New study suggests that specially formulated foods may support cardiovascular health

March 26, 2008

HACKETTSTOWN, NJ (March 20, 2008) ¡V Daily consumption of chocolate bars made with a patented combination of plant sterols and cocoa flavanols may affect cardiovascular risk by lowering elevated cholesterol levels and improving blood pressure, according to a new study published in the Journal of Nutrition.

A study conducted in collaboration with researchers from the University of Illinois and Mars, Incorporated found that, as part of a balanced, low-fat diet, the daily consumption of CocoaVia® dark chocolate bars with added plant sterols (natural plant extracts) significantly lowered total cholesterol by 2 percent and LDL cholesterol (or "bad" cholesterol) by 5.3 percent in individuals with elevated cholesterol. In contrast, when the same study participants consumed dark chocolate bars without added plant sterols, neither total nor LDL cholesterol level was significantly affected, supporting that the consumption of plant sterols was responsible for the cholesterol reductions. Interestingly, the regular consumption of these flavanol-rich chocolate bars was also shown to result in a significant reduction in systolic blood pressure, reducing systolic blood pressure by 5 percent after 8 weeks. Of importance is that these improvements in cholesterol and blood pressure were observed without any adverse affects on HDL ('good' cholesterol), triglycerides, or body weight.

The study authors suggest that specially formulated foods, like the chocolate bars used in this research, could have potential to help support cardiovascular health as part of a healthy diet. This is important, since, according to the American Heart Association, nearly half of all Americans are living with high cholesterol levels and one third are afflicted with high blood pressure, putting them at risk for serious cardiovascular disease.

"We know that Americans are increasingly looking for foods to help them maintain their health," said study co-author Catherine Kwik-Uribe, PhD, research scientist for Mars, Incorporated, creators of the CocoaVia® line of heart-healthy snacks. "Our study supports the possibility that chocolate products specially formulated to contain both plant sterols and cocoa flavanols can, in the context of a balanced diet, be a practical and enjoyable dietary strategy to help support healthy cholesterol levels and a healthy blood pressure"

In this double-blind, placebo controlled, cross-over study, researchers studied 49 men and women with elevated cholesterol. Following the adoption of an American Heart Association Step I diet, the study participants ate the flavanol-rich dark chocolate bars formulated with or without added plant sterols daily for four weeks. After this time, the products that study participants were consuming were switched and the study protocol followed for an additional four weeks. All the chocolate bars contained approximately 180 mg of cocoa flavanols and were matched in calories, nutrients, and the amount of theobromine and caffeine, natural compounds in cocoa that can affect blood pressure. The only difference in the products was the addition of plant sterols. The plant sterol containing chocolate bars (CocoaVia®) contained 1.1 grams of plant sterols. Researchers recorded blood cholesterol levels, blood pressure, body weight, and other cardiovascular measures throughout the eight-week study.

Plant sterols, natural compounds found in certain vegetable oils, cereals, fruits and vegetables, have previously been shown to be safe and effective in lowering cholesterol levels, and this study adds to that body of research. A 2006 study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association produced similar results with the daily consumption of CocoaVia® snack bars for six weeks. Sixty-seven men and women with elevated cholesterol consumed either the CocoaVia® snack bar or a snack bar without plant sterols. Those consuming the bar with added plant sterols had significant reductions in total and LDL cholesterol, while participants consuming snack bars without plant sterols showed no significant reduction at the end of the study.
Cocoa Flavanols and the Science behind CocoaVia®

For more than 15 years, Mars, Incorporated has conducted and collaborated on most of the research undertaken in the field of cocoa flavanols, the naturally-occurring compounds found in the cocoa bean, and are continuously reporting new insights in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. Working with top research institutions around the world, Mars, Incorporated continues to stand as the industry leader in exploring the nutritional and medical potential of cocoa flavanols.

A number of studies suggest that the consumption of cocoa flavanols can have important effects on the body's network of blood vessels. This research not only suggests that cocoa flavanols may provide a dietary approach to maintaining cardiovascular function and health, but also suggests new possibilities in the areas of diabetes, stroke, and other vascular-related issues.

Mars' commitment to rigorous scientific research of cocoa and flavanols is evidenced by more than 100 peer-reviewed research publications and more than 80 patents and applications. Mars has also developed and patented the breakthrough process called Cocoapro® that helps retain more of the naturally occurring flavanols in cocoa. CocoaVia® products contain cocoa made using this patented Cocoapro„μ process.

A common misconception is that only dark chocolate with a higher percentage of cocoa offers these potential health benefits. However, through more than 15 years of research, Mars, Incorporated has found that it is the level of flavanols in the cocoa used in the chocolate, not the percent of cocoa, that truly matters. Mars, Incorporated has found a way to keep both milk and dark chocolate lovers happy by making CocoaVia® Milk and Dark Chocolate varieties that contain the same guaranteed level of 100 milligrams of cocoa flavanols per serving.

About CocoaVia®

Original CocoaVia® heart-healthy snacks, in their signature brown packaging, deliver a unique combination of cocoa flavanols, the potentially heart-healthy compounds that are found naturally in cocoa beans, and natural plant sterols proven to lower cholesterol. Each serving of CocoaVia® snacks contains at least 100 milligrams of cocoa flavanols. In addition to this special formulation, CocoaVia® brand snacks also offer less fat and fewer calories compared to many regular, larger-sized chocolate bars.

CocoaVia® Milk Chocolate Bars contain 110 calories, CocoaVia® Snack Bars contain 80 calories, and the Original CocoaVia® Chocolate Bars contain 90-100 calories per serving. Additionally, CocoaVia® brand snacks are fortified with calcium and a mix of heart-healthy nutrients, including folic acid, vitamins B-6, and B-12, as well as the antioxidant vitamins C and E.

Look for CocoaVia® products in both milk and dark chocolate varieties, as well as CocoaVia® Rich Chocolate Indulgence beverage in the premium chocolate or adult nutrition aisles in grocery, drug, convenience stores and mass merchandisers such as Kroger, Publix, CVS, Walgreens and Walmart. For more information on CocoaVia® or to find a store near you, visit

Source: Allen RA, Carson L, Kwik-Uribe C, Evans EM, Erdman JW. Daily consumption of a dark chocolate containing flavanols and added sterol esters affects cardiovascular risk factors in a normotensive population with elevated cholesterol. Journal of Nutrition. 2008; 138:725-731.

About Mars North America

Mars North America is the North American food, snack and pet care operations of Mars, Incorporated, one of the world's leading food manufacturers. With more than $7 billion in annual sales in the U.S., the combined food, snack and pet care segments are a symbol of excellence for quality brands. Headquartered in Mount Olive, New Jersey, Mars North America employs more than 9,000 associates in the United States, with 52 facilities in the US. The company owns some of the world's favorite brands, including M&M'S® Brand, SNICKERS® Brand, UNCLE BEN'S® Brand, PEDIGREE® Brand Food for Dogs, and WHISKAS® Brand Food for Cats.

Mars, Incorporated Commitment to Cocoa Science

Mars, Incorporated, headquartered in McLean, Virginia is a privately-held company with a strong commitment to science-based research. With more than 15 years of research into the health effects of cocoa flavanols, and decades of research invested into improving the cocoa plant and farming techniques, Mars, Incorporated has become the global leader in cocoa research. For more information, visit For more information about the Mars, Incorporated cocoa sustainability program, visit

Editors' Notes:

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