Chocolate in Science – About Antioxidants

Not too long ago I posted about a research article describing how the chemicals in chocolate can help prevent cells from dying. I came across an article published last month detailing the antioxidant content of dark chocolate and cocoa, explaining what the antioxidants were and how much is absorbed by the body.

The review paper is called “Theobroma cacao L., the Food of the Gods: A scientific approach beyond myths and claims” (M. Rusconi and A. Conti, Pharmac. Res. 2010 (61): 5-13) and discusses a few interesting points I wanted to share.

The amount of antioxidants, or polyphenols, in a dark chocolate bar varies greatly between manufacturers. In fact, beans from different countries can have different levels of polyphenols, then, depending on the fermentation, roasting and manufacturing processes, the amounts are further varied. A typical dark chocolate bar (greater than 35% cacao) can have anywhere from 0.3 – 2.5 g of antioxidants per 100 g of chocolate. That’s a pretty big range, and unfortunately there’s really no way to tell unless you analyze the chocolate in a lab, and most chocolate makers don’t do that. So, while a higher percentage of chocolate most likely contains more antioxidants, it’s not always certain.

The majority of antioxidants in chocolate are called catechins (same ones as found in green tea..) or are groups of two catechins (or dimers, called procyanidin).  When you eat chocolate, the dimers can break in half in your stomach, which makes it easier for them to be absorbed into your bloodstream in the intestines. It also doesn’t seem to matter if you eat chocolate or drink cocoa – the catechins are still found in your bloodstream relatively quickly after eating. This contradicts an older study that said the presence of milk prevents the absorption of catechins, though they are not sure why. I guess this is still something open to debate and study.

Chocolate is the third greatest source of antioxidants in the American diet, after fruits and vegetables! However, I highly doubt people will start saying “A chocolate bar a day keeps the doctor away.” It can certainly help increase your antioxidant intake, but the typical chocolate bar is also a great source of fat and sugar. That doesn’t really stop me from eating a lot of it, though 🙂

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Published in: on February 25, 2010 at 11:01 am  Leave a Comment  
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