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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Mars, Researchers Reveal Benefits of Cocoa Flavanols, But Not Good News for Chocolate Lovers

The University of Dusseldorf, the University of Reading and Mars, Incorporated have unveiled two new studies revealing that cocoa flavanols can help to keep our hearts healthy. Cocoa flavanols are nutrients found naturally in the cocoa bean.

The research, published in the journals Age and the British Journal of Nutrition (BJN), shows that consuming cocoa flavanols can decrease arterial stiffness and increase blood vessel function in healthy people, helping to reduce the risk of heart disease — the number-one cause of deaths worldwide.

Mars and the universities conducted the research as part of the FLAVIOLA consortium — a pan-European research project that looks into the benefits of flavanols, a distinct group of naturally occurring compounds that can be found in a variety of foods such as tea, red wine, blueberries and raw cocoa. Cocoa is an especially rich source of flavanols, and the specific mixture of flavanols that is found in cocoa is unique. Many studies show cocoa flavanols have a range of health benefits, including improved blood flow and cardiovascular health.

“With the world population getting older, the incidence of cardiovascular disease, heart attacks and stroke will only increase,” says Professor Malte Kelm, Professor of Cardiology, Pulmonary Diseases and Vascular Medicine at University Hospital Düsseldorf and Scientific Director of FLAVIOLA. “It is therefore pivotal that we understand the positive impact diet can have on cardiovascular disease risk. As part of this, we want to know what role flavanol-containing foods could play in maintaining the health of the heart and blood vessels.”

UPDATE: However, chocolate lovers shouldn't see this as a green light to up their intake: While the consortium found that consuming a cocoa-based drink containing 450 mg of cocoa flavanols, twice a day for a month, lowered blood pressure and increased blood vessel function in healthy people, the researchers told Confectionery News that people would need to consume too many calories to obtain the same concentration in chocolate.

"Given the amount of chocolate that you would need to consume to reach the amount of cocoa flavanols used in this study, this shouldn't be seen a recommendation to consume chocolate," FLAVIOLA project coordinator Dr. Marc Merx and corresponding study author Dr. Christian Heiss said in a joint statement.

C'est la vie.

In other recent health-related moves, in January Mars, in partnership with UC Davis, launched the Innovation Institute for Food and Health, which over the next 10 years aims to advance new discoveries in sustainable food, agriculture and health. And in May, the candy giant announced it would support two important recommendations designed to help consumers limit their intake of added sugars and achieve healthier, more balanced diets: The company endorsed recommendations from the World Health Organization that people should limit their intake of added sugars to no more than 10 percent of their total calorie intake, and supported a new US Government proposal to include an “added sugars” declaration in the Nutrition Facts panel on all food packaging.