Linda Ohr

Linda Milo Ohr

Candy is no longer just a treat for children. While still enticing kids with novel flavors, colors, and taste sensations, candy manufacturers are also catering to the more-mature population, offering health benefits packed in things small and sweet.

Promoted as a heart-healthy snack, CocoaVia™ contains a patented blend of cocoa flavanols and cholesterol-lowering plant sterols from soy.The growing trends in healthy living have affected practically every type of food, from prepared meals and desserts to snacks and confectionery. This was evident in some of the unique products showcased at this year’s All Candy Expo® in Chicago this past June. Dynamic Chocolates, Delta, B.C., Canada (phone 888-515- 7117, www.dynamicchocolates.com), launched its Botticelli® Choco-Omeg line, a combination of Belgian chocolate and omega-3 fatty acids. Japanese-based N.I. Corp. (phone +81-72-875- 3034, www.ni-japan.co.jp) introduced Pure Beauty Strips, edible strips with skin-nutritive ingredients, including collagen, ceramide, and hyaluronic acid.

In addition to omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, other nutraceuticals are formulated into candy products, offering heart-health benefits, energy, and overall wellness. This makes confectionery a growing product area in the functional foods market. Ingredients like botanicals, vitamins, minerals, and cocoa flavanols are making candy, one of our guilty pleasures, a bit more justifiable.

Chocolate
Dark chocolate is enjoying much attention, thanks to a growing amount of research highlighting its health benefits, particularly for the heart. Studies suggest that the naturally occurring flavanols in cocoa may have positive effects on heart health by promoting healthy blood pressure, improving elasticity in blood vessels, and maintaining healthy blood flow.

Schroeter et al. (2006) demonstrated that ingestion of the flavanol (–)epicatechin is, at least in part, linked to the reported vascular effects observed after the consumption of flavanol-rich cocoa. Researchers gave subjects a specially prepared cocoa drink containing either high or low concentrations of specific cocoa flavanols. Only the group that consumed the flavanol-rich drink showed blood vessel relaxation. The role of (–)epicatechin was directly linked to nitric oxide, a molecule used by the endothelium to signal surrounding muscle to relax, thereby dilating the blood vessels and increasing blood flow.

Buijsse et al. (2006) conducted a long-term study of elderly men that showed that cocoa intake was inversely associated with blood pressure. The study measured cocoa consumption from cocoa-containing foods for 470 men with an average age of 72. The median cocoa intake among users was 2.11 g/day. On average, men with the highest cocoa intake exhibited lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

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Fisher and Hollenberg (2006) showed that people over age 50 may benefit the most from flavanol-rich cocoa. They studied blood pressure and peripheral arterial responses in 15 young (<50 years) and 19 older (>50) healthy subjects who consumed cocoa for a period of several days. The results showed that flavanol-rich cocoa enhanced several measures of endothelial function to a greater degree among older than among younger subjects.

In addition to heart-health benefits, chocolate has also been shown to benefit the brain and skin. A supplement in Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology included several studies that indicated the benefits of chocolate for the brain. For example, Francis et al. (2006) looked at the relationship between cerebral blood flow and a single acute dose (450 mg flavanols) of flavanol-rich cocoa. The results showed that flavanol-rich cocoa can increase the cerebral blood flow to gray matter, suggesting the potential of cocoa flavanols for treatment of vascular impairment, including dementia and strokes.

Separate research studies conducted at Wheeling Jesuit University showed that chocolate consumption may enhance cognitive performance (Wheeling, 2006). Researchers assessed the effects of milk chocolate, dark chocolate, carob, and a control on cognitive performance, mood, and task workload. Composite scores for verbal and visual memory were significantly higher for the subjects who consumed milk chocolate than those who consumed the other types of chocolate. In addition, the consumption of milk or dark chocolate showed improved impulse control and reaction time in the subjects.

Heinrich et al. (2006) showed that cocoa beverages and foods rich in flavonols could thicken skin and reduce reddening. Two groups of women consumed either a high-flavanol (326 mg/day) or low-flavanol (27 mg/day) cocoa powder dissolved in 100 mL of water for 12 weeks. The ingestion of high-flavanol cocoa led to increases in blood flow of cutaneous and subcutaneous tissues, and to increases in skin density and skin hydration.

Mars Inc., Hackettstown, N.J. (www.cocoavia.com, www.cocoapro.com), has largely contributed to the research behind chocolate’s health benefits. The company developed a patented process, Cocoapro™, to protect and preserve the flavanol compounds that occur naturally in cocoa beans. Switzerland-based Barry Callebaut (phone +41-43-204-04-04, www.barry-callebaut.com) has also developed a production method, Acticoa™, which preserves the original high levels of active polyphenols in cocoa.

In addition to providing the benefits of cocoa flavanols, chocolate has also been used as an indulgent vehicle to deliver other nutraceuticals. Mars introduced CocoaVia® Milk Chocolate in October of this year. Like all CocoaVia heart-healthy snacks, the new range of products delivers a one-of-a-kind combination of cocoa flavanols and cholesterol-lowering plant sterols in a serving size that contains 110–150 calories.

