Our need to justify chocolate's existence in a balanced diet is back again, this time with a review of studies about chocolate consumption. Cambridge University researchers published a systematic review in the British Medical Journal yesterday concluding—and it's a doozy—that eating polyphenol-rich chocolate can reduce the risk of heart disease by a third.
Wait, what? You mean all those Hershey bars and M&Ms I inhaled as a kid were good for me?
Not quite. Keyword: "polyphenol rich" not "fat and sugar rich."
Polyphenols, the most abundant antioxidant in our diets, are found not only in chocolate, but also in berries, oranges and plant-derived beverages, such as tea and red wine. Researchers said the high content of polyphenols present in cocoa products increases the bioavailability of nitric oxide in the body, which in turn has beneficial effects on blood pressure, insulin resistance and blood lipids.
The review looked at seven studies, four of which were published last year, with more than 100,000 participants. It included milk, dark and white chocolate consumption in chocolate bars, drinks, biscuits and desserts. To get the polyphenol benefit, researchers said only one small square is required daily (sorry, chocolate addicts).
Using the review to market your chocolate product
As with any published review, researchers are quick to admit more research is needed to confirm these findings. So cocoa's not quite a cure-all, but expect to see chocolate marketers latch onto this study and use it in press releases to prove their product's healthiness.
If you're one of them, make sure that before you blindly cite the findings, you read the review and see if your product qualifies as "polyphenol-rich." I didn't see a definition for that term in the review, so it's up to you to determine if your chocolate product qualifies.
Consumers have been known not to moderate and eat just "one small square" daily of anything that's said to be good for them—and for that matter, of anything that's not good for them. The same could be said of some deviant marketers in our industry. Moderate your message, be truthful and highlight how your natural product is low in fat and sugar. Sales will come with education.