Love Chocolate? Good news, your bacteria do too!
Do you love chocolate and have been waiting for someone to tell you that chocolate is good for you? Well, today is your lucky day!
It’s been my guilty pleasure for ages. A little bit of dark chocolate after lunch. Four small squares to be exact. I used to hide it in my desk, like some sort of dirty secret, but now I don’t need to hide any longer! Chocolate is good for you!
It turns out that chocolate is a significant prebiotic and feeds the good bacteria. There it is. The news you have been waiting for! The best possible news for those who want to improve their gut health and want to continue to enjoy their love of chocolate.
It seems that bacteria in the gut (bifidobacterium and lactobacillus) love to gobble up chocolate as much as you do. In return for the feast, the good bacteria turn the phytonutrients in chocolate into anti-inflammatories that help with heart health. The best way to the heart is through the stomach!
Without the gut bacteria playing this role, the phytonutrients in the chocolate, known as catechins and epicatechins, are poorly absorbed. The gut bacteria break these down into smaller metabolites that allow them to be absorbed in the body. These phytonutrients also act as antioxidants. This is all based on research presented at the 247th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society.
What about craving chocolate? Is this a craving for magnesium like so many people have speculated? Apparently not. Your gut microbes can control what you eat. I bet you thought it was you, but it is not. Both good and bad bacteria can manipulate the vagus nerve – the key connection between the brain and the gut, to make you think that you want to eat certain foods and that includes chocolate.
Different bacteria want different foods and the bacteria that has an advantage in numbers, determines what you crave. By having you eat more of a given food, they help keeps their numbers strong. Gut bacteria can even manipulate you to feel anxious or depressed and signal you to eat a given food “to feel better.” But before you get too excited, it is important to know that bad bacteria can make you crave bad food like sugar (but we know chocolate cravings are coming from the good guys!).
Of course this doesn’t mean reaching for a mars bar. To get those benefits choose good quality dark chocolate with the maximum amount of cocoa you can tolerate!
There is still a lot of research to be done, including how we are influenced by gut bacteria to overeat and under eat. In the meantime, the next time you crave chocolate, you do not have to feel guilty, knowing that it is your good bacteria talking.
Prebiotic evaluation of cocoa-derived flavanols in healthy humans by using a randomized, controlled, double-blind, crossover intervention study 1,2,3, Xenofon Tzounis et al, Am J Clin Nutr January 2011 vol. 93 no. 1 62-72
Is eating behavior manipulated by the gastrointestinal microbiota? Evolutionary pressures and potential mechanisms, Joe Alcock et al, BioEssays, Volume 36, Issue 10, pages 940–949, October 2014