I'm an avid read of Monica Reinegel's NutritionData Blog, because I love data about nutrition. As I was reading Eating chocolate for your heart, I noticed a comment from another of her readers, asking Monica for more information about which brand of chocolate is best for the heart. I had asked myself the same thing a few months back, so I posted my own comment, as chock full of references as cocoa is chock full of useful flavanols. Which the website immediately rejected as spam, on account of all those useful links. A comment like that probably belongs on my own blog. So here it is. In How to Eat More Chocolate for your heart, I decided the easiest way is simply to stir a tablespoon of unsweetened natural cocoa into a bowl of oatmeal or a mug of hot water or milk one to three times a day, for 200 to 600mg of cocoa flavanol (CF). This is because:
- 1 T (5g) Hershey unsweetened natural cocoa PROBABLY has about 200mg CF and 20 Cal, and you can drink it like coffee.
- 1/2 ounce of baking chocolate (100% cacao) PROBABLY has 230-300mg CF and 70 Cal, but it is not much fun to eat.
- 1 1/2 ounces of Ritter Sport Halbbitter (50% cacao) has 200mg CF and 200 Cal -- delicious, if you aren't worried about the extra sugar/fat calories.
I found this out by searching on "cocoa", and "antioxidant". I saw answers at the USDA, pubmed, the American Cocoa Research Institute, Hershey's, and Mars. I learned words like polyphenol, flavan-3-ol, flavanol (not to be confused with flavonol), and proanthocyanidin. I read chocolate-makers' websites, requested research papers they cited at their websites, and asked about the flavanol content of their products. And then I had to make some sense of it.
- Hardly anybody will give you even an approximate flavanol content for their product if it isn't already on the package. It costs money to test flavanol content. It must cost even more to assure that a product always has a certain minimum flavanol content. It might cost them a lot to say a product usually has a certain flavanol content, then get sued when a certain batch had less.
- A paper from Arkansas gave me my best rule of thumb -- as long as the cocoa isn't dutched, the content of antioxidants is proportional to the percentage of nonfat cocoa solids (NFCS) in the product. That's pretty simple. A Hershey PR rep. sent me a copy of the paper, and I found out how much NFCS and antioxidants were in a number of unidentified grocery-store products.
- The USDA has produced a proanthocyanidin database, that shows that cinnamon, grape seeds, and cocoa are highest in proanthocyanidins
- Ritter Sport shared the CF content of their Halbbitter bar with researchers in 2004 -- about 500mg CF per 100g.
- Gu et al. Concentrations of proanthocyanidins in common foods and estimations of normal consumption.J Nutr. 2004 Mar;134(3):613-7.
- USDA Proanthocyanidin database http://www.ars.usda.gov/Services/docs.htm?docid=5843
- The Hershey Company. Antioxidant activity and polyphenol and procyanidin contents of selected commercially available cocoa-containing and chocolate products in the United States. J Agric Food Chem. 2006 May 31;54(11):4062-8.
- Gu et. al. Procyanidin and catechin contents and antioxidant capacity of cocoa and chocolate products. J Agric Food Chem. 2006 May 31;54(11):4057-61. Hershey emailed a copy on my request.
- Taubert, et al. Chocolate and blood pressure in elderly individuals with isolated systolic hypertension. JAMA. 2003 Aug 27;290(8):1029-30. (Cocoa polyphenol content of Ritter Sport Halbbitter)
- Taubert et al. Effect of cocoa and tea intake on blood pressure: a meta-analysis. Arch Intern Med. 2007 Apr 9;167(7):626-34
- Aron, et al. Flavan-3-ols: Nature, occurrence and biological activity. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2008 Jan;52(1):79-104 -- A review of the chemistry and health effects of flavanols.