Functional Chocolate: Getting Bang for your Calories!

Seeking Out Functional Chocolate Can Improve Your Quality of Life!

Does functional chocolate sound kind of scary to you? Maybe it conjures up images of "functional shoes" - you know, the ugly brown ones your Mom wanted you to wear in third grade. Or maybe the word "functional" makes your favorite sweet treat just a little less appealing.

Still, functional chocolate is increasingly popular all around the world. So what exactly is it, and what makes it so darn functional?

Functional Functions

We all know what a function is: a purpose. So a functional object (or food) is one that serves a specific purpose. It makes the idea of functional chocolate much less scary if you can think about it in those terms: chocolate that you buy for a specific purpose (for example, as a mood food or for heart health).

A Swiss study undertaken for Barry Callebaut found that more and more consumers are interested in the idea of functional chocolate - up to 21% of Western consumers. In our increasingly health conscious world, more and more people want to know that what they're putting in their mouths is going to have a positive effect on their overall health.

Why Buy Functional?

Most people buy functional chocolate for its health benefits. Americans consume chocolate more often than any other country in the world, so it makes sense that we want to know what we're eating and what it's going to do to us. That's why so many people are interested in antioxidants, flavanols, and serotonin - words that would have baffled chocolate eaters fifty years ago. Our diets have changed, and healthy food has become harder and more expensive to find. People are worried about what they're eating, and they want to know that they're taking care of their health, not just their tastebuds.

So What's the Problem?

Anytime there's a consumer trend, you can expect retailers to capitalize on it. Sometimes that's positive: for example, in response to the current focus on functional chocolate, some companies (such as Callebaut and Hershey) have released high flavanol cocoas.

On the other hand, though, there are currently no regulations forcing manufacturers to list how high the flavanol content is on their chocolate products, or whether "dark" chocolate refers to the color rather than the ingredients. In fact, US regulators recently threatened to take legal action against Mars for promoting its candy bars as healthy, warning that the small amount of health benefits couldn't stand next to the fat, sugar, and calorie content of your average chocolate bar.

As always, the only way to succeed is through consumer awareness. If you're interested in functional chocolate, research what you're buying and understand the ingredients - it's the only way to beat the system!