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Good News for Cocoa Lovers

A new study shows that drinking hot cocoa can reduce inflammation and increase good HDL cholesterol.

Here’s a study that should warm hands and hearts. Regular consumption of chocolate milk—including hot cocoa—may reduce the inflammation that contributes to heart disease.

A Spanish study of 42 men and women over the age of 55 showed that drinking skim milk mixed with cocoa twice a day for a month lowered the levels of certain markers in the blood—markers that, at higher levels, indicate inflammation and are linked to hardening of the arteries.

Senior author Ramon Estruch of Barcelona wrote that atherosclerosis, which is the thickening of artery walls, is considered a low-grade inflammatory disease that could benefit from the anti-inflammatory effects of flavonoid-rich chocolate. In the study, half the participants were given 40 grams (about three tablespoons) of cocoa a day to drink with nonfat milk. Half drank plain skim milk. Blood tests taken after four weeks found that the cocoa drinkers had higher levels of good HDL cholesterol and lower levels of the sticky molecules in the blood associated with atherosclerosis. The study was published in September in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The downside to the study, notes Mary Ann Johnson, a professor of foods and nutrition at the University of Georgia, was that the cocoa group gained a pound from the extra calories. She also notes that other foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts, also contain anti-inflammatory flavonoids. “No single food is the key to good health,” she says, “even though we’d certainly like it to be chocolate.”

Candy Sagon is a food and health writer in Washington, D.C.

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