There is a lot of talk these days about all the different health problems that are becoming more common in the United States. You might already know some of these facts—heart disease is the number one killer in the US, and rates of diseases like obesity and diabetes are at an all-time high.
When you hear about all these things, you often also hear about foods that you need to avoid because they can increase your risk for getting these diseases.And, not surprisingly, some of the foods that you are told to avoid are ones that taste good.
So, you might be surprised to learn that eating dark chocolate might actually be good for your blood pressure and your heart. Plus, the results of a recent study suggest that bacteria that live in your colon play a big part in helping chocolate improve your health.
Are there really bacteria in your colon?
Yes, and there are a lot of them. Most people have about 100trillion bacteria living inside their colon—that’s nearly 10 pounds! This might seem a little scary, but the truth is, these bacteria help keep you healthy. They play a part in preventing illness, and some recent studies suggest they also might affect things like appetite and how insulin works in your body.
One of the other really important jobs these bacteria have is to help digest some of the foods you eat and keep the digestive system working normally. This is where chocolate comes in. The bacteria breakdown the chocolate and release healthy chemicals that can then be takenup by the body.
The healthy chemicals, called “polyphenols,” are thought to fight inflammation, lower blood pressure, and promote heart health. Polyphenols are found in other foods besides chocolate, including:
- Herbs and spices,including cloves, oregano, rosemary, and sage
- Dark berries like blackberries and blueberries
- Almonds and pecans
- Green tea and coffee
Without the help of bacteria, your body could not digest these healthy substances, and they would pass right through you.
Do you have to eat dark chocolate to get the health benefits?
To answer this question, it’s helpful to know a little bit about the difference between dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and “pure” chocolate (also called cocoa power or unsweetened chocolate).
The healthy partof chocolate comes from cocoa powder, which is really just ground-up seeds from a cocoa tree. By itself, cocoa powder doesn’t taste good—it’s very bitter. When cocoa is made into chocolate, other things are added to make it taste good, including sugar and fat.
Dark chocolate has more cocoa in it, meaning more healthy polyphenols for your heart. Milk chocolate has a lot less cocoa in it, meaning less of the good stuff. You could eat moremilk chocolate to get more polyphenols, but then you’d also be eating a lot more sugar and fat—this isn’t such a good idea.
That’s why dark chocolate is the way to go—more of what you need, less of what you don’t. The darker the chocolate, the more cocoa it has, and the more heart-healthy polyphenols it contains!
How much chocolate should you eat?
You only need to eat a few small squares of chocolate each day to get a healthy dose of polyphenols. Plus, your body can’t take-up too many polyphenolsat once, so it’s best to eat just a few squares every day rather than a whole bar once a week.
The take home points
- Your colon is home to trillions of bacteria that help keep your body healthy.
- These bacteria help break-down foods you eat, which releases healthy substances that your body can then take up.
- Without these bacteria, many of these healthy nutrients would pass right through you instead of being digested.
- Chocolate contains a healthy group of nutrients called “polyphenols” that can reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, and promote heart-health.
- The darker the chocolate, the more polyphenols it contains.
- You can get the dose of polyphenols you need from eating a few squares of dark chocolate each day (about the same amount as 2-3 Hershey’s Kisses).