The researchers have said that certain bacteria in the stomach gobble the chocolate and ferment it into anti-inflammatory compounds that are good for the heart.
The team tested three cocoa powders using a model digestive tract, comprised of a series of modified test tubes, to simulate normal digestion. They then subjected the non-digestible materials to anaerobic fermentation using human fecal bacteria, according to John Finley, PhD, who led the work.
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.
He said that both components are poorly digested and absorbed, but when they reach the colon, the desirable microbes take over, asserting that in their study they 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.
Finley also noted that combining the fiber in cocoa with prebiotics is likely to improve a person's overall health and help convert polyphenolics in the stomach into anti-inflammatory compounds.
He said that when they ingest prebiotics, the beneficial gut microbial population increases and outcompetes any undesirable microbes in the gut, like those that cause stomach problems.