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Did you stop drinking chocolate milk sometime around middle school? Well, researchers just gave grownups a reason to indulge in this childhood treat. It turns out that chocolate milk (relative to plain milk) is heart healthy.
Spanish researchers compared the effects of plain milk and chocolate milk in a randomized, controlled, cross-over, free-living study. The subjects included 24 healthy people and 20 people with moderately high cholesterol.
They monitored the subjects for weight, cholesterol, free radical-scavenging capacity, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, heart rate, and 12 other indicators of heart health.
Their results were published in the British Journal of Nutrition. After four weeks, those drinking chocolate milk increased their so-called good HDL cholesterol levels. At the same time they decreased their blood glucose levels. The chocolate milk drinkers also didn't gain any weight.
The researchers concluded that "regularly consuming a cocoa product with milk improves cardiovascular health by increasing HDL-C levels and inducing hypoglycaemic and anti-inflammatory effects in healthy and hypercholesterolaemic individuals without causing weight gain."
They attributed the chocolate milk's effect to the cocoa's polyphenols, especially flavanols. But they noted that chocolate also provides antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and other health benefits.
The results are consistent with many other studies attesting to the heart health benefits of chocolate. An earlier study found that eating as little as 2.11 grams of cocoa per day (just half an ounce each week) reduced the risk of cardiovascular mortality by 50% and reduced the risk of all-cause mortality by 47%.[i]
Based on that study it's been suggested that chocolate might just give the $29 billion dollar statin drug industry a run for its money. And of course, chocolate doesn't have the same devastating side effects as statins.
For example, studies show statins increase the risk of diabetes. In fact, statins raise diabetes risk by 48% in postmenopausal women.
In contrast, chocolate lowers diabetes risk. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating chocolate, or its active constituents (cocoa, flavan-3-ols), reduces insulin resistance by about 33%.[ii]
Many other studies support the effects of cocoa in improving cardiovascular health including its ability to reduce risk factors such as endothelial dysfunction, insulin resistance, low HDL levels, and oxidized LDL cholesterol.[iii] Dark chocolate also lowers blood pressure.
Look for chocolate that is organic, fair-trade, and as dark as possible with at least 70% cacao content.
And raw chocolate is even better. The more cacao is heated and processed, the more flavanols and other antioxidants are destroyed. Raw cacao has a very high concentration of antioxidants. It's available as beans, nibs or powder.
To read more about other health benefits associated with eating chocolate or cocoa-containing foods, visit the GreenMedInfo page dedicated to Chocolate Health Benefits.
[i] Brian Buijsse, Edith J M Feskens, Frans J Kok, Daan Kromhout, "Cocoa intake, blood pressure, and cardiovascular mortality: the Zutphen Elderly Study." Arch Intern Med. 2006 Feb 27 ;166(4):411-7.
[ii] Lee Hooper, Colin Kay, Asmaa Abdelhamid, Paul A Kroon, Jeffrey S Cohn, Eric B Rimm, Aedín Cassidy, "Effects of chocolate, cocoa, and flavan-3-ols on cardiovascular health: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials." Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Feb 1. Epub 2012 Feb 1.
[iii]Y Wan, J A Vinson, T D Etherton, J Proch, S A Lazarus, P M Kris-Etherton, "Effects of cocoa powder and dark chocolate on LDL oxidative susceptibility and prostaglandin concentrations in humans."Am J Clin Nutr. 2001 Nov;74(5):596-602.