Research suggests that red wine and chocolate could help to prevent type 2 diabetes.
According to a study of 2,000 women in the UK, plant compounds called flavonoids that are present in some berries and fruit – and in chocolate and red wine – protect against the disease of glucose metabolism.
The research is likely to be seized upon by the sugar industry, which on Monday struck out against being “demonised” by pressure groups.
The study at the University of East Anglia published in the Journal of Nutrition, is one of the largest scientific investigations of the effects of flavonoids on type 2 diabetes, which affects more than 2m people in Britain.
The researchers analysed blood samples and monitored the food consumption of 2,000 healthy volunteers.
“We found that those who consumed plenty of anthocyanins and flavones [types of flavonoids] had lower insulin resistance,” said Professor Aedin Cassidy, the research leader. “High insulin resistance is associated with type 2 diabetes, so what we are seeing is that people who eat foods rich in these two compounds – such as berries, herbs, red grapes, wine – are less likely to develop the disease.”
The biochemical mechanisms behind the findings are unclear, though the researchers suspect that flavonoids raise levels of a protein called adiponectin, which regulates glucose metabolism.
Tim Spector of King’s College London, who was also involved in the research, called it “an exciting finding that shows that some components of foods that we consider unhealthy, like chocolate or wine, may contain some beneficial substances”.
But Alasdair Rankin, research director of the charity Diabetes UK, urged caution. “There have been contradictory findings from other studies and, also, even if high flavonoid consumption and lower type 2 diabetes risk do tend to happen together, it does not necessarily mean that one is causing the other,” Mr Rankin said.
He added that advice to limit consumption of wine and chocolate would remain in force even if flavonoids were proved to reduce diabetes risk, “because any health benefit from the flavonoids would be dramatically outweighed by the calories in the chocolate and the alcohol in the wine”.
The Food and Drink Federation, an industry body, did not comment on the research but said “demonising” sugar in the fight against obesity and diabetes, was “over-simplistic”.
It also attacked as “disgraceful” a broadcast media claim that a number of government advisers had “worryingly close” links with confectionery producers.
Lidl, the high street discounter, removed chocolates and sweets from its checkout counters last week, saying it wanted to help promote healthier lifestyles.
The sugar industry is fighting back amid a growing campaign against “completely unnecessary and very large amounts of sugar the food and soft drinks industry is adding to our foods,” according to Graham MacGregor, a professor of cardiovascular medicine.
Mr MacGregor is chairman of Action on Sugar, a campaign launched this month to achieve a 30per cent reduction in sugar in food and drink in the next three to five years.
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