A large, new study of 18,000 men and women nationwide will test the benefits of flavanol, a substance found in cocoa. Some participants will take pills filled with flavanols twice per day for four years while others will take placebos. The experiment is a double-blind study, meaning that neither the participants nor the researchers know who gets which pill. The pills are flavorless and appear identical.
Throughout the study, participants’ blood pressure, cholesterol and insulin levels will be tested to see if they improve with flavanol pills.
Don’t run out and stock up on chocolate bars yet. The amount of flavanol in a single pill is equivalent to thousands of chocolate bars. Most of the time, flavanol is destroyed while a chocolate bar is being created. The fat and sugar in candy are also likely to far outweigh any benefits flavanol may have.
When the results of the study come out, they may be flawed. Someone who loves chocolate may sign up for the experiment because it sounds exciting, and their belief that chocolate is good for them may exaggerate the benefits of flavanols. Also, if participants think they need to get healthier, they may start exercising and dieting. The improvement in their health will make it seem like the pills worked.
The study is being funded in part by Mars, the company that makes M&Ms and other candies. Mars has patented a way to extract flavanols from chocolate, so if the results of the study are good, they stand to make a lot of money from chocolate pills.
No matter what the results of the study are in four years, be sure to take them with a grain of salt– and maybe a small square of dark chocolate.