Gnosis chocolate bar superfoodOn a recent Whole Living segment on Martha Stewart’s Sirius XM radio channel, I learned of the artisan chocolatier, Gnosis. The company, whose name is Greek for “knowledge,” grew out of the kitchen of a holistic health counselor, Vanessa Berg, who began to make nutritionally-infused sweets for her private clientele. Word-of-mouth made its way to a buyer from Whole Foods, who subsequently did a deal with Berg to sell Gnosis goods in some of the company’s stores in New Jersey and New York. Here’s a link to the radio interview.

Chocolate is a health food for this company, and for a growing number of firms that see a growing market for functional foods among consumers willing to pay premium prices for health-infused products. Some promise heart-health, some, management of women’s health issues. Gnosis has a bar that whispers about a better sex-life (see the Passion Aphrodisia Bar from Gnosis with horny goat weed).

moderation_nationHershey, famous for its milk chocolate bar, has promoted the health benefits of its Special Dark chocolate. The company recently acquired Brookside, a premium chocolatier with flavors like dark chocolate with acai and goji, to expand its health-oriented chocolate branding. During the 2012 holiday season, Hershey sponsored a marketing campaign called Moderation Nation to promote eating treats in “petite” portions, and the role of chocolate in a healthy lifestyle.

Last year, Barry Callebaut of France made a health claim for the positive impact of cocoa flavanols in its chocolate products. According to the Wall Street Journal’s coverage of the story, flavanols can lower blood pressure, improve blood flow and reduce heart disease risk. The Callebaut company ran 20 clinical trials to prove the health effects of flavanols. Together, these studies convinced the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to approve the company’s health claim that its cocoa could improve blood circulation in the human body.

The peer-reviewed journal Nutrition and Diabetes featured a Danish clinical trial studying eating dark and milk chocolates’ impact on appetite and energy intake. The study found that dark chocolate promotes satiety, lowers the desire to eat something sweet, and suppresses energy intake compared with eating milk chocolate.

A helpful explanation of chocolate as a functional food was developed by the University of Nebraska Extension Service who classifies chocolate as a functional food along with soy, garlic, oats, and flax seed. Dark chocolate also has a similarly low glycemic index to oatmeal.

Healthy Foods pyramid from U-MichHealth Populi’s Hot Points: Food = health, and this time of year chocolate is the food of love. It’s also, in its dark form, a health food if consumed in moderation, watching fat and sugar content. European rules specify a minimum of 35% cocoa solids to be considered “dark.” But health advocates in favor of chocolate as a functional food from my alma mater, the University of Michigan, recommend consuming >60% cocoa products for optimal health benefits. However, if you’re a migraineur, do stay away from this functional food which could be dys-functional for you.

The University of Michigan includes dark chocolate in its Healing Foods Pyramid, at left. Enjoy dark chocolate as an “accompaniment,” to be eaten in small delightful portions, shown in the top-most tier of the pyramid. But do enjoy…

Happy Valentine’s Day to all…may you have much love in your life….