rEATsearch (It's like overhearing your nerdy health science friends chat and laugh over coffee.)
Just to be safe, eat a bit of dark Chocolate
February 9, 2021
Chocolate, is it all its cracked up to be? Lets look at the research, but just to be on the safe side you better get some dark chocolate to snack on while we discuss this.
We're between two chocolate-filled holidays: Christmas and Valentine's Day. Chocolate has been heralded as having a ton of health benefits. Dare we say that *most* people enjoy eating and drinking chocolate. (We sure do!)

But . . .

What does the research really say about its *miraculous* health benefits? Can chocolate improve heart health and blood sugar control? If so, is there actually that big of a difference between dark chocolate and milk chocolate?

Find out by listening to episode 10 of rEATsearch where we go over a recent study (that reviews a bunch of other studies) on chocolate to get to the bottom of the hype. (And you can feel free to enjoy a small bit of dark chocolate while you listen . . . we won't tell!)

*** RESOURCES AND LINKS ***


For more information on Leesa, visit:
https://leesaklich.com/

For more information on Lindsay, visit:
https://www.lindsaycarvalho.com/

*** TRANSCRIPT ***

[00:00:00.415] - Intro/outro

rEATsearch is a podcast that explores current nutritional research and health studies. Our lawyer says we have to let you know that this podcast is for entertainment, educational, and informative purposes only. If you have any health questions, see your doctor or licensed health professional.


[00:00:28.245] - Leesa

So Lindsay, we're going to talk about chocolate, so can I ask you . . . Do you like chocolate?


[00:00:37.995] - Lindsay

That's a silly question. I think it's the odd person who doesn't like chocolate. It's delicious. Yeah.


[00:00:44.655] - Leesa

It is.


[00:00:44.655] - Lindsay

Chocolate is super yummy.


[00:00:47.505] - Leesa

I love it. Do you have a favourite kind? Maybe from a professional health perspective kind? And maybe from a personal indulgence, kind of chocolate? What do you think?


[00:01:00.735] - Lindsay

Actually, I really like baking with chocolate at home. I'm not a big fan of chocolate bars. I mean, the odd time I'll eat one. But I tend to keep a lot of cocoa powder and some of the chocolate at home. And I like making my own stuff at home because then I can tweak it and do whatever I want with the recipe and try different things. So that's my way to consume chocolate. What about you?


[00:01:28.855] - Leesa

That's awesome. I have to say that I like most kinds of chocolate and not even necessarily the low sugar dark chocolate is not my favourite. I'll pick a Toblerone any day, which is super sweet.


[00:01:46.005] - Lindsay

Yeah.


[00:01:46.725] - Leesa

And it doesn't exactly have the health benefits . . . but, when you're having dessert and you want a little indulgence, I love it. When I'm feeling maybe a little more sophisticated and having some nice red wine with a nice dinner, and I want some dark chocolate just to go with the mood. But for everyday thing I have to say, I'm kind of a milk chocolate fan.


[00:02:12.945] - Lindsay

It is yummy. But have you ever tried making your own raw chocolate?


[00:02:18.465] - Leesa

I have not, but I do bake with cocoa powder just like you do. I've never . . .  actually I wonder if I have? I may have. Do you have a favourite recipe?


[00:02:29.085] - Lindsay

I only have one that I've tried and it's with the raw cocoa and coconut oil. And then you add just enough sweetener. Typically I use honey because it's a bit thicker and vanilla and it's like chocolate bark.


[00:02:45.495] - Leesa

Oh right.


[00:02:46.455] - Lindsay

And you pour it out on a baking sheet and then. You just have to store it in the freezer because it does melt because of the coconut. It melts at room temperature. But I recommend it for people when they are looking at cutting back on sugar because it's so rich that you don't need very much t quench that sweet tooth. So it's something I've made at home before. I haven't made it in a while, but I've made it at home and my kids just went bonkers for it. Actually, they really, really liked it. And you can have different mix-ins seeds and nuts and dried fruit and stuff like that. It was it's really, really yummy. Or even peanut butter or almond butter. I'm getting hungry.


[00:03:27.855] - Leesa

I know. Okay, I know totally. So this the episode is on chocolate because there was a very interesting review study I found that was published just last month in December 2019.


[00:03:41.547] - Lindsay

Nice.


[00:03:41.925] - Leesa

So I'll dive into it a little bit because chocolate is one of those things that you might agree is very, very commonly loved and most people really enjoy it. And there are also these little bits of health claims and benefits coming up. So what I liked about this study is it dove into a review of some of the health claims to see what kind of evidence is behind them. And it's really interesting, so I wanted to share.


