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Should I purchase this chocolate anti-inflammatory product, Xocai?
As a chocoholic, I was intrigued by a product called Xocai. Among its ingredients is unprocessed dark cocoa powder. It is supposed to be a great anti-inflammatory which I'm always looking for due to pain in my knee and wrist. I thought it would be best to ask your opinion re this "healthy chocolate" before I parted with my hard earned cash. Is unprocessed cocoa better than the cocoa powder found in grocery shelves?

Why Do You Crave Chocolate at That Time of the Month?
Chocolate cravings are an interesting phenomenon: over 45% of undergraduate women in the United States report having a regular craving for chocolate, and over 90% of women admit to craving chocolate at least once in their lives. Oddly enough, this phenomenon seems to be largely limited to adults in North American countries - other cultures do not seem to crave chocolate any more than they might crave anything else.

Desserts are good, chocolate is better!
The key to making dessert part of your healthy diet is that you should consider desserts as a special part of your life. They are not something that should be eaten every day. If you are using eatTHISdiet to lose weight, then dessert should be considered a serving that you substitute for another portion maybe once a week.


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Plant Sterols in Chocolate

I'm sure you've seen them at the supermarket: foods that have been enriched with plant sterols. These compounds have been shown to help improve cholesterol scores - so much so that the FDA has approved the use of a health claim about it on foods that contain plant sterols. The American Heart Association actually recommends that you include 2 grams of plant sterols per day as part of a healthy diet.

Flavonoids are another plant compound that have been shown to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. It's a happy coincidence that cocoa is rich in flavonoids (News Bite 4/10/07). Put flavonoids and sterols together, and what do you get? A chocolate bar enriched with plant sterols!

A small study that was partially funded by Mars, Incorporated (a candy manufacturer) involved 49 healthy men and women who had slightly elevated cholesterol scores (J Nutr 2008;138(4):725-731). They were randomly split into two groups in what is known as a crossover study: the subjects in one group consumed a chocolate bar containing plant sterols twice a day for four weeks, while those in the other group consumed the same number of chocolate bars that had not been enriched with plant sterols. After the initial four weeks the two groups switched from one type of chocolate bar to the other for an additional four weeks.

Their cholesterol profiles and blood pressure were tested at the beginning and end of each section of the study. At the end of the study, they found that simply eating the chocolate bar for eight total weeks helped to reduce the participants' systolic blood pressure by about 8%. The chocolate bars with plant sterols, however, also helped their total cholesterol levels by 3% and their LDL levels (the "bad" cholesterol) by 4%.

What this means for you

I think it's great that there are foods that have been enriched with heart-healthy ingredients. Certainly if it's something you're going to buy anyway, by all means you should look for the enriched variety. That said, there's no substitute for simply following a healthy diet that involves a lot of fresh, great-tasting food.

First posted: May 7, 2008