May 12/Chicago/Examiner -- According to a new study in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, researchers from Pennsylvania State University found properties in cocoa may have the potential to inhibit the digestion of carbohydrates and fats, thus keeping the body from absorbing these potentially harmful compounds.

“The present study provides the first evidence that cocoa extracts and cocoa procyanidins are potent inhibitors of key enzymes in the digestion of carbohydrates and lipids in vitro, and these inhibitory activities are related to polyphenol content in cocoa extract,” write the authors in the new report.

The researchers say compounds in the cocoa bean appear to disrupt the activity of enzymes normally used to digest fats and some carbohydrates. With this activity disrupted, the fats and carbs do not get digested.

That said, not all forms of cocoa are alike. Indeed, the study utilized three types: a cocoa extract that underwent regular processing; an extract that underwent minimal processing but retained high flavonoid content (called lavado, a type of Spanish washed cocoa);  an extract that underwent minimal processing that is low in flavanoid content (called Dutch processing).  Flavonoids are the natural compounds that give chocolate its heart-healthy benefits.

The result: The cocoa extract that appeared to have the most fat-inhibiting properties was the Spanish washed cocoa, high in flavonoids as well as polyphenols, another compound found to have important health effects. The second most effective was the regular processed cocoa and coming in last was the Dutch processed cocoa.

“Because it is expected that the lavado cocoa extract is the highest in polyphenols and flavanols, followed by the regular cocoa extract, and the least would be found in the Dutch-processed cocoa extract, these results suggest that the inhibitory effects of cocoa extracts are related to their polyphenol content,” say the researchers.

 

From the May 16, 2011, Prepared Foods' Daily News.