ACRI- Health and Science Working Group
To generate, monitor, and support scientific research on cacao products and ingredients to better understand their impact on health and to help promote cocoa and chocolate products.
Work in the Health Field:
A major focus of work for this group has been in the area of health-related topics including cocoa butter and stearic acid research, dental caries, migraine, theobromine, and antioxidants.
In recent years, consumers have shown an increasing awareness about dietary fat and its relation to heart disease. This concern prompted ACRI to initiate a major research program to determine the effect of cocoa butter, one of the highest natural sources of stearic acid, on blood lipids. Numerous research studies have shown that stearic acid does not raise blood cholesterol when consumed by humans. Additionally, research has proven that cocoa butter and milk chocolate in moderate amounts do not raise blood cholesterol levels in healthy people. In fact, a Penn State study done in 1991-92 showed that a milk chocolate bar per day as part of a reasonable diet actually had a favorable effect on HDL cholesterol.
To get the message out to professionals and the public, ACRI helped sponsor two major conferences on stearic acid at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and at the American Heart Association Convention. Research papers from these two conferences were published in a Supplement to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, December, 1994.
Since the early 1960s, researchers have suspected that chocolate contains an anticaries agent. Studies have been done over the past three decades that have shown minimal caries incidence would occur if sugar were consumed in the form of chocolate. Other research indicated that chocolate significantly neutralized the acid-producing effects of sucrose. Studies have confirmed that tannic acid in chocolate actually inhibits the formation of dental plaque; tannic acids are also found in other foods besides cocoa, including apples, bananas, nuts, tea, coffee and wine.
A 1997 study conducted at the University of Pittsburgh to determine the impact of chocolate on migraine headaches reported: "contrary to the commonly held belief of patients and physicians, chocolate does not appear to play a significant role in triggering headaches in typical migraine, tension type or combined headache sufferers." A 1998 literature review on the topic by Drs. Marcus and Scharff also reported no direct association between chocolate and headaches.
Chocolate and cocoa samples were thoroughly analyzed by Dr. Philip Keeney of Pennsylvania State University to establish reference values for caffeine and theobromine. Further studies showed that chocolate contributes very little caffeine to diets, and extensive research confirmed the safety of theobromine as consumed in cocoa.
A 1997 study conducted at the University of Scranton has found high levels of polyphenolic antioxidants in cocoa products, mainly cocoa powder and dark chocolate. ACRI is sponsoring new research at the Pennsylvania State University to determine any potential beneficial effects of these cocoa compounds in humans.
A great deal of health-related research has been done to dispel myths about chocolate over the past three decades including:
- Studies at the U.S. Naval Academy establishing that chocolate has no effect on the clinical course of acne on Naval midshipmen
- A literature search on the relationship between chocolate and allergies showed that chocolate is not a common food allergen and studies show that reactions to chocolate by oral challenge are rare
- Research proving that chocolate is no more involved in causing obesity than other foods
Programs for Consumers:
Two major programs that affect all consumers have been implemented because of ACRI:
A database for chocolate, confectionery products and ingredients has been developed that allows subscribers to calculate nutrient information required for nutrition labeling, among other uses.
Amended chocolate standards were issued by FDA in July, 1993, largely based on ACRI and CMA recommendations. In addition, ACRI and CMA have petitioned FDA to issue standards for white chocolate.
Members: Complete Project Listing with Summaries
- H-24 "Chocolate and Migraines"
- H-25 "Predictive Equations for Hemostatic Factors"
- H-26 "Stearic Acid Labeling"
- H-28 "Dietary Saturated Fat and Diabetes"
- H-30 "Research on Polyphenolic Antioxidants in Chocolate"
- H-31 "Post-Manufacturing Product Handling"
- H-33 "Cocoa Polyphenolic Antioxidants Human Study"
- H-34 "Intake of Chocolate and Non-Chocolate Confectionery"
- CP-10 "Nutrient Database for Cocoa, Liquor, and Butter"
- CP-11 "New Serving Sizes"