April 26/San Diego/San Diego State University -- There appears to be more good news for chocolate lovers based on recent findings by researchers at San Diego State University. Mounting evidence suggests that chocolate is a great source of substances known to have many important health benefits.

For instance, chocolate contains specific compounds called flavanols. Several extensive studies have demonstrated the powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of these substances, and have documented a significant statistical correlation between flavanol intake and risk for cardiovascular disease.

Additional studies in animals have suggested that flavanols may help reduce chronic inflammation, improve blood vessel health and circulating lipid levels. However, few controlled studies have been conducted to establish the direct effects of particular kinds of chocolate consumption on these health factors.

Researchers at San Diego State University, led by Mee Young Hong, PhD, have been testing their hypothesis that dark chocolate, in particular, may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering blood pressure, improving blood circulation, and blood lipid levels.

Hong’s team randomly assigned 31 men and women to eat about 1.7oz. of dark, white, or ”bloomed” (melted) dark chocolate every day for 15 days. Measurements of blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol were taken before and after the study.

The research team found that compared to those participants who ate white chocolate, those eating dark chocolate had lower blood sugar levels, improved LDL (bad cholesterol), and improved HDL (good cholesterol). 

“Eat dark chocolate, not white chocolate,” Hong explains.

The findings of the San Diego State University research team agree with that of other research, says Joe Vinson, PhD, a professor of chemistry at the University of Scranton and a researcher on antioxidants in foods. He reviewed their most recent findings.

“The fact that white chocolate (containing fat and sugar) makes the skin blood flow slow down is newsworthy,” Vinson told WebMD. The message to stay healthy, he says, is “don’t eat fat and sugar without antioxidants.”

While this research suggests consuming dark chocolate may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, researchers are quick to admonish that it must be eaten in moderation because it can increase one’s daily amounts of saturated fat and calories. That could counteract any of the supposed benefits of consuming chocolate in smaller amounts.

 From the April 26, 2012, Prepared Foods’ Daily News