)demonstrate that consuming cocoa flavanols improves cardiovascular function and lessens the burden on the heart that comes with the aging and stiffening of arteries. The studies also provide novel data to indicate that intake of cocoa flavanols reduces the risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD).

As we age, our blood vessels become less flexible and less able to expand to let blood flow and circulate normally, and the risk of hypertension also increases. Arterial stiffness and blood vessel dysfunction are linked with cardiovascular disease — the number one cause of deaths worldwide. “With the world population getting older, the incidence of cardiovascular disease, heart attacks and stroke will only increase,” says Professor Malte Kelm, Professor of Cardiology, Pulmonary Diseases and Vascular Medicine at University Hospital Düsseldorf and Scientific Director of FLAVIOLA. “It is therefore pivotal that we understand the positive impact diet can have on cardiovascular disease risk. As part of this, we want to know what role flavanol-containing foods could play in maintaining the health of the heart and blood vessels.”

Cocoa flavanols are plant-derived bioactives from the cacao bean. Dietary intake of flavanols has been shown to have a beneficial effect on cardiovascular health but the compounds are often destroyed during normal food processing. Earlier studies have demonstrated that cocoa flavanol intake improves the elasticity of blood vessels and lowers blood pressure — but, for the most part, these investigations have focused on high-risk individuals like smokers and people that have already been diagnosed with conditions like hypertension and coronary heart disease. These two studies in Age and BJN are the first to look at the different effects dietary cocoa flavanols can have on the blood vessels of healthy, low-risk individuals with no signs or symptoms of cardiovascular disease.

In the study published in Age, two groups of 22 young (<35 years of age) and 20 older (50-80 years of age) healthy men consumed either a flavanol-containing drink, or a flavanol-free control drink, twice a day for two weeks. The researchers then measured the effect of flavanols on hallmarks of cardiovascular aging, such as arterial stiffness (as measured by pulse wave velocity), blood pressure and flow-mediated vasodilation (the extent to which blood vessels dilate in response to nitric oxide).

They found that vasodilation was significantly improved in both age groups that consumed flavanols over the course of the study (by 33% in the younger age group and 32% in the older age group over the control intervention). In the older age group, a statistically and clinically significant decrease in systolic blood pressure of 4 mmHg over control was also seen.

In the second study, published in BJN, the researchers extended their investigations to a larger group (100) of healthy middle-aged men and women (35-60 years) with low risk of CVD. The participants were randomly and blindly assigned into groups that consumed either a flavanol-containing drink or a flavanol-free control drink, twice a day for four weeks. The researchers also measured cholesterol levels in the study groups, in addition to vasodilation, arterial stiffness and blood pressure.

“We found that intake of flavanols significantly improves several of the hallmarks of cardiovascular health,” says Professor Kelm. In particular, the researchers found that consuming flavanols for four weeks significantly increased flow-mediated vasodilation by 21%. Increased flow-mediated vasodilation is a sign of improved endothelial function and has been shown by some studies to be associated with decreased risk of developing CVD. In addition, taking flavanols decreased blood pressure (systolic by 4.4 mmHg, diastolic by 3.9 mmHg), and improved the blood cholesterol profile by decreasing total cholesterol (by 0.2 mmol/L), decreasing LDL cholesterol (by 0.17 mmol/L), and increasing HDL cholesterol (by 0.1 mmol/L).

The researchers also calculated the Framingham Risk Score — a widely used model to estimate the 10-year cardiovascular risk of an individual — and found that flavanol intake reduced the risk of CVD. “Our results indicate that dietary flavanol intake reduces the 10-year risk of being diagnosed with CVD by 22% and the 10-year risk of suffering a heart attack by 31%,” says Professor Kelm.

The combined results of these studies demonstrate that flavanols are effective at mitigating age-related changes in blood vessels, and could thereby reduce the risk of CVD in healthy individuals. The application of 10-year Framingham Risk Scores should be interpreted with caution as the duration of the BJN study was weeks not years and the number of participants was around 100, not reaching the scale of the Framingham studies. That being said, Professor Kelm comments that “the reduction seen in risk scores suggests that flavanols may have primary preventive potential for CVD.” Other longer-term studies, such as the 5-year COcoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study (COSMOS) of 18,000 men and women, are now underway to investigate the health potential of flavanols on a much larger scale.

