One of the outstanding arguments about the health benefits and/or detriments of popular foods has always been chocolate. We ‘know’ that dark chocolate is good for us. Right? We know’ that too much of a good thing can be bad. Right? People have attributed a vast array of health benefits to eating chocolate, from curing fertility and fatigue to fever and dental problems. Links to lower blood pressure and heart health have chocoholics jumping for joy! But what do we actually know about chocolate and it’s overall effect on our health? New research has uncovered some facts.
Researchers at Louisiana State University used a model of the human digestive tract and three cocoa powders to ascertain that certain bacteria in the stomach eat the dark chocolate, ferment it, and then release anti-inflammatory compounds, or bi-products, that benefit the heart. Researchers found that ‘good’ microbes in the gut, such as Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria, feast on the chocolate. The cocoa powder used in dark chocolate contains several polyphenolic, or antioxidant, compounds such as catechin and epicatechin, and a small amount of dietary fiber. The microbes break down this fiber into short fatty chain acids, which get absorbed and can have an effect on satiety.
John Finley, a professor in LSU’s department of food science and the leader of the study, said the inflammation of cardiovascular tissue can be lessened, reducing the long-term risk of stroke, when the compounds from dark chocolate are absorbed. The compounds can be absorbed into the blood, and protect cells in the blood vessels from stress. Finley also said he believes that this is the first study to examine dark chocolate’s effects on different types of stomach bacteria.
The LSU researchers also found evidence that consumption of dark chocolate with solid fruits such as pomegranates and acai could lead to even greater health benefits.
So with this good news for chocolate lovers, can we start throwing down chocolate snacks several times a day? Not so fast. Most experts advise eating no more than one ounce of chocolate per day, and the chocolate should be a minimum of 70% cocoa.