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Is Chocolate Healthy? II

Let’s try this again, assuming it won’t be spammed.

Here are two links with research to support the health benefits of chocolate and the authors’ opinions as to why…. or what is the active ingredient conferring the health benefits.

“The San Blas Kuna” refers to the Kuna indigenous people living on islands off the eastern (northern) coast of Panama. Actually their homeland is a group of islands “sub-nation” on the Gulf or Caribbean coast of Panama.

“Compared to the mainland” refers to poorer health of the Kuna when they migrate to Panama City and other parts of the country and settle there to live.

From the abstract on med. science:

“Despite the other possible explanations for the large differences in deaths from cardiovascular disease and cancer with an array of possible confounding factors, it is improbable that these could abolish the cardiovascular and cancer protective effect observed among the San Blas Kuna as compared to the mainland.”

“cardiovascular and cancer protective effect observed” Correct me if I’m wrong , but my understanding is that these American and German university researchers, early on, expected to find a genetic component in these Kuna Peoples which gave them extremely healthy hearts, very low blood pressure and prevented hardening of the arteries. But that didn’t make sense when later, some of their friends and relatives from the San Blas islands moved inland and developed cardiovascular problems (at the same rate as the Hispanic Panamanians).

My Question: If all of the above is scientifically sound, and if it is epicatechin , a flavaol, which is the active ingredient in chocolate which is believed to cause increased cardiovascular health; if this chemical is present and active in Kuna cocoa, can we then say that our chocolate is also heart healthy? Has anybody seen any research to that effect?

Just wondering.

Tags: cardiovascular, healthy, heart

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I don't think you'll find anyone on TheChocolateLife who disputes that chocolate (or more accurately cacao) is a part of a healthy diet and can have a positive affect on virtually every system in the body. Where I think you'll find dispute is the extent to which chocolate is "healthy." Some see chocolate as a panacea for virtually every possible ailment - chocolate alone can cure cancer, diabetes, and depression and improve your libido while helping you achieve your ideal body weight at the same time. Others see more subtle benefits.

In the Kuna study, from what I remember, the subjects were consuming relatively unprocessed cacao in the form of a beverage, not solid chocolate bars as we think of chocolate. This makes a huge difference when interpreting the findings of the study.

From what I've learned, it's impossible to point to a single chemical constituent of chocolate and say, "This is where the health-giving properties lie." Chocolate is a complex food and it is very likely that it is both the variety and the quantity of chemicals in chocolate that make it so "healthy." Even the fat in cocoa is a "good" fat even though it is technically saturated, and there is evidence which suggests that it is cocoa butter which has an effect on cholesterol metabolism.

However, there is a great deal of debate (and a whole lot of contradictory research) on how various forms of processing contribute to the degradation of the health-giving chemical constituents of chocolate. A number (i.e., 70 percent) is not an indicator of whether chocolate is healthy for you - it depends on many complex factors starting from the original levels of these chemicals in the cacao seed and including all of the post-harvest processing and other processing steps. In a perfect world you'd run an ORAC test (and several other, related analyses) on EVERY BATCH of chocolate in order to understand what that specific batch contains. It is impossible to accurately generalize.

The irony is that pretty much everything that's done to make chocolate taste better is done at the expense of the health-giving chemicals in the chocolate.

Another challenge is that chocolate is a high-fat food and so eating enough chocolate to get adequate nutritional benefits often carries a hefty load of calories. So my advice has always been to see the health and wellness potential of chocolate as a benefit of eating chocolate, not a reason for eating chocolate. I also counsel seeing chocolate as one part of an overall approach to diet which also incorporates reducing or eliminating red meats and most prepared foods in favor of as much fresh, raw foods as you can accommodate.
Frank, it is the antioxidants (among other ingedients) in raw cacao that bring increased cardiovascular health, when consumed. The problem is that when most chocolate is made or 'dutched', these antioxidants are lost, just like when you loose the nutrients in vegetables when they are cooked. So it can not be assumed that because raw cacao has 'built-in health', that all chocolate is healthy. The only way to lock in the antioxidants is the patented, cold-press method. Most chocolate is NOT made this way. The patented, cold-pressed method is virtually the only method that can deliver hard chocolate with the same nutrients and ingredients as raw cacao in its powder form.

Clay mentioned below that "...consuming relatively unprocessed cacao in the form of a beverage, not solid chocolate bars as we think of chocolate, makes a huge difference when interpreting the findings of the study." Now, with this state-of-the-art, cold-pressed method, solid chocolate (bars) have the exact same nutritional components as in their raw powdered form.

