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Irony of Ironies - Healthier Chocolate MAY Require MORE Sugar ...

At least in lab rats.

A recent study undertaken at Purdue University (and funded at least in part by Kraft Foods) indicates that metabolites of catechin and epicatechin - beneficial compounds found in cocoa and chocolate - were affected by the formulation of the product.

The new findings suggest that more sugar may result in higher levels of the flavanol metabolites (the benefits of cacao revolve around the flavanols (also known as flavan-3-ols or catechins), and particularly the monomeric flavanol (-)epicatechin) in the blood stream.

The research expanded on previous studies that investigated the effects of carbohydrates and milk on the bioavailability of cocoa flavanols by assessing the impact of the food matrix on the levels of circulating catechins and their metabolites.

The new findings suggest that more sugar may mean more of the flavanol metabolites in the blood stream.

The research also reported that milk detrimentally affected the metabolism of the compounds. However, when formulated as beverages, the inhibiting effect of milk was reduced, compared to confections.

“This may be due to the rapid emptying of beverages from the stomach, which facilitates more rapid appearance in the blood, as well as the relative ease of digestive release  and solubilization from beverages as compared to confections,” wrote the researchers. “This process would serve to facilitate subsequent catechin absorption.

“Our data combined with that of previous investigations suggest that chocolate confections containing high levels of sucrose may enhance plasma levels of the predominant catechin and epicatechin metabolites as compared to milk chocolate confections, while confections containing moderate levels of sucrose and no milk deliver intermediate plasma levels of these compounds,” wrote the researchers.

“However, the physical state of the product may significantly modulate this effect, as our prior study comparing confections and beverages demonstrated that milk-containing beverages produced generally higher serum [levels] than confections with or without milk, and numerous studies have shown no difference in the overall bioavailability of EC between cocoa beverages formulated with milk versus water."

  • Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry
    Published online ahead of print, ASAP Article, doi: 10.1021/jf1005353
    Chocolate Matrix Factors Modulate the Pharmacokinetic Behavior of Cocoa Flavan-3-ol Phase II Metabolites Following Oral Consumption by Sprague−Dawley Rats. Authors: A.P. Neilson, T.N. Sapper, E.M. Janle, R. Rudolph, N.V. Matusheski, M.G. Ferruzzi

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Did it mention how much sugar would be ideal? This is crazy, I was just telling a customer how flavors of cacao are volatilized and best expressed with sugar and that I would not be surprised that if someday they found it was also better for you with sugar.

Thanks for the interesting post.


There was no mention of how much sugar is "ideal" and, in the end, my gut feeling is that the optimum amount will be in a range that is squarely in the semi-sweet / bittersweet range; the optimum amount will depend on the cacao itself and how it is processed.

Most importantly, in my opinion, this research sounds the death-knell for the notion that "if it's not at least 70% cocoa - it's not healthy for you." In other research quoted by Sam Madell, the actual amount of chocolate that needs to be eaten every day in order to deliver clinically meaningful benefits is rather small, so dietary the impact of the amount of sugar relative to the amount of fat should be quite small.

One thing the research did not say (and I would be interested in knowing) is if there is a way to determine whether the fructose or the glucose in the sugar contribute equally to the perceived benefits. However, the research also suggests that the way to get the maximum benefit from eating cacao is to consume it in a beverage made from powder - made with water or milk makes little difference in efficacy.


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