Cambridge University have created a new post for a doctor of chocolate for a three and a half year project to look into how chocolate can remain solid in warm climates. The job was placed in the university’s department of chemical engineering & biotechnology.
This is a dream job is it not. The university was looking for a candidate to undertake a PhD funded researcher position in January 2015. The aim was to find a way to keep chocolate stable in warm climates. Is there any other way to do this without the introduction of foreign enzymes, in other words Genetically Modified Organisms. A variety of oils and fatty acids are normally used to control how hard or soft chocolate is when we bite into it, and when it melts, because it has a melting point close to body temperature.
The sponsor for this project was anonymous, so should we assume that big names like Nestles or Mondelēz International have seen a gap in the market for selling chocolate in the desert to bedouin tribes. Well in traditional fashion Oxford reacted to its Cambridge counterpart by conducting a chocolate study of its own. Oxford Brookes is one of the UK’s leading modern universities and they have a budget of £70,000, funded by the MS Society, to assess whether chocolate can help to reduce symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) and will look at the role of flavonoids in the reduction of inflammation and the damage caused by harmful molecules which may be linked with fatigue.
Dark chocolate is thought of as bad for you but it contains flavonoids in cocoa levels of over 70 per cent. Flavonoids are the molecules found in fruit, vegetables and herbs and hence the most abundant micronutrients found in the human diet. They are secreted by the roots and work with the plant and soil to form a nutrient filtration system; rhizobia present in soil is recognised by the plant in the presence of flavonoids for example, leading to ion fluxes and root noduler formation and some flavonoids are known to inhibit spores to protect against certain plant diseases.
In the human diet, flavonoid plant metabolites are thought to provide health benefits through their antioxidant effects. They are required for UV filtration, nitrogen fixation, cell cycle inhibition, and as chemical messengers, and this is one reason we are advised to eat five portions a day of fruit and vegetables. These flavonoid micronutrients are known collectively as Polyphenols and have shown to aid the prevention of degenerative diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative diseases, diabetes mellitus and osteoporosis.
The health effects of polyphenols depend on the amount consumed which is complemented by their low toxicity. The health effects of dietary polyphenols have only been studied since 1995, before which time the preferred studied antioxidants were vitamins, carotenoids, and minerals. Research on the antioxidant properties and the effects in disease prevention of flavonoids and other polyphenols was restricted by the complexity of their chemical structures. Even today our understanding of the role of polyphenols in disease prevention is limited.
Evidence for a reduction of disease risk by flavonoids was considered possible for cardiovascular diseases and insufficient for cancers in a recent report from the World Health Organisation.
Previous Cambridge research looked at the consumption of dark chocolate, milk chocolate, chocolate drinks and chocolate confectioneries. Their paper was published in the British Medical Journal in 2011 and found that found that people who consumed the most chocolate had a 37 per cent lower risk of developing heart disease and a 29 per cent lower risk of suffering a stroke.
The Cambridge study concluded that chocolate may be beneficial, but it should be eaten in a moderately. Although the analysis suggested that eating higher quantities of chocolate was beneficial, the findings still need to be interpreted with caution, because commercially made chocolate is very calorific and itself leads to weight gain and an increase of a variety of health risks.
The daily intake of dietary flavonoids ranges anywhere between 50 and 500 mg, meaning antioxidant levels vary considerably between individuals. Foods that are rich in flavonoids include onions, parsley, blueberries, bananas, and dark chocolate of course, and they are abundant in red wine, Some types of tea are also rich in flavonoids and their consumption is thought to lower levels of triglycerides and cholesterol in the blood.