Wine chemist discovers sweet news
Chocolate may be the despair of dieters, but it also contains a class of chemicals that might help lower the risk of heart disease, according to researchers at the University of California at Davis.
Wine chemist Andrew Waterhouse and his colleagues have long studied the possible health benefits of compounds called phenolics. These chemicals are abundant in red wine and are believed to help prevent so-called "bad" cholesterol from clogging coronary arteries with fatty substances known as plaque.
In a issue of the medical journal Lancet, the UC Davis group suggests that the phenolics in chocolate might be beneficial, despite the fact that the candy is high in fats, sugar and caffeine.
Although cholesterol is found in animal fats, it is also made by the body and is needed to help build cell walls as well as many hormones.
But before cholesterol can be transported through the bloodstream, it must be combined with fats and proteins into particles called lipoprotein. Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, are known as the "bad" cholesterol, and they are the artery-blockers. The "good" high density lipoprotein, or HDL, are believed to scavenge excess cholesterol from the bloodstream and carry it to the liver for excretion.
Phenolics, according to current thinking, are among several compounds in foods that prevent oxygen from combining with low-density lipoproteins a process called oxidation. This minimizes the ability of LDL to damage artery walls and contribute to the buildup of plaque.
In their laboratory experiments with extracts of cocoa powder, Waterhouse and his colleagues found that the phenols in cocoa strongly inhibited the oxidation of low-density lipoprotein taken from samples of human blood.
But whether the same phenols from various forms of chocolate would have the same effect in the human body remains unknown, Waterhouse said.
The researchers estimate that an ounce and a half of milk chocolate contains 205 milligrams of phenolics, while a cup of hot chocolate has 148 milligrams. By comparison a typical glass of red wine contains about 210 milligrams of phenolics, Waterhouse says.
"We certainly aren't suggesting that people start eating chocolate to prevent coronary heart disease," Waterhouse said. 'The results of this study simply indicate that if dietary phenolics do act as antioxidants in the body, then chocolate would he a good source of those antioxidants."