University of California-Davis researchers tested the cholesterol levels of 67 men and women who had been diagnosed with high cholesterol, and then split them into two groups. The first group ate a CocoaVia bar -- which contains 1.5 grams of plant sterols -- twice a day, while the second group consumed an equivalent placebo. The CocoaVia group had reduced their total cholesterol by 4.7 percent and their LDL levels by an average of 6 percent after six weeks.
High LDL cholesterol levels increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, which is responsible for almost 50 percent of all deaths in Europe, and costs the EU roughly $202 billion every year.
“Heart health is a national public health priority and our study supports that offering consumers a great tasting, lower calorie chocolate snack product with plant sterols, like CocoaVia bars, can be a practical and enjoyable dietary strategy,” said Mars research scientist Dr. Catherine Kwik-Uribe.
Mars' parent company, Masterfoods U.S., uses a patented process called Cocoapro to extract naturally occurring antioxidant flavonols from cocoa beans, and has been conducting research such as this for more than 15 years. However, the company has come under fire from the FDA recently for the health claims made on its CocoaVia labels. The administration sent a warning letter to Masterfoods U.S. in June noting that it had concerns about the "healthy" marketing of a product so high in saturated fat, although the letter did not contend the chocolate's high antioxidant flavonol content.
"I think it's fantastic that the Mars company is seriously investigating the many health benefits of chocolate," explained Mike Adams, a frequent critic of junk food manufacturers and author of "How to Halt Diabetes in 25 Days." "Chocolate really does help lower cholesterol. I would only urge consumers to remember that most Mars products are made with refined sugars and other less-than-healthful ingredients.
"If people want the full health benefits from chocolate, without the negative health consequences of eating processed sugar products, they should eat raw cacao nibs or blend their own chocolate smoothies using a Vitamix," he said.