Why Dark Chocolate Is So Damn Good For You

From improving heart health to alleviating the effects of depression, dark chocolate is renowned for its remarkable health benefits. A recent study now points to one of the reasons why — and it has to do with dark chocolate's unique chemistry, plus the microbes in our stomach who find it equally delicious.

How awesome is it that dark chocolate, in addition to being tasty, is so incredibly healthy? It's good for your heart and brain. It's full of antioxidants (which reduces oxidative stress to cells), theobromine (which can harden tooth enamel), and various vitamins and minerals (such as iron, potassium, copper, and magnesium). It can also help you reduce your blood pressure, ease depression, control your blood sugar and lose weight (but you should keep your dark chocolate t0 >85%, people).

The precise reasons for these health benefits are many, but a new study presented at a recent meeting of the American Chemical Society explains much of it. Research shows that certain bacteria in our stomach consume dark chocolate and ferment it into anti-inflammatory compounds that are good for our hearts.

According to the researchers, the "good" bacteria in our guts — such as Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria — feast on chocolate. The resulting compounds, or bi-products, are absorbed by our body, lessen the inflammation of cardiovascular tissue, which can reduce the long-term risk of stroke and heart disease. This study, conducted by researchers at Louisiana State University, was the first to look at the effects of dark chocolate on various types of bacteria in our stomach.

In terms of the exact chemistry involved, cocoa powder contains several polyphenolic, or antioxidant, compounds such as catechin and epicatechin, and a small amount of dietary fiber. Once they reach the colon, the microbes take over. The fiber is fermented and the large polyphenolic polymers are converted into a smaller, more easily absorbable form.

These findings were recently presented at the 247th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) and will appear in an upcoming paper titled, "Impact of the microbiome on cocoa polyphenolic compounds."

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