One of the best things about chocolate—dark chocolate, at least—is that it’s good for you. Chocolate is known to have a number of health-promoting qualities, including heart and brain health benefits. In a recent study presented at the National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society, researchers discussed their findings that certain gut microbes are responsible for some of chocolate’s health effects.
They found that good microbes, such as Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria, feed on chocolate. The way in which bacteria feed on chocolate is via a process known as fermentation. When good bacteria ferment chocolate, anti-inflammatory compounds are produced. “When these compounds are absorbed by the body, they lessen the inflammation of cardiovascular tissue, reducing the long-term risk of stroke,” stated John Finley, PhD, lead researcher.
He explained that cocoa powder contains antioxidant compounds called polyphenols along with a small amount of fiber. Both of these compounds are not well digested by the body, but when they reach the colon, gut bacteria metabolize them into smaller, usable, anti-inflammatory compounds that can be absorbed.
I was a fan of dark chocolate before, but now that I know what my gut bacteria can do with it—I feel even better about having a chocolate treat more often. Just remember, look for a dark chocolate that contains a high concentration of cacao and as little sugar as possible. You will likely reverse any beneficial effects on gut bacteria if you eat your chocolate with a lot of sugar.