[00:04:13.365] - Lindsay

And of course, this is rEATsearch.


[00:04:17.085] - Leesa

Exactly.


[00:04:17.085] - Lindsay

So this is what we're going to do. And I'm Lindsay.


[00:04:20.745] - Leesa

And I'm Leesa. And we're going to talk about chocolate.


[00:04:25.215] - Lindsay

What a great topic, especially after the holidays. This makes everybody feel better for maybe some of the indulgences they've had over the holidays.


[00:04:34.125] - Leesa

Yes. And before Valentine's Day.


[00:04:37.665] - Lindsay

Yeah. That's right, oh my god I forgot.


[00:04:38.348] - Leesa

Yeah so, perfect timing, awesome. So this study was published in December 2019, by researchers in Italy and it's called, quote, Chocolate, Food of the Gods, History, Science, and Human Health. And chocolate is literally called Food of the Gods because it's Theobroma cacao. And theobroma means "food of the gods."


[00:05:08.355] - Lindsay

Oh, no way. I did not know that.


[00:05:10.125] - Leesa

Me neither. So just a little historical thing, because we all know the chocolate that is available now. But it came from the Mayans in South America, which were part of Mexico, as well as Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador. And they used to eat cacao beans, boiled in water along with some cinnamon and pepper.


[00:05:36.675] - Lindsay

Oh.


[00:05:37.185] - Leesa

You can imagine this would be very bitter because the beans themselves are quite bitter, which is part of the goodness of them, which we'll talk about in a minute. But this wasn't even brought to US and Europe until the 1500's.


[00:05:51.615] - Lindsay

Can I pause and ask a question?


[00:05:53.595] - Leesa

Yes.


[00:05:54.375] - Lindsay

So when they prepared it this way, were the cocoa beans fermented?


[00:05:58.265] - Leesa

That is a great question. I don't know the answer. I don't remember reading that in the study.


[00:06:02.415] - Lindsay

Yeah. The way that we prepare it now, all, and most people, I don't think realize this, but cocoa beans before they are processed are fermented.


[00:06:12.225] - Leesa

Really?


[00:06:12.565] - Lindsay

So. Yeah. Oh, yeah. It's a fermented food. Chocolate is a fermented food.


[00:06:16.935] - Leesa

I totally didn't catch that in the study. How interesting.


[00:06:20.145] - Lindsay

Yeah. And I had another question and it's totally gone now. Okay I hate that, I will pause you again when I remember.


[00:06:27.525] - Leesa

Catch me later. Right. Awesome. So right now--as of a couple of years ago--the world produces five million tons of cocoa beans every year. And interestingly enough, it's not mostly from South America. It's mostly grown in Africa.


[00:06:47.655] - Lindsay

Oh,


[00:06:48.285] - Leesa

Right.


[00:06:48.285] - Lindsay

I didn't know that.


[00:06:50.205] - Leesa

So of the three main types of chocolate, of course, there's dark, there's milk, and there's white. And a lot of the health benefits have been attributed to dark chocolate. And not just specifically the dark chocolate, but a couple of the components that are found in dark chocolate, which is what I'm excited to talk about today. So the dark chocolate is dark because a lot of it is composed of the actual cocoa beans solids.


[00:07:20.775] - Lindsay

Yeah.


[00:07:21.255] - Leesa

They have this big pod, this big cocoa pod, and in it are all of the cocoa beans. Then they grind those beans up and they make these cacao nibs. If you've ever seen them in a health food store and that's literally ground cocoa beans.


[00:07:34.965] - Lindsay

Yeah.


[00:07:35.325] - Leesa

And then in order to make milk chocolate and white chocolate, there's a lot more processing involved. And of course, it's not as bitter because there's so much sugar added to it and milk, or other things. So the health benefits are not there. But the health benefits of dark chocolate may be a little bit exaggerated from what we actually know the evidence to be.


[00:07:58.155] - Lindsay

You don't say.


[00:07:59.655] - Leesa

I know, I'm sorry, but that's it.


[00:08:03.135] - Lindsay

It's okay, it's overexaggerated with red wine, too, but . . .


[00:08:06.315] - Leesa

Right.


[00:08:06.855] 

I digress.


[00:08:07.815] - Leesa

Exactly. So we're here to just kind of rein it in and bring it into the actual research. So the actual components in the dark part of the chocolate, the actual cocoa bean that do have health benefits, the proven health benefits are called polyphenols. These polyphenols are a type of plant compound and they are antioxidants.


