Eating Chocolate Every Day Has An Unexpected Effect On Your Gut

Most of us don't require a scientific reason to have a piece of chocolate every day. We love the treat for various reasons already — it's comforting, tastes delicious, and comes in so many different varieties. 

Experts have cautioned about the high saturated fat and excess sugar in chocolate that can be problematic where your health is concerned. From heart issues to weight gain, the concerns are many. However, dark chocolate — the more concentrated counterpart of milk chocolate — has more or less always been in the news as a superior and even healthier option, and turns out, it can even benefit your gut health. 

If you want to know about gut health and how it impacts your overall physical and mental health, there's plenty of science out there. In fact, some might even call it a burgeoning part of research focused on understanding how your gut bacteria influence chronic disease, sleep, your immune system, and more. "Chocolate is basically fermented beans. It's made from cocoa which is a prebiotic fiber, a type of fiber your gut microbes love to digest and turn into useful molecules for your gut," explained National Health Service general surgeon Dr. Karan Rajan (via YouTube). Let's find out more. 

Dark chocolate provides compounds beneficial to the gut

Commenting on a 2014 report presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society, one of the Louisiana State University researchers involved in the study, Maria Moore, explained that the good bacteria in your gut, namely Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria, feast on dark chocolate, and grow and ferment it, resulting in anti-inflammatory compounds being released into your system.

These compounds are responsible for the unexpected effect dark chocolate has on your heart. "When these compounds are absorbed by the body, they lessen the inflammation of cardiovascular tissue, reducing the long-term risk of stroke," explained lead researcher, John Finley (via the American Chemical Society). A 2013 study published in the Frontiers in Pharmacology had similar results. The prebiotic fiber concentration in dark chocolate also has an unexpected link with depression — it can improve this mental health condition. 

Additionally, dark chocolate contains a rich concentration of polyphenols. "[Polyphenols] are antioxidants like flavanols which are fertilizer for your gut microbes," added Dr. Karan Rajan. If you're looking for a healthy ingredient that promotes the growth of beneficial gut strains while simultaneously reducing pathogenic ones, polyphenols will do the trick, per the expert. There is also some science that links consuming dark chocolate with triggering the satiation cues in your brain — this can be especially helpful when you're trying to avoid overeating in order to lose weight. Does this mean dark chocolate can be consumed every day without worry? 

The dark side of eating dark chocolate for gut health

Despite its many benefits to your gut health, dark chocolate comes with a dark side too. For starters, some experts think that the manufacturing process and additions like sugar, etc. can almost completely remove the beneficial polyphenols from this treat. A 2022 study published in Current Research in Food Science confirms this unfortunate side effect. 

Plus, dark chocolate is not free of saturated fat, and overconsumption of this unhealthy fat can increase bad cholesterol levels in your system and put you at risk for heart disease and stroke. Some versions of dark chocolate could also contain quite a bit of sugar. 

A more recent concern that came to light was the Consumer Reports data pertaining to levels of the heavy metals cadmium and lead in popular brands of dark chocolate. According to the senior clinical dietitian at the University of California Medical Center, Dana Ellis Hunnes (via Healthline), "Too much cadmium can damage the liver and kidneys. Therefore, whatever you can do to avoid or limit your intake to the best of your ability is recommended." 

Safe to say, this brings into focus the all-important question — is dark chocolate really as healthy as you think? The key is to select brands that contain over 70% cocoa and very little sugar and to also consume the stuff in moderation. While some health professionals think heavy metal concentration in dark chocolate can vary depending on cacao farming practices, they also advise moderation just to be on the safe side. If you're looking for high-quality dark chocolate sourced from brands that believe in sustainable and safe practices, all the better.