March 31, 2015

By Nuritas

The “Dark” Secrets of Chocolate

By: Meaghan Lee-Erlandsen and Dr. Nora Khaldi on 31 March 2015

Here at Nuritas™, we are all serious chocolate lovers and as Easter fast approaches, bringing with it scrumptious chocolate rabbit figurines and colourful creamy, chocolate eggs, we decided to do a bit of scientific research into the health-benefitting molecules of chocolate. It could be argued this was done to ease some of the guilt if a few of us happen to go a little overboard this year!

Some recent scientiifc studies have shown that cocoa rich chocolate, and ultimately polyphenols (micronutrients), has positive effects regarding heart health, blood sugar, and brain health. Indeed, a recent 2014 study indicated that diets high in flavanols, whichchocolate are a type of polyphenol found in cocoa, have been linked to better memory function [1].

Unfortunately, it has been found that these health-benefitting flavanols taste quite bitter in their natural form and many are eliminated during commercial cocoa processing, resulting in the astounding loss of up to 90% of these important molecules [2].

But it’s not all bad news, we analysed a small cocoa sample and found that about 34% of the sample represented protein. This huge amount really surpised and intrigued us, as we were not expecting such a high value. More importantly this high value of protein may potentially be associated with health-benefiting peptides and amino acids.

Excited by this possibility, we decided to look further at the composition of this cocoa protein fraction and we ultimately found that it was high in health-benefiting amino acids. Some of the richest amino acids that we found in cocoa are associated with memory and nervous system function, muscle protection, and cellular health. Here is a more specific breakdown of just a few of these important molecules that can be found in high cocoa chocolate.

1. Glutamic Acid – Alertness and long term memory

This amino acid made up 15% of the protein content we looked at and is associated with immune and digestive health as well as muscle growth and function [3]. Importantly, it is a neurotransmitter and is involved in the synthesis of neurotransmitters such as GABA which makes this a critical amino acid in learning, alertness and long term memory [4].

2. Aspartic Acid – Healthy cells and proper nervous system function

This amino acid made up about 10% of the protein content of the cocoa sample and is known to help the function of nearly every cell within the body. It also plays a key role in hormone production and release as well as proper nervous system function [5]. This is not an essential amino acid, as our body is able to produce this, but it is promising to see this amount within cocoa as it also has many positive and important functions within the body.

3. Leucine – Protecting muscle and regulating blood sugar and brain function

This is a very important amino acid in that it is associated with protecting muscle and decreasing protein breakdown due to muscle stress [6]. Essentially it is the only amino acid that can stimulate muscle protein synthesis [7]. Furthermore it is associated with regulating blood sugar and brain function [8]. Overall, it made up 6% of the protein content of our cocoa sample. Although it only made up a small percentage of the protein content, the amount is still quite significant in that it may provide an opportunity to find peptides that may be able to target such important functionalities within our bodies.

Overall, there are many other untapped molecules in chocolate, and in many different foods for that matter, that may have the potential for health-benefitting functions and we look forward to future research in this area. We will be sure to continue our own research on the possibilities of protein and other molecules within chocolate and other foods, most likely enjoying a few chocolate eggs and figurines along the way. All in the name of science, of course!

Wishing you a Happy (and Healthy) Easter from Nuritas™