British Journal of Nutrition

Full Papers

Human and Clinical Nutrition

Influence of sugar type on the bioavailability of cocoa flavanols

Ana Rodriguez-Mateosa1, Maria Jose Oruna-Conchaa1, Catherine Kwik-Uribea2, Alberto Vidala3 and Jeremy P. E. Spencera1 c1

a1 Molecular Nutrition Group, School of Chemistry, Food and Pharmacy, University of Reading, Reading RG6 6AP, UK

a2 Analytical and Applied Sciences Group, Mars, Incorporated, Hackettstown, NJ 07840, USA

a3 Department of Mathematics and Statistics, School of Mathematics and Physical Sciences, University of Reading, Reading RG6 6AP, UK


The beneficial effects of cocoa on vascular function are mediated by the absorption of monomeric flavanols into the circulation from the small intestine. As such, an understanding of the impact of the food matrix on the delivery of flavanols to the circulation is critical in assessing the potential vascular impact of a food. In the present study, we investigated the impact of carbohydrate type on flavanol absorption and metabolism from chocolate. A randomised, double-blind, three-arm cross-over study was conducted, where fifteen volunteers were randomly assigned to either a high-flavanol (266 mg) chocolate containing maltitol, a high-flavanol (251 mg) chocolate with sucrose or a low-flavanol (48 mg) chocolate with sucrose. Test chocolates were matched for micro- and macronutrients, including the alkaloids theobromine and caffeine, and were similar in taste and appearance. Total flavanol absorption was lower after consumption of the maltitol-containing test chocolate compared with following consumption of its sucrose-containing equivalent (P = 0·002). Although the O-methylation pattern observed for absorbed flavanols was unaffected by sugar type, individual levels of unmethylated ( − )-epicatechin metabolites, 3′-O-methyl-epicatechin and 4′-O-methyl-epicatechin metabolites were lower for the maltitol-containing test chocolate compared with the sucrose-containing equivalent. Despite a reduction in the total plasma pool of flavanols, the maximum time (T max) was unaffected. The present data indicate that full assessment of intervention treatments is vital in future intervention trials with flavanols and that carbohydrate content is an important determinant for the optimal delivery of flavanols to the circulation.

(Received November 14 2011)

(Revised January 16 2012)

(Accepted January 25 2012)

(Online publication March 07 2012)

Key Words:

  • Cocoa flavanols;
  • Absorption;
  • Metabolism;
  • Sugars;
  • Maltitol


c1 Corresponding author: Dr J. P. E. Spencer, email


  Abbreviations: 3ME, 3′-O-methyl-epicatechin; 4ME, 4′-O-methyl-epicatechin; CF, cocoa flavanol