WASHINGTON— Dark chocolate is known to help prevent heart disease, but eating too much of it may be not so good for your body weight. But never fear! Scientists are looking for a way to concentrate dark chocolate's helpful ingredients in supplemental pills.
Cocoa contains chemicals called flavanols that may help reduce the risk of strokes and heart attacks by lowering blood pressure and bad cholesterol levels and improving the body's use of insulin.
Washington chocolatier Steve Koumanelis said that is one reason dark chocolate is increasingly popular among his customers.
“A lot of people are gravitating towards dark chocolate because they just decide they love it, and they also have been reading all about the health benefits of dark chocolate,” said Koumanelis.
But those benefits have not been confirmed by studies involving large numbers of people. Also, during the manufacture of chocolate, many flavanoids are destroyed, while sugar and saturated fats are added to contribute to flavor.
Scientists now want to learn the benefits of flavanols in their unadulterated form. They plan a four-year study of 18,000 adults, who will take capsules of pure cocoa flavanols, in what is being called the largest test of its kind.
Jo-Ann Manson, of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, is the lead researcher.
“This capsule of cocoa flavanols will avoid having the calories and the sugar and the saturated fat found in chocolate,” said Manson.
The capsules also won't have any taste.
Participants, divided in two groups, will take two identical pills a day. One group’s pills will contain flavanols, while the others will get placebo pills.
“The amount of chocolate that it would take in order to have this amount of cocoa flavanols would be more than ten times the amount that people would ordinarily eat,” said Manson.
Whatever the outcome of the study, Koumanelis said he’s not worried about his business.
“People like the experience of actually biting into a piece of chocolate, whatever their favorites are,” he said.
The flavanol benefits test is still in the early stage, so scientists are not sure when the participants will be handed their first chocolate pills. In the meantime, they'll get their flavanols the old fashioned way!