The health benefits of chocolate
written by Isabella Lovett
If you loved the series of Bridget Jones movies then you know that our heroine loved nothing more than a tub of chocolate ice-cream during her most heartbreaking moments. Chocolate is one of the world’s most popular comfort foods and it’s easy to see why. The rich, melt-in-the-mouth texture and the delectable taste of quality chocolate is something most people wouldn’t dream of depriving themselves of. Indeed, many nutritionists include dark chocolate in particular as an occasional treat even for those who are trying to shed pounds. Chocolate does more than soothe a breaking heart or uplift a tired soul. It also provides a wide array of benefits that are being discovered by top scientists from across the globe. One of the most vital of these is the ability of chocolate to promote better gut health.
Eat Chocolate, Be Happy
Did you know that biting into a delectable piece of dark chocolate can make you feel happier and reduce depression? Studies have found that people who ate chocolate of any kind (yes, that includes milk chocolate) on a regular basis are also less likely to report symptoms of depression than those who don’t eat any chocolate at all – as chocolate lovers would say, repression is the root of all evil. The secret behind the power of chocolate to make you happy is its high quotient of ‘psychoactive ingredients’.
Stress, Memory, and Mood
One fascinating study found that dark chocolate (i.e., 70% and up) helped improve stress, memory, mood, immunity, and inflammation. In other words, dark chocolate can improve mental health but also improve your heart health. The study was the first to look at the impact of a small dose of cacao (e.g., enjoyed in regular chocolate bar size). The scientists said that “the higher the concentration of cacao, the more positive the impact on cognition, memory, mood, immunity and other beneficial effects.” In other words, you can feel less guilty if you go whole-hog on a dark bar of your favorite chocolate variety.
Gut Microbiota and Healthy Foods
If you never thought that bacteria could make you happy, think again! More and more studies are being published on the now evident connection between the state of your gut microbiome (the plethora of health-inducing bacteria that live in your gut) and health – both physical and mental. One 2019 study has shown, for instance, that when you have low levels of specific bacteria, you are more likely to be depressed. Researchers are therefore recommending that human beings consume a wide variety of foods – including fruits and vegetables (because of their high fiber content) but also, it seems, chocolate.
Why Does Chocolate Benefit Gut Health?
The study showed that good microbiota is just as keen on chocolate as human beings are! When you indulge, happy bacteria in your stomach ‘have a party’, growing and fermenting and producing compounds that fight inflammation. Consuming an anti-inflammatory diet is important because inflammation is a key factor in everything from heart disease to cancer. The components in chocolate that give it this unique "power" include catechin, epicatechin, and a small amount of fiber. The body does not absorb these compounds well. However, when they reach the gut, they are taken over by health-giving gut microbes. The researchers recommended combining chocolate with solid fruits to boost its effects.
It’s amazing to think that one of our favorite comfort foods – chocolate – is now officially a guilt-free indulgence. Chocolate is something many people instinctively reach for when they are feeling low, and now we know why – it helps lift the mood and has powerful physiological effects. Its benefits include that of promoting a healthy gut microbiome, which is essential for both physical and mental health. This means you can pull out your chocolate bar on and tell the people around you about how it is an amazing health food that can be enjoyed more than once in a blue moon.