Why chocolate IS good for you and your gut!
Yes, your eyes do not deceive you! That’s right chocolate IS good for your gut. Just like we love the pleasure, taste and feel good factor around chocolate it seems that our microbiome, aka the trillions of microorganisms in the gut, are also rather partial to the stuff too. It’s fair to say that fermented foods might not to be everyone’s personal preference when it comes to gut friendly foods so maybe this can help you get on board with the gut health thing once and for all.
Disclaimer though…that’s not an excuse to go totally crazy on it as it is the type and the amount that we are consuming that makes the difference. The darker the chocolate the more antioxidants it will contain so really the 70-80% cocoa solids is going to provide more of these polyphenols and ideally those made without too much sugar and added emulsifiers and preservative such likes if you are really gunning for the gut health benefits. Ideally the basic ingredients list should read something like cocoa beans, cocoa butter, maybe some milk powder (if you are having a milk chocolate) and some kind of sweetener whether that’s straight up cane sugar or alternatives like coconut sugar that can often be found in bars these days. Like many foods such as coffee and beer there has also been a bit of a movement towards craft chocolate too that adopts a ‘bean to bar’ ideology which means the cocoa beans are ground and directly made into bars at the place of manufacture. This is typically made by small-scale producers who also work with cooperatives and fair-trade cocoa bean farmers. These can be a bit on the pricier side but in my opinion can often be worth the extra spend from a flavour, quality and sustainability perspective.
However, what’s in your bar that can have your gut blissful too?
Power house polyphenols
Polyphenols are substances are often referred to as antioxidants and in the case of chocolate this comes in the form of flavonoids. Cocoa is in fact ranked right up there on the ORAC scale that measures the level of these antioxidants so beneath that dark and delicious exterior is a bevy of power house polyphenols that our gut loves. Think of these polyphenols as potent energy sources for our microbiome that allows microbes to produce some of the chemical substances that we need for gut health and for the body overall. These include short chain fatty acids (SCFA’s) such as butyrate that we know is crucial to help support the gut and works as an important anti-inflammatory. To coin the infamous saying it might be that a few squares a day can indeed make your microbiome work, rest and play!
Chocolate contains a decent amount of fibre that can helps to support regular movements. This refers more to the darker chocolate that you would be surprised to know contains a pretty significant 7g of fibre per 100g. In an average serving that equates to around 3g and approximately 15% of your recommended daily intake. Not bad really and certainly gives a nice nod, and indeed nudge, to get your gut moving along nicely. You don’t necessarily need to have your chocolate through the obvious bars sense but can of course also consume cocoa or cacao powder directly into recipes too. This could include deserts and smoothies or simply mixed into porridge. I think that’s a bit of a morning winner personally and ups the ante even further from a fibre perspective too.
Recent research is gaining serious traction in that having a healthy gut can indeed lead to an improved state of mood & mind. However, the relationship is also bi-directional and there are substances such as magnesium, phenylethylamine and theobromine in chocolate that may have both boosting and calming effects and as such as soothing effect to the functioning of the gut too. I think we have all felt the positive mood-altering effects after having enjoyed a piece of chocolate and this is partly the reason why. The other positive side effect of feeding our microbes is that they can produce more neurotransmitters like serotonin that also make us feel generally happier too. However, you will also notice that if you have overindulged it can have the opposite effect in too much of a sugar hit that can leave a resulting crash soon thereafter. Like caffeine, chocolate can also have a stimulating effect, particularly in those that are sensitive to caffeine, and that may also give the gut a bit of an unpleasant jolt too. Mindful eating should therefore be taken in the literal sense if you want the enjoy the positive mood effects.
So, there you have it folks, chocolate does have its gut boosting benefits. With Easter and all its abundant delights, it’s definitely worth keeping that in mind and savouring rather than scoffing. As incredibly tempting as it is to sail down the proverbial chocolate river as Augustus Gloop, from the famous Charlie and the Chocolate Factory who gets sucked up a giant chocolate pipe, would tell you, too much isn’t a good thing.