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White Chocolate or Dark, New Reasons to Consider

White chocolate or dark, new reasons to consider

When it comes to chocolate, most of the studies say we should stick to the dark side. But a new study suggests white chocolate may offer new reasons to consider this sweet treat.

What makes chocolate good for you?

Sure, chocolate tastes great, but what’s behind the reported great health benefits? The main good guys are called flavanols (also known as flavan-3-ols), not to be confused with flavonols, which have a different chemical structure.

Flavanols are a type of plant chemical called flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties and have been shown to benefit heart health by lowering blood pressure, enhancing blood flow, and improving the ability of the blood to clot. Flavanols can be found in foods other than chocolate, such as apples, red grapes, red wine, onions, and peanuts.

The interesting thing is that white chocolate contains little to no flavanols, yet a new study indicates that eating white chocolate provides health benefits. So what’s the story?

In the new study, which appears in the Journal of Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, scientists randomly gave 42 healthy volunteers one of the following types of chocolate: dark chocolate enriched with 907 milligrams of flavanols, dark chocolate with the standard amount of flavanols (392 mg), or white chocolate (0 mg flavanols). Here’s what they found:

  • Enriched chocolate significantly reduced (improved) platelet aggregation and ex vivo bleeding time in both men and women. These improvements are associated with better cardiovascular health.
  • Enriched chocolate increased fibrinogen binding in women. Fibrinogen is a protein that helps blood clot properly.
  • Enriched chocolate reduced expression of P-selectin in men. P-selectin is a protein that has a role in platelet aggregation and inflammation.
  • White chocolate significantly reduced P-selectin expression and increased ex vivo bleeding time in men, but these benefits were not seen in women.

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Because white chocolate does not contain flavanols, it appears some other component is responsible for the cardiovascular benefits. Future studies may uncover the reasons behind the cardiovascular benefits of dark and white chocolates.

Other chocolate studies
A University of Cambridge meta-analysis of more than 100,000 people found that individuals who ate the most chocolate had a significant reduction in stroke and cardiovascular disease when compared with people who ate the least amount. This was found to be true even though some of the participants had heart disease.

Specifically, results of five studies showed that high chocolate consumption—compared with low--was associated with a 37 percent reduction in cardiovascular disease and a 29 percent reduction in stroke. Several other studies have indicated that flavanols in cocoa can improve “good” cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein, HDL), including one that appeared in the Journal of Nutrition.

Bottom line
Dark and white chocolate appear to provide different health benefits, and their nutritional makeup differs as well. Dark chocolate contains half the sugar of white chocolate but several grams of protein compared with virtually none in white chocolate, although both sweets are equally high in artery-clogging saturated fat (about 14 grams per 60 gram serving).

Studies into the pros and cons of eating chocolate will likely continue. While they do, you can keep enjoying dark and even white chocolate, but in moderate amounts.

Baba S et al. Plasma LDL and HDL cholesterol and oxidized LDL concentrations are altered in normo- and hypercholesterolemic humans after intake of different levels of cocoa powder. Journal of Nutrition 2007; 137:1436-41
Ostertag LM et al. Flavan-3-ol-enriched dark chocolate and white chocolate improve acute measures of platelet function in a gender-specific way—a randomized-controlled human intervention trial. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research 2013. Doi:10.1002/mnfr.201200283

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