A study has looked at the effects of dark chocolate on the gut microbiome. It’s Official! Chocolate IS a Health Food!
Yikes! My two favorite subjects – chocolate and gut bacteria! Nirvana!
The findings were presented at the 247th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) – and revealed that certain gut bacteria ferment the molecules of dark chocolate, producing polyphenolic compounds that are anti-inflammatory.
This anti-inflammatory effect may reduce the long term risk of stroke.
This study was funded by Louisiana State College of Agriculture and a Louisiana AgCenter Undergraduate Research Grant. It is the first, ever, to look at the effects of dark chocolate on the microbial communities in the gut. According to John Finley Ph.D., who was the leader of the study,
When these compounds are absorbed by the body, they lessen the inflammation of cardiovascular tissue, reducing the long-term risk of stroke.
Using a model digestive tract, the researchers tested cocoa powder, the main ingredient in dark chocolate. Cocoa powder contains several polyphenolic compounds such as catechin and epicatechin, and a small amount of dietary fiber. These components are typically not digested well in the small intestine.
What the researchers found was that after cocoa passed through the small intestine, long molecules called polyphenolic polymers remained within the gastrointestinal tract. These molecules are too large to be absorbed through the mucous membrane lining of the gut. They are passed along to the colon where they become food for the bacteria. The bacteria – particularly Bifidobacterium and lacto-bacillus – ferment the compounds, producing smaller molecules which are more easily absorbed by the body.
There is yet another reason to eat lacto-fermented foods as well as chocolate – or maybe, along with your chocolate! The chocolate provides the potential anti-oxidants and the lacto-bacillus are the little factories that convert our foods to something the body can use.
It is a win win situation! One hand feeds the other, so to speak.
A number of short-term studies conducted recently have suggested that dark chocolate can cause blood vessels to dilate, and thus lower blood pressure. However, this is only true for dark chocolate, not milk chocolate or white chocolate.
There is another longer term study being conducted, by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and Mars Inc., maker of M&M’s and Snickers bars (not too financially invested in the results…), that is investigating the anti-oxidant compounds in chocolate in order to make a pill.
Can you imagine? Who would take a pill over a piece of chocolate? Anything to make a buck, I guess.
We know that many degenerative disorders stem from chronic inflammation. If these polyphenolic compounds that come from the fermentation of cocoa in the gut, have a systemic anti-inflammatory effect, this is very exciting news indeed!
Chocolate lovers the world over rejoice! What you have been saying for years is actually true! Chocolate may be grouped with other anti-oxidant rich superfoods such as, pomegranate, acai, blueberies, raspberries etc. It has been suggested that combining chocolate with these high ORAC value fruits, make it even more anti-inflammatory.
So those decadent rich desserts featuring dark chocolate and berries are actually good for you – as long as the chocolate is dark, dairy-free, soy-free, additive-free and low in sugar.
Using just a well sourced cocoa powder like this one, in recipes is your best bet because you can control how much sweetener you put in – and you could even use natural sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup or stevia. As always, moderation should also practiced.
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