Horseman’s Health: Dark Chocolate Benefits for Your Gut

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We’ve talked before about how chocolate can actually help you slim down. There are other dark chocolate health benefits too including using chocolate to support gut health. When we talk about chocolate for health benefits we’re talking about real, dark chocolate and preferably organic with 65% cacao or more. Processed chocolate with lots of sugar, artificial sweeteners, corn syrup, added chemicals and cacao roasted in high temperatures don’t have the same benefits as unprocessed. Raw, organic dark chocolate however has magnesium, sulfur, zinc, iron, copper, potassium, manganese, calcium, B and E vitamins. It also has the healthy monounsaturated fat like you find in olive oil and avocados.

One of the reasons for dark chocolate health benefits is that it has polyphenols. Polyphenols are compounds we get from eating plant based foods such as fruits, vegetables, teas, and cocoa. They have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-carcinogenic properties and can help protect cells from oxidative damage from free radicals. One type of polyphenol is flavonoids. Flavonoids are the type of polyphenols that we most often get in our diets from the healthy food we eat and support heart health through improved circulation, reducing high blood pressure and reduce plaque build-up. Chocolate has a type of antioxidant called catechins which is one type of flavonoid. It has been reported that dark chocolate actually has eight times more antioxidants than strawberries do.

Cacao also has PEA (phenylethylamine) which is linked to energy, mood, and attention. PEA is a vital part of your brain function and is responsible for feelings of pleasure as well as mental acuity. Food sources for PEA include cheddar cheese, AFA bluegreen algae and yes, dark chocolate.

How Chocolate Supports Gut Health
Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria that live in our guts and are a first line of defense for the body against unfriendly bacteria, viruses and yeasts. Strains of friendly bacteria that are most common include those in the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium families. Having a good supply of these probiotics in the gut helps with digestion, symptoms of ulcers, leaky gut syndrome, symptoms of allergies, and all kinds of other digestive and immune system functions. Most people have heard about acidophilus and bifidus and include fermented foods such as yogurt in their diets or take probiotic supplements to help replenish these friendly bacteria. What you may not know is that you also have to “feed” your friendly bacteria. Prebiotics are the source of food for probiotics and are mostly indigestible carbohydrate fibers called oligosaccharides. You can’t digest oligosaccharides but your friendly bacteria can. Since you can’t digest these fibers, they stay in your gut and feed the friendly bacteria that live there. Oligosaccharides are found in fruits, legumes, and whole grains. Soybeans, oats, whole wheat, barley, and inulin, which is found in Jerusalem artichokes, jicama, and chicory root all have oligosaccharides. Now here’s some good news for you. Dark chocolate acts as a prebiotic too. The flavonoids catechin and epicatechin found in cocoa are not digested easily, but the friendly probiotics love to feed on them and break them down into forms the body can use.

We of course are not suggesting a diet of all chocolate. But eating small amounts of the right kinds of chocolate has been shown to provide health benefits. That means you can enjoy a chocolate treat without feeling guilty knowing that you are actually supporting good health. To get the most dark chocolate health benefits, be picky about the types of chocolate you buy. This would include cacao beans that are raw and not roasted, cacao powder made from peeled cold-pressed cacao beans, and organic raw dark chocolate. Mixing in a natural sweetener will help with the bitter taste. If you have any favorite dark chocolate recipes, we’d love for you to share them. Just leave them in a comment below on our blog.

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