Barry Callebaut to study cocoa butter for diabetics

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Cocoa butter Barry callebaut Diabetes mellitus Nutrition

Barry Callebaut is funding research aimed at discovering the
component in cocoa butter responsible for an observed improvement
in insulin sensitivity, with the ultimate aim of developing
chocolate products for diabetics.

The cocoa and chocolate manufacturer has a stated commitment to developing chocolate with health promoting properties.

It became interested in this area after animal studies conducted by the Center for Molecular Medicine (CMM) in Stockholm, Sweden, found that rats fed cocoa butter developed better insulin sensitivity than those fed other types of fat.

Barry Callebaut is funding the next stage of the project to try to uncover the element in cocoa butter responsible for the effect.

If the findings are replicated in humans, it could open the way for a new range of products that would bring the pleasures of chocolate to diabetics, without fear that they could be compromising their health.

"The goal of this study is to understand the molecular mechanisms behind these positive effects to produce a special chocolate for diabetics, which would allow them to enjoy chocolate without having to worry about their condition," said Professor Petra Tollet-Egnell, lead researcher at CMM.

The company has not revealed the amount of funding it is providing for the trial, nor an anticipated timeline for resulting products to be available.

The positive results for the first CMM trail - which has not seen in full - appear to have been a surprise for those involved.

Prof Tollet-Egnell and team set out to determine why men and women are affected differently by diabetes.

They fed male and female rates different kinds of fats in an attempt to create insulin resistance.

"To everyone's surprise," Barry Callebaut said in a communiqué, "the animals on a cocoa fat diet developed better insulin sensitivity than those fed with other kinds of fat, despite similar lipid content in the liver."

Chocolate and confectionery products aimed at diabetics have been on the market since the 1960s - however they have recently come in for criticism.

Last June the organisation Diabetes UK began a campaign to curb the sale of treat foods aimed at diabetics on the grounds that they are expensive and of little use and the Co-Op supermarket opted to pull diabetic chocolate, jams and conserves and beverages from its shelves A spokesperson for Diabetes UK told at the time: "Diabetic foods tend to be quite expensive and are not that good for you."

He added that consumers may be lulled into a false sense of security that they are eating healthily.

Advice on the charity's website holds that although such foods use a bulk sweetener like sorbitol or fructose in place of sugar, which allows them to be labelled as 'sugar-free', their nutritional content, such as fat and calories, is similar to ordinary confectionery foods and therefore still raise blood glucose levels in the same way.

If Barry Callebaut's research proves fruitful it could well usher in a new generation of treat foods that are not only truly suitable for diabetics, but could also prove helpful in managing their condition.

Several other companies in the nutraceutical field have also been conducting research into ingredients for diabetes management.

For instance, US company Nutrition 21 has conducted research into the benefits of its chromium picolinate supplement and is actively pursing its use in foods.

DSM Nutritional Products is also understood to be developing an ingredient for diabetes prevention.

Other recent research has investigated the potential of fibre-enriched bread to help manage insulin sensitivity and protect against type-2 diabetes, and studies involving supplementation with cinnamon extract have also yielded positive results for blood-glucose levels.

At present, no guidance exists, either at a European or UK level, on products labelled as "suitable for people with diabetes" .

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