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