Benefits of Dark Chocolate For Your Gut
If you’re looking for an excuse to indulge your sweet tooth with some chocolate, look no further. Chocolate comes from the cocoa plant, which a rich source of fiber, protein, nutrients, and defense chemicals called polyphenols. Dark chocolate, which contains higher concentrations of the nutritious cocoa plant, is high in key nutrients such as iron, magnesium, copper, and manganese, contains high levels of healthy antioxidants, and can even reduce your risk of heart disease. Even more exciting are the benefits which dark chocolate has on your gut, which can greatly influence your overall health and mood.
What is the gut microbiome?
Before we talk about dark chocolate, we need to understand a few basic things about the gut. There are trillions of bacteria living inside your gut, many of which provide important health benefits to you. These good bacteria, also known as probiotics, play an important role in helping us fight off bad bacteria that can make us sick, aiding in digestion, synthesizing important vitamins, and boosting immunity. A healthy population of bacteria, one that is highly diverse and has a proper balance of species, can help us manage our metabolism, protect against disease-causing bacteria, absorb nutrients from our food, support our immune system, and regulate our mood. Decreased levels of gut microbial diversity are associated with increase susceptibility for certain diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease (IBS), depression, and anxiety. These good bacteria feed on prebiotics, a type of fiber that provide the energy for the probiotics to do their job. In addition, antioxidants found in foods work with prebiotics and probiotics to decrease inflammation in the gut, which can help reduce stress, boost immunity, and aid in detoxification. But what does all of this have to do with dark chocolate, and how does this tasty treat actually benefit our gut?
How does dark chocolate impact the gut?
Dark chocolate acts as a prebiotic
Dark chocolate is actually a prebiotic, meaning it encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut. Dark chocolate can significantly increase gut microbial diversity, which is associated with health benefits such as improved glucose control and decreased risk of diabetes. These changes in microbial diversity can also improve the intestinal barrier of your gut, which are important for preventing toxins from entering the bloodstream and triggering widespread inflammation.
Dark chocolate contains polyphenols important for gut function.
In addition to acting as a prebiotic, dark chocolate also contains polyphenols, compounds which protects against certain types of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and can reduce systemic inflammation. Polyphenols in dark chocolate can also reduce cortisol levels, a stress hormone which can contribute to symptoms of anxiety and depression. Gut microbes are important in transforming these polyphenols into an active form which allows these compounds to exert their beneficial effects. In turn, transformation of these polyphenols also has positive benefits on our gut bacteria. Polyphenols increase levels of Bacteroidetes, a family of gut microbes which can provide protections against pathogens, supply nutrients to other gut microbes, and positively impact our mood.
Flavanols are a particular type of polyphenol which especially benefit the gut microbiota. Flavanols found in cocoa increase the growth of types of bacteria in the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium family, which benefit the gut by preventing the growth of disease-causing organisms, aiding in the absorption of vitamins such as vitamin B-9, reducing blood cholesterol levels, and decreasing inflammation. Cocoa flavanols also decrease levels of the bacterial species Clostridium histolyticum, which includes many pathogenic strains of bacteria associated with colonic cancer and inflammatory bowel disease.
Dark chocolate can improve your mood through the gut-brain axis:
You probably already knew that chocolate makes you happy, but did you know that there is scientific evidence to support this increase in mood? It turns out that dark chocolate can also impact our mood through its effects on the gut microbiome. In one study, participants who ate 30 g of 85% dark chocolate per day saw significant improvements in mood over 3 weeks when compared with people who didn’t consume any dark chocolate. These mood improvements are likely due to the effect which dark chocolate has on bacterial species such as Blautia obeum, a group of microbes which produce butyrate. Butyrate is an important chemical compound which has antidepressant effects, and can also reduce inflammation, gastrointestinal distress, and enhance your sleep.
It’s evident that dark chocolate can benefit our gut microbiome in several ways. Dark chocolate:
- Promotes growth of beneficial bacterial species
- Decreases intestinal permeability to prevent toxins from entering the bloodstream
- Contains polyphenols and flavanols which help our gut microbes protect us from pathogens and synthesize nutrients from our food
- Increases butyrate production, which enhances mood and reduces inflammation
And lucky for us, dark chocolate is just as good for our taste buds as it is for our guts! Looking for an even more delicious way to enjoy this gut-friendly treat? Your favorite bloat-free protein powder, CorePerform, has a new chocolate protein powder, which offers the chocolate that your gut bugs love without any of the disrupting gums or additives found in most protein powders. Give your gut some love by trying some today!
Shin, J.-H., Kim, C.-S., Cha, L., Kim, S., Lee, S., Chae, S., Chun, W. Y., & Shin, D.-M. (2022). Consumption of 85% cocoa dark chocolate improves mood in association with gut microbial changes in healthy adults: A randomized controlled trial. The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, 99, 108854. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jnutbio.2021.108854
Tzounis, X., Rodriguez-Mateos, A., Vulevic, J., Gibson, G. R., Kwik-Uribe, C., & Spencer, J. P. E. (2011). Prebiotic evaluation of cocoa-derived flavanols in healthy humans by using a randomized, controlled, double-blind, crossover intervention study. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 93(1), 62–72. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.110.000075
Álvarez-Cilleros, D., Ramos, S., López-Oliva, M. E., Escrivá, F., Álvarez, C., Fernández-Millán, E., & Martín, M. Á. (2020). Cocoa diet modulates gut microbiota composition and improves intestinal health in Zucker diabetic rats. Food Research International, 132, 109058. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodres.2020.109058