[00:08:30.195] - Lindsay

Yes.


[00:08:30.195] - Leesa

So an antioxidant is something that actually neutralizes an oxidant. An oxidant would be something that would release, for example, free radicals. And these little elements can damage cell membranes and cause issues over the long run.


[00:08:47.605] - Lindsay

They can damage so many things. Yeah.


[00:08:50.655] - Leesa

Right, inflammation.


[00:08:50.655] - Lindsay

Because they're unstable. Yeah.


[00:08:51.915] - Leesa

Right. So as an antioxidant they actually kind of sacrifice themselves, so that these oxidants are not affecting your cells. It's kind of the same as a vitamin C or vitamin E would do. They sacrifice themselves to neutralize that oxidation.


[00:09:10.095] - Lindsay

Yes.


[00:09:10.095] - Leesa

So these polyphenols are catechins, anthocyanidins, and pro anthocyanidins. And it really comes down to this level where the health benefits come from.


[00:09:23.505] - Lindsay

Yeah, and so these are different types of polyphenols. This is kind of the subcategories of this "header" category of polyphenols. Correct? 


[00:09:34.705] - Leesa

Exactly, and that's what's in the dark, unprocessed cocoa beans. So the processing that turns it from a very bitter bean into a delicious thing that you see at the grocery store calling you when you're in line to pay.


[00:09:53.485] - Lindsay

Yeah.


[00:09:54.675] - Leesa

Really, really reduces the level of these polyphenols and sometimes it reduces them up to ten times. 


[00:10:04.005] - Lindsay

Well because they're diluting them, they're not only processing them, but when you look at the amount of actual cocoa solids in something like milk chocolate, just the weight percentage is way less than it would be in something like a really good dark chocolate bar.


[00:10:19.475] - Leesa

Exactly, exactly. That's why the percent cacao is one main factor to look at when you are looking for health benefits. But it's not a guarantee.


[00:10:29.415] - Lindsay

Yeah,


[00:10:30.065] - Leesa

And we've learned it is not a guarantee, but it does give you more trust that there is going to be more polyphenols in it, because, quite frankly, there's no labeling requirements for polyphenols on foods. It's not part of the nutrition facts label. You don't have to declare it on your label. You can, if you want to, if it's truthful. But we don't actually know how many polyphenols are in there. And we know that antioxidants are inherently not stable molecules. 


[00:10:59.975] - Lindsay

Yeah.


[00:10:59.975] - Leesa

They sacrifice themselves for the good of others. So we don't really know. But there are some health benefits associated with these polyphenols. So we'll dive into a couple of those. One of them is cardiovascular. So cardiovascular is your heart and your vessels, including your brain, which has a ton of vessels because it is . . .


[00:11:19.565] - Lindsay

Very vascular.


[00:11:22.235] - Leesa

Very vascular. So polyphenols that are abundant in cocoa and dark chocolate can reduce blood pressure, which is of course good for heart disease and reduces your risk of certain types of stroke.


[00:11:35.215] - Lindsay

Yes.


[00:11:36.095] - Leesa

And this happens, from a mechanism perspective, is that these polyphenols activate the enzyme that generates nitric oxide.


[00:11:45.965] - Lindsay

Yeah.


[00:11:46.625] - Leesa

And of course, this enzyme is called nitric oxide synthase because it synthesizes nitric oxide.


[00:11:52.295] - Lindsay

I love when the names make sense!


[00:11:54.305] - Leesa

They're so creative.


[00:11:54.305] - Lindsay

Because it doesn't always in biochemistry. And you're like, what the heck does that mean? But this one is perfect.


[00:12:01.625] - Leesa

Right. Nitric oxide synthase synthesizes nitric oxide and nitric oxide helps your vessels to dilate. So it loosens them up. It allows the blood to flow through them much better. They're not--if you think of clenching a fist--high blood pressure would be like clenching a fist. You're squeezing it. It's stiff, it's tight, and that makes it harder for your heart to pump blood through it. Nitric oxide helps to kind of loosen those vessels and makes them a lot more flexible and amenable to blood flow. So this is the mechanism behind it. But the clinical data on the health benefits of dark chocolate or chocolate, with cardiovascular benefits are all over the place. They don't all point in the same direction. So,, some studies show that it does dilate your vessels. It can reduce blood pressure. It can lower your risk of heart attack and stroke. Some studies show that there's no association and some studies show that people who eat the most chocolate have higher risks of these. And again, we can dice these down to a lot of other variables, like what kind of chocolate did people eat and was it, full of sugar, and all of these things. But what I found with this study is there aren't a ton of studies that do break it down to these levels. So if we're making inferences on it, it's speculation. Right now, there seems to be some cardiovascular benefit in some people with higher quality, polyphenol-rich dark chocolate. And that's great to know.


