Polyphenols play an important role in our health and well being as they are known to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, protect against unwanted pathogens, and reduce cancerous tumors. Polyphenols are everywhere, especially in cocoa, olive oil, apples, grapes, and cherries. Now, a new study by the European Society of Cardiology has found that dark chocolate enriched with extra virgin olive oil is linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, as extra virgin olive oil and cocoa are both high in polyphenols.
The team of researchers tested the differing effects of dark chocolate with extra virgin olive oil and the Italian Panaia red apple, which also has high levels of polyphenols.
“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,” said Dr. Rossella Di Stefano, a cardiologist at the University of Pisa, Italy and the lead author of the study.
Dr. Di Stefano observed the effects that polyphenol-rich foods had on individuals with cardiovascular risk factors, and whether polyphenols inhibited atherosclerosis progression. Atherosclerosis is the slow buildup of fatty deposits or plaque that, over time, clog arteries and can have fatal consequences.
The study followed 14 men and 12 women with cardiovascular risk factors. The participants were then were given 40 grams of dark chocolate for 28 days. The chocolate was enriched with either extra virgin olive oil or Panaira red apple and was given for 14 consecutive days each.
The participants were also subject to urine and blood tests before and after the study. The researchers found that after the study was completed, the dark chocolate with olive oil had a significant impact on cardiovascular health.
The researchers found increased EPC, or endothelial progenitor cells, which are important for vascular repair.
“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,” said Dr. Di Stefano.