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Cocoavia Health Facts : Fortified chocolate good for heart, but there's a catch

Chocolate is typically not part of a heart-healthy diet. But what if chocolate delivered substances that are good for the heart? Mars, the maker of M&M’s and other sweet treats, is rolling out CocoaVia, a line of chocolates laced with plant sterols and flavanols for what Mars calls “real chocolate pleasure, real heart health benefits.” But there’s a big catch, reports the Harvard Heart Letter.

Eating plant sterols can lower cholesterol, and flavanols may keep healthy arteries flexible. But you must eat two portions of CocoaVia every day to get the amounts necessary to do this. That means a daily dose of sterols and flavanols comes with an extra 200 calories and 36% of the daily recommended limit for saturated fat. If you don’t cut back 200 calories somewhere else — or walk an extra 45 minutes — that would translate into a 20- pound weight gain over the course of a year. That’s more than enough to counteract any benefits from sterols and flavanols.

The Harvard Heart Letter notes that there are easier ways to get plant sterols and flavanols. Since sterols must be taken every day in a fixed dose to reap their benefit, it makes sense to buy them in capsule form. Capsules don’t deliver extra calories or saturated fat. You can get flavanols from tea, apples, raspberries, red wine, and other foods, or from flavanol supplements.

The bottom line: CocoaVia may nudge the guilt out of eating chocolate, but it isn’t a health food, says the Harvard Heart Letter.

Also in this issue of the Harvard Heart Letter

  • Resources for CPR
  • Flavonol content of foods
  • Targets for LDL (bad) cholesterol
  • Streamlined CPR guidelines a life-saving move
  • High marks for below-average cholesterol
  • Take two candy bars and call me in the morning?
  • Heart Beat: Don't blame the bean
  • Heart Beat: On the links to recovery
  • Heart Beat: Heart heavy hospital bill
  • Ask the doctor: Low back pain keeps me from exercising. What else can I do to protect my heart?

More Harvard Health News »

About Harvard Health Publications

Harvard Health Publications publishes four monthly newsletters--Harvard Health Letter, Harvard Women's Health Watch, Harvard Men's Health Watch, and Harvard Heart Letter--as well as more than 50 special health reports and books drawing on the expertise of the 8,000 faculty physicians at Harvard Medical School and its world-famous affiliated hospitals.