[00:13:43.415] - Lindsay

Definitely okay to err on the side of caution here, and just eat a little bit of dark chocolate.


[00:13:49.595] - Leesa

I think that's going to be the name of this. Just eat a little bit of dark chocolate.


[00:13:54.005] - Lindsay

Yeah.


[00:13:54.005] - Leesa

Maybe not a ton.


[00:13:55.485] - Lindsay

No.


[00:13:56.225] - Leesa

Maybe not none necessarily, unless you're allergic or dislike it. And we also don't want to promise the world.


[00:14:02.315] - Lindsay

Yeah.


[00:14:02.825] - Leesa

But, you know what, a little bit of dark chocolate is not so bad for your health, I would say.


[00:14:08.315] - Lindsay

Yeah.


[00:14:09.065] - Leesa

So then the next thing is glucose homeostasis. So this is your blood sugar regulation, insulin, and all of these things. And cocoa has been looked at to see if it is a potential antidiabetic agent.


[00:14:23.465] - Lindsay

This is interesting because I did not know this part. I knew of the health benefits, but glucose regulation, new information to me. So this is really cool.


[00:14:32.945] - Leesa

Right, right.


[00:14:34.085] - Lindsay

Go on, go on.


[00:14:34.355] - Leesa

And that's why I love looking at these new studies, because it's like, "Oh my gosh, I didn't even know." So there are a couple of different mechanisms by which cocoa is thought to help your body regulate your blood sugar levels, which is, of course, important for everybody. It's just when it starts getting a little bit out of control and it varies a lot more very high and very low, that, would be a symptom of potential prediabetes or diabetes and blood sugar regulation.


[00:15:08.405] - Lindsay

Yeah.


[00:15:10.715] - Leesa

and so now I want to look at where it is in people. So several clinical studies show that there's an inverse relationship of chocolate with diabetes . . .


[00:15:20.085] - Lindsay

Interesting.


[00:15:20.965] - Leesa

Some studies show, that the more chocolate, the lower your risk of diabetes.


[00:15:25.525] - Lindsay

So I think it's important probably--sorry to interrupt--


[00:15:27.775] - Leesa

Yes.


[00:15:28.495] - Lindsay

To stipulate we're not talking about Mars bars here,


[00:15:31.195] - Leesa

We are not. Although they are delicious.


[00:15:33.715] - Lindsay

They are delicious, but they are not going to help blood sugar regulation. We're talking, the lower sugar, high quality, high cocoa, solid content, bitter dark chocolate.


[00:15:45.895] - Leesa

Right. Bitter dark chocolate. And the interesting thing, too, about a lot of these studies that were in this review paper was that the studies that were looked at, not this review in particular, but some of the clinical studies actually gave people chocolate that was fortified--actually would be fortified or would it be enriched?--enriched with more polyphenols in it.


[00:16:11.095] - Lindsay

Interesting.


[00:16:11.965] - Leesa

Well, they could standardize the dose of polyphenols. So, it really comes down to these polyphenols and not necessarily chocolate in general. 


[00:16:22.285] - Lindsay

And I would imagine there would be a little bit of variation from batch to batch of content of polyphenols in the cocoa pods.


[00:16:30.775] - Leesa

Right. Of course.


[00:16:32.395] - Lindsay

Yeah. And then, of course, too depending on processing, and how old they are, how long they have to be stored for, shipping. . . . There are a lot of factors.


[00:16:41.695] - Leesa

A lot of them


[00:16:41.695] - Lindsay

So, yeah, you would have to standardize. Okay. Interesting. Sorry. Go on.


[00:16:46.825] - Leesa

Yeah, so you actually hit the nail on the head. Most of the studies that were done on chocolate with people and for the health benefits were not done on only dark chocolate with a very specific level of polyphenols in it. So, that's kind of really the bottom line of this podcast. The data is all over the place and it's good for some and not good in terms of clinical relevance and benefit. But really it comes down to those polyphenols and it's hard to test it if you're not actually testing for it.


[00:17:24.965] - Lindsay

Yeah.


