Are the Antioxidants in Chocolate Really Doing Anything For You?

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Courtesy of K+M Chocolate

“What makes this chocolate special is the consciousness that mother nature has given us a great ingredient and we are trying to respect the ingredient as much as we can,” said Armando Manni, during a tasting of K+M Extravirgin Chocolate, his new venture with master chef Thomas Keller. The ingredient Manni is referring to is antioxidants, which their chocolate (using a secret, scientific process) claims to proffer in 300- to 400-percent greater doses than other chocolate on the market.

Their newest bar, a semi-milk chocolate, joins a collection of bean-to-bar chocolates that for which Keller wears the hat of technocrat more than a chef. They tout their partnership with the University of Florence, in developing a proprietary process that helps preserve the antioxidants in the cocoa beans; they tout their chocolatier, Chi Bui, and her selectiveness in only choosing beans with the correct DNA and flavor; they tout their use of olive oil (more antioxidants!)— instead of that fatty cocoa butter—whose polyhopenals “clean your mouth like a housekeeper,” according to Manni. They cite studies wherein chocolate is shown to reduce glucose in the blood and the risk for heart disease.

But the only problem with all this scientific chest-thumping is that none of it changes one simple fact: Chocolate is candy.

For proof of this that goes beyond conventional wisdom, Marion Nestle, a world expert on the science of nutrition and a professor at New York University, pointed to the millions upon millions of dollars that the Mars company (one of the world’s largest chocolate makers) spent on scientific research so that they could market their chocolate as healthy. They eventually gave up in 2004, because there’s no way to tell people that eating pounds of chocolate—the amount one would need to reap any benefit from the relatively small amounts of good stuff in there, antioxidants included—could possibly be good for you. 

“Antioxidants are a marketing term,” said Nestle. “They have nutritional value, but they’re very complicated and they’re metabolized in different ways. And they’re not understood very well. Lots of studies show they’re associated with reduced risk of one thing or another, but you have no idea if it’s what’s happening with the antioxidants or if it’s the other components of the food.” 

Moreover, a surplus of antioxidants are probably bad for you. “We do have a good idea that a lot of antioxidants are not a good idea,” Nestle added. “In clinical trials where subjects were given antioxidant supplements, they did worse.”

Another important takeaway: if you’re convinced that antioxidants are great for you, get them from eating more fruits and vegetables, not chocolate. “If you want the benefits of olive oil, how about eating olive oil? Put it on your salad,” Nestle said. “This is silly.”  (For people trying to lose weight, what K+M Chocolate may indeed have going for it is its sugar content, which they say is lower than other milk chocolates, though they will not specify by how much.) 

Instead, eat chocolate because it’s delicious (and these bars are delicious), goes nicely with wine, and is a good way to finish off a meal without a weighty dessert. This reporter recently played host to a Swiss friend for dinner. While she has no professional qualifications as a chocolate taster, she grew up in Zurich, spends a good part of her year there, and has lifelong experience with the world’s best chocolates (last year, when she attempted to bring me a box from Sprüngli, they resisted giving it to her, because the the travel time involved meant the chocolates’ taste would no longer be optimal).

Her verdict: “It’s pretty good. I like it that it’s not too sweet.” And then we went back to our wine.

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