Fruits and vegetables exert their protective effects through plant polyphenols, which are found in cocoa, olive oil, and apples. Research has found that the Italian Panaia red apple has very high levels of polyphenols and antioxidants. So the study aimed to compare the effect of red apple and olive oil in preventing heart disease.
‘Olive oil-enriched chocolate was associated with significantly increased high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and decreased blood pressure in adults at risk of heart disease.’
This study tested the association between consumption of dark chocolate enriched with extra virgin olive oil or Panaia red apple in atherosclerosis progression.
Olive Oil Vs. Red Apple
Twenty six volunteers (14 men, 12 women) with at least three cardiovascular risk factors (smoking, dyslipidemia, hypertension, or family history of cardiovascular disease) were selected for the study. They were given 40 gms of dark chocolate for 28 days.
"A healthy diet is known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease," said lead author Dr Rossella Di Stefano, a cardiologist at the University of Pisa, Italy.
For 14 consecutive days it contained 10% extra virgin olive oil and for 14 consecutive days it contained 2.5% Panaia red apple. The two types of chocolate were given in random order.
Levels of carnitine and hippurate which indicate the progression of atherosclerosis and levels of lipid profile, blood pressure and circulating endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs) were assessed. EPCs are critical for vascular repair and maintenance of endothelial function.
Urine and blood samples were collected at baseline and after the intervention. Urine samples were analysed by proton nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy for endogenous metabolites. Circulating EPC levels were assessed by flow cytometry. Smoking status, body mass index, blood pressure, glycaemia and lipid profile were also monitored.
Olive Oil Stands Out To Be More Effective
The research team found that the chocolate enriched with olive oil :
- Increased EPC levels and decreased carnitine and hippurate levels compared to both baseline and after consumption of apple-enriched chocolate.
- Increased high-density lipoprotein ("good") cholesterol
- Decreased blood pressure compared to baseline
Dr Di Stefano said: "We found that small daily portions of dark chocolate with added natural polyphenols from extra virgin olive oil was associated with an improved cardiovascular risk profile. Our study suggests that extra virgin olive oil might be a good food additive to help preserve our 'repairing cells', the EPC."
Dark Chocolate And The Heart
- Dark chocolate may be a healthy snack option as it helps to prevent the development of atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation or heart flutter is the most common form of abnormal heart rhythm and a major cause of heart failure and stroke.
- Moderate consumption of chocolate and cocoa-containing foods may promote heart health due to their high content of flavanols, a polyphenolic compound with vasodilatory, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Dark chocolate contains higher flavonoid content than milk chocolate and thus yield greater cardiovascular benefits.
- A study found that dark chocolate may have a higher caloric content than milk chocolate, however, dark chocolate promotes greater satiety and lowers the desire to eat something sweet, resulting overall lower calorie intake.
- Rossella Di Stefano et al., Dark chocolate with olive oil associated with improved cardiovascular risk profile, ESC Congress 2017.