dark chocolate

The precise reason there are health benefits of dark chocolate appears to have finally been discovered.

In recent years, chocolate’s high level of antioxidants has qualified it as a bonafide health food. But it’s also been implicated in cardiovascular health for reasons that weren’t exactly clear until recently.

The Los Angeles Times reports that researchers at a meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in Dallas revealed a discovery about how chocolate benefits the heart. “Specific chocolate-loving microbes in the gut convert an otherwise indigestible portion of the candy into anti-inflammatory compounds,” which can help cardiovascular function.

“Using a series of modified test tubes to simulate humans’ gurgling guts, researchers exposed several forms of cocoa powder to digestive juices and enzymes, and then to bacteria found in samples of human feces,” reports the Times.

After the cocoa had gone through the digestive process, “long molecules called polyphenolic polymers remained within the gastrointestinal, or GI, tract,” explained the Times. The molecules, which are too large to cross through the digestive walls to be used by the body as nutrients, get broken down in the colon by specific bacteria (Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria).

When broken down by the colon bacteria, the molecules are then absorbed by the colon and serve as highly anti-inflammatory, which can delay or even prevent the onset of certain cardiovascular diseases connected with inflammation.

According to the researchers, a two-tablespoon serving cocoa powder per day can produce beneficial effects.

He said that the amount of cocoa powder that appeared to produce beneficial effects was about two tablespoons a day. But don’t plan on getting that benefit from candy bars loaded with dairy and sugar. The researchers found those substances can actually hinder the cocoa’s benefits. So opt for pure cocoa powder or extremely dark chocolate that’s only lightly sweetened to get the desired results.

Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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Image: Laurence Vagner