Dark chocolate health benefits are being further explored in recent studies. Dietitians have long considered dark chocolate a heath food and a benefit to heart health. However, the reasoning behind these claim has been vague. According to recent studies, there is evidence to suggest it is linked in part to a family of microbes living in the digestive tract. Specifically, gut bacteria in the stomach ferments chocolate into useful anti-inflammatory compounds that are good for the heart.
Researchers at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Dallas, TX on Tuesday presented evidence that they had solved the confectionery mystery by using modified test tubes to simulate the human digestive process. Researchers exposed several forms of cocoa powder to digestive chyme (juices and enzymes), which was followed by exposure to bacteria found in samples of human feces. After the simulated digestion occurred, they discovered long molecules called polyphenol polymers, which remained within the gastrointestinal tract. The remaining molecules were too massive to cross the walls of the gut and be used as nutrients. Therefore, these large molecules continue along the digestive tract until they encounter some of the many microbes that inhabit the human colon, at which point these bacteria further break down the molecules to extract additional nutrients. As a result, the smaller molecules that result from this fermentation can travel through the gut wall and be used by the body. Moreover, these extracted materials are anti-inflammatory and serve to prevent or delay the onset of some forms of cardiovascular disease that are associated with inflammation.
Several short-term studies exploring the health benefits of dark chocolate have been conducted in recent years and evidence has suggested that dark chocolate can cause blood vessels to dilate and therefore lower blood pressure. However, the same benefits have not been found in white and milk chocolate. It remains unclear why this result occurs, but researchers have focused on the interactions of anti-oxidant flavanols. Researchers have concluded that the flavanols play a role because they were among the compounds that were poorly digested, yet were acted upon by gut microbes. The other substance that was fermented was dietary fiber, which makes up about 30 percent of cocoa powder.
The researchers have recommended a daily serving of about two tablespoons of dark chocolate or cocoa powder to produce beneficial effects in the body. One of the concerns related to dark chocolate was the amount of sugar and fat that chocolate candy contained. However, these issues could be avoided be adding a small amount of cocoa powder to a smoothie, a bowl of oatmeal or cereal, or simply by drinking a cup of dark chocolate cocoa. There is also the possibility that the beneficial compounds in cocoa powder could be extracted and produced in pill form and studies into that possibility are on the horizon.
Thanks to recent studies, the health benefits of dark chocolate are being further explored and people can enjoy it without the guilt because scientists have discovered why it is beneficial to the human body. Scientists feel the combination of previous studies that found consuming dark chocolate in daily doses reduces blood pressure and benefits the heart, along with the recent studies that have confirmed gut bacteria in the stomach ferments chocolate into useful anti-inflammatory compounds that are good for the heart should put many minds at ease. Scientists are hopeful that the knowledge of these recent discoveries will encourage people to indulge in a daily dose of dark chocolate without guilt. It just might save lives and do the heart good.
By Leigh Haugh