At this year’s IFT Food Expo, several companies offered samples of chocolate that contained vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Fortitech Inc., Schenectady, N.Y. (phone 800-950-5156, www.fortitech.com), showcased three chocolate cluster products targeting different health conditions. Brain-healthy chocolate clusters were packed with 16 different nutrients, including a complete antioxidant profile, calcium, and iron for improved cognitive function. The heart-healthy chocolate clusters provided lycopene, coenzyme Q10, vitamins B-6, B-12, and C, and folic acid. A bone-healthy chocolate cluster was packed with calcium, vitamin D, and magnesium. Omega-3 fatty acids, which have proven heart and brain health benefits, were featured in chocolates by Ocean Nutrition Canada Ltd., Dartmouth, Canada (phone 888-980-8889, www.ocean-nutrition.com), and Omega Protein Inc., Houston, Tex. (phone 713-623- 0060, www.omega-pure.com).

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Beyond Chocolate
Although much of the attention in the confectionery industry has focused on chocolate, other product developments and innovative candy introductions show that functional sweets extend beyond chocolate. For example, in March 2006, Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co., Chicago, Ill. (phone 800-974-4539, www.wrigley.com), announced the establishment of the Wrigley Science Institute to study whether chewing gum may help maintain weight, relieve stress, and increase alertness and concentration. Studies are currently underway in the United States, United Kingdom, and Asia.

Recent confectionery introductions highlight other nutraceuticals being added to sweets, including minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, and botanicals.
• Calcium. A mineral essential for bone health, calcium is found in Adora Milk Chocolate Calcium Supplements from Thompson Brands, Meriden, Conn. (phone 800-648-4058, www.adoracalcium.com). Beautiful Bones Bar from E.B. Botanicals LLC, Montclair, N.J. (phone 877-696-2220, www.eccobella.com), is an osteoporosis-fighting chocolate bar with calcium and vitamins D and K.

• Botanicals. Echinacea is a popular botanical used in hard candies and chews for boosting immunity. Guarana is an energy-boosting botanical commonly found in drinks, but is now included in hard candies and gum as well. Women’s Wonder Bar from E.B. Botanicals is a dark chocolate bar formulated for easing symptoms of premenstrual syndrome and menopause. It contains soy, cranberry seed oil, flax, chaste tree berry, and rose oil. Phytobase Nutritionals Inc., Orem, Utah (phone 801-705-0555, www.phytobase.com), introduced Chocollissima™, a dark chocolate formulated for women that, according to the company, increases energy levels, reduces stress, and even increases libido. It contains borojoa, a fruit grown in the Amazon, known for its energy-enhancing and aphrodisiac qualities.

• Bacteria. Last year, New Zealand-based Blis Technologies Ltd. (phone +64-03-479-5337, www.blis.co.nz), launched Blis K12 Fresh Breath Kit in the New Zealand market. The kit includes Blis K12 Fresh Breath chewing gum, which contains Streptococcus salivarius K12. According to the company, studies have shown that people with healthy breath typically have high levels of the beneficial oral bacteria S. salivarius living on their tongue. The bacteria primarily break down carbohydrates, not proteins, so they produce little odor. The gum helps restore the balance of bacteria to that found in the mouths of people with healthy breath.

by Linda Milo Ohr,
Contributing Editor,
Denver, Colo.
[email protected]

About the Author

Linda Milo Ohr, Contributing Editor, Nutraceuticals column
[email protected]
Linda Ohr

References

Buijsse, B., Feskens, E.J.M., Kok, F.J., and Kromhout, D. 2006. Cocoa intake, blood pressure, and cardiovascular mortality: The Zutphen elderly study. Arch. Intern. Med. 166: 411-417.

Fisher, N.D.L. and Hollenberg, N.K. 2006. Aging and vascular responses to flavanol-rich cocoa. J. Hypertension. 24: 1575-1580.

Francis, S.T., Head, K., Morris, P.G., and Macdonald, I.A. 2006. The effect of flavanol-rich cocoa on the fMRI response to a cognitive task in healthy young people. J. Cardio. Pharm. 47: S215-S220.

Heinrich, U., Neukam, K., Tronnier, H., Sies, H., and Stahl, W. 2006. Long-term ingestion of high flavanol cocoa provides photoprotection against UV-induced erythema and improves skin condition in women. J. Nutr. 136: 1565-1569.

Schroeter, H., Heiss, C., Balzer, J., Kleinbongard, P., Keen, C.L., Hollenberg, N.K., Sies, H., Kwik-Uribe, C., Schmitz, H.H., and Kelm, M. 2006. (–)Epicatechin mediates beneficial effects of flavanol-rich cocoa on vascular function in humans. Proc. Natl. Acad. of Sciences. 103: 1024-1029.

Wheeling. 2006. Professor finds that chocolate consumption enhances cognitive performance. Press release, April 29. Wheeling Jesuit Univ., Wheeling, W.Va.