Chocolate really is good for you

It's a vice many of us can't step away from - give up smoking, drinking or swearing and chocolate seems to be the go-to reward mechanism.

So it's a welcome finding that bars of chocolate may soon come stamped with health claims.

Dark chocolate has been given another accolade in the health stakes - this time receiving the backing of the European Food Safety Authority for its blood circulation-boosting capacities.

Thanks to cocoa flavanols, found in chocolate and cocoa, the sweet-toothed treat has been linked to low blood pressure, heart health and even brain function. Cocoa flavonols stimulate nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessels.

On the back of the support, Barry Callebaut AG, one of the world's largest cocoa buyers, is now seeking European Commission approval to use the impressive health claim on its packaging.

The move comes after the Swiss food giant, which sells to Kraft and Nestlé, conducted a study involving 20 clinical trials over the past seven years. The company has developed a method for preserving up to 80 per cent of the flavonols which are commonly destroyed in mainstream cocoa processing.

It is also, tellingly, linked to rising cocoa costs and concomitant dwindling branded food sales, according to the Wall Street Journal. Health benefits are, of course, worth their weight in gold - and while the label would only apply to chocolates sold within Europe, it may have implications for products further afield, including Australia and the US.

A known anti-oxidant wonder food, dark chocolate already leads the pack when it comes to 'Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity Units' (ORACS).

According to the USDA, it contains 13,120 ORACs per 100 grams, where famous antioxidants, blueberries, have a mere 2,400.

But, before chocolate is promoted to one of your health supplements, beware - not all chocolates are created equal and cocoa, sugar, saturated and unsaturated fats and caffeine contents vary. The higher the cocoa content, it goes without saying, the better.

The EC has until early 2013 to make its decision.

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