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Nutrition Column

Milk Diminishes Chocolate’s Health Benefits

Many medical and scientific professionals are in agreement - chocolate, a favorite treat for many, not only tastes good but has nutritional value. Cocoa powder contains –epicatechin, a flavonoid known to improve blood flow, and therefore reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. In a previous post, Dr. Sternlicht defined the cardiovascular protection and antioxidant activity of chocolate, however studies have also shown that milk can interfere with these health benefits. In a study published in Nature, the total antioxidant capacity of dark chocolate alone was compared to that of dark chocolate consumed along with milk or combined in milk chocolate. In phase one of the experiment, the antioxidant activity content of each item was measured and the results indicated that in order to receive the same amount of antioxidants found in dark chocolate we must consume twice as much milk chocolate. In the next phase, they investigated the antioxidant capacity of the different types of chocolate inside the human body. Twelve healthy volunteers ate 100 grams of dark chocolate alone, dark chocolate in combination with ¾ cup of full fat milk, or 200 grams of milk chocolate, which actually contains about ¼ cup of milk. One hour after consuming the chocolate, the total antioxidant activity of their plasma samples was measured. The results indicated a significant increase in antioxidant levels when dark chocolate was consumed alone and no significant change in plasma values when milk was consumed along with dark chocolate or when combined in milk chocolate. The authors suggested the decrease in antioxidant capacity caused by milk could be due to an interaction between the proteins found in milk with the valuable flavonoids in the dark chocolate. These interactions decrease the bioavailability of the flavonoids and make it difficult for the body to absorb. The findings emphasize the importance of considering all components of your diet when trying to maximize the benefits gained from certain delicious foods like chocolate. The study also emphasizes the unique benefit gained from dark chocolate and not from milk chocolate. Until further information is gathered, soy or rice milk might be a better substitute to go along with your dark chocolate snacks.

Written by Jodie Sasaki with Eric Sternlicht, Ph.D. Occidental College, Los Angeles.