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Unsweetened Cocoa Delivers Better Benefits Than Sugary Cocoa

Posted Dec 18 2008 8:11pm

I'm really excited to learn about a small study, which found that you can derive even more benefits from chocolate without having to down sugar at the same time.

You see, we keep hearing about all the benefits of dark chocolate or cacao, which contain a large amount of antioxidants or flavinoids -- perhaps even more so than green tea, red wine or blueberries -- but usually no one focuses on how adding sugar into the equation can offset any benefits you obtain.

But now Yale University researchers conducted a small study, which revealed that unsweetened cocoa improves blood vessels (helps with your heart function) better than sugary cocoa for overweight patients. (For those of you who understand medical lingo, it improved "endothelial function.")

The findings, which were reported at the American College of Cardiology meeting in New Orleans, according to, Valentine Yanchou Njike, of Yale University’s Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, and fellow researchers looked at 45 people for six weeks, and they found that giving 8 ounces (227 grams) of unsweetened cocoa worked better than 8 ounces of sweetened cocoa or 8 ounces of a placebo, after fasting 8 to 12 hours.

Now, as I often mention here, when you're looking at research study results, you always need to know the funding source. So, in this case, as's staff writer Crystal Phendit points out, it was Hershey's (as in the chocolate company), along with the CDC. That said, if the results are true, they are promising. (Couldn't a larger study be done without being funded by a chocolate company with a vested interest in the outcome?)

Anyhow, the 39 subjects who completed the study had the following results:

  • Unsweetened cocoa improved the function of blood vessels by 2.4%.
  • Sweetened cocoa improved blood vessel function by 1.5%.
  • The placebo decreased function by 0.8%.

Thanks to and, for alerting me to fascinating research.

By the way, make sure to turn here to listen to the video on with Robert S. Rosenson, M.D. of Northwestern University. (Yeah, my grad school.)

Well, I'm off to have some quinoa with a little bit of sprinkled cacao on it -- without sugar, of course.

FYI, MedPageToday is thorough. Staff writer Crystal PhendIt not only cites the funding sources upfront, but she explains that ""...the study was small and would need to be confirmed by larger studies assessing clinical outcomes before chocolate could be recommended for cardiovascular risk reduction.". In addition, it pointed out that the study was "published as an abstract and presented orally at a conference. These data and conclusions should be considered to be preliminary as they have not yet been reviewed and published in a peer-reviewed publication."

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