Don’t count on your chocolate or cocoa providing significant amounts of flavanols, a family of chemicals that may be good for the circulation.
While the cocoa bean is one of the richest sources of flavanols, the levels in chocolate, cocoa powders, pills, and bars vary dramatically, according to a new analysis of commercial products. Some contain only trivial amounts, while others have high levels of the toxic metal cadmium.
Consumerlab.com, a White Plains, New York company that’s been evaluating the quality of dietary supplements and nutraceuticals for more than 10 years, recently measured flavanol levels in 8 cocoa products, including powders and pills, a liquid extract, and a dark chocolate bar. This is the first time that flavanol levels in commercial products have been made public.
While there is no official U.S. recommended daily amount of flavanols to consume, European regulators have concluded that at least 200 mg a day may help to increase blood circulation.
Some cocoa products don’t contain anywhere near that amount in a serving.
Consumerlab.com found that one cocoa product boasting of being “a highly concentrated extract” actually contained almost no flavanols at all. Cocoa pills from a major mail-order vitamin company had so little that consumers would need to swallow 60 pills a day to get 200 mg.
And two organic cocoa powders that did contain ample amounts of flavanols also had significant amounts of cadmium, which can harm kidneys and bones. The levels exceeded what is permitted in Canada and would require a warning label in California. (The U.S. FDA has not established a limit for cadmium in food or dietary supplements.)
Consumerlab.com’s findings are consistent with a report on cocoa and chocolate in the December 2013 issue of Nutrition Action Heathletter, which pointed out that flavanols are destroyed when cocoa beans are processed into cocoa and chocolate. How much is lost depends on the beans and how they’re processed, but consumers have no way of knowing how much is left.
Since there’s no requirement that products list their flavanol contents and manufacturers don’t seem eager to disclose the levels, consumers are pretty much left in the dark about how much flavanols they’re getting.
One thing that’s clear, though, is milk chocolate bars, chocolate syrup, and chocolate milk are not sensible ways to get flavanols. Milk chocolate, for example, has so little that one would have to eat more than ten ounces and 1,580 calories worth to get 200 mg of flavanols.
The results of Consumerlab.com’s analysis are available to subscribers of the website at consumerlab.com.
Large amounts of flavanols can improve blood flow and there’s promising, though far from definitive, evidence that they can lower blood pressure and improve brain function.
But research shows that the more chocolate people eat, the more weight they gain. If you want cocoa flavanols in your diet, you’re better off getting them from unsweetened cocoa powder or a fortified powder from a major manufacturer that guarantees at least 200 mg in a serving.
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