Much has been written about the benefits of eating dark chocolate and its longtime association with improved health. But I couldn’t explain why, other than to say the benefits are related to the chocolate's naturally occurring phenolic compounds. But that pat answer was not good enough for scientists and researchers.
Earlier this year, at the 247th National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the “why” was unveiled. It appears that certain microbes in the gastrointestinal tract ingest the chocolate and ferment it into anti-inflammatory compounds that are good for the heart. Good bacteria such as Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria are largely responsible for this fermentation.
According to John Finley of Louisiana State University and lead researcher in this study, cocoa powder contains several antioxidant compounds such as catechin and epicatechin. Both components are poorly digested or absorbed by the human gut. But once they reach the colon, the good microbes take over, fermenting large compounds into smaller ones. Now the antioxidants can be absorbed and exhibit anti-inflammatory activity. Finley believes that combining dark chocolate with a superfruit in its solid form could result in even more health benefits.
The trick to all of this is getting minimally processed dark chocolate: one that has a high percentage of cocoa. Or as high as you can still enjoy.
An ounce of dark chocolate every day does not take away the need for other good food choices. It merely provides another layer of plant antioxidants, adding to the synergy that forms in consuming a plant-based diet. So as you fill your plate with the bright colors of fruits and vegetables, be sure to leave a little room for some dark chocolate to end your meal on a sweet note.