Chocolate manufacturer Mars has emphasised the benefits to heart-health associated with eating CocoaVia chocolate bars through a new study conducted by researchers at the University of California-Davis published this month.

CocoVia bars are enriched with cholesterol-lowering plant sterols and contain high levels of naturally-occurring cocoa flavanols, which research suggests may help promote healthy circulation. Each CocoaVia(R) snack bar contains 1.5 grams of plant sterol esters, a minimum of 100 milligrams of cocoa flavanols and 80 calories per serving, Mars said.

Investigating the effect that this unique combination of plant sterols and cocoa flavanols, the researchers studied 67 people with elevated cholesterol. The subjects were randomly divided into two groups. Over a period of six weeks, one group was given CocoVia snack bars to be eaten twice daily and the other was given a placebo product, identical in design but formulated without the plant sterols.

At the end of six weeks, total cholesterol levels had decreased, on average, by 4.7% and LDL levels, on average, had decreased by 6% in the group who regularly consumed the CocoaVia. No significant reduction was noted in either total or LDL cholesterol levels in the group that consumed the placebo.

"We're quite excited about the outcome of this study," said co-author Dr. Catherine Kwik-Uribe, research scientist for Mars. "Heart health is a national public health priority, and our study supports that offering consumers a great tasting, lower calorie chocolate snack product with plant sterols, like CocoaVia bars, can be a practical and enjoyable dietary strategy to help many Americans manage cholesterol levels as part of a balanced diet."

Mars holds more than 80 patents for technologies that are designed to make chocolates more heart healthy, including a patent for the Cocoapro process, used for CocoaVia and Dove products, that helps retain a high level of cocoa flavanols.