[00:17:25.465] - Leesa

Giving everybody a standard dose. So and again, some dark chocolate could have a negligible polyphenol content. And because it's not regulated, we don't need to label it. We don't know the actual levels.


[00:17:38.815] - Lindsay

Once again, we're putting our trust in the manufacturer.


[00:17:41.605] - Leesa

Right. When it's not regulated, do you the trust the manufacturer? And I did look at the labelling laws, which I will link to in the show notes. And if you are saying the word "cacao" instead of the word" cocoa," you cannot use that in an ingredients list in Canada. You can't use "cacao" as an ingredient in the ingredients list in Canada, in a Canadian food. But you can refer to it on other parts of your label--cacao--in the amount it is. So you see the "70% cacao dark chocolate," as long as it's true, you can put that on your label elsewhere. But in the ingredients list, it has to be labelled as "cocoa."


[00:18:18.205] - Lindsay

Really?


[00:18:19.075] - Leesa

Yes.


[00:18:19.075] - Lindsay

Did they say why?


[00:18:20.425] - Leesa

They did not. I don't know why. I'm sure there's a reason because it says that cacao was removed from the regulations . . .


[00:18:27.265] - Lindsay

Interesting.


[00:18:27.265] - Leesa

A few years before. And I'll link to that. But you have to label in the ingredients list as cocoa. But if you are referring specifically to the solids, not the fat, which is in the white chocolate, the cocoa butter, but the actual cocoa is, that can be labelled as a cacao percentage on the front of your label, but not in ingredients.


[00:18:48.685] - Lindsay

But not the ingredients.


[00:18:49.825] - Leesa

Super fun fact.


[00:18:51.775] - Lindsay

That is. But now I have more questions. Okay, we need to get a food regulator on here so that we can learn more about this.


[00:19:03.205] - Leesa

Yes.


[00:19:03.385] - Lindsay

That would be an interesting interview, I feel.


[00:19:07.045] - Leesa

I think so. I don't know the reason behind it, but I did find those regulations. So back to the cocoa/cacao health benefits. When it comes to cancer, it's very controversial. There is no clear data.


[00:19:22.705] - Lindsay

It's always controversial, though.


[00:19:24.445] - Leesa

Do not use cocoo and chocolate as any type of cancer, anything. There is really no data to support any health benefit. It may be some kind of health benefit somewhere on some small level, but there is no data. Don't go there. Controversial. Let's just not talk about cancer in chocolate, because that's just not a thing.


[00:19:46.765] - Lindsay

Okay.


[00:19:46.765] - Leesa

All right. So when it comes to obesity and lipid metabolism, it's really interesting because, again, the data is all over the place. So, for example, there are a bunch of studies that show that even . . . for example, this one is fascinating. One study showed that smelling dark chocolate can produce a satiating. What is the right word?


[00:20:13.735] - Lindsay

Satiation?


[00:20:15.785] - Leesa

Satiation.


[00:20:17.215] - Lindsay

Don't worry I'll help you out.


[00:20:18.805] - Leesa

Thank you. Effect on people and it actually can reduce their appetite just smelling dark chocolate. And this was one study.


[00:20:27.115] - Lindsay

Interesting. Normally when I smell stuff, it increases my appetite.


[00:20:33.715] - Leesa

Right! And when it comes to food cravings, that can be considered a food cue. Smelling it is a cue, to make the brain, think of it and want it. So I found this study very interesting. And again, we will take all of the individual studies with a grain of salt because we're looking at a review which, purposely looks at a bunch of them to kind of get an overview of the data. Another bunch of studies show that dark chocolate or cocoa consumption can lower your total and your LDL cholesterol and not lower your HDL or triglycerides.


[00:21:06.025] - Lindsay

That's really interesting because cocoa or chocolate is one of the foods that tends to be higher in saturated fat. And we know that saturated fat can increase LDL levels.


[00:21:18.883] - Leesa

Right.


[00:21:19.585] - Lindsay

One of the ways you can actually lower LDL levels is by watching your saturated fat intake.


[00:21:23.725] - Leesa

Yes.


[00:21:23.725] - Lindsay

Because somehow and I'm not a metabolism expert, but somehow there's a connection between the two. So that's really interesting that there's that inverse correlation there.


[00:21:33.605] - Leesa

Right. And these studies were done on dark chocolate or cocoa consumption. So these were possibly very much cocoa solid-based and not cocoa butter-based.


[00:21:46.885] - Lindsay

Interesting.


