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More Chocolate, Less Cholesterol - Is It Science or Sales Hype?

Several years ago, chocolate lovers got some sweet news: eating certain kinds of chocolate might actually be good for you.

The good news extended only to certain types of dark chocolate, but it was delightful nonetheless.

Now there are some results from a recent study at the University of Illinois that's even better. It appears eating dark chocolate may actually lower your cholesterol level and blood pressure.

John Erdman, a University. of Illinois. professor of food science and human nutrition, says their research showed that eating two CocoaVia dark chocolate bars a day not only lowered cholesterol, it had the unexpected effect of also lowering systolic blood pressure too.

But before you dash down to the supermarket and start clearing the shelves, hold on a minute.

Who funded this research, anyway?

As it turns out, it was a candy company. A big candy company: Mars, Inc.

So does that mean the study might be flawed, or at least a little less credible?

Erdman says, definitely not.

"I know that it was a double-blinded trial that wasn't skewed toward a particular result," said Erdman, who also chairs the Mars Scientific Advisory Council.

Additionally, the results were peer-reviewed and published in the Journal of Nutrition, an unbiased, highly regarded scientific journal.

Test subjects ate CocoaVia bars as part of the study. Erdman believes the positive outcome was due to certain plant sterols that were added to the bars. He thinks the drop in blood pressure numbers occurred because of flavanols.

Forty-nine people were included in the study. They all had slightly elevated cholesterol and normal blood pressure when it began They were divided into two matched groups, then given two types of CocoaVia: one with plant sterols and one without.

Those who ate the bars with sterols showed two percent lower total cholesterol. Their LDL or "bad" cholesterol dropped by 5.3 percent.

The study lasted eight weeks, and tracked blood cholesterol levels, blood pressure, body weight, and other cardiovascular measures.

"After subjects starting the CocoaVia bars, we saw a marked differential effect on blood cholesterol, with the sterol-containing products doing better than those without sterols," said Ellen Evans, a U. of I. professor of kinesiology and community health. She co-authored the study.

According to Erdman, the Mars company has spent millions of dollars studying the impact of the flavanols found in cocoa beans, hoping to find ways retain their benefits during the refining process.

A CocoaVia bar contains 100 calories.

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