Q: We hear so much about antioxidant compounds in chocolate. What about cocoa and chocolate milk?
A: Chocolate’s flavonoid compounds are under study not only as antioxidants, but also for other health-protective effects like reducing inflammation and lowering blood pressure. Chocolate and cocoa-related products have highly variable flavonoid content and cocoa content on labels can be tricky to decipher. Cocoa powder is made up of cocoa bean solids – which hold the flavonoid compounds – and cocoa butter. One to two tablespoons of natural cocoa powder provide about the same amount of flavonoids as half an ounce of dark chocolate, which is the amount that studies suggest offer health benefits. However, most widely available cocoa mixes contain cocoa treated with alkali (called Dutch cocoa), which removes most of the flavonoid compounds. Chocolate milk is made with Dutch cocoa, because it mixes with cold liquids better; but that means chocolate milk is not a source of these potentially protective flavonoids. You may find some gourmet cocoa mixes made with natural (untreated) cocoa, and you can make a more flavonoid-rich drink using natural cocoa plus your own sweetener and milk. Overall, dark chocolate, which can run from 50 to 90 percent cocoa, is higher in flavonoids and has a more intense flavor than milk chocolate, although milk chocolate does provide some flavonoids, too. White chocolate contains no cocoa bean solids and therefore is not a source of flavonoids. You may see white chocolate labels stating a percent cocoa (or cacao) content, but this is all present in the form of cocoa butter, which does not contain flavonoids.