LSU students prove health benefits of cocoa powder

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - You've probably heard it said that dark chocolate is good for you.  Have you ever wondered why?

"How your body reacts to the cocoa powders in your digestive system, I thought was fascinating," said undergraduate student Maria Moore.

As a food science and technology major at Louisiana State University, Moore got her chance to study that process thanks to a research grant from the university.  Previous studies have shown that the body reacts well to chocolate, and more specifically cocoa powder.  Moore's study, guided by her professor Dr. John Finley and graduate assistant Mfamara Goita, took a unique approach and looked directly at what happens to coco powder deep inside your gut.

"There's so many factors that go into it, so we try to mimic the whole digestive system all the way to the fermentation part to see what at the end comes out," said Goita who has studied similar processes with dietary fiber.

When you eat cocoa powder in any form, it is broken down by enzymes from your mouth to your stomach so that any nutrients can be absorbed.  Anything left over is sent on to the intestines where all sorts of bacteria live. That's where things get interesting.

"We've got the stuff that's left over in the GI tract and you've got all this hungry little bacteria living in our gut, what do they do this material?" said Dr. John Finley.

The students recreated the digestion process in the lab by exposing cocoa samples to enzymes and then fermenting the results to mimic what happens in the gut.

The students found bacteria break down the left over material and produce anti-inflammatory compounds in the process.  Those compounds can then be easily absorbed by the body and aid in heart health.

Finley says this study shows that cocoa powder can be considered a prebiotic, helping to prevent heart disease.

"The bad news is, you probably can't get it all from dark chocolate. You have to use the coco powder," said Finley.

The team presented their results to the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society, where it got national attention.

"I was just excited to be working in a lab. I had no idea it would come to this proportion," said Moore who is in her third year at LSU.

The students hope to continue their research and even expand into clinical trials.

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