Changing the Fat in Chocolate

She adds that thus far, only one company has adopted the special, gentle processing method necessary to preserve the flavonoids in chocolate -- the Mars company. And even then, she said any health claims the manufacturer makes about its chocolate would not likely stand up to scientific scrutiny.

Zusman agrees that it's not just the ingredients, but also the process, that determine the health benefits of something like chocolate.

"I think the closer you get to a substance or a product that has pure beneficial agents, the greater the likelihood you will have a favorable action associated with it," he said.

"With natural products, it is always a question on the ingredients in the products. Manipulation of natural products that may make sense intellectually may not make sense biologically."

And though changing the type of fat used to make chocolate may not have an effect on flavonoid content, it's not likely that it will make chocolatey treats any better for consumers.

"Honestly, changing the type of fat that is used I don't think will make a difference," Sandon said. "As a registered dietitian, I can say that no matter what you do to that chocolate bar, it's still calories and fat."

Moderation Is Key

Sandon said the healthiest approach to chocolate, whether it's made with cocoa butter or vegetable fat, is to view it the same way as it has been in the past -- as a sweet and occasional treat.

"It really does still come back to the idea of moderation," she said. "There is much better information supporting increased fruit and vegetable intake as far as heart health.

"Chocolate is not a health food. No matter how you package it."

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