Monday, February 22, 2010

Healthy Chocolate

I've written twice lately (here and here) about some of the newly discovered health propoerties of chocolate - or, specifically, the flavanols contained therein. In addition to reducing risk of cancer, obesity, stroke, and hypertension, I just noticed that chocolate may also boost blood flow to the brain. Wow. Go, chocolate!

The two problems are: 1. getting the flavanols while minimizing the fat and sugar, and 2. figuring out which chocolate products are richest in flavanols.

Happily, the answer to both questions seems to be cocoa powder, which is largely defatted (typical is 10% fat) and wholly unsweetened (add your preferred sweetener in your preferred quantity). According to
a study of flavanol content, the products with the highest level of flavanol antioxidants were cocoa powders, followed by unsweetened baking chocolate, dark chocolate and semi-sweet chips, then milk chocolate and finally chocolate syrup.

Cooking tip from Jill Black: "I often toss some into a batch of chili. It plays well with the other flavors, with a kind of mole-esque undertone. When my son was younger and going through a period of wariness about spicy foods, we'd make sure he saw us putting the cocoa in and refer to the final product as chocolate chili."

In other news from that study, Dutch alkali processing doesn't destroy all the flavanols - though such processing does reduce it. But if you want to find a product maximizing flavanol content, note that you can't gauge it by the darkness or naturalness of a product. It's way murkier than that. And the above referenced study was backed by Hershey's, so the scientists helpfully masked their results so we can't know which (non-Hershey's) product had the most flavanol. So...selecting the best cocoa powder is tough.


Just this week, Mars (which has a special flavanol-preserving process called "Cocoapro") and Barry Callebaut (who call their process "ACTICOA") have
announced that they'll be working together. So hopefully there will be a wide array of high-flavanol chocolate products coming our way, which will mean that, sorry, we won't need to eat as much chocolate to get our health fix (an ounce per day seems a popular rule of thumb).

I'd imagine, with the rash of recent pro-flavanol medical news, that we'll soon be seeing lots of chocolate companies (i.e. higher quality than Mars) trumpeting high-flavanol products. I'm not sure why no one's devised a flavanol pill, but, then again, I cherish that gap.

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