Trick or treat chocolate flavanols

which one has more flavanols?

which one has more flavanols?

Just in time for Halloween, Consumer Labs (subscription required) issued a new report on the amount of flavanols in some chocolate bars.

Flavanols are a class of biochemically active compounds found in many foods, including chocolate.  They’re associated with health benefits, including improved vascular health, lower blood pressure and lower risk for heart disease.  When it comes to flavanols, dark chocolate has the highest concentrations.  In Europe, labels on dark chocolate can make claims for those health benefits; not so in the US.  The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) believes that these benefits can be achieved by consuming 200 mg of flavanols daily.

How much chocolate is that?  The assumption is that flavanol levels will be similar in all dark chocolates, but Consumer Labs found out that this isn’t necessarily so.  The highest concentration of flavanols was in Baker’s Unsweetened Baking Chocolate.  Not too surprising, since unsweetened baking chocolate is 100% pure chocolate.  No sweeteners or other ingredients.  But not something people munch on.  Unsweetened chocolate is strong and bitter.  Luckily you’d only have to eat 1/2 oz of that daily to get the EFSA’s recommended dose.

Which one has more flavanols?

Which one has more flavanols?

What about edible dark chocolate?  The Consumer Labs report notes that one bar, listed as 85% cacao, had a surprisingly low flavanol concentration.  What gives?  Apparently “cacao” can refer not just to the cocoa solids but also to the cocoa butter, which is basically fat.  If you want some idea of flavanol content, a more meaningful label would declare % cocoa solids only.  By the way, you’d have to eat 1.5 oz of that bar to get 200 mg of flavanols, roughly 230 calories.

Heart health may not be the only benefit to eating chocolate.  A new study looked at the effect of flavanols on brain function, using MRI scans.  The subjects were aged 50-69 years, who drank a high or low cocoa-containing beverage for 3 months.  The high cocoa beverage contained a whopping 900 mg of cocoa flavanols (4.5 times the EFSA recommendation).  Cognitive testing showed that brain function in the region in question, which is associated with memory, was enhanced in the people who drank the high flavanol cocoa.  It’s an interesting outcome, and certainly deserves more investigation.  I suspect there’s a food industry connection somewhere.  Are high flavanol cocoa powder pills in our future?  Or chocolate-enhanced foods?


Like this one???  Scary!


One thing you can count on: the vast majority of inexpensive chocolate-coated Halloween candy in grocery stores isn’t an particularly good source of flavanols.  They are good sources of sugar, corn syrup, vegetable oil, artificial flavorings and colorings, and palm oil.  In this case, color probably does say a lot about flavanol content.  Pale brownish chocolate coating isn’t likely to be a good source of flavanols.

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