I can’t help myself from getting a little bit excited every time I see “chocolate” in the headlines of health-related articles. I am, after all, the girl who made a resolution this year to eat more chocolate. (For real.) My original intent with my resolution was to curb my cravings for other sweets by “indulging” in a square (or two!) of super dark chocolate as my stress level indicated. You know, because dark chocolate has already been shown to have a salutary effect on high blood pressure and all.
But a recent study reported by NPR makes me think: Why wait for my stress to spike before I let myself nibble on a chunk of my “mom medicine”? After all, it appears as though dark chocolate’s health benefits don’t end at cooling your blood when it starts boiling.
The study, which came out of Louisiana State University’s food science lab, seems to show that chocolate — specifically unsweetened cocoa powder — loves your guts. Or, perhaps more accurately, it’s loved by your guts. The good bacteria that lines your intestines not only process cocoa powder in ways that help your heart, they can convert cocoa into molecules that reduce inflammation and indicate satiety — meaning not only will your body be better able to handle stress, it’ll also be better able to tell you when you’re full.
You know how you always hear about “antioxidants” and how they are super good for you (but you really don’t know how or why — except something about combatting “free radicals” which you have no idea how those got into your body in the first place)? Well, these antioxidants are great — they can prevent cancer and help your heart — but a lot of them are too big to be absorbed into our blood like we need them to be. Unless our gut bacteria steps in to help break it down so it is more useable.
The LSU scientists watched as the bacteria in the artificial gut they created chewed the antioxidant compounds called polyphenols to bits so that they were more likely to make it through the gut membrane and into our blood, where they can go on to do the important work of strengthening our hearts, reducing stress, and soothing our inflamed blood vessels. They also observed that the bacteria chowed down on the fiber in the cocoa powder, turning it into short fatty chain acids, which, when absorbed into our bodies, can have an effect on satiety.
And while it’s true that there needs to be more research done on real guts — not just the artificial ones rigged up in the lab — to confirm the initial findings, I’m not going to let that stop me from strengthening my resolve to eat more chocolate this year. In addition to the squares of extra dark I sometimes nibble on after dinner, maybe I’ll add a spoonful or two of cocoa powder to my fruit smoothies, stir some into my banana ice cream, or sprinkle some on top of my post-run fruit-and-yogurt bowl.
What about you? Would you treat your guts to a good meal by adding more cocoa powder to your diet?