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Chocolate and Health
Who doesn’t love a good piece of chocolate? I know I do, and I’m sure many of you would say the same about the glowing feeling you get from eating chocolate. It turns out that not only is chocolate chock-full of delightful health benefits and mood-boosting properties, it is also a helpful component for a thriving microbiome!
New research is suggesting that many of the health benefits including aging, antioxidant activity, blood pressure, cardiovascular health, and cognitive function that are linked to healthy gut microbes may be also linked to the prebiotic and probiotic effects of dark chocolate or cacao. (1,5,7,8)
In a controlled, double-blind, randomized clinical trial, researchers compared the effects of high-cocoa versus low-cocoa flavanol drinks. The high-cocoa consumption group saw a significant increase in certain beneficial gut microbes such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli. They also saw a significant decrease in undesirable gut microbes such as clostridia. (2)
According to the researchers, this was the first time they saw chocolate flavanols act as a prebiotic and boost beneficial bacteria in the gut. (2) In addition, the same study saw beneficial changes in triglyceride and C-reactive protein concentrations with the group that drank the high-cocoa mixture. (2)
The researchers found that the benefits of chocolate not only boosted the good populations of bifidobacteria and lactobacilli, it also increased the gut’s ability to absorb the beneficial polyphenols and flavonoids of the cacao. (1) This effect was linked to a boost in immunity, which is one of the most-well-studied effects of a healthy gut microbiome. (1)
Dark Chocolate and Blood Sugar
Perhaps one of the most surprising benefits of dark chocolate (pure 100% cacao) is the effect of its flavanols and polyphenols on insulin sensitivity and blood sugar levels. While there have been many similar studies on folks with blood sugar concerns, this study was performed on 61 healthy individuals with no blood sugar or cardiovascular issues. (3)
One group ate 20 grams (or about a half of a small bar) of dark chocolate daily for four weeks, while the other group received a placebo. The group that ate the dark chocolate saw a significant lowering of insulin, but no real changes in fasting blood sugar levels (which were normal to begin with). The placebo group actually saw an increase in insulin levels and an increase in fasting blood sugar levels. This study suggests that dark chocolate may offer prevention for blood sugar-related issues.
In yet another study, participants consumed 40 grams of dark chocolate for up to two weeks, and the results showed balancing effects from stress on the gut microbiome. (4) Interestingly, the long-term, regular dietary consumption of small amounts of dark chocolate has been shown to have a connection with the gut microbiome as well. (6)
While the benefits of polyphenols and flavonoids on blood sugar are well understood, new research is suggesting further benefits from these natural antioxidants on the gut microbiome. (2) The health benefits of cacao are just now beginning to be understood, and more and more evidence is suggesting that many of the health- and brain-boosting effects of cacao are linked to changes in the gut-brain axis that is driven by changes in the gut microbiology. (1)
Ayurveda and Chocolate
Ayurveda considers chocolate a stimulant with both positive and negative potential. For more, check out my recent podcast, “The Chocolate Effect” where I discussed the ancient wisdom around the magic of cacao.
What role does chocolate play in your life?