Chocolate is a food loved all over the world by cultures of all kind. Chocolate has been known to provide antioxidant support and can improve heart health. It is one of the go-to sources of plant-based iron, magnesium, and chromium in quite a small serving. It contains mood and libido boosting agents, helps fight arterial plaque, and even regulates blood pressure and blood sugar.
Though the watered-down common milk chocolate varieties certainly do not offer these benefits, dark chocolate, cocoa, and raw cacao can actually transform our health for the better in addition to a healthy diet. One of the most notable benefits of dark chocolate is its ability to nourish the beneficial gut bacteria.
How to choose the healthiest chocolate for your gut?
Not just any chocolate will suffice when it comes to finding one that truly benefits your gut and overall health. In one human-based study by the University of Louisiana, consuming a high cocoa content drink for 4 weeks increased probiotic gut microbes of the Lactobacillus species and Bifidobacterium species in comparison to a drink with little cocoa in it.
As dark chocolate and raw cocoa powder have the highest amounts of gut-healthy flavonols, so look for varieties with:
- Minimum 70% cocoa.
- Low sugar or sugar-free – natural sources like honey, jaggery, agave and no artificial sweeteners
- Cocoa butter or coconut oil – soybean oil, vegetable oils, and trans fats are a big no
- 100 % Organic certification to avoid the increasingly popular GMO chocolate
- International Fair Trade certification to ensure sustainability and ethical treatment for farmers
Tips to get the most out of dark chocolates :
In order to gain the most nutritional benefits from eating chocolate, only choose the best –
- Organic dark chocolate -the higher cacao content is present, the better it proves for your health, optimally 85 percent or higher)
- Raw cacao – It is unprocessed and cocoa and comes in the form of powder, nibs, beans
- Dark or plain (unsweetened) cocoa powder- It can be directly added to cake and brownie batter, also for hot chocolate
- Cocoa contains different polyphenols including catechins, anthocyanins, and procyanidins. Procyanidins provide the majority of antioxidant activity in cocoa products. The polyphenols in cocoa are derived from cocoa beans. The polyphenols in cocoa and chocolate can function as prebiotics i.e. food for our beneficial gut microbes; increasing specialized microbes associated with health benefits.
- Dark chocolate and cocoa provide health benefits beyond the gut. Cocoa polyphenols induce the release of nitric oxide that promotes vasodilation of the blood vessels resulting in heart health benefits. Dark chocolate intake has been associated with reducing blood pressure too.
- Cocoa liquor is the paste from cocoa beans (also known as cocoa nibs–shown in the middle of the above picture) and contains cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Cocoa liquor is commonly known as “percent cacao” on food packaging and contains many bioactive compounds.
- Cocoa butter contains high amounts of fat, whereas the non-fat cocoa solids contain mostly vitamins, minerals, fiber, and polyphenols. Chocolate is a combination of cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, and sugar.
Including chocolate in the daily diet :
Stir some cacao in a hot cup of coffee for an instant mocha, add it to smoothies, put a bit into your favorite spicy sauce to give it some additional kick, make a raw dessert, or just snack on a piece of dark chocolate every day. If you love chocolate-based desserts, use it for mousse, tart and walnut brownies as a healthier alternative to other sugary varieties.
Chocolate is truly one of mother nature’s greatest gifts to us, so, now you can feel even more delighted to enjoy it knowing that it is a wonderful addition to a healthy diet.