Analysis of flavanols in foods: what methods are required to enable meaningful health recommendations?
Flavanols and their related oligomeric compounds, the procyanidins, have received increased attention during the past decade due to their reported health benefits. On the basis of compelling data published during the past decade demonstrating that the consumption of certain flavanol-richfoods can improve markers of cardiovascular health, additional clinical, and epidemiological research is clearly warranted to establish appropriate public health recommendations. However, recommendations on the consumption of these foods appropriate for use by health professionals can only be made on the basis of clinical investigations that accurately identify and quantify--through proper analytical measurement systems--the flavanols in the foods used in these investigations. This manuscript provides an overview of the strengths, weaknesses, and limitations of commonly used analytical methods to characterize the content of flavanols in foods. Two nonspecific measurements widely used by investigators, the Folin-Ciocalteu assay and the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) measurement, are discussed in this context, as is the use of various high-performance liquid chromatography methods that provide more specific data related to the content of flavanols in foods. A comparison of the data obtained from these analytical methods to those of the more rigorous high-performance liquid chromatography analyses demonstrates that these nonspecific methods are ill-suited for providing unequivocal data necessary to evaluate the importance of dietary flavanols in the context of improving cardiovascular health. Meaningful dietary recommendations for the consumption of flavanol-rich foods will only be made possible by additional well-designed clinical and epidemiological studies enabled by detailed compositional data obtained through use of appropriate analytical methods.