[00:21:47.795] - Leesa

Yes. So I thought that was that was interesting, too. And then of course. When it comes to obesity and fat metabolism, there are studies all over the place. So many of them show that there's no link between people who eat it and on their weight or BMI (body mass index) or waist circumference. So there are studies that actually show no link. And of course, there are some studies that show that if the link is in the other direction.


[00:22:19.045] - Lindsay

Of course.


[00:22:19.195] - Leesa

Right. So, again, it's not clear-cut and we don't want to cherry-pick. But it's interesting that some of these studies are being done. But at this point in time, there isn't enough real evidence to say that chocolate or cocoa have a direct and predictable link to obesity and/or fat metabolism. But some studies show this and some studies show that. So it's interesting. But I think what's really, really, really interesting is if there were actual good quality, large clinical trials that look at chocolate and they specifically follow people over time, you know?


[00:23:01.045] - Lindsay

Yeah.


[00:23:01.435] - Leesa

Those giant studies that really have a lot of merit. So it's being studied. There are little studies all over the place, but it's not a vast consensus that people who eat chocolate have this or that. And then, of course, you can drill down into the type of chocolate they eat and how much polyphenol is in it.


[00:23:21.355] - Lindsay

I mean, we see this a lot with nutrition studies. There's a lot of great data because there are so many factors involved with nutrition, not only what you're eating. So the choices you make day-by-day in terms of what's on your plate and what goes into your body, but the quality of the food or just the different growth practises and farming practises and soil quality and like, how long is it sitting on the shelves? Where is it being shipped from? Like there are all of these different factors. So even if you're looking at the same foods nutritionally, there's a lot of variation. So we do see a lot of these studies that can be inconsistent, because there are so many factors and so many variables, and so it's no shock that we're seeing this with chocolate as well.


[00:24:10.005] - Leesa

Right. Exactly. That's exactly one of the big things when it comes to nutrition, is that everybody has to eat and, people make food choices several times a day.


[00:24:22.630] - Lindsay

Yeah.


[00:24:23.575] - Leesa

And then, of course, how the studies are done, because you have these, you know, infamous food frequency questionnaires, which is where people are given a questionnaire and they're asked, how frequently do you eat broccoli? How frequently do you eat chocolate? And what have you been diagnosed with? And all of these of observational studies because it's so, so difficult to do randomized control trials on food in general.


[00:24:51.458] - Lindsay

Yeah.


[00:24:51.755] - Leesa

And that's why when we find them, we love to talk about these few and far between clinical trials on our podcast.


[00:25:00.905] - Lindsay

Yeah, they're harder to implement, for sure. But the information we get out of them is is very valuable.


[00:25:07.595] - Leesa

Right. So when it comes to chocolate and intestinal microbiota and we do have a previous episode where we talked all about intestinal microbiota and probiotics.


[00:25:19.175] - Lindsay

Which is such a cool topic.


[00:25:20.975] - Leesa

Just buy plain. #JustBuyPlain I think that's what we ended up. . .


[00:25:25.045] - Lindsay

That is, yeah. When we talked about yogurt and pickles. Strubb's pickles, oh my god. Strubb's pickles are so good. But anyway, I'm getting distracted.


[00:25:33.155] - Leesa

So, chocolate and intestinal microbiota was again pretty interesting. There was one clinical study that they found in this review on the impact of chocolate on humans' intestinal microbiota. And what they found was that people who ate 494 mg of cocoa flavonoids.


[00:26:00.545] - Lindsay

Okay.


[00:26:01.205] - Leesa

So they're actually measuring the flavonoids. So the last item that I want to talk about when it comes to this study on chocolate and health benefits is on the intestinal microbiota.


[00:26:13.715] - Lindsay

Yeah.


[00:26:14.825] - Leesa

If you haven't already go back and listen to our previous episode, where  we talked about probiotics and foods on intestinal microbiota in people. And what this study found was one study in people on the impact of eating cocoa on human intestinal microbiota.


[00:26:35.885] - Lindsay

Yeah.


[00:26:35.885] - Leesa

So just to clarify the difference between a probiotic and intestinal microbiota. That a probiotic is something that you generally get in foods or supplements and it doesn't linger in your system. It's something that you need to eat regularly because your system flushes them out. They're not permanent inhabitants in your gut. They're kind of renters or shorter habitants.


[00:26:59.585] - Lindsay

Well, everything's constantly moving through. So your microbiome is going to get pushed along with whatever is in your gut.


