Milk Chocolate in the diet, even when consumed on a daily bases over a long
period of time, does not raise blood cholesterol levels in healthy young men,
according to the Southwestern University Medical Center in Dallas.
"This finding is exciting because it confirms past studies that stearic acid, the predominant saturated fat in milk chocolate, is a unique saturated fatty acid," said Dr. Penny Kris-Etherton of The Pennsylvania State University (PSU), principle researcher of three studies on the subject. "We knew that stearic acid is different from other saturated fats, because it has a neutral effect on blood cholesterol levels. Now we've taken this research a step further and applied it to a popular food product, chocolate." Cocoa butter, a large component of chocolate, is rich in stearic acid.
Kris-Etherton's study on 15 young men at PSU is the first to examine the relationship between high levels of milk chocolate consumption and blood cholesterol levels. "All of the participants in the study ate diets very high in different forms of saturated fat," said Kris-Etherton. "Only those who consumed saturated fat in the form of milk chocolate did not see a significant increase in the blood cholesterol level."
In the PSU study, participants consumed varied combinations of saturated fatty acids, in higher quantities (20 percent of total calories) than they normally eat. Those whose saturated fats came from the stearic acid in milk chocolate were the only group to show a neutral effect on the blood cholesterol level.
"Not surprisingly, those students who consume butter alone as a source of saturated fat had an increase in their cholesterol levels," said Kris-Etherton. "But we were interested and pleased to see that consuming milk chocolate, which contains cocoa butter along with a small amount of milk fat, did not raise the blood cholesterol."
Other research supports Kris-Etherton's findings. According to Dr. Scott Grundy, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Texas, "We used to think that all kinds of saturated fat raised the cholesterol level, but now we know that there are several types of saturated fats, and they don't all act the same. Our research has shown that stearic acid simply doesn't increase the cholesterol level in blood the same way that other types of saturated fats do."
Nutritionists recommend that milk chocolate be eaten in moderation, but say that there is no reason that it cannot be included in a diet to control blood cholesterol. "There are no good foods and no bad foods, but rather there are good diets and bad diets," said Kris-Etherton. "When consumers pick up a milk chocolate bar and see on the nutrition label that it contains saturated fat, they need to remember that not all saturated fats are the same."