Daily consumption of a dark chocolate containing flavanols and added sterol esters affects cardiovascular risk factors in a normotensive population with elevated cholesterol.
Previous studies with plant sterols (PS) and cocoa flavanols (CF) provide support for their dietary use in maintaining cardiovascular health. This double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over study evaluated the efficacy of daily consumption of a cocoa flavanol-containing dark chocolate bar with added PS on serum lipids, blood pressure, and other circulating cardiovascular health markers in a population with elevated serum cholesterol. We recruited 49 adults (32 women, 17 men) with serum total cholesterol concentrations of 5.20-7.28 mmol/L and blood pressure of < or = 159/99 mm Hg. Following a 2-wk lead-in utilizing the AHA style diet, participants were randomized into 2 groups and instructed to consume 2 cocoa flavanol-containing dark chocolate bars per day with (1.1 g sterol esters per bar) or without PS. Each 419-kJ bar was nutrient-matched and contained approximately 180 mg CF. Participants consumed 1 bar 2 times per day for 4 wk then switched to the other bar for an additional 4 wk. Serum lipids and other cardiovascular markers were measured at baseline and after 4 and 8 wk. Blood pressure was measured every 2 wk. Regular consumption of the PS-containing chocolate bar resulted in reductions of 2.0 and 5.3% in serum total and LDL cholesterol (P < 0.05), respectively. Consumption of CF also reduced systolic blood pressure at 8 wk (-5.8 mm Hg; P < 0.05). Results indicate that regular consumption of chocolate bars containing PS and CF as part of a low-fat diet may support cardiovascular health by lowering cholesterol and improving blood pressure.