Evidence for cocoa's artery and brain benefits continues to mount.
Credit belongs to the rare, flavanol-type “antioxidant” polyphenol compounds that abound in raw cocoa and in green or white tea.
Why do we put “antioxidant” in quotes?
Polyphenols – a family whose best-known members are called flavonoids – constitute the majority of beneficial compounds in plant foods (aside from other phytochemicals, as well as fibers, vitamins, and minerals).
Although they exert strong antioxidant effects in test tube experiments, they don't do that in the human body.
Instead, the tiny amounts of dietary polyphenols that end up in human blood strongly stimulate the body's antioxidant and anti-inflammatory processes, via “nutrigenomic” influences on our genes.
The key flavanols in cocoa and tea – called catechins – boost blood flow and artery function, and high intakes are linked to better heart, gut, mood, and brain health.
|Vital Choice Chocolate meets the EU standard
Thanks to gentle processing and non-Dutched cocoa, our Organic 80% Extra Dark Chocolate
offers high levels of epicatechin … the heart- and brain-healthy flavanol in cocoa and green tea.
Brunswick Laboratories – a frequent collaborator with the USDA Human Nutrition center at Tufts University – tested our chocolate bars.
Their results showed that its epicatechin levels – 57.7mg epicatechin per gram – rival the high levels found in natural, non-Dutched cocoa powder.
Therefore, you can the 200mg of daily cocoa flavanols the EU deemed good for artery health from just one-sixteenth of a 2 oz Vital Choice chocolate bar.
Our Extra Dark Chocolate is also very high in total polyphenols, the broad category that includes flavanols. Vital Choice Organic 80% Extra Dark Chocolate also abounds in procyanidins … the highly beneficial polyphenols found in berries, red cabbage, blue corn or potatoes, and other colorful red-purple foods.
Common cocoa lacks beneficial compounds
Most cocoa brands undergo treatment with alkali – a process called “Dutching”. (Look for alkali or “Dutched” on the label.)
Dutching is done to reduce cocoa's mild natural bitterness, and darken its color … but Dutching also destroys most of the flavanol-type polyphenols in cocoa.
Studies linking cocoa to brain, artery and heart health find these benefits only with non-Dutched cocoa or dark chocolate made with it ... a category that includes Vital Choice chocolate and most premium brands.
In fact, the health effects of any chocolate depends on its flavanol content, with milk chocolate yielding little or no benefit.
European Union approves cocoa health claim
Early last year, candy maker Barry Callebaut sent a proposed health claim to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
The EFSA is an agency of the European Commission (EC) and serves as Europe's food science and safety counterpart to the U.S. FDA.
The proposed claim would apply only to cocoa and chocolate produced by Barry Callebaut, using its flavanol-preserving ACTICOA method.
The EFSA issued a positive opinion on the proposed claim in July of 2012, and in January of 2013, the claim was approved by the European Commission in a reworded form.
The proposed claim reads, “Cocoa flavanols help maintain endothelium-dependent vasodilation which contributes to normal blood flow.”
The approved claim – which seems clearer for consumers – reads, “Cocoa flavanols help maintain the elasticity of blood vessels, which contributes to normal blood flow.”
The EU-approved claim says that 200 mg of cocoa flavanols daily – either from cocoa beverages or dark chocolate – contribute to normal blood flow.
That amount of cocoa flavanols is equivalent to:
- 10 grams (just over one-third oz) of high-flavanol (cocoa-rich) dark chocolate.
- 2.5 grams (just under one ounce) of high-flavanol (non-Dutched) cocoa powder
Barry Callebaut was awarded exclusive European rights to display the health claim on its high-flavanol cocoa or chocolate products for five years.
That may mislead consumers into thinking that Barry Callebaut cocoa and chocolate products are uniquely healthful, which is not true.
Arguably, that exclusive permission is a reward for the company's expenditures on cocoa research … although the Mars candy company has also conducted extensive cocoa research.
Baggott MJ, Childs E, Hart AB, de Bruin E, Palmer AA, Wilkinson JE, de Wit H. Psychopharmacology of theobromine in healthy volunteers. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2013 Jul;228(1):109-18. doi: 10.1007/s00213-013-3021-0. Epub 2013 Feb 19.
Buitrago-Lopez A, Sanderson J, Johnson L, Warnakula S, Wood A, Di Angelantonio E, Franco OH. Chocolate consumption and cardiometabolic disorders: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ. 2011 Aug 26;343:d4488. doi: 10.1136/bmj.d4488.
Corti R, Flammer AJ, Hollenberg NK, Lüscher TF. Cocoa and cardiovascular health. Circulation. 2009 Mar 17;119(10):1433-41. Review.
Crews WD Jr, Harrison DW, Wright JW. A double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial of the effects of dark chocolate and cocoa on variables associated with neuropsychological functioning and cardiovascular health: clinical findings from a sample of healthy, cognitively intact older adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Apr;87(4):872-80.
Ding EL, Hutfless SM, Ding X, Girotra S. Chocolate and prevention of cardiovascular disease: a systematic review. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2006 Jan 3;3:2.
Engler MB, Engler MM, Chen CY, Malloy MJ, Browne A, Chiu EY, Kwak HK, Milbury P, Paul SM, Blumberg J, Mietus-Snyder ML. Flavonoid-rich dark chocolate improves endothelial function and increases plasma epicatechin concentrations in healthy adults. J Am Coll Nutr. 2004 Jun;23(3):197-204.
