A healthy chocolate bar?

07 April 2015

Interview with

Dr Ivan Petyaev, Lycotec

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Easter just wouldn't be Easter without consuming obscene amounts of chocolate. But for most of us, it's something we enjoy with a bit of a guilty conscience, worrying what it will do to our health and our waistlines. Wouldn't it be nice if this wasn't the case? Ginny Smith went to visit Lycotec's chocolate lab in Cambridge, where the founder of the company, Ivan Petyaev, explained how they are developing a range of chocolates that are actually beneficial to our health... 

Ivan - Majority of people, one way or another, eat chocolate. It’s a treat most people love basically and we want not to change people to do something they don’t know, eat something different or a few people eat it. Whatever the reason, people do go for chocolates.

Ginny - Now, I've heard a lot about kind of health claims around chocolate particularly dark chocolate that it’s really good for you and all these different ways. What is it in chocolate that gives us those benefits?

Ivan - We identify a number of active molecules which is really responsible for a certain kind of benefit. It ranges from neurotransmitters which are present in the chocolate, two, caffeine, and in the last 20 years, main attention really focusing on new molecules they found which have been there all the time called polyphenols and flavanols. They're cousins or the same molecules which is in red wine, the same which is in the blueberry.

Ginny - What is it about polyphenols that are good for us? What do they actually do in the body?

Ivan - Polyphenols, it’s a type of molecules which is sitting on a surface of the cell membranes because it’s a little bit lipophilic. Also, it’s a bit water soluble.

Ginny - So, the molecule is both attracted to the fats around the outside of the cell, but it’s also soluble in blood.

Ivan - Yeah, absolutely right description because it’s sitting on a surface of a membrane exposed to the blood, to the plasma. This is a unique position because this is where all drama in the cells happening where the disease come. Oxidation starts from outside. Inflammation starts from outside. It means, you need to help cells to control this process.

Ginny - So, is it effectively protecting the cell from attackers in the blood?

Ivan - Exactly because when the cells get attacked by damaging factors, it would protect them and this has been described in many studies and we really like these properties.

Ginny - So, if chocolate is full of all this good stuff anyway, what makes your chocolate better?

Ivan - We’re not really bringing new chocolate. We’re not bringing new molecules. We have a technology which allow us to deliver these molecules in very compact form and make them working. Our technology designed to protect these flavanols in the chocolate because actually, it’s only 1% of flavanols get absorbed to the blood. if we learn how to protect flavanol from the damage during digestion process, we can increase delivery of the flavanols and we don’t need so much chocolate to consume.

Ginny - Does that mean you're saying that there is a huge amount of flavanols already in the chocolate but we just can't access them because by the time they’ve got to our stomach, most of it has degenerated and it’s not useful anymore?

Ivan - This is exactly what is happening. 99% get oxidised by acidity and bacteria. It means we have very little left to absorb.

Ginny - What exactly is it about the technology you’ve developed that prevents that oxidation process and keeps those flavanols available for our bodies to use?

Ivan - We know that flavanols are sitting within the chocolate crystals and we’ve developed a technology that we can code these crystals or some of these crystals with other active carotenoids. So pigments like lycopene from tomato, lutein from spinach or astaxanthin as well from algae. Basically, they're very similar to each other but main property of them, they're not just able to code the chocolate crystals but they have acid resistance. It mean this is what give us – use them as a protector of flavanols during digestion process. As a result of this coating, we can have a high level of delivery of these flavanols to the blood.

Ginny - And of course, those carotenoid molecules you mentioned are very beneficial as well. We’ve all been told to eat more greens and eat more tomatoes because they’ve got these pigments in them that are so good for us.

Ivan - This is correct. If you combine the benefit of digestion of these carotenoids together with higher increased level of flavanols, we’ll have a very nice energetic, health beneficial effect.

Ginny - And we really can eat chocolate without feeling guilty about it.

Ivan - Yes, you can eat it and enjoy it. You can try yourself the taste and we’ll see how it tastes.

Ginny - That will be fantastic! So, have you got some here that I could try?

Ivan - Yes, please do.

Ginny - Okay, so which version of your chocolate is this?

Ivan - It’s contained astaxanthin. It’s from algae, make basically food chain all pink: prawns eat them. Fish eat prawns and the creoles, and all of them, all of these marine species will have astaxanthin.

Ginny - So, it looks just like a normal square of dark chocolate. It’s lovely and shiny and it’s got a very pungent dark chocolatey smell. I'm going to try a piece now. You promise me this won't taste of algae.

Ivan - No.

Ginny - I'm not detecting any algae at the moment. It’s a lovely smooth dark chocolate. It’s delicious. You wouldn’t know that this was a health food certainly.

Ivan - Well, this is the point. We don’t want to change taste.

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