by Marion Nestle
Sep 29 2015

Cocoa flavanols: science or marketing?

Sunday’s New York Times carried this full-page advertisement.

cocoa via

The ad is from Cocoa Via, a company owned by Mars.  It quotes a dietitian stating that cocoa flavanols “support healthy blood flow…which allows oxygen and nutrients to get to your heart more easily.”

The ad directs you to the full story at (where you see more ads).

I posted the science behind this ad earlier this month in my collection of industry-funded studies with results favorable to the sponsor’s interests.  To repeat:

Cocoa flavanol intake improves endothelial function and Framingham Risk Score in healthy men and women: a randomised, controlled, double-masked trial: the Flaviola Health Study Roberto Sansone, Ana Rodriguez-Mateos , Jan Heuel, David Falk, Dominik Schuler, Rabea Wagstaff, Gunter G. C. Kuhnle, Jeremy P. E. Spencer, Hagen Schroeter, Marc W. Merx, Malte Kelm and Christian Heiss for the Flaviola Consortium, European Union 7th Framework Program.  British Journal of Nutrition, September 9, 2015. doi:10.1017/S0007114515002822.

  • Conclusion: In healthy individuals, regular CF [cocoa flavanol] intake improved accredited cardiovascular surrogates of cardiovascular risk, demonstrating that dietary flavanols have the potential to maintain cardiovascular health even in low-risk subjects.
  • Funding: Additional funding was provided…through an unrestricted grant by MARS Inc. MARS Inc. also provided the standardised test drinks used in this investigation… H. S. provided test drinks on behalf of Mars Inc… H. S. is employed by MARS Inc., a member of the Flaviola research consortium and a company engaged in flavanol research and flavanol-related commercial activities. [The conflict statement also discloses that MARS employee H.S. shared responsibility for designing the study, writing the paper, and approving the final content].
  • Comment: Lest the “eat more chocolate” message of these studies be missed, Mars sent out a press release: “Cocoa flavanols lower blood pressure and increase blood vessel function in healthy people.”

Now we have a full-page ad in the New York Times.

Here’s what the ad does not say:

  • CocoaVia is owned by MARS, Inc (this appears nowhere in the ad).
  • Flavanols are usually destroyed during normal cocoa processing.
  • Most chocolate contains few flavanols; CocoaVia’s process preserves some of the flavonols in very dark chocolate.
  • Flavonol-rich or not, chocolate candy is not a health food.

Like most conflicted research, this is about marketing—hence, the ad—not science.