The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has ruled that cocoa powder and dark chocolate can help people improve blood circulation - a claim made by Barry Callebaut, the world's largest maker of chocolate products.
The Swiss group, which supplies food companies such as Nestle and Hershey with cocoa and chocolate products, said on Tuesday it had provided evidence to EFSA that eating 10 grammes of dark chocolate or its equivalent in cocoa that were high in flavanols helped blood flow.
If the European Commission signs off on the EFSA ruling, the company and its customers would have the right to use the health claim on packaging for products such as chocolate drinks, cereal bars and biscuits, the company said.
"As the first company receiving such a health claim, we see new market potential both for us and for our customers," Chief Executive Juergen Steinemann said in a statement.
For the clinical studies it conducted to back up the claim, Barry Callebaut said it used a special process to make cocoa products that maintains the flavanols, which are usually mostly destroyed during conventional chocolate-making.
In an opinion posted on the EFSA website, a scientific panel concluded that a cause and effect relationship had been established between the consumption of cocoa flavanols and the maintenance of normal vasodilation, which aids blood flow.
A string of scientific studies in recent years have shown the potential for health benefits from eating chocolate. Research last year suggested it might be associated with a one-third reduction in the risk of developing heart disease.
The European Union has been clamping down on health claims for food products, approving only some 200 out of over 2,500 applications earlier this year and giving food companies until the end of 2012 to remove any rejected claims.