Published on: April 6, 2015
by Sarah-Kate Templeton for The Sunday Times:
Eating dark chocolate could help ward off Alzheimer’s and heart disease, say scientists, but it must have such intensity that a tablet is being developed for those who cannot take the sharp taste.
Roger Corder, a professor of experimental therapeutics at the Queen Mary University of London, said flavanols, the bioactive compounds in dark chocolate, should be taken from middle age to prevent stiffening of the blood vessels that can lead to heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
However, only dark chocolate made from about 85 per cent cocoa mass contains sufficient flavanols to bring a health benefit.
Most people prefer less intense confectionery that has been mellowed by the addition of fat.
To tackle the problem, scientists are developing “chocolate pills” from cocoa extracts.
Last week, the European Commission gave permission to Belgian confectioner Barry Callebaut to claim that in supplements made from cocoa extracts “cocoa flavanols help maintain the elasticity of blood vessels, which contributes to normal blood flow”.
Barry Callebaut said: “It will become easy for consumers to take the required daily amount of cocoa flavanols through one simple pill.”
US chocolate company Mars is running a five-year trial with the National Institutes of Health in America to test the ability of cocoa flavonols to reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke and death from cardiovascular disease.
Professor Corder said: “If we are moving it towards a pharmaceutic product where the flavours are masked, having it in a tablet or capsule formulation, then it has a potential use across a wide spectrum of people.”
In 2013, the EC granted Barry Callebaut permission to claim on its dark chocolate bar Acticoa that “cocoa flavanols help maintain the elasticity of blood vessels, which contributes to normal blood flow”. The claim can be used on chocolate that contains 200mg of cocoa flavonols per 20g of chocolate.
Commercial chocolate products tend to contain less than this.
Someone trying to consume 200mg of flavanols would need to eat about 65g of an average chocolate a day. That would be 350 calories, hard to accommodate in a healthy diet.
Professor Corder said dark chocolate made with between 85 per cent and 90 per cent cocoa mass was more likely to reach the required level of flavanols than the average dark chocolate bar.
Many brands that advertise as “85 per cent cocoa” or “85 per cent cocoa solids” include cocoa butter in the percentage.
It makes the chocolate taste smoother and less bitter, but dilutes the flavonol content.
Although it’s great to celebrate the big achievements, it’s also important to celebrate the small wins.
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