Sometimes food is good for us in ways we don’t know—we eat them because we like them. Chocolate is a staple for almost everyone, if even in the form of a little stash tucked in the back of the cabinet for emergencies. It’s great news that science has found reasons why it makes our bodies happy and is downright good for us.
A study at Louisiana State University performed tests to see how the digestive system would metabolize cocoa. (Please keep in mind that we are talking about raw cocoa and not a Hershey bar.) What they found is that some of the flavonols (antioxidants) were directly absorbed leaving parts undigested.
1. Helps Fight Inflammation
Flavanol is attributed with decreasing systemic inflammation, thereby reducing the tendency of cells to stick to the arteries, which in turn can cause clotting—a precursor to heart attack.
What was left of the undigested cocoa was broken down in the colon and began to ferment; the resulting fiber contained chemicals that are known to improve cholesterol levels in the blood.
The micro-organisms that applied themselves to the cocoa were probiotic; other—potentially toxic—microbes decreased at the same time.
2. Reduces Insulin Resistance
A study done at Virginia Tech adds to these healthy findings. Mice fed a high-fat diet for twelve weeks and given a cocoa supplement gained less weight and experienced less insulin resistance than other mice on the same diet without the cocoa.
The surprising conclusion that these two studies adduce is that—in addition to its intrinsic antioxidative effects—what is beneficial about cocoa is how the body reacts to its indigestible components. Chocolate spreads happiness throughout, from mouth through the stomach then into the blood and intestines.
Dark chocolate with high flavonol content (over 70 percent) has other health benefits as well. Unsweetened cocoa powder can be added to almost anything, providing a rich flavor in addition to its antioxidant effects: try it on roasted potatoes or in a smoothie.
Just a Little Will Do The Trick
You don’t need a lot to have a significant effect; one study concluded that as little as 5 grams a day made a difference in Flow Mediated Dilation, or the increase of blood flow through a vessel.
Many chocolate packages are now imprinted with the flavonol content or amount of cocoa mass. For health benefits, the higher the better.
Mind the source of the chocolate and the amount of sugar added—a lot of sugar will nullify any good the cocoa will do. Artificial flavors, too, detract from the positive effects.
High-quality dark chocolate can curb subsequent sugar cravings so you can also satisfy your sweet tooth with something that’s not so sweet; it takes a little getting used to but, after all, chocolate is chocolate and oh, so good.