Erdman JW Jr, Carson L, Kwik-Uribe C, Evans EM, Allen RR. Effects of cocoa flavanols on risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2008;17 Suppl 1:284-7. Review.
Faridi Z, Njike VY, Dutta S, Ali A, Katz DL. Acute dark chocolate and cocoa ingestion and endothelial function: a randomized controlled crossover trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Jul;88(1):58-63.
Fisher ND, Hughes M, Gerhard-Herman M, Hollenberg NK. Flavanol-rich cocoa induces nitric-oxide-dependent vasodilation in healthy humans. J Hypertens. 2003 Dec;21(12):2281-6.
Ghosh D, Scheepens A. Vascular action of polyphenols. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2009 Mar;53(3):322-31. Review. Heiss C, Kleinbongard P, Dejam A, Perre S, Schroeter H, Sies H, Kelm M. Acute consumption of flavanol-rich cocoa and the reversal of endothelial dysfunction in smokers. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2005 Oct 4;46(7):1276-83.
Holt RR, Lazarus SA, Sullards MC, Zhu QY, Schramm DD, Hammerstone JF, Fraga CG, Schmitz HH, Keen CL. Procyanidin dimer B2 [epicatechin-(4beta-8)-epicatechin] in human plasma after the consumption of a flavanol-rich cocoa. Am J Clin Nutr. 2002 Oct;76(4):798-804.
Janszky I, Mukamal KJ, Ljung R, Ahnve S, Ahlbom A, Hallqvist J. Chocolate consumption and mortality following a first acute myocardial infarction: the Stockholm Heart Epidemiology Program. J Intern Med. 2009 Sep;266(3):248-57.
Judelson DA, Preston AG, Miller DL, Muñoz CX, Kellogg MD, Lieberman HR. Effects of Theobromine and Caffeine on Mood and Vigilance. J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2013 Jun 12. [Epub ahead of print]
Kris-Etherton PM, Keen CL. Evidence that the antioxidant flavonoids in tea and cocoa are beneficial for cardiovascular health. Curr Opin Lipidol. 2002 Feb;13(1):41-9. Review.
Lee KW, Kim YJ, Lee HJ, Lee CY. Cocoa has more phenolic phytochemicals and a higher antioxidant capacity than teas and red wine. J Agric Food Chem. 2003 Dec 3;51(25):7292-5.
Nehlig A. The neuroprotective effects of cocoa flavanol and its influence on cognitive performance. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2012 Jul 10. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2125.2012.04378.x. [Epub ahead of print]
Pase MP, Scholey AB, Pipingas A, Kras M, Nolidin K, Gibbs A, Wesnes K, Stough C. Cocoa polyphenols enhance positive mood states but not cognitive performance: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. J Psychopharmacol. 2013 May;27(5):451-8. doi: 10.1177/0269881112473791. Epub 2013 Jan 29.
Pearson DA, Paglieroni TG, Rein D, Wun T, Schramm DD, Wang JF, Holt RR, Gosselin R, Schmitz HH, Keen CL. The effects of flavanol-rich cocoa and aspirin on ex vivo platelet function. Thromb Res 2002;106:191-7.
Persson IA, Persson K, Hägg S, Andersson RG. Effects of cocoa extract and dark chocolate on angiotensin-converting enzyme and nitric oxide in human endothelial cells and healthy volunteers--a nutrigenomics perspective. J Cardiovasc Pharmacol. 2011 Jan;57(1):44-50.
Richelle M, Tavazzi I, Offord E. Comparison of the antioxidant activity of commonly consumed polyphenolic beverages (coffee, cocoa, and tea) prepared per cup serving. J Agric Food Chem. 2001 Jul;49(7):3438-42.
Ried K, Sullivan T, Fakler P, Frank OR, Stocks NP. Does chocolate reduce blood pressure? A meta-analysis. BMC Med. 2010 Jun 28;8:39. Schroeter H, Heiss C, Balzer J, Kleinbongard P, Keen CL, Hollenberg NK, Sies H, Kwik-Uribe C, Schmitz HH, Kelm M. (-)-Epicatechin mediates beneficial effects of flavanol-rich cocoa on vascular function in humans. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Jan 24;103(4):1024-9. Epub 2006 Jan 17.
Selmi C, Cocchi CA, Lanfredini M, Keen CL, Gershwin ME. Chocolate at heart: the anti-inflammatory impact of cocoa flavanols. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2008 Nov;52(11):1340-8. Review.
Sies H, Schewe T, Heiss C, Kelm M. Cocoa polyphenols and inflammatory mediators.Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Jan;81(1 Suppl):304S-312S. Review.
Swinburne University of Technology (STU). Dark chocolate improves calmness. May 3, 2013. Accessed at http://www.swinburne.edu.au/chancellery/mediacentre/media-centre/news/2013/05/dark-chocolate-improves-calmness
Taubert D, Roesen R, Schömig E. Effect of cocoa and tea intake on blood pressure: a meta-analysis. Arch Intern Med. 2007 Apr 9;167(7):626-34.
Wan Y, Vinson JA, Etherton TD, Proch J, Lazarus SA, Kris-Etherton PM. Effects of cocoa powder and dark chocolate on LDL oxidative susceptibility and prostaglandin concentrations in humans. Am J Clin Nutr. 2001 Nov;74(5):596-602.
Zhu QY, Schramm DD, Gross HB, Holt RR, Kim SH, Yamaguchi T, Kwik-Uribe CL, Keen CL. Influence of cocoa flavanols and procyanidins on free radical-induced human erythrocyte hemolysis. Clin Dev Immunol. 2005 Mar;12(1):27-34.