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Health benefits of chocolate questioned

By Charlotte Eyre , 07-Jan-2008

Dark chocolate risks tumbling from its "good for you" confectionery pedestal, as a UK medical journal claims that many manufacturers in fact remove the heart healthy element - the flavanols.

According to many scientific studies, flavanols have a positive effect on human health because they help neutralise free radicals that could damage the body's cells, and cause oxidative stress.

 

 

 

It is this oxidative stress that has been linked to a wide range of chronic diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, diabetes, and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's.

 

 

 

The chocolate industry has never denied that processing removes a lot of nutrients from cocoa, however medical journal The Lancet states that consumers are often misled over how healthy a chocolate product is.

 

 

 

In fact, manufacturers often deliberately remove the flavanols from their products because of the naturally bitter taste, sometimes then darkening the cocoa solids for aesthetic purposes, The Lancet claims.

 

 

 

"So even a dark looking chocolate can have no flavanol," the journal said.

 

 

 

All that is left is the "devil in the dark chocolate," or rather the fat, sugar and calories - none of which are ever regarded as healthy.

 

 

 

However, according to Sandra Capra from the University of Newcastle, the health properties of dark chocolate are real and should not be dismissed so lightly.

 

 

 

"The evidence is there, that dark chocolate is a good alternative to milk chocolate and is a source of some key anti-oxidants," she said. "Anyone already on a healthy and balanced diet should be able to indulge occasionally in one or two squares of dark chocolate and benefit from a few health benefits as well."

 

 

 

Confectionery companies all over the world have invested large amounts of money in recent years on both investigating and marketing the heart healthy effects of cocoa, and some have in fact created products that are actually 'flavanol rich'.

 

 

 

In October last year, Barry Callebaut launched a cocoa powder that contains about 80 per cent of the flavanols found in raw cocoa, supposedly meaning that only two grams will have an anti-oxidant affect on human health.

 

 

 

Another company jumping on the bandwagon is Hershey, who in 2006 released a milk chocolate that supposedly has the same level as antioxidants as dark onto the US market.

 

 

 

Nevertheless, the Lancet argues that consumers are often misled over what constitutes a healthy chocolate product, as manufacturers rarely label their products with the exact flavanol content.

 

 

 

Consumers are therefore "kept in the dark", as they cannot be sure how many antioxidants are in the chocolate at any one time.

 

 

 

Bridget Aisbett, spokesperson from the British Nutrition Foundation, agreed that information over how healthy chocolate actually is should always be treated with a degree of caution.

 

 

 

"There has been a lot of scientific research into the health properties of chocolate - both for and against, and so consumers should not regard it as health food, but rather as an occasional treat," she told ConfectioneryNews.com.

 

 

 

"While there may be chocolate in flavanols, there is still a lot of fat," she added.

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