The Gut-Friendly Health Benefits Of Dark Chocolate
Who doesn’t love a tasty bite of chocolate? The delicious, sweet snack is most definitely good for the taste buds, and fortunately for those of us with a sweet tooth, there are many health benefits of dark chocolate too!
Dark chocolate is rich in many key nutrients that our body loves, including iron, copper, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, and flavanols. Plus in addition to being known for its rich nutrients, dark chocolate improves brain function, prevents heart disease, and is even a gut-healthy food!
Yep, that’s right, we said it … dark chocolate is gut healthy! The good bacteria in our gut are chocolate lovers just like we are. Who knew?
We might not generally think that indulging in chocolate is good for our gut … especially when it comes to our waistlines. But the microbes in our gut are actually cocoa crazed when dark chocolate is consumed in moderation.
Let’s take a look at the actual science behind this chocolatey good news and learn about all the different ways our guts and cocoa work together.
An Overview of Gut Health
Before we dive into our first piece of dark chocolate, let's get clear on some gut specifics. Our gut’s microbiome is made up of trillions of tiny microbes, or the bacteria living in our gut. The good bacteria is called probiotics. Probiotics keep us feeling healthy, fight off any bad bacteria that can make us sick, help move food and aid in digestion, produce vitamins, and boost immunity. Probiotics are hard-working, but how do they get the energy to do their job?
Probiotics get their gut-working energy from eating the strong-guy fibers called prebiotics. Prebiotics are a type of inulin soluble fiber that the body can’t digest. The fiber travels all the way through the gut until they meet their probiotic friends. When prebiotics and probiotics meet, the probiotics use the prebiotics as food and get the energy to get their jobs done right.
When we have a healthy balance of good bacteria in our microbiome, a healthy gut is able to manage metabolism, absorb proper nutrients, support a strong immune system, and regulate mood.
Plus when we eat foods packed with healthy antioxidants like dark chocolate, cranberries, or blackberries, they work together with prebiotics and probiotics to decrease our gut’s inflammation. This leads to a whole bunch of positive, anti-inflammatory health benefits like reduced stress, boosted immunity, and detoxification in the body.
That healthy microbiome is a powerful part of our body that promotes not only gut health but can affect these other parts of our body.
All this talk about gut health … let’s get back to chocolate. Is dark chocolate really gut healthy?
Dark Chocolate And The Microbiome
As we said, the gut is full of bacteria--good and bad. And lucky for us, that good bacteria actually feeds on dark chocolate when we eat it because of its prebiotic properties.
When we eat dark chocolate, the cocoa travels all the way through the gut undigested until it reaches the gut microbes or probiotics. Once the cocoa and the probiotics meet, the probiotics ferment the compounds (called flavonols and polyphenols) of the chocolate. In a study at Louisiana State University, Dr. John Finley, Ph.D. found that when the fiber in dark chocolate is fermented, it creates dark chocolate’s anti-inflammatory antioxidants that our body can absorb into the bloodstream.
When these particular antioxidants get to our gut, they have some additional amazing effects on the body.
- Polyphenols found in dark chocolate are anti-inflammatory.
- Your heart will thank you! Antioxidants in dark chocolate decrease inflammation of cardiovascular tissue.
- Flavanols in dark chocolate encourage arteries to relax, which increases blood flow.
- Polyphenols boost our immune system.
- The ultimate brain food! Polyphenols help boost the function of our brain too
- Dark chocolate produces endorphins, which reduce stress.
Dark Chocolate And Heart Health
Not only is dark chocolate great for the bacteria in our gut, but its anti-inflammatory components are great for heart health too.
When the good bacteria feeds on the dark chocolate in our gut, it causes an anti-inflammatory reaction. This reaction links cocoa and heart health.
“When these compounds are absorbed by the body, they lessen the inflammation of cardiovascular tissue, reducing the long-term risk of stroke.”
- Dr. John Finley, Ph.D.
