Why Your Microbes Want You to Eat Dark Chocolate

Mmmm, chocolate. Few words can adequately describe the sensation of a delectable morsel of smooth dark chocolate slowly melting in your mouth. It’s almost...euphoric. So in honor of National Chocolate Month, we want to give you one more reason to guiltlessly indulge in your favorite sweet treat.

Scientists have been studying the health benefits of dark chocolate for years, and the list is extensive. From supporting heart health and improving blood flow to increasing insulin sensitivity, reducing stress, lowering BMI, and even protecting skin from sun damage, dark chocolate has an impressive resume.1,2

But, did you know one of dark chocolate’s most notable benefits—and quite possibly the reason for its other positive effects on your health—is its ability to nourish your beneficial gut bacteria?

Your Gut Craves Chocolate, Too

When we think of chocolate, we don’t generally think of it being good for our gut, at least when it comes to girth! But the truth is that dark chocolate is exactly what your gut microbes need to keep you healthy.

You see, your microbiome is made up of trillions of microbes, most of whom are beneficial bacteria living in your digestive tract, where they work tirelessly to (among other things) optimize your weight and metabolism, help you absorb nutrients, support your immune system, and even balance your moods. But, they do need nourishment to be able to grow, reproduce, and stay in the majority so the bad guys don’t take over.

This is where prebiotics take center stage. Prebiotics are fibers in many of the plant-based foods that we eat, and while we can’t digest them, they pass through to our colon where our friendly flora break them down into a veritable feast!

So, where does chocolate fit into the equation? Like any other prebiotic, dark chocolate contains fiber that passes undigested through our digestive tract to the large intestine where our probiotics (the good guys) use it as fuel to grow their populations and support our health.

• In one study, 22 volunteers who consumed a high-flavanol cocoa for four weeks experienced significant increases in their gut populations of probiotic superheroes, Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli.3

• Beneficial bacteria can ferment dark chocolate fiber into short-chain fatty acids like butyrate and acetic acid that fend off harmful microbes and reinforce the gut barrier against antigens and invaders.4

But that’s not all! Cocoa contains flavonols, antioxidant molecules that are too large for our body to absorb on its own.

The good news for chocolate lovers everywhere is that researchers have discovered our beneficial bacteria can ferment these antioxidants into smaller, absorbable compounds that make their way into our bloodstream—that means potent benefits for our heart, immune system, blood vessels, brain, and more.4

If you think that sounds too good to be true, you’re not alone. But, the impact of flavonols on our health is so profound that the European Food Safety Agency has approved a health claim for dark chocolate products with a high flavonol content.

How to Choose the Healthiest Chocolate for Your Gut

Before you start stocking up on your chocolatey favorites, keep in mind that not just any chocolate will do when it comes to finding one that truly benefits your gut and your overall health. Milk chocolate is loaded with sugar and very low in antioxidants, so chowing down on this watered-down version will do more harm than good.

Dark chocolate and raw cocoa powder have the highest amounts of gut-healthy flavonols, so look for varieties with:

1. At least 70% cocoa.
2. Low amounts of sugar (preferably from natural sources like honey) and no artificial sweeteners
3. Fat from cocoa butter or coconut oil—stay away from soybean oil, vegetable oils, and trans fats
4. Organic certification to avoid increasingly popular GMO chocolate
5. Fair Trade certification to ensure sustainability and ethical treatment for farmers

Now that you have your perfect chocolate picked out, what’s next? Brace yourself, because here’s where it gets good. Experts say consistency is key when it comes to reaping the benefits of dark chocolate and that you should eat 40 grams of it—that’s a little less than half of a 3.5 ounce bar—every single day (yes, you read that right) for at least eight weeks!

However, in order for your body to be able to fully take advantage of chocolate’s benefits, remember that it must have ample populations of beneficial gut bacteria to break down and ferment the flavonols. In other words, without the right gut bacteria, chocolate is just a yummy treat.

Fortunately, adding a supplemental probiotic formula like PRO-15 into your health regimen will replenish your gut with billions of chocolate-digesting microbes so you can rest assured that your daily delicacy is benefitting you to the fullest possible extent. And to include even more prebiotic goodness in your diet, add in an organic, food-based prebiotic powder supplement to nourish your friendly flora so they can populate and thrive.

More than 58 million pounds of chocolate are sold in the United States during the week of Valentine’s Day—that’s a lot of potential fuel for our collective microbiomes. Granted, it’s not all flavonol-rich dark chocolate, but some of it fits the bill for a treat that is easy on your gut and your tastebuds. So, dive in and give your gut microbes a feast to love—they’ll pay you back with the gift of vibrant health!

References:

1. Martin, F. J., Rezzi, S., Peré-Trepat, E., Kamlage, B., Collino, S., Leibold, E., . . . Kochhar, S. (2009). Metabolic Effects of Dark Chocolate Consumption on Energy, Gut Microbiota, and Stress-Related Metabolism in Free-Living Subjects. Journal of Proteome Research, 8(12), 5568-5579. doi:10.1021/pr900607v

2. Farhat, G. (2014). Dark chocolate rich in polyphenols improves insulin sensitivity in the adult non-diabetic population. Endocrine Abstracts, 34, 206. doi:10.1530/endoabs.34.p206

3. Tzounis, X., Rodriguez-Mateos, A., Vulevic, J., Gibson, G. R., Kwik-Uribe, C., & Spencer, J. P. (2011). Prebiotic evaluation of cocoa-derived flavanols in healthy humans by using a randomized, controlled, double-blind, crossover intervention study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 93(1), 62-72. doi:10.3945/ajcn.110.000075

4. Finley, J. (2014, March). Impact of the Microbiome on Cocoa Polyphenolic Compounds. Findings presented at the 247th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, Dallas, TX.

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Emily Courtney is a Writer and Editor at Hyperbiotics and mom to two fun and active boys. Emily is passionate about natural wellness and helping others learn about the power of probiotics for vibrant health! For more ideas on how you can benefit from the power of probiotics and live healthier days, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.

Posted in Diet & Nutrition, Gut Health, Immune System, Lifestyle, Prebiotics


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