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Can Cocoa Actually Be Good for Your Heart?

Antioxidant rich cocoa powder may boost artery and heart health according to a study published in the September 2009 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The antioxidants in cocoa, called flavonoids, have been shown to lower inflammatory markers and reduce the risk of heart disease in a number of studies but findings have been somewhat controversial.

Researchers from the University of Barcelona in Spain sought to find the mechanisms behind these potential benefits in order to quell some of the controversy.

For their clinical trial, researchers recruited 42 people at high risk for coronary heart disease with an average age of 70.

The participants were considered high risk for coronary heart disease (CHD), since they were diabetic, smokers, hypertensive, obese, and/or had raised LDL or low HDL cholesterol levels, as well as a family history of early coronary heart disease.

They were randomly assigned to receive either skim milk or skim milk with 40 grams of cocoa powder daily for four weeks. After the four weeks the participants were switched over to the other group.

The researchers found that after the cocoa supplementation the participants had significantly lower levels of a number of inflammatory biomarkers.

These findings show that the perceived heart health benefits of chocolate may be due to the anti-inflammatory properties of cocoa.

Many chocolate manufacturers are now creating chocolate with a high cocoa content (over 70%) because of the increasing amount of research backing the health benefits of cocoa.

Be careful, however, because it is easy to eat a little too much chocolate. Due to the high saturated fat content of chocolate, eating more than 1 serving daily (20g) can easily cancel out any of the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.

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