Flavanols exist in nature with a purpose, and there is a collective body of evidence to support a number of health claims.
I was interested to read a press-release therefore titled:
“New Harvard Cocoa Flavanol Study Shows 27% Reduction in Cardiovascular Death – How to Get Enough Cocoa Flavanols From Chocolate”
We have previously discussed the Harvard Study, but this press release was from a private company using the brand FlavaNaturals. The clue is in the name, and I was interested in what they offered.
The company’s website aims to inform you about the benefits of Flavanols from Cocoa and then sell products that deliver the benefits. Something looked a little ‘off’ about the site to me, however.
According to FlavaNatural, their products contain 5-9 times the amount of flavanols than regular chocolate or cocoa.
FlavaBars® contain 500 mg of cocoa flavanols per bar, 5X the flavanols of an average dark chocolate bar
There appears to be some truth to this as this scientific paper describes, although at a rate of 1-4 times, rather than the 5-9 times claimed.
Genetic variability can also generate a 1–4 fold difference in the antioxidant content of fresh cocoa beans and the content of epicatechin has also been reported to vary from 2.66 mg g−1 in Jamaican beans to 16.52 mg g−1 in Costa Rican beans
The company claims to have a proprietary method of extracting the high levels of flavanols they claim. They say.
Cradling every last flavanol
Flavanols are sensitive things and almost completely destroyed by conventional chocolate processing. Preserving them in our chocolate demands delicate handling every step of the way. The extraordinary concentration of cocoa flavanols in FlavaBars® and FlavaMix® is the result of protected and natural methods of cacao bean sourcing, harvesting, fermentation, roasting and handling. This requires searching out the most premium high flavanol beans in the world, partnering with farmers to assure selection of only the best and freshest beans, and maintaining precise control of the fermentation and roasting process to maximize both cocoa flavanols and rich chocolate flavor.
All of this appears to push the boundaries of acceptable claims, assuming they do what they say, but there’s the rub. Do you trust them to source the beans the way they say, and how often, if ever, are their batches tested by independent labs? Can they show the results?
I was curious about what empirical testing might be possible, and I found this article in a scientific journal.
There has been growing interest in the potential cardiovascular benefits associated with cocoa consumption. As a result of accurate analytical methodologies, there is evidence to support that the flavanols in cocoa can be absorbed, are bioactive, and may be responsible for the cardiovascular benefits associated with regular cocoa consumption. The flavanols in cocoa exist in a multitude of different stereochemical configurations, thus giving rise to a unique and complex mixture of compounds. Given this complexity, the quantitative analysis of cocoa flavanols in foods can be challenging. While there are published methods suitable for the analysis of these compounds, these methods require sophisticated instrumentation and can be challenging to set up. As such, simpler techniques that measure such things as total phenolic content or antioxidant potential have been used as indicators of flavanol content. However, as these simpler assays are prone to interferences and are not specific for flavanols, these methods are not appropriate for use in studies that aim to examine the physiological effects of cocoa flavanols. It is only through the use of methods that can accurately quantify these flavanols that it will be possible to make meaningful dietary recommendations regarding the consumption of cocoa flavanol containing foods.
So it appears that perhaps the simple testing methods may not be a suitable basis for claims of effective flavanol content. I’m sure there’s a better interpretation of the results, however it seems reasonable to conclude from this that evaluating the true flavanol content is not as straightforward as some companies suggest.
My trust was further eroded when I saw a reference to an external website to learn more about the science behind flavanols, named imaginatively. Cocoaflavanolscience.com. The website is a collection of papers about Cocoa Health that looks initially an independent site about the benefits of Cocoa flavanols, but when I read the Terms and Conditions, I noticed the company behind it is JI Naturals, the same company selling the FlavaNatural products.
The fact that they have Terms and Conditions on an informational site, is actually pretty bizarre. I noticed their health disclaimer buried where most visitors are unlikely to look.
The fact that they have Terms-and-Conditions on an informational site, is actually pretty bizarre. Under their conditions for being a reader of their website, you supposedly enter into an agreement in an indemnification clause under which you, the reader of the website, are supposed to cover any costs to JI Naturals arising from damages from your use of their website? this is what they say.
You agree to defend, indemnify and hold harmless JI NATURALS and its affiliates and their directors, officers, employees and agents against any claims, demands, actions, damages or other liabilities, including expenses and attorney’s fees, that arise from your use of this website.JI Naturals Terms and Conditions for reading their website
There are many places to buy great Cocoa products, from people that care about what they produce and don’t make hyperbolic claims about the health benefits. Personally, if I wanted to significantly elevate my levels of flavanols, I’d look to a reputable manufacturer of supplements, produced in a lab and following a scientific process where the product I was buying could give me exact and reproducible numbers.
Hype inflation is always associated with money-making opportunities, and unfortunately the people that get into the game to make money, rarely take the same care as those passionate businesses that have a long term involvement in the industry, and the risk is that the inflated claims will negatively affect the reputation of other, quality Cocoa businesses.