[00:27:07.865] - Leesa

So, yeah. So things get pushed along and then the microbiota are more of the permanent residents where--you're right--the individual bacteria and yeast and viruses that live there will get pushed along, but they do tend to replicate and set up long term homes in your large intestine. So there was one study that looked at cocoa on the microbiota in the large intestine. And found that by eating exactly 494 mg of cocoa flavonoids.


[00:27:42.355] - Lindsay

That is such a weird number, but yeah go on.


[00:27:43.385] - Leesa

Per day, right, I don't know. For four weeks that it actually changed some of the microbes that were living in the intestine.


[00:27:56.795] - Lindsay

Oh.


[00:27:56.795] - Leesa

So they found that there were increases in Bifidobacteria.


[00:28:06.695] - Lindsay

For those that don't know Bifido is the family that tends to live in the colon, whereas Lactobacillus tends to live in the small intestine. And there was an increase in both of those?


[00:28:19.955] - Leesa

Both of those were increased.


[00:28:21.515] - Lindsay

Really? Good!


[00:28:22.925] - Leesa

And you know what decreased? Clostridia.


[00:28:26.585] - Lindsay

No way. Yeah. That's the pathogenic strain.


[00:28:30.375] - Leesa

It is! Ever heard of C. difficile?


[00:28:35.435] - Lindsay

That causes a lot of tummy trouble.


[00:28:37.055] - Leesa

Diarrhea. Right. And then you have actually decreased amounts of Clostridia in the gut after eating these specific flavanoids. Not just random chocolate bars, but this study looked at actual flavonoids.


[00:28:51.455] - Lindsay

Yeah.


[00:28:52.085] - Leesa

So, it was pretty interesting to see that this review study . . . And I'm going to label this review study a 6.5/7 because  a 7/7 (and I'll post our chart in the notes) would be a systematic review or a meta analysis.


[00:29:07.235] - Lindsay

Yes.


[00:29:07.835] - Leesa

So this is a review where, it looked at many studies, but it didn't systematically look at them.


[00:29:15.315] - Lindsay

Well it didn't evaluate them all. It was more just discussing them.


[00:29:17.945] - Leesa

It was discussing the overview of the research in it. So, we give it a 6.5/7 when it comes to the strength of this particular study. So wrapping it up, basically, several studies do show that there are health promoting properties of cocoa, not necessarily milk chocolate, not even necessarily dark chocolate. But this higher flavonoid level with all of these extra antioxidants in the least processed version of the cacao plant. So bitter dark chocolate would have the most health benefits.


[00:30:00.395] - Lindsay

Well, if we're looking at buying like raw cocoa powder to use, I would probably . . . Because when they process cocoa powder, typically they're heating it, they're baking it. I think that's the difference between like Dutch process and raw cocoa powder is it's heated in some way. It's processed in some way. So I'm wondering if that would break down some of the polyphenols.


[00:30:26.105] - Leesa

I don't know. And you know what else is interesting? They also defat it. So for the coco powder, they remove the cocoa butter part.


[00:30:34.565] - Lindsay

Really?


[00:30:35.195] - Leesa

Yeah. So it's mostly just the solids. Which is why, I find, in at least the labels of the ones that I buy, they're pretty high in fibre cocoa powder.


[00:30:42.965] - Lindsay

Yeah, well yeah. I mean because we're looking at the plant solids. And so there would be fibre in it. And so I'm wondering if it's partly the benefit on the microbiome is because of the fibre that's there, not so much the polyphenols.


[00:30:57.855] - Leesa

That's what I thought was interesting, too, because we know that fiber is definitely prebiotic. But that was not included in this particular review study. They only found one clinical trial where it actually looked at cocoa on the gut microbiome and that one looked at the compounds as opposed to the fibre. So definitely a lot of research can be done in this area to find out and home in on a lot more of the details on the health benefits. But overall, the more polyphenols are going to give you the most health benefits.


[00:31:31.635] - Lindsay

Yes.


[00:31:31.635] - Leesa

They're going to be found mostly in the darker, less sweetened versions, the more bitter, natural, and less processed versions of the chocolate. In the cocoa plant.


[00:31:44.145] - Lindsay

Well, I remembered what I was going to say before, remember I said I forgot my question? Yeah. Like you were talking about how chocolate is so bitter. And, one of the things that I've learned is when we look at bitter foods, it's fallen out of favour: bitter foods. But where we get so many health benefits is from those bitter components in food. Not only does it help with digestion because it helps stimulate our digestive processes, but the chemicals themselves actually have a lot of health-promoting properties. And so we shouldn't shy away from bitter foods. We need to really get used to them again. But the sugar industry has really changed our taste buds and lead us towards that sweet root. And so we don't crave those bitter foods anymore. And our health, I think, in some small way is not getting the health benefits of those bitter foods anymore. So, yeah, I don't want to make that correlation between, like: our health is failing because we're not eating better foods anymore, because it's way more complicated than that.


