Are you a chocolate lover, like me? I often find I can’t get through the day without at least a small bite of chocolate, whether it is a few chocolate-covered almonds or a square of 70% dark chocolate.
While milk chocolate can be packed with sugar and calories, dark chocolate can actually be quite healthy. And fortunately for those of us who love dark chocolate, research keeps finding new reasons to eat more of it. From lowering blood pressure to helping preserve memory, dark chocolate has numerous health benefits. Recent studies are beginning to discover why chocolate is so good for you, and the answer might lie in the bacteria in your gut.
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Health benefits of dark chocolate
Chocolate comes from seeds of the tree Theobroma cacao. Dark chocolate contains high amounts of ground cacao (the higher percentage of cacao, the better). Ground cacao contains many healthy compounds, including polyphenols. These compounds help to prevent and treat diseases, especially of the brain and cardiovascular system. There is an abundance of research showing that cacao can improve memory, boost mood, lower blood pressure, improve insulin resistance, and more.
Chocolate and gut microbiota
Recent research has elucidated one of the major reasons why chocolate might be so beneficial to your health. Cacao can act like a prebiotic or probiotic in your digestive system, modulating the amounts of different types of bacteria in the gut.
Findings from a new study on chocolate and gut bacteria were presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in March of 2014. There are both good, beneficial bacteria in our gut, and bad, harmful bacteria in the gut, such as E. coli. John Findley and his team of researchers found that when you eat chocolate, the good bacteria, such as Bifidobacterium, and lactic acid bacteria, like to feast on the chocolate.
The polyphenols, antioxidants, and fiber found in chocolate are not easily digestible. However, when the bacteria feast on the chocolate, they ferment the fiber and release easily absorbable, smaller, anti-inflammatory compounds in the process. Findley says, “When these compounds are absorbed by the body, they lessen the inflammation of cardiovascular tissue, reducing the long-term risk of stroke.” Anti-inflammatory compounds can help with a variety of other health conditions, as well.
Findley also says that consuming chocolate along with prebiotics, as well as antioxidant-rich fruits like pomegranates or acai, can make chocolate even more beneficial for your health.
Share your experience
Do you love chocolate? What are your favorite types of high-quality, healthy dark chocolate? Share your love of chocolate in the comments section below.