Health claims for chocolate shot through the heart

YOU are not going to want to read this: chocolate cannot be relied upon as a source of antioxidants to boost cardiovascular health. But it gets worse: drinking coffee and red wine in the hope it will prevent heart disease doesn't work either.

Fans of Turkish or Greek coffee have now been warned that their boiled coffee contains more bad cholesterol-bearing oil than filtered Italian coffee varieties.

The brutal news was delivered yesterday by the Heart Foundation following a review of more than 100 international studies on antioxidants from the past decade.

The Heart Foundation's national director of healthy weight, Susan Anderson, said the benefits of dark chocolate, coffee and red wine had been overstated, and the review was conducted following concern that these popular beliefs were misleading the community.

''The evidence is just not there in terms of prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease,'' Ms Anderson said.

It turns out that the best sources of antioxidants - nutrients that are easily absorbed and protect cells from damage by free-radicals (known to cause degenerative diseases and cancers) - are fruit, vegetables, grains, legumes and green or black tea.

Even antioxidant supplements such as vitamins E and C failed to get the Heart Foundation's tick of approval following the literature review. The findings will be circulated among doctors, nutritionists and other health professionals to pass on to patients.

''We're concerned about people thinking that in having red wine or dark chocolate that they are actually doing something to treat or prevent cardiovascular disease when the evidence doesn't support that,'' Ms Anderson said.

The review found that while raw cocoa contained high levels of antioxidants, once it was refined for baking, drinking and use in confectionary the antioxidants were lost.

Meanwhile, when it comes to coffee it's not what is lost but what remains at the point of consumption that has the Heart Foundation speaking out. Coffee contains a naturally occurring oil which raises the ''bad'' LDL cholesterol. This is removed with paper and metal filtering and in instant coffee, but remains in boiled coffees such as Turkish and Greek-style brews.

''If you make coffee with a plunger or if you're boiling it on a stove top, then it will still contain the oil and that will raise the LDL cholesterol,'' Ms Anderson said. ''So for people who consume a few coffees a day, that's quite important.''

Coffee, chocolate and wine have not been black-listed all together. ''Chocolate, coffee and red wine are OK as part of a balanced diet,'' she said, along with at least two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables every day.