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.
(To read about relevant research, visit the Cocoa, Tea & Coffee section of our news archive.)
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.
To see how our Organic 80% Extra Dark Chocolate compares to standard chocolate and cocoa, see our Antioxidants in Cocoa & Chocolate chart.
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 ACTICOA process eliminates Dutching and uses lower temperatures … the same approach used to make our own high-flavanol, Organic 80% Extra Dark Chocolate.
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.
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