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|Research promising for chocolate lovers|
It's not exactly a guilt-free
pleasure, but food researchers say cocoa beans could be good for
Dolly Sullivan is a believer. She eats two or three
squares of Dove dark chocolate daily and talked her mother into
switching from coffee to cocoa.
"I'm a chocoholic. I can't
walk by a chocolate store," said Sullivan, 60, who lives in Warwick,
Rhode Island. "I've always enjoyed chocolate, but now I have a
reason to eat it."
The health potential is real. Cocoa beans
have natural compounds called flavanols, and a growing pile of
scientific research suggests they do good things to blood
Customers at Neuhaus, a Belgian chocolate shop in
Washington's Union Station, like thinking the dark stuff might be
healthy, said manager Clementine Loeman.
"That way, they
don't feel guilty," Loeman said, adding that chocolate was sometimes
considered medicinal when the company began as a pharmacy 148 years
Despite the enthusiasm, flavanols are missing from much
of the chocolate on store shelves today. Flavanols make chocolate
and cocoa taste bitter, and confectioners have spent years trying to
perfect ways to remove the pungent flavor.
in fact, isn't flavanol-rich," said Norm Hollenberg, a radiology
professor and flavanol expert at Harvard Medical School. "But all
chocolate is rich in fat and calories. Chocolate is a delight. It
can and should be part of a prudent diet. That means you limit what
Flavanols are found in other foods, such as red
wine, grapes, apples and green tea, although cocoa beans are a
particularly rich source.
Mars Inc. developed the technology
to visualize flavanols on a computer screen. Says Harold Schmitz,
the company's chief science officer: "Now we understand cocoa well
enough to start to do new things with it."
The company is
starting with CocoaVia granola bars, made with a special cocoa
powder that retains most of the flavanols. The bars also have plant
sterols, which have been shown to help lower cholesterol.
now, the 80-calorie, 23-gram snack bars are sold only on the
Internet. The bars have a satisfyingly rich chocolate flavor, along
with a slight but distinct bitter taste.
Mars says its Dove
dark chocolates -- a 1.3 ounce bar is 200 calories -- also contain
Researchers are excited by the potential of
flavanols to ward off vascular disease, which can cause heart
attacks, strokes, diabetes, dementia and hypertension. Vascular
diseases are linked to the artery's inability to make a simple but
fundamental chemical called nitric oxide. Flavanols appear to
reverse that problem.
"The pharmaceutical industry has spent
tens, probably hundreds of millions of dollars in search of a
chemical that would reverse that abnormality," Hollenberg said. "And
God gave us flavanol-rich cocoa, which does that. So the excitement