It’s been claimed to reduce the likelihood of strokes in women, prevent diabetes, lower the risk of cognitive decline, and relieve depression, but is chocolate really as good as all this? To shed some light on the subject, we talk to Daniel Sadler, a sport science PhD student looking into how cocoa supplements affect exercise.
Can you tell us a bit about what’s involved in your study?
“Our study is looking at the effects of cocoa supplements (with high flavanol content) on oxygen uptake kinetics and exercise tolerance in sedentary 40-60 year olds. We’re investigating the impact of seven-day cocoa supplements versus placebo on an individual’s capacity to utilise oxygen and tolerate both moderate- and severe-intensity exercise. The results of the study may help to establish nutritional supplements that improve a person’s capacity and willingness to exercise.”
Are there health benefits to eating chocolate?
“Overall, there is weak evidence to suggest that chocolate consumption is associated with favourable health outcomes. However, it does seem that flavanol-rich cocoa may confer vascular benefits. Flavanoids – abundant in green tea, cocoa, fruit and vegetables – have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and they help widen the blood vessels.”
Health wise, what is the difference between consuming cocoa and snacking on a chocolate bar?
“It has to do with the manufacturing processes involved. Cocoa beans are ground, roasted, shelled and fermented into cocoa liquor which contains non-fat cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Cocoa powder is formed by removing some of the cocoa butter from the cocoa liquor. Whereas chocolate is made by combining cocoa liquor, with cocoa butter and sugar. Due to these key differences in manufacturing processes, cocoa powder contains 1.85 mg/g of epicatechin (the key flavonoid in cocoa responsible for nitric oxide-enhancing effects), while dark chocolate contains just 0.34 mg/g of epicatechin.”
To get the benefits of chocolate, what type should we eat and how much?
“Dark chocolate typically contains more flavonoids than milk chocolate. Nevertheless, manufacturing processes can significantly lower the total flavonoid content of chocolate. So consuming a small amount of dark chocolate can contribute to daily flavonoid intake. Specially manufactured chocolate that is particularly high in flavonoids may provide some additional health benefits. There are no surprises that eating too much chocolate can potentially be damaging for health. Chocolate contains a significant amount of dietary fat and sugar, so it should be consumed in moderation.”
What is the best way of getting flavonoids into your diet? Are taking cocoa supplements ideal?
“Daily flavonoid intake in UK adults is estimated at 182mg, the main sources coming from tea, citrus fruits and juices. It is preferable to take supplements over eating dark chocolate since potential beneficial effects of cocoa-flavanols occur during exercise when high doses are consumed (greater than 400 mg flavanols) and because dark chocolate contains fat and sugar that may negate the beneficial potential of any bioactive constituents.”
Daniel is looking for participants for his study, if you’re interested in taking part, find out more about what’s involved. He should have all the results in at the end of the year, we’ll be sure to check back with him to see what the study revealed.
Having completed his undergraduate degree in Sport and Exercise Sciences and his masters in Sport Nutrition at LJMU, Daniel hopes to continue researching the interaction between nutrition, exercise and mitochondrial function following his PhD. He then plans to do a postdoc and eventually a lectureship at a university.
Interested in finding out where studying Sport and Exercise Sciences could take you? Take a look at our courses.
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