Because of the low-inflammation qualities of dark chocolate for cardiovascular tissue, when we consume dark chocolate or cocoa daily, it can actually lower blood pressure too. The New England Journal of Medicine said that they found that young adults who ate 8 grams of dark chocolate per day had obvious improvements in their vascular function.
Chocolate and a healthy heart? Sign us up!
Dark Chocolate and Probiotics
Since dark chocolate is a gut-healthy prebiotic, it can do its job best when working with probiotics.
When you eat a probiotic along with dark chocolate, the population of good gut bacteria (probiotics) increases and they have someone to eat for energy (prebiotics) to do their best work for our gut and overall health.
Get prebiotics (including dark chocolate) and probiotics into your gut daily. Here are some of our favorite prebiotic and probiotic foods:
The Best Tasting Prebiotics:
- Dark Chocolate
- Yacon Root
Our All-Time Favorite Probiotics:
- Greek Yogurt
- Pickled Cucumber
- Cottage Cheese
- Apple Cider Vinegar
How To Choose The Healthiest Chocolate For Your Gut
Not all chocolate is created equal. Before you start munching on everyday chocolatey snacks, keep in mind that not all types of dark chocolate are going to be good for your gut. Many chocolate squares are loaded with additives and sweetened with sugar--make sure to read your labels.
Milk chocolate is loaded with tons of sugar and contains milk too. The milky, light chocolate doesn’t have the same amount of antioxidants that healthy dark chocolate does because it has a decreased amount of cocoa--the gut-healthy part of dark chocolate. Stay away from milk chocolates if you’re trying to improve your gut health.
Although the sweeter kinds taste best, they are not the healthiest. Many dark chocolate candies are high in sugar too--just like milk chocolate--and can sneak up on you if you’re not paying attention. Dark chocolate that's high in sugar can cause a spike in blood sugar followed by a sugar crash. If dark chocolate is made with lower amounts of cocoa or contains added artificial sweeteners, it won’t be as beneficial for your gut either--in fact, any artificial sweeteners can actually be harmful for your gut.
If you’re looking to eat chocolate for its health benefits, stay away from dark chocolates that are accompanied by artificial fruit flavors--raspberry dark chocolate, orange, blueberry, pomegranate, etc. Not all fruit-flavored chocolate is harmful to your gut. Real, solid fruit like acai or pomegranate that’s dipped in healthy dark chocolate can actually be a great combo for your health.
In order for dark chocolate to benefit you as a gut-healthy snack, find chocolate that is:
- Made with raw, unsweetened cocoa powder
- At least 70% cocoa
- Low in sugar and has no artificial sweeteners
- Made with cocoa butter or coconut oil (NOT soybean or vegetable oil and NO trans fat)
Eat Chocolate Every Day
Would you be excited to hear “YES!” when you ask “Can I eat dark chocolate daily?”. We’re here to be excited with you and tell you “YES!” again and again!
Consistency is key with any prebiotic. In order for your body to fully take advantage of dark chocolate’s prebiotic benefits, it has to be eaten regularly. It takes a large, healthy population of good gut bacteria (probiotics) to break down the antioxidants in dark chocolate. So eating dark chocolate on a regular basis and filling the rest of your day with plenty of other prebiotics and probiotics will help promote a healthy gut.
Try Our Favorite Chocolate
Our Peanutty Dark Chocolate bar’s star flavor is our delicious dark chocolate. The organic dark chocolate we use in this nutty bar is made from organic cocoa mass, organic coconut blossom sugar, and organic cocoa butter, all of which are gut-healthy ingredients.
While Peanutty Dark Chocolate is dark and delicious, Chocolate Coconut Cashew is a bit lighter and mouthwatering--it’s also a fan favorite! The organic chocolate we use to make this chocolatey bar is also made from organic cocoa mass, organic coconut blossom sugar, and organic cocoa butter.
Give both of these bars a taste now! Order one of each from our shop.