More at and

I was looking for the patent (it's been awarded, apparently, to a chocolate manufacturer in Belgium) and I saw that your reply, above, appeared as the #9 hit in Google for the search 'patent cacao cold-pressed' - after only 12 hours.

I guess Google sees TheChocolateLife as being an authority on subjects about chocolate.

I have to agree with Samantha on this one: when you make claims like "Now, with this state-of-the-art, cold-pressed method, solid chocolate (bars) have the exact same nutritional components as in their raw powdered form" I think you have to be able to back them up. I've know about Xocai since very early days and if I felt comfortable with the company's claims (and with the product itself - I don't like either the taste or the texture) I would be representing it myself.

There are a lot of people on TheChocolateLife who are interested in knowing about the patent and other independent verification of the claims. For example, Brunswick labs could analyze a sample of nibs before pressing and (with sufficient proof that the chain of custody was not broken) the powder cold-pressed from those nibs. Otherwise there is no way to validate the claim, "the exact same nutritional components."

I've been looking for this support for years, perhaps you can get it for us?
Oooh boy, a big can of complex biochemicals on this one. I am replying to all. I've been doing research into chocolate and it's health benefits for quite a while (read years) and have been giving lectures at medical conferences for many years on this subject (with a lot of help from medical folks and scientists).

Chocolate contains a whole host of phenolic compounds and antioxidants. It is quite true to say that cacao beans right out of the pod contain the most compounds, however there is no chocolate flavor at all (as I am sure that most of you who have been down into the cacao growing lands have tasted). Bitter, astringent, unedible. Due to the fermenting, drying and roasting and the process to make chocolate (which creates all the flavor) the phenolic compounds are reduced. However, it is patently not true to claim that this process destroys all the health giving antioxidants. In fact, plain dark chocolate, say a 70%, has ORAC units off the charts, quite higher then most fruits (even the "new" fruits such as acia, mangostein, noni, goji, etc...). Some of the recent research states that one only needs to consume 5g a day to get plenty of antioxidants from this source. Anyone remember how much 5g actually is? I don't know anyone who just eats that little in one sitting, not me.

The claim that "raw chocolate" (a contradictory statement) contains more phenolic compounds then chocolate is true, technically, but if you look at the actual numbers you will see that "raw chocolate" only contain between 1% to 20% greater compounds then say a 70% chocolate. I wonder why I would sacrifice flavor just to get a little more antioxidants?

It is also true that the dutching process (alkalizing) removes up to 80% of all the 'health giving benefits'.

There is plenty of research articles out there, just do a search on the nets. The Kuna indian research is now old stuff, been around for over 5 years. A lot of recent work continues to look at the effects on cardiovascular health and on the circulatory system in general. One study found that after one hour of consuming a cup of non-alkalized cocoa the micocirculation in the skin was increased significantly and the effects lasted for 4 hours. This is good news for elderly folks!

Clay, your statement about the cocoa butter being 'technically saturated' is only partially true. It is the stearic and palmitic acids are saturated but the oleic and linoleic are not. In addition, the body transforms the stearic acid into oleic acid. Most of the cocoa butter is so poorly digested that approximately 80% just passes through the system. In addition, the cholesterol load is pretty much neutral. Many of the phenolic compounds are responsible for the metabolism and regulation of this process.

I am not a big fan either of everyone jumping on the big band wagon that chocolate is the panacea to heal all or even to get your daily dose of health giving compounds. Even though there is a lot of positive research (amidst all the controversy) a lot does depend upon the source, methods and types/styles of consumption. And too, so far most of the research is ongoing, nothing totally solid. Plus, how much added junk and sugar is in the chocolate? As Andrew Weil likes to put it: "dark chocolate should be put onto the food pyramid up near the top in regulated doses, but not to the exclusion of a healthy balanced diet" -Nutrition & Health conference, Tuscan, AZ, 2005.

As to the Xocia stuff - it is not chocolate. It IS unprocessed cacao beans, and from what I can tell, not from a very good bean source. I've tasted raw criollo and trinitario and they are not as unedible as forastero. Nor is the claim by that multilevel marketing company that they are the "first" to develop and patent "cold extraction" true (sorry folks, but Mars corp is). Even Mars is now making chocolate with added phenolic compounds. I've not tried it because the bean source is not to my liking, plus due to the added ingredients that make it reprehensible to me, and too sweet. I also do not like the uneducated hype that is behind Xocia, don't like the flavor, and the cost is at the same level of extremely high quality dark chocolate (that IS worth the price).

