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Local businessman shares thoughts on tests claiming chocolate may be good for you

There’s good news for those who feel somewhat guilty about that leftover Valentine’s Day box of chocolates that continues to call out to you.
Health officials say the tasty treat that few can resist is not only the “bee’s knees,” but it’s good for you, too.
Ian MacDonald of England’s University of Nottingham last week reported on tests given to young women who were asked to do a complex task while their brains were being studied with magnetic resonance imaging.
Among the women given drinks of cocoa high in flavanols, an antioxidant found in cocoa beans that can increase blood flow to the brain, there was a significant increase in blood flow to the brain compared with subjects who did not drink the cocoa, he said.
The results of the study were shared last month at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
“From what I understand, and I’m not a scientist, there are numerous health benefits to eating chocolate, especially dark chocolate,” said Sam Phillips, president of Gardner’s Candies, Tyrone, during an interview with The Daily Herald. “It’s been known for some time that the flavanols in cocoa increase blood flow which in turn reduces the risk of things like heart attack. There have been studies conducted with people in France who eat a lot of fatty foods but drink red wine which has a lot of the same elements as chocolate. When flavanols are taken in, blood flow is increased and improved cardiovascular health is generally the result.
“Improved brain function is just another benefit and we’re obviously very pleased about the news.”
The results of the study raise the prospect of using flavanols in the treatment of dementia, marked by decreased blood flow in the brain, and in maintaining overall cardiovascular health, MacDonald said.
The next step, he added, is to move from healthy subjects to people who have “compromised” blood flow to the brain.
Norman Hollenberg of Harvard Medical School said he found similar health benefits in the Cuna Indian tribe in Panama. They drink cocoa exclusively.
Hollenberg, an expert in blood pressure, studied the Cuna because those who live on native islands do not have high blood pressure. He said he found that when tribe members move to cities, their blood pressure rises.
A major difference is the consumption of their own prepared cocoa, which is high in flavanols.
In native areas, that is all they drink; in cities they adopt the local diet.
“Moderation is the rule of thumb where eating chocolate is concerned,” Phillips said. “Chocolate is not a health food per se, due to the calories, but it’s good to know that, used in moderation, chocolate can provide some benefit.
“We’ve always known it tastes good, now we know it’s healthy. That’s great news.”
Mars Inc., the candy company that paid for some of the research reported Sunday, said that cocoa long has been studied for potential medical benefits. He noted that in addition to cocoa, flavanols occur in other foods such as fruits, tea and wine that have been associated with dilation of the arteries.
Mars last year announced plans to market a line of products under the name CocoaVia which is high in flavanols. Other major chocolate companies, including Hershey’s, have started promoting the flavanol content of their dark chocolates.
(The Associated Press contributed information to this report.)
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On the Net:
American Association for the Advancement of Science: http://www.aaas.org
Gardner’s Candies: http://www.gardnerscandies.com