Chocoholics Anonymous

It probably will not come as a surprise that scientific research funded by chocolate makers Nestlé has demonstrated a link between our love of chocolate and a specific chemical signature programmed into our metabolism. The signature reads “chocolate lover” in some people and indifference to the popular sweet in others, the researchers say.

Sunil Kochhar of the Nestlé Research Center in Switzerland, working with Jeremy Nicholson of Imperial College London and their colleagues, studied 11 men who classified themselves as “chocolate desiring” and 11 volunteers who were “chocolate indifferent”. Women were not included in this initial study because their metabolic rate is affected by their menstrual cycle, but the team is designing a follow-up experiment to determine if there is a gender-specific response to chocolate.

In a controlled clinical study, each subject ate chocolate or a “placebo” over a five-day period and the team took blood and urine samples periodically for analysis by proton NMR spectroscopy. This sophisticated analytical technique can quickly detect the biomarkers associated with particular metabolic patterns.

The “chocolate lovers” revealed a metabolic profile involving low levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (so-called “bad” cholesterol) and marginally elevated levels of albumin, a beneficial protein, the researchers found. This profile was expressed even when the chocolate lovers did not actually eat chocolate, the researchers note. The team also demonstrated that gut microbial activity was very different between chocolate lovers and those indifferent to it. This is the first example of what the team refers to as a “nutrimetabonomic” approach in which spectroscopically-generated metabolic patterns are correlated with an individual’s dietary preference.

“Our study shows that food preferences, including chocolate, might be programmed or imprinted into our metabolic system in such a way that the body becomes attuned to a particular diet,” explains Kochhar. “We know that some people can eat a diet that is high in steak and carbohydrates and generally remain healthy, while the same food in others is unhealthy,” he explains. He points out that knowing your personal metabolic profile could help you optimize your diet for health.

“Nutrimetabonomics appears as a promising approach for the classification of dietary responses in populations and personalized nutritional management,” the researchers conclude. It is not yet clear whether chocolate lovers with the “wrong” metabolic profile could sate their desire for chocolate and optimize their diet at the same time. Maybe a trawl through Nestlé’s patents pending will reveal new healthy chocolate products heading for the supermarket shelves. As a chocolate addict of unknown metabolic profile, I await developments with tongue firmly in cheek.

Research Blogging IconRezzi, S., Ramadan, Z., Martin, F., Fay, L., van Bladeren, P., Lindon, J., Nicholson, J., & Kochhar, S. (2007). Human Metabolic Phenotypes Link Directly to Specific Dietary Preferences in Healthy Individuals Journal of Proteome Research, 6 (11), 4469-4477 DOI: 10.1021/pr070431h