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And there was great rejoicing: scientists researching dark chocolate have identified something even better than a vague correlation between deliciousness and health.

Boffins from Louisiana State University have identified the mechanisms that turn chocolate into heart-healthy compounds.

The research, presented to a meeting of the American Chemical Society, found that the secret lies in chocoholic microbes which live in our gut, particularly Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria, which ferment the choccy treats into anti-inflammatory compounds.

As noted in the ACS announcement, research leader John Finley PhD explained: “When these compounds are absorbed by the body, they lessen the inflammation of cardiovascular tissue, reducing the long-term risk of stroke.”

It boils down to compounds like catechin and epicatechin that are present in cocoa powder, Dr Finley says, which have antioxidant properties. There's also a small amount of dietary fibre which helps the process along.

Although the catechin and epicatechin – large polyphenolic polymers – are poorly digested in the stomach, the microbes take over in the colon: the fibre is fermented, Dr Finley says, and this helps break the large polymers down into smaller polymers that provide the antioxidant effects.

“Finley said that people could experience even more health benefits when dark chocolate is combined with solid fruits like pomegranates and acai*,” the ACS announcement notes. ®

* A palm berry. If the word is ringing a bell, it's because scammers who link spam Twitter and Facebook are fond of pretending it's a magical weight loss cure – a claim decidedly NOT backed up by any boffins...

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