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It’s a food loved all over the world by cultures of all kind. It’s a food that makes us happier with just a whiff and is used in everything from desserts to smoothies and even entrées and breakfast dishes. Chocolate makes the world go round in small ways we can all appreciate. It’s gifted during the holidays, used to satisfy afternoon cravings, give a dish that extra something special, and yes, can even make us healthier too.

Chocolate has been well-known for years to provide antioxidant support and can improve heart health — no news there. It’s one of the best sources of plant-based iron, magnesium, and chromium in such a small serving. It’s a mood and libido booster, fights arterial plaque, and even helps lower our blood pressure and improve blood sugar. Though milk chocolate varieties certainly won’t offer these benefits, dark chocolate, cocoa, and raw cacao can actually change our health for the better in addition to a healthy diet.

Chocolate’s Little Known Health Benefit …Chocolate-Hazelnut-Truffles-by-@JesseLWellness-glutenfree-1200x800

But guess what else? Chocolate can also improve our guts, friends. That’s right — our bacteria that keeps us healthy (a.k.a. our microbiome) feeds on chocolate with just as much enjoyment as we do.

Check this out:

The American Chemical Society (ACS) performed research studies on the digestive system and found that between the two different microbes we have in our bodies (good and bad), the good bacteria thrive on chocolate and allow that good bacteria to grow and thrive.

Maria Moore, an undergraduate student and one of the study’s researchers said, “The good microbes, such as Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria, feast on chocolate,” she said. “When you eat dark chocolate, they grow and ferment it, producing compounds that are anti-inflammatory. The other bacteria in the gut are associated with inflammation and can cause gas, bloating, diarrhea and constipation. These include some Clostridia and some E. coli.”

John Finley, Ph.D. who headed the research study also shared that when these compounds that chocolate produces are absorbed by the body, they actually reduce cardiovascular inflammation and can even lower a person’s stroke risks. Finley and his team from Lousiana State University also found that of all different types of cocoa powders used, each one produced normal digestion and beneficial fermentation of good microbes in the gut. The magic happens because of the groups of antioxidants found in chocolate known as polyphenols and catechins, along with the good dose of fiber cocoa contains (around 3 grams per 2 tablespoons). The fiber found in cocoa actually starts the fermentation process and helps the body absorb the antioxidants as a result. This is how they end up providing our bodies with antioxidant Support right during the digestive process.

Fiber from chocolate (and many other plant foods) act like prebiotics in the digestive system, allowing good bacteria to feed on them and thrive. This can help fight bad bacteria and prevent it from taking over. Other good sources of prebiotics include asparagus, oats, bananas, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, fermented veggies, broccoli, apples, and most all types of produce.

How to Choose the Healthiest Forms of Chocolate for Your GutRaw-Cacao-Sea-Salt-Caramel-Cups-1200x800

To gain the most nutritional benefits from eating chocolate, only choose the best. Refined sugar can actually deplete your good bacteria, along with processed foods. These foods also age the body, weaken our microbiome, and generally make us feel pretty poorly. Here are the best types of chocolate to choose:

1. Organic dark chocolate (the higher cacao content the better, optimally 85 percent or higher)

2. Raw cacao (powder, nibs, beans)

3. Dark or plain (unsweetened) cocoa powder

Stir some cocoa or cacao in your next cup of coffee for a homemade mocha, add some to your smoothie, put a little into your favorite spicy sauce to give it some additional flavor, bake with it, make a raw dessert, or just snack on a piece of dark chocolate (an ounce) each day. If you’re looking for desserts, try it in some of these raw cacao recipes, or some of these delicious healthy chocolate desserts.

Chocolate is truly one of nature’s greatest gifts to us, and now you can feel even more delighted to enjoy it knowing that it’s working for you in more ways than one.

We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 8,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to ten new recipes per day. Check it out!

Lead Image Source: Raw Superfood Energy Bars With Raw Cacao