Certain bacteria in the stomach gobble the chocolate and ferment it into anti-inflammatory compounds that are good for the heart, researchers said.

"The good bacteria 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," explained Maria Moore from Louisiana State University.

"When these compounds are absorbed by the body, they lessen the inflammation of cardiovascular tissue, reducing the long-term risk of stroke," added John Finley, also from Louisiana State University.

The team tested three cocoa powders using a model digestive tract comprising 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 Finley.

He 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 fibre. Both components are poorly digested and absorbed, but when they reach the colon, the desirable microbes take over.

"We found that the fibre is fermented and the large polymers are metabolised to smaller molecules which are more easily absorbed. These smaller polymers exhibit anti-inflammatory activity," Finley noted.

Combining the fibre in cocoa with prebiotics is likely to improve a person's overall health and help convert polyphenolics in the stomach into anti-inflammatory compounds. People could experience even more health benefits when dark chocolate is combined with solid fruits like pomegranate, said the researchers at the 247th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) this week.

(Agencies)

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