Olive Oil Enriched Dark Chocolate for Improved Heart Health
Dark chocolate combined with olive oil lowers the odds of developing cardiovascular disease, says a new Italian study.
“A healthy diet is known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease,” said lead author Dr. Rossella Di Stefano, a cardiologist at the University of Pisa, Italy.
“Fruits and vegetables exert their protective effects through plant polyphenols, which are found in cocoa, olive oil, and apples,” he said.
The study examined the link between consumption of dark chocolate enriched with either extra virgin olive oil or Panaia red apples, an ancient variety of apple grown in Europe, with the progression of atherosclerosis in healthy adults who had risk factors for heart disease.
“Research has found that the Italian Panaia red apple has very high levels of polyphenols and antioxidants,” said Di Stefano.
The randomized study included volunteers with at least three cardiovascular risk factors (smoking, high cholesterol, hypertension, or family history of cardiovascular disease) who received 40 grams — about an ounce and a half — of dark chocolate daily for 28 days.
For 14 consecutive days, the chocolate contained 10 percent extra virgin olive oil, and for 14 consecutive days it contained 2.5 percent Panaia red apple.
After 28 days, the researchers found that the chocolate enriched with olive oil was associated with significantly increased endothelial progenitor cells EPCs. EPCs are critical for vascular repair and maintenance of endothelial function.
Olive oil-enriched chocolate was also associated with significantly increased high-density lipoprotein (“good”) cholesterol and decreased blood pressure. There was a non-significant decrease in triglyceride levels with apple-enriched chocolate.
“We found that small daily portions of dark chocolate with added natural polyphenols from extra virgin olive oil was associated with an improved cardiovascular risk profile,” said Di Stefano. “Our study suggests that extra virgin olive oil might be a good food additive to help preserve our ‘repairing cells’, the EPC.”
Other studies have found that both dark chocolate and olive oil offer a multitude of health benefits. A recent Italian study found that chocolate enhanced working memory and other aspects of cognitive performance, especially in the elderly, and benefits were most pronounced in seniors with mild cognitive impairments.
Olive oil is often recognized as the best oil for health, and hundreds of studies have found that a Mediterranean diet, which is high in olive oil, results in healthier hearts, bones, and a longer life span.
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