[00:32:55.325] - Leesa

Yes.


[00:32:55.325] - Lindsay

There's, of course, no studies. But, you know, it's interesting that, you know, going back to some of the bitter foods and not eating things coated in sugar anymore is really . . . I think we'll learn more and more as time goes on how beneficial it is to our health.


[00:33:10.225] - Leesa

When you say bitter food, the first thing I think of is kale, which is one of the most nutrient-dense foods out there. And it is bitter.


[00:33:18.615] - Lindsay

Yeah. But yeah, we have to get used to bitter foods again without being loaded with sugar, you know, trying to mask that bitter flavour. Have you seen on Netflix "Salt, Fat, Acid Heat"?


[00:33:37.005] - Leesa

No. It sounds so delicious though.


[00:33:39.195] - Lindsay

Yeah. It's a good cooking one. I've understood the health benefits of bitter foods, but she talks about the importance of acid in foods and how it balances flavour. But she's one of my new favourite authors. Her name is Samin Nosrat and she's a chef down in California. And so the documentary is fantastic. She's got a cookbook, too, which talks about a lot of the food principles behind flavour balancing and how to cook really good food. So if anybody is into food and cooking and just understanding the concepts behind why things taste really good and how to become a more intuitive cook at home, she's definitely a really good resource to start with.


[00:34:26.025] - Leesa

Okay, sounds delicious.


[00:34:27.025] - Lindsay

Yeah. So, when you watch it, you're going to get hungry and then want to start cooking.


[00:34:35.025] - Leesa

Oh, so you want to watch it before dinner time.


[00:34:38.355] - Lindsay

Yeah.


[00:34:40.065] - Leesa

Not after you've already filled up.


[00:34:42.495] - Lindsay

Well it's probably better to watch it after so you're not going to go cook and then overeat. But it's just really, really good cooking and good quality food and just getting really back to some of the basics. Again, it's not about how to become a gourmet chef. It's about taking the best quality, simple ingredients and just making really good food out of it. And part of that is, you know, we're talking about chocolate today, but part of that is chocolate. If you don't have to do these crazy fancy recipes and make souffles and all these other things. There's lots of really simple things you can do. 


[00:35:20.605] - Leesa

Sounds great.


[00:35:21.525] - Lindsay

Yeah.


[00:35:21.525] - Leesa

"Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat" right?


[00:35:23.715] - Lindsay

Yes. That's it.


[00:35:25.035] - Leesa

I should check that out.


[00:35:26.565] - Lindsay

Yes, definitely do.


[00:35:28.125] - Leesa

Awesome. Thank you.


[00:35:29.715] - Lindsay

Well, thank you for sharing that article. That was awesome.


[00:35:32.145] - Leesa

It's very interesting. Very interesting.


[00:35:34.425] - Lindsay

Yeah.


[00:35:34.425] - Leesa

And I'm really glad that it was published in December 2019. So it's a pretty recent study.


[00:35:39.395] - Lindsay

Yeah. It's not very old at all. But I have to say after talking about this, one of the things I both love and hate in equal measure about research is it answers so many questions, but then it creates so many more questions!


[00:35:52.095] - Leesa

Totally, totally, totally. And that's kind of like the beauty of science: you answer a question and you end up with so many more questions,


[00:36:01.605] - Lindsay

Right?


[00:36:02.115] - Leesa

Just opens your mind to the real complexity of nature, of what goes on in the human body and in ecosystems and elsewhere. It's just so great for the curious mind.


[00:36:16.255] - Lindsay

It really is. And it's both a blessing and a burden.


[00:36:21.015] - Leesa

We want to know more. Give us more studies.


[00:36:22.895] - Lindsay

I know. That's exactly it.


[00:36:25.375] - Leesa

Awesome, well thanks so much, Lindsay. We are going to wrap up this episode. So please go ahead and like or subscribe and give us a review and a rating and let us know. Tag us on social media.


[00:36:42.315] - Lindsay

Definitely.


[00:36:43.035] - Leesa

If you have a specific topic or a study that you'd like us to talk about and we will put it on our list. Thanks so much for listening.


[00:36:51.585] - Lindsay

Yeah, thank you.