Cocoa flavanols found in chocolate make a difference in our health and well being. While moderation is certainly key to a balanced diet (and this research and other studies that point out the health benefits of chocolate don’t suggest we should binge on our favorite indulgence), it is certainly helpful to learn about the very real differences chocolate can make in our health.

Flavanols in cocoa may reverse age-related memory loss

cocoa-beans-big-SSWe honestly don’t know many people who don’t love chocolate. And we know that there are some important health benefits related to dark chocolate, especially — high levels of antioxidants, lowered blood pressure, and protection against sun damage to the skin, to name a few.

If you’re looking for yet another reason, a new study suggests that a natural compound found in cocoa, tea and some vegetables can reverse age-related memory loss.

The findings suggest that the compound increases connectivity and, subsequently, blood flow in a region of the brain critical to memory, the researchers said.

The study found that flavanols reverse mild memory loss in older adults. Using brain scans and memory tests, the latest study built on previous work showing that flavanols extracted from cocoa beans had improved neuronal connections in mice’s dentate gyrus, a part of the brain involved in memory formation.

But hold that chocolate bar. The researchers also warn that the compound found in cocoa exists only in minuscule amounts in the average chocolate bar compared with the amount used in the study, so gorging on chocolate in the name of health and improving one’s memory could backfire.

“It would make a lot of people happy, but it would also make them unhealthy,” Scott A. Small, a professor of neurology and director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at the Taub Institute at Columbia University Medical Center, said Friday.

Small said that even more important, the new study offers the first direct evidence that memory deteriorates with age because of changes in the dentate gyrus, a region of the hippocampus. Previous studies had shown a link between changes in this region of the brain and normal, age-related memory loss, but the Columbia University study asserts a causal link.

“It more firmly establishes that this is the anatomical source of age-related memory loss,” Small, the study’s senior author, said. He said the study also offered yet more evidence that diet and healthy lifestyles that increase blood flow to the brain can slow or reverse age-related cognitive decline.

The study involved 37 healthy subjects who ranged in age from 50 to 69. On a random basis, they were given either a high-flavanol diet, consuming 900 milligrams a day, or a low flavanol diet, consuming 10mg per day. Brain scans, which measure blood volume in the dentate gyrus, and memory tests were used to evaluate the effect of the diet. Small said the typical candy bar contains about 40mg of flavanols.

Researchers said that if a person had the memory of a typical 60-year-old at the beginning of the study, after three months, on average, that person’s memory would function more like a 30- or 40-year-old’s. The researchers also cautioned that more work is needed because of the study’s small sample size.

The compounds appear to enhance connectivity and metabolic activity in the dentate gyrus. Aging appears to reduce the synapses, or connections, between neurons in that part of the brain. That decline, however, is not related to severe memory loss and cell death in Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias, Small said.

While it doesn’t appear that we can reverse age-related memory loss with chocolate alone (moderation is key to enjoying its health benefits), wants to point out that green tea, apples, red grapes, red wine and pomegranates are all fine sources of flavanols. There are many ways to make sure we’re getting the benefits of flavanols through our diet. And for chocolate lovers, well — it’s certainly another great reason to indulge — in moderation, of course — in our favorite sweet treat!

Great news for chocolate lovers — your favorite sweet may help prevent obesity and diabetes

iStock_000013818677Small.jpgEvery chocolate lover carries just a little guilt over indulging in their favorite sweet. As more and more research is released revealing the health benefits of moderate chocolate consumption, that guilt dissipates a bit. But the newest research may prove to be the most surprising of all, unexpectedly linking chocolate to the possible prevention of both obesity and type 2 diabetes.

In a mouse study, led by Andrew P. Neilson of the Department of Food Science and Technology at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, researchers discovered that a certain antioxidant in cocoa – the main ingredient in chocolate – prevented mice from gaining weight and lowered their blood sugar levels.

