If you have been a chocolate lover for a long time, you would have heard before that dark chocolate is good for you in a way that white or milk chocolate isn’t. The only explanation you have probably been given is because it is full of anti-oxidants, which are the same beneficial molecules that are found in other healthy foods and drinks such as green tea.
While all is fine and dandy with that, I’m in the mood for some good microbiology today. After all, I used to be a scientist. So today let us look a little deeper into why cocoa and dark chocolate is good for your heart. This article is a point of interest, not a point of necessity, but we sometimes do things this way, don’t we?
The most accepted reason for why cocoa is good for the heart is because of fermentation by your own gut bacteria, which leads to anti-inflammatory compounds that can improve the function of your blood vessels. Recent research also suggests that in addition to this, the good bacteria that live in the end of our large intestines are able to ferment both the antioxidants and the fibre in cocoa compounds.
So what does that mean to you? Well, we have known all along that fermentation of cocoa compounds can result in the formation of other compounds that can help lower an average person’s blood pressure by two or three mmHg. This was not a wild figure that was plucked from the air, but from a systematic review conducted by group of food scientists from Louisiana State University.
The research group got so into it that they decided to document the passage of cocoa through the digestive tract by creating an artificial lab. While this is interesting to some, it would be completely gross to others. I think it would be somewhere in between for most of us. Anyway, let’s proceed.
Step one is the journey through the upper digestive tract. The initial enzymes that are found in this early part of the process would digest certain components of cocoa, and whatever progresses down the line are things that are non-digestible. Once it reaches the lower intestines, the natural microbes that live there would then feed on whatever remains. This is when the fermentation commences.
The first things to be fermented are flavonols that include catechin and epicatechin, which, surprisingly enough, are also found in green tea. The resulting products are even smaller anti-inflammatory compounds. These compounds, unlike its predecessors, are of an adequately small size to be able to to absorbed into the bloodstream.
While this appears to be the case, researchers have warned us from concluding that this is the exact process that occurs in every one of our digestive tracts. After all, it is a well-known fact that every human being has a slightly different composition of microflora in our gut, and this would be determined by a lot of different factors, one of which would be our diet.
What about other studies on this topic? While there are several such studies, most of them have reported that moderate consumption of dark chocolate results in benefits in healthy young adults as well as older individuals, with the optimum amount being around eight grams, or one small square of cocoa. This means that you are not allowed to use this research as an excuse to binge on them, sorry!
Despite the many benefits of cocoa consumption, experts warned against using it in place of normal medicine for diseases such as diabetes. A more thorough look into the research suggests that cocoa might work best for those who fall in the middle of the bell curve for cardiovascular health. So have some in order to increase your heart health, but don’t bank on it as a miracle superfood.
All the best!
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