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Study shows chocolate can lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol

March 30, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
A recent Harvard study finds what many have wanted to hear for years, that cocoa offers significant health benefits due to its ability to lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol. So no surprise, chocolate manufacturers are eager to feature their chocolate as a health food.

We all love chocolate, but it's not exactly what we think of when we're visualizing healthy food. Let's indulge a little bit and see what's new with chocolate.

"If I went through all the halls, one would think that I could eat chocolate probably 67 times in the day and I'd be the healthiest person alive," said Ashley Koff, a registered dietitian.

At the annual Natural Product Expo in Anaheim, Koff and I sampled our way through countless exhibit halls looking for foods really worth sinking your teeth into. Many sell a good game, but slogans often surpass the science.

"You have to look at the ingredient label as well as the nutrition facts to understand what is going to be that quality product," said Koff.

In the case of chocolate, the extras were abundant.

"ACTICOA chocolate: that is a high flavanol chocolate. It has about three times the flavanol properties of the standard milk or dark," said Laura Bergan, marketing manager for the global chocolatier, Barry Callebaut USA LLC. "We have a dark chocolate that has probiotics. So bringing in something similar that you see in yogurt and other dairy drinks."

Barry Callebaut also created a chocolate with Stevia and Erthyritol to make candy very low in sugar yet imparting a sweet taste. Barry Callebaut is an ingredient supplier to companies you know, such as Hershey's.

Pure Organic bar offers a chocolate brownie energy bar, while Cocoawell offers chocolate in the way of cocoa nibs, raw cocoa powder to, ironically, a chocolate supplement (not sure most women would go for that one).

Justin's who makes Nut Butter singles has crossed over to dark chocolate vegan peanut butter cups. There are two to a pack but sharing is recommended.

Koff gave the candy a thumbs up, along with Sambazon's acai chocolate smoothie with 10 grams of whole food protein. There was also Dr. Sear's Cool Fuel, a chocolate milk with a boost of omega-3 fats.

They look fun but health experts remind us, whether it's chocolate or any other food, look for a balance of nutrients made with quality ingredients.

"You're going to get these claims which aren't consistent with the information that you've researched. So be smart about it," said public health expert Chris Noonan. "It's still a minefield out there to find the products that are really truly of value."

Justin's dark peanut butter cups are sold at Whole Foods for $1.79 a two-pack. Pure chocolate brownie organic bars are also out in stores.