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Cocoa flavanols and chocolate

Cocoa beans are rich in cocoa flavanols, but most chocolate is not

Multiple chocolate bars and cocoa pod with cocoa beans inside and cocoa powder sprinkled on top

Flavanols are a distinct group of flavonoids found in a variety of foods. Cocoa flavanols are the specific mixture of flavanols naturally present in cocoa beans. However, these flavanols are highly vulnerable to destruction from the moment they're harvested, and most notably when they're processed to make various products, including chocolate. So, while all cocoa beans start off rich in cocoa flavanols, most finished cocoa products are not. 

Different kinds of chocolate contain very different levels of cocoa–this ranges from milk chocolate, which has the lowest cocoa content, to baking chocolate made of 100 percent ground cocoa beans. While baking chocolate or a high percentage dark chocolate will contain some cocoa flavanols, the levels will be highly variable.

This is because cocoa flavanols are often destroyed by a number of steps in conventional cocoa processing, like fermentation, drying, roasting, and in some cases, alkalization. As a result, the percentage of cocoa in chocolate products isn't be a reliable indicator of their flavanol content.  


Chocolate is a treat, not a health food

Given the lack of cocoa flavanols in most chocolates, the amount of chocolate needed to get any benefits from cocoa flavanols becomes unrealistic for daily consumption. So, while chocolate can be a source of some cocoa flavanols, it should be viewed as a treat, not a health food. 

Because chocolate is also a calorically dense food, it isn't a focus for our research. In fact, we've not used chocolate in our research program in more than a decade. Instead, our research program focuses specifically on the potential health benefits of cocoa flavanols and how we can translate these benefits into evidence-based products to support health as we age.

Cocoa flavanol products
Science and research policy