Science: Getting to the heart of chocolate’s benefits
By Stephen Daniells, 21-Oct-2009
In the second part of our special series on the health benefits of cocoa polyphenols, NutraIngredients looks at the science behind the claims, and asks how much is too much
The health benefits of polyphenols from cocoa have been gathering increasing column inches in the national media. To date studies have reported potential benefits for cardiovascular health, skin health, and even brain health.
But before exploring the science it is important to make some distinctions: “Chocolate and cocoa are two different terms and are not interchangeable,” explains a recent review in the British Journal of Nutrition.
Reviewers led by Gary Williamson from the Nestlé Research Center note: “Cocoa is the non-fat component of cocoa liquor (finely ground cocoa beans) which is used in chocolate making or as cocoa powder (commonly 12 per cent fat) for cooking and drinks.
“Cocoa liquor contains approximately 55 per cent cocoa butter and together this comprises cocoa solids, often referred to on chocolate packaging. Chocolate refers to the combination of cocoa, cocoa butter, sugar, etc. into a solid food product,” added the reviewers.
Mary Wagner, chief technology officer for Mars Botanical, a scientific division of Mars Inc, says that the benefits of the bean revolve around the flavanols (also known as flavan-3-ols or catechins), and particularly the monomeric flavanol (-)epicatechin.
“Cocoa polyphenols can benefit any health condition that is impacted by circulation,” says Wagner.
Mars’ interest in the active compounds started about 20 years ago when its scientists sought to understand the flavour components of chocolate. The bitter and astringent compounds were isolated, and further study and clinical work showed the health benefits of the monomers and the tannins, particularly (-) epicatechin, she said.
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