Anything else?
Samantha, Looking into this reference. I learned about it a while ago, but with so much going on I've forgotten where I learned this. I have a contact with Forest so will try that route. -Mark
This just in on adding stuff to chocolate to make it healthier:

New blend makes antioxidant rich chocolate easier to create, says Wild Chocolate products full of natural antioxidants are growing in popularity as consumers associate antioxidants with healthy living.

But to create antioxidant rich products manufacturers normally have to buy special quality cocoa beans, with high levels of antioxidants. Furthermore, processing has to be gentle to ensure that the finished product is still high in antioxidants, said a Wild spokesperson.

Natural powder blend

With its new natural powder blend, Wild plans to make it easer for chocolate makers to formulate antioxidant rich chocolate products.

The blend itself contains plant extracts from green and white tea as well as green rooibos and grape seeds, which all have high and standardised levels of polyphenols, according to Wild.

The powder blend can be added to chocolate bars or pralines, with or without fruit fillings, to boost antioxidant levels and allow manufacturers to use less rarified cocoa beans.

In addition, the blend can be added to the chocolate mass after conching so that the polyphenols, or antioxidants, are not destroyed by the processing.

The consistency and taste of the chocolate is unaffected by the addition of the powder blend, said the company spokesperson.

Do you have a reference to cite for the 80% figure? If I think I understand what you're saying then if (say) a serving of chocolate has 100 calories from fat the actual update/metabolization of those 100 calories is only 20?

Also, found a citation specifically on anthocyanin intake affecting cholesterol:

Source: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Published online ahead of press, doi:10.3945/ajcn.2009.27814
“Anthocyanin supplementation improves serum LDL- and HDL-cholesterol concentrations associated with the inhibition of cholesteryl ester transfer protein in dyslipidemic subjects”
Authors: Y. Qin, M. Xia, J. Ma, Y. Hao, J. Liu, H. Mou, L. Cao, W. Ling
Increased intakes of antioxidant anthocyanins may improve levels of HDL and LDL cholesterol, according to results of a new human study with 120 people.

Consumption of berry-derived anthocyanin supplements resulted in a 13.7 per cent increase in levels of HDL cholesterol, and a 13.6 per cent reduction in levels LDL cholesterol, according to findings published online ahead of print in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

[snip ... ]

In terms of the potential mechanism, the activity of a protein called plasma cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) was studied. CETP works by collecting triglycerides from LDL and exchanging them for cholesteryl esters from HDL, and also the reverse.

Supplements of the anthocyanins was found to reduce the activity of CETP by 6.3 per cent, while CETP activity fell by only 1.1 per cent in the placebo group, said the researchers.

“The change in HDL cholesterol was negatively correlated with the change in CETP activity,” they wrote. “The change in LDL cholesterol was positively correlated with the change in CETP mass,” they added.

“Anthocyanin supplementation in humans improves LDL- and HDL-cholesterol concentrations and enhances the cellular cholesterol efflux to serum,” wrote the researchers. “These benefits may be due to the inhibition of CETP,” they concluded.
Sorry to say Frank, but this subject must be to Xocai spammers what a nice jar of red syrup is to hummingbirds: irresistible.

I have to agree with Clay in that chocolate should not be viewed as THE path to a healthy life, but rather as an added benefit of eating something we all enjoy.
I've confronted this quite complex topic when writing for a women’s weekly etc. and managed to stay away for statements like chocolate is THE healthy food.
Now I am in a different role as translator. I do understand what the author is saying but being quite a science minded person I simply would like to know if this is really convincing.
This is from the chapter about anticancer foods:

Mixing dairy products with chocolate cancels the beneficial effects of the molecules of cocoa. Avoid milk chocolate.

Neither the author nor the publisher seems to be aware, this statement raises a question – why. Well, maybe reading analytically what I am translating I am particularly critical about this chapter, maybe this is only a statement to fill a couple of lines…
As beneficial molecules are mentioned “a number of antioxidants, proanthocyanidins and many polyphenoles”.
Surprisingly, processing is not even mentioned when addressing chocolate while speaking about tea there is a note: “the black tea is fermented, a process that destroys a large proportion of its polyphenols”, so only green tea is recommended.
A translator is allowed to have her doubts, isn’t she?
Thanks Samantha!

When reading your blog post some time earlier my attention was rather captured by oither connections (very comprehensible!) and I must have overread milk proteins...


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