The research is in, and the health benefits of dark chocolate can’t be refuted. Dark chocolate is a top-ranking antioxidant and anti-inflammatory superfood that has been shown to help lower your risk for cardiovascular disease and its indicators, including…
- Coronary artery disease
- Heart attack
- Metabolic syndrome
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
Dark chocolate also acts as an anti-cancer agent and has demonstrated neuroprotective characteristics. It helps to lower stress hormones (that might explain why you reach for a chocolate bar in times of stress!) and even helps to treat the symptoms of vision disorders such as cataracts and glaucoma.
Recent research presented at the National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) appears to have pinpointed just how dark chocolate is able to impact health…and it seems to be linked to the beneficial microorganisms that populate the gut!
Dark Chocolate and Your Gut
Researchers tested three different cocoa powders in a model digestive tract. Cocoa powder is made from roasted, husked, and ground cacao seeds, which put the dark in dark chocolate. Cacoa and cocoa powder are highly concentrated with antioxidants called polyphenols, which have previously been thought to be too big for proper nutrient assimilation. However, the latest research shows that certain strains of gut bacteria are able to break down and ferment these polyphenols so that they can be more easily digested and absorbed. Nutrients in dark chocolate are thereby transformed into potent anti-inflammatory compounds thought to help decrease inflammation arising in cardiovascular tissue.
Two bacteria in particular—Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria—break down the fiber in cocoa powder into more absorbable short fatty acids that help you feel fuller for longer.
Lead researcher John Finley from Louisiana State University explained:
“[W]e 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.”
Previous research identified dark chocolate as a prebiotic, which means it serves as food for beneficial bacteria so that your gut flora can thrive and promote optimal health through your entire body.
Dining on Dark Chocolate
Don’t confuse dark chocolate with milk chocolate, which offers none of the same health benefits! And remember to go easy on intake; experts recommend no more than 1-2 ounces of dark chocolate a day. To ensure the health benefits of dark chocolate, purchase fair-trade organic varieties with a cacao content of 75% or higher.