Flavonoid and Flavanols. What are they? What do they do? Why you need them? By Ashley Reaver, MS, RD, CSSD

What makes chocolate a beneficial ingredient for health and performance?

It is a flavonoid, and specifically, its flavanol content provides. If you’ve never heard of this before, you aren’t alone. In this blog, we’ll dive into what flavonoids are, what they do in the body, and why they are important to overall health.

Flavonoids are a large group of plant pigments you find in fruits, vegetables, grains, bark, roots, stems, flowers, tea, cocoa, and wine (1). Currently, there are over 6,000 types of identifiable flavonoids. In plants, flavonoids are responsible for a vast amount of characteristics, such as providing color and aroma, attracting pollinators, defending against frost and drought, filtering UV light, and protecting against stress and invading microbes, to name a few.

As such integral parts of the plant, it’s no surprise that flavonoids also have a wide range of health benefits in humans including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-mutagenic, and anti-carcinogenic effects. Their ability to both assist in key cellular functions and prevent damaging ones are a great benefit. Perhaps the most significant is flavonoids’ impact on inflammation, which is a significant factor in the development and progression of many diseases.

There are many types of flavonoids, and they are classified into six distinct classes. The most common and largest class of flavonoids found in fruits and vegetable is the flavonols. Other notable foods that are high in flavonols are onions, kale, tomatoes, apples, grapes, berries, tea, and wine. Flavanols (with an “A”) is the class in which you will find the cocoa bean flavonoids. Cocoa contains a high amount of flavanols, which are distinguishable from the other groups because of their chemical structure.

While the exact mechanism of action is not known, the impact of flavonoids on overall health, aging, and performance has been demonstrated. 

Regular intake of dark chocolate and cocoa has been shown to reduce levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation present in the blood (2).

In a study with older adults, consistent intake of cocoa solids showed a significant improvement in cardiometabolic metrics such as LDL-cholesterol, triglycerides, HDL-cholesterol, and interleukin-6, another marker of acute inflammation found in the blood (3).

Research also suggests that flavanol-rich chocolate and cocoa intake may contribute a moderate blood pressure-lowering effect in healthy adults, with a more significant decrease in adults with elevated blood pressure (4). Cocoa can also improve blood flow in general by increasing nitric oxide activity, which is imperative for cardiovascular health.

Current research suggests that a high intake of the flavanols found in cocoa may be preventive against dementia and stroke by protecting blood flow to the brain (5).

(While cocoa products may be protective, they should not be used in place of traditional medicine. Be sure to contact your healthcare provider for any health concerns.)

So, now that you know a bit more about flavonoids in general, what about chocolate and cocoa?

However, not all chocolate provides the same quantities of flavonoids. That’s because the harvesting, handling, and processing often destroy the delicate structure of the flavanols. Cocoa can be your best bet to get the most flavanols.

A few factors are important to consider to reap the most rewards from cocoa:

  1. Choose unsweetened cocoa powder or unsweetened baking powder. Chocolate solids from the cocoa bean provide the flavanol content. The powdered form of cocoa has the highest amount of cocoa solids.
  2. Choose non-alkalized cocoa. The alkalization process removes the bitter taste from chocolate (6). This is a no-no because the bitterness and stringent flavor is a result of the flavanols!

Finally, if you want to maximize the beneficial effects of the flavanols in cocoa, look no further than Cocoa Elite products, specifically their Unsweetened Cocoa Powder.

References:
1. Panche, A N et al. “Flavonoids: an overview.” Journal of nutritional science vol. 5 e47. 29 Dec. 2016, doi:10.1017/jns.2016.41
2. Di Giuseppe, Romina, et al. “Regular consumption of dark chocolate is associated with low serum concentrations of C-reactive protein in a healthy Italian population.” The Journal of nutrition 138.10 (2008): 1939-1945
3. Levy Munguia, et al. High Flavonoid Cocoa Supplement Ameliorates Plasma Oxidative Stress and Inflammation Levels While Improving Mobility and Quality of Life in Older Subjects: A Double-Blind Randomized Clinical Trial, The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, , glz107, https://doi.org/10.1093/gerona/glz107
4. Ried, Karin et al. “Effect of cocoa on blood pressure.” The Cochrane database of systematic reviewsvol. 4,4 CD008893. 25 Apr. 2017, doi:10.1002/14651858.CD008893.pub3
5. Andújar, M. C. et al. “Cocoa Polyphenols and Their Potential Benefits for Human Health,” Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, vol. 2012, Article ID 906252, 23 pages, 2012.
6. Miller, Kenneth B., et al. “Impact of alkalization on the antioxidant and flavanol content of commercial cocoa powders.” Journal of agricultural and food chemistry 56.18 (2008): 8527-8533.

Ashley Reaver is the founder of Ashley Reaver Nutrition, a private practice that offers nutritional services. She also created  My Weekly Eats, a health/wellness blog-social media brand that focuses on easy, make-ahead recipes, and meal plans.

Ashley’s knowledge areas and counseling specialties include sports nutrition, weight loss, cooking classes, meal planning, and intuitive eating principles. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Nutritional Science from Cornell University. In addition, she completed her dietetic internship at California Polytechnic University. Afterwards, she earned her Master of Science in Nutrition Science and Policy from Tufts University.

Ashley is also a Certified Sports Specialist Dietitian.

Cocoa Elite is not responsible for the content of this article. The statements made within this article have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not supported by Cocoa Elite. Our products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. We recommend you consult with a licensed healthcare professional before starting any diet or exercise program. All bloggers receive a small compensation for their contributions.

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