FINALLY! Chocolate Is a Health Food

Most people try to justify their favorite junk food. Bacon cheeseburgers have protein, potato chips are a source of starch, ice cream gives you calcium, etc. But must of us know that those are pretty flimsy statements. Luckily, the government has decided that one of the most beloved junk foods on the planet might have some health benefits after all.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) determined that chocolate can be good for you. It seems that Flavonols, compounds found in dark chocolate have proven to be beneficial for circulation.

Flavonols have been shown to lower blood pressure, improve blood flow and reduce heart-disease risk at least in part by stimulating production of nitric oxide, which relaxes vessels,” explains the Wall Street Journal.

The EFSA has approved this claim, which was submitted by Europe’s largest chocolate manufacturer, Barry Callebaut. If the tests pass the European Commission, by next year companies like Nestle and Kraft (both owned by Barry Callebaut) can soon market their chocolate-based products as health foods.

Barry Callebaut ran more than 20 clinical studies over the course of seven years to determine whether chocolate could qualify as healthy. Subjects that ingested either 2.5 grams of high-flavonol cocoa powder or 10 grams of high-flavonol dark chocolate daily saw positive results within twelve weeks.

“As the first company receiving such a health claim, we see new market potential both for us and for our customers,” said Chief Executive of Barry Callebaut, Juergen Steinemann in a statement.

But don’t start telling people your Kit-Kat’s are doctor recommended just yet. Only dark chocolate has been proven to have positive health effects. Your beloved milk chocolate doesn’t contain the same chemical makeup, or the health benefits. Additionally, the health-enhancing flavonols tend to give chocolate a bitter flavor most people detest. The process that makes chocolate – even dark chocolate – palatable generally destroys flavonols. While Barry Callebaut has worked out a formula that protects the flavonols in their chocolate products, most dark chocolate can’t make this claim.

While pure cocoa powder and dark chocolate can make you healthier, most of the foods chocolate is found in do quite the opposite. Chocolate typically is presented with sugar, butter, and other delicious but definitely unhealthy products. So while you may be lowering your blood pressure, you could be wrecking your cholesterol – not to mention your waistline.

Reports on the positive health effects of cocoa aside, there’s still no guarantee that the European Commission will allow chocolate products to be marketed as health food. The EC may balk at approving a product that typically appears in incredibly unhealthy concoctions.

“In the past, we have witnessed how a scientific opinion by EFSA was turned into a political decision by the EC,” warned Inga Koehler, a nutritional business consultant in an interview with Confectionary News.

Whether or not companies get to market chocolate bars as health food, this announcement could prove positive for people’s health. Ideally, a high-calorie hunk of chocolate cake could be replaced with a flavonol-rich piece of dark chocolate. Like red wine, which has similar healthful properties, moderation is the key.

After all, if pizza qualifies as a vegetable, chocolate can certainly be called a health food.

[Pic via Flickr - John Loo]

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