This is not the only study to suggest that consuming chocolate can prevent such health conditions.

Earlier this year, a study claiming that chocolate, as well as wine and berries, protects against type 2 diabetes, while other research found that teens who eat lots of chocolate tend to be slimmer.

Such studies claim that the reason chocolate may have these health benefits is because of the flavanols it contains. These are types of antioxidants.

But the researchers of this most recent study say that not all flavanols are the same. In fact, cocoa has several different types.

In their study, published in the Journal of Agricultural Food and Chemistry, the investigators set out to determine exactly which flavanol may be responsible for preventing weight gain and lowering blood glucose levels.

For the research, the investigators assigned mice to one of six different diets for 12 weeks.

These consisted of high- and low-fat diets, and high-fat diets supplemented with either monomeric, oligomeric or polymeric procyandins (PCs) – types of flavanols. Mice were given 25 milligrams of these flavanols each day for every kilogram of their body weight (25 mg/kg).

The research team found that a high-fat diet supplemented with oligomeric PCs was the most effective for maintaining weight of the mice and improving glucose tolerance – a factor that could help prevent type 2 diabetes.

Commenting on the findings, the researchers say:

“Oligomeric PCs appear to possess the greatest antiobesity and antidiabetic bioactivities of the flavanols in cocoa, particularly at the low doses employed for the present study.  Additional studies of prolonged feeding of flavanol fractions in vivo are needed to further identify the fractions with the highest bioactivities and, therefore, the greatest potential for translation to human clinical applications at reasonable doses.”

The investigators point out that the doses of flavanols used in this study are significantly lower than doses used in past research and are more feasible when translated into flavanol levels for human consumption.

“Therefore, our data suggest that moderate doses of cocoa flavanols or cocoa powder have the potential to be more effective in human clinical trials than previously thought,” they add.

While understands that this study is by no means suggesting we all stock up on our favorite candy bars, it is exciting news for chocolate lovers everywhere. It’s also fascinating to understand that chocolate — which has for so long been thought of as an unnecessary source of calories — may actually help prevent the diseases with which it has been associated. Hearing good news about a food we love is always a welcome thing … especially when that food is such a sweet indulgence!

In case you’re looking for a reason to eat more chocolate, read on … was happy and surprised to read some new research that (loosely) links chocolate and increased brain power! We know how much some folks love chocolate and that it can often be a guilty pleasure. This information could alleviate some of the guilt.

Apparently, those countries that have the largest number of Nobel Prize winners are also the countries with the highest regular chocolate consumption per person. Seems pretty incredible, doesn’t it? Switzerland, for example, has one of the world’s largest numbers of Nobel laureates and it is also the country with the world’s highest chocolate consumption. This is actually from an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Swiss chocolate is very high quality, containing higher amounts of pure cocoa than other chocolates produced around the world. And, to really clarify the consumption part of the equation, Swiss people consume 120 three-ounce bars of chocolate each per year.

While the United States can happily claim our fair share of Nobel laureates, our population is much larger. The U.S. comes out in the middle of the list for these brainy prizewinners. And while we do consume quite a bit of chocolate, the products we consume are not as pure as those consumed in countries where chocolate is taken much more seriously. There are citizens of other countries who would not consider those products to be chocolates at all. For them, chocolate is an art form.

While the evidence can be considered a little farfetched, the data appears to be pretty solid. It seems that it is being attributed to the flavanols contained in cocoa. These are a subclass of flavanoids which are present in plant-based foods. Flavanoids have been linked to increased cognitive function. In fact, studies have shown that flavanoids are connected with reducing the risk of dementia.

Flavanols are thought to lower blood pressure and some animal studies have shown that they do improve cognitive ability.

The data examined showed that Switzerland is the top country for chocolate consumption and also ranks very high in its number of Nobel prizewinners. Sweden was another country cited for having had a very high number of Nobel laureates and plenty of chocolate lovers! thought that this information, although fun and a little frivolous, looks like it may hold some truth based on the flavanol component of cocoa. Not to mention, we thought our community might enjoy learning about another reason why it may be okay to become better friends with chocolate!

There’s more information to learn about here: