Dark (chocolate) secrets revealed

Although a good majority of chocolate likers seem to correctly consider dark chocolate to be milk chocolate’s bitter “ugly sister”, it turns out the ugly-sister likers might actually have a case about dark chocolate being better for you than milk chocolate.

Research presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society detailed the reasons why dark chocolate may indeed have some health benefit.

“We found that there are two kinds of microbes in the gut: the good ones and the bad ones,” Maria Moore, an undergraduate student and one of the study authors, said in a society news release. “The good microbes, such as Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria, feast on chocolate. When you eat dark chocolate, they grow and ferment it, producing compounds that are anti-inflammatory.”

“When these compounds are absorbed by the body, they lessen the inflammation of cardiovascular tissue, reducing the long-term risk of stroke,” said John Finley, Ph.D., who led the work. He said that this study is the first to look at the effects of dark chocolate on the various types of bacteria in the stomach. The researchers are with Louisiana State University.

In the release Finley explained that cocoa powder, an ingredient in chocolate, contains several polyphenolic, or antioxidant, compounds such as catechin and epicatechin, and a small amount of dietary fiber. Both components are poorly digested and absorbed, but when they reach the colon, the desirable microbes take over. “In our study we found that the fiber is fermented and the large polyphenolic polymers are metabolized to smaller molecules, which are more easily absorbed. These smaller polymers exhibit anti-inflammatory activity,” he said in the release.

But before you go out and gorge yourself on the bitter ugly sisters, take heed of dark chocolate’s “dark” side.

An article in the LA Times says:  “One of the issues involving dark chocolate, Finley said, was the amount of sugar and fat that chocolate candy contained. He said you could avoid those substances by putting cocoa powder on oatmeal, as he does.”

Cocoa powder on oatmeal? That kind of sounds like someone the ugly sister hangs around with just to feel pretty.

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