In the past, chocolate has been appreciated as a high-calorie food to boost energy, for example for athletes and soldiers. Recently, more and more research has been conducted on the health and nutritional attributes of cocoa and chocolate. Research findings indicate that some components in cocoa help prevent cardiovascular disease and reduce the risk of cancer. These positive findings seem, however, often to be overshadowed using chocolate as the scapegoat as a cause of obesity. Certain people readily classify chocolate as "junk food", because of its high calorie content.
As attention to the health and nutritional aspects of cocoa and chocolate has continued to increase, the ICCO Secretariat took the initiative, through the support of its Council, to become involved in the ongoing debate, with the aim of conveying to the public an objective picture of the impact of cocoa and chocolate consumption on the health and nutritional status of consumers. As a result, the Secretariat produced a first draft of an "Inventory of Health and Nutritional Attributes of Cocoa and Chocolate", as well as a first draft of an Action Programme on the Health and Nutritional Aspects of Cocoa and Chocolate.
The inventory elaborates on the evidence of the cardiovascular benefits of cocoa. These benefits are not only due to the fats in cocoa (cocoa butter), but, even more importantly, to the fact that cocoa beans contain a large number of phytochemicals. These are physiologically active compounds found in plants, for example grapes, apples, tea, vegetables, etc. One group of these compounds is called flavonoids. There is a growing body of evidence about the health benefits of cocoa flavonoids.
Flavonoids are powerful antioxidants and are believed to help the body’s cells resist damage by free radicals, which are formed by numerous processes including when the body’s cells utilize oxygen for energy. Laboratory and human studies have indicated that cocoa flavonoids can inhibit the oxidation of the low-density lipoprotein (LDL-cholesterol) associated with heart disease. There is also emerging evidence which suggests that cocoa and chocolate may be able to contribute to reducing the risk of certain types of cancer. This beneficial property originates from some of the other phytochemicals in cocoa.
The first draft of a Programme of Action on the Health and Nutritional Aspects of Cocoa and Chocolate suggested organizing an international conference at which the latest research on the health and nutritional aspects of cocoa and chocolate consumption would be presented.