The flavanol content of cocoa and chocolate products “can vary tremendously,” but consumers have little or no one way of knowing this from the package labels, a dietary supplement testing company has once again found. And some products can be contaminated with the toxic metal cadmium.
Cocoa powder is naturally rich in antioxidants known as flavanols, which seem to promote blood flow when consumed in great enough amounts.
But a lot can happen to that powder before you buy it. It can be “dutched,” or processed with alkali, to lower the bitterness and darken the powder, which also destroys most the flavanols. It can be diluted with cocoa butter to make dark chocolate or with cocoa butter, milk, and sugar to make milk chocolate.
Four times over the past three years, consumerlab.com has reviewed and analyzed the flavanol levels in cocoa products on the market.
Spoiler alert: We can’t tell you the results for specific brands because that’s available only to consumerlab.com subscribers. Consumerlab.com is a private company performing a public service. Testing thousands of dietary supplements and other products is enormously time-consuming and expensive, work that is funded through consumer subscriptions. You won’t find the supplement industry or the government doing this.
However, we can give you general advice based on the company’s results.
You want to consume at least 200 mg of flavanols. That’s the minimal level that the European Union has concluded promotes blood flow.
You won’t get this amount from any reasonable amount of milk chocolate, so forget that.
Of the 11 products labeled “dark” chocolate, only six provided 200 mg per serving. Just 5 of the 14 cocoa powders did, while only 1 of the 3 cocoa nibs did. And only 2 of the 10 cocoa-based dietary supplements met that bar.
So, it’s pretty much a crap shoot.
And don’t think a higher percentage of cacao means more flavanols. Consumerlab.com found four dark chocolates with 80 percent or more cacao that failed to deliver 200 mg of flavanols per serving.
Then there’s cadmium, which can be toxic to the kidneys and bones. Cacao beans can absorb cadmium from the soil and more may accumulate during processing.
The U.S. government does not set a limit for the amount of cadmium permitted in food or dietary supplements, but the European Union has proposed limits for products sold in its countries.
Most cocoa powders that consumerlab.com tested would flunk the EU cadmium standards, while all of the dark chocolates would pass.
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