The benefit of eating dark chocolate is no longer a mystery as we now know that anti-inflammatory compounds in this food keep the heart healthy.
Certain bacteria in the gut can ferment the cocoa found in chocolate into anti-inflammatory compounds in the body.
These compounds will lower the inflammation of the heart tissues, resulting in a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke.
Our gut contains probiotics such as Bifidobacterium and lactic acid and these friendly bacteria gorge on chocolate.
We should not forget that our gut also contains bad bacteria as well as the good ones.
E. coli and Clostridium are examples of harmful bacteria that cause bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhoea, and inflammation.
A study has revealed that cocoa found in chocolate contains a small amount of fibre and mostly nutrients called polyphenols that are rich in antioxidants, such as epicatechin and catechin.
These components remain undigested until they enter the colon where the friendly bacteria start working on them.
Professor John Finley, who led this study, explained:
“In our study we found that the fiber is fermented and the large polyphenolic polymers are metabolized to smaller molecules, which are more easily absorbed. These smaller polymers exhibit anti-inflammatory activity.
When these compounds are absorbed by the body, they lessen the inflammation of cardiovascular tissue, reducing the long-term risk of stroke.”
Additionally, the study suggests that adding prebiotics to the fibre in cocoa can improve the break down of polyphenols into anti-inflammatory compounds.
This is an extra bonus as prebiotics are food for gut bacteria so they can help improving overall human health.
Prebiotics are indigestible carbohydrates sold as dietary supplements and are found in fruits and vegetables like bananas, chicory, asparagus, artichokes, onions, and chickpeas.
Professor Finley said:
“When you ingest prebiotics, the beneficial gut microbial population increases and outcompetes any undesirable microbes in the gut, like those that cause stomach problems.”
The authors also suggest that the health benefits would be greater if dark chocolate is eaten with fruits such as acai pomegranates.
About the author
Mina Dean is a Nutritionist and Food Scientist. She holds a BSc in Human Nutrition and an MSc in Food Science.
The study was presented at the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, 2014.