Cocoa butter and dark chocolate can be a significant source of Vitamin D and may help reduce the risk of respiratory diseases and brittle bones, a study has found.
Vitamin D is crucial for the human body. It comes in two types: vitamin D2 and D3. Vitamin D3 is produced in the human skin through exposure to the sun. Humans get 90 per cent of their vitamin D requirements this way.
The rest is ideally consumed through food, such as fatty fish or chicken eggs. Vitamin D2, which can also be utilised by the human body, is found in fungi.
The study, published in the journal Food Chemistry, found that cocoa and foods containing cocoa have significant amounts of vitamin D2.
"Many people do not get enough vitamin D. The problem increases in the winter months when sunshine is scarce," said Gabriele Stangl from Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) in Germany.
Researchers investigated the vitamin D content of cocoa and products containing cocoa because they suspected that they contained a previously unknown source of the vitamin.
Cocoa beans are dried after fermentation. They are placed on mats and exposed to the Sun for one to two weeks. The precursors of vitamin D, which presumably originate from harmless fungi, are transformed by the sunlight into vitamin D2.
In order to test their theory, the research group analysed various cocoa products and powders using state-of-the-art mass spectrometry.
What they found is that products containing cocoa are indeed a source of vitamin D2, but the amount varies greatly from food to food. While dark chocolate has a relatively high vitamin D2 content, researchers found very little in white chocolate.
"This is not surprising as the cocoa content in white chocolate is significantly lower. It confirms our assumption that cocoa is the source of vitamin D2," said Stangl.
The findings do not prompt researchers to recommend consuming large quantities of chocolate.
"You would have to eat enormous amounts of chocolate to cover your vitamin D2 requirements. That would be extremely unhealthy because of the high sugar and fat content," said Stangl.
Instead, the results of the study are important for obtaining accurate data on the average nutrients consumed by the population.