The phrase “gut-healthy foods” tends to conjure up images of hard-to-pronounce kefir, kimchi, and kombucha.
But it turns out that something as simple as a chocolate bar could actually have real benefits for your gut.
According to gut health scientist and dietitian Dr. Megan Rossi, this is due to plant chemicals called polyphenols, found in some sugary cocoa snacks.
They have been shown to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria and ultimately help protect against inflammation and disease.
Fiber also plays a major role in the intestinal properties of choccy.
Dr Rossi, founder of The Gut Health Doctor, said: “Cocoa may even influence the growth of certain microbes in our intestines. »
But not all confectionery is created equal, the expert warns.
While some may be beneficial, others can actually make your gut health worse through ingredients like emulsifiers.
If you’re craving a sugar fix but don’t want to wreak havoc on your stomach, Dr. Rossi recommends Lindt Excellence Dark 90%.
The bar, available for around £2 in most supermarkets, contains just four ingredients – cocoa mass, cocoa butter, low-fat cocoa powder and sugar – and makes a pleasant bowel drink.
Dr Rossi said: “This is one of my favorite chocolate bars.
“After lunch, I have two squares. I adopted them after a patient around 90 years old attributed his longevity to his daily consumption of dark chocolate.”
Similar bars include: Taste the Difference 90% Ugandan Dark Chocolate (£1.65 from Sainsbury’s), Ombar Dark Chocolate 90% Vegan and Fairtrade Organic Cocoa (£2.10 from Ocado) and 85% Organic Dark Chocolate from Green & Black (£1.75 from Tesco). ).
Dr. Rossi also advises choosing bars containing dried fruit and/or nuts for “extra fiber and plants.”
Lindt Excellence 70% Raspberry and Hazelnut Dark Chocolate (£3.50 at Ocado), Belgian Dark Chocolate with Raisins and Almonds (£2 at Waitrose) and Ritter Sport Sport Nut Selection Dark Whole Hazelnuts (£1.70 at ASDA) would enter all in this category. .
But the nutrition specialist will avoid any product that contains sugar syrup, such as caramel, because it tends to be filled with emulsifiers and other additives.
That probably means no Cadbury Dairy Milk Caramel Chocolate (£1.35 from Morrisons), Galaxy Smooth Milk Caramel Chocolate Block Bar (£1.25 from Iceland) or LION Bars (70p from Waitrose).
High-salt chocolate should also be avoided, as “too much salt is not good for gut microbes,” Dr. Rossi added.
This could exclude Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (80p from Sainsbury’s), Hu Salty Dark Chocolate Bar (£2.50 from Holland & Barrett) and Fudge Kitchen Himalayan Salted Caramels (£8.50 from John Lewis).
So why are some chocolates good for you and others not?
Dr Rossi said dark chocolate (70% cocoa or more) contains between 8 and 11g of fiber per 100g, compared to 3g in milk chocolate.
That means it’s “high in fiber” and a great source of prebiotics, allowing it to feed our gut bacteria, she said.
Cocoa is one of the best-known sources of polyphenols, containing a higher antioxidant content than most foods, Dr. Rossi said.
Although these polyphenols decrease during processing (reducing bitterness), generally speaking, the higher the cocoa content, the higher the polyphenol level.
So when deciding which bar to choose, perhaps consider choosing one with at least 70 percent cocoa, she added.
Several studies have linked dark chocolate consumption to potential health effects, including regulating insulin levels, lowering blood pressure, and reducing the risk of stroke and diabetes. type 2.
“Interestingly, those who ate chocolate also consumed more vegetables and less alcohol,” Dr Rossi said.
She pointed to a study published last year in the European Journal of Epidemiology, which found that people who ate 12g of chocolate a day – or about two squares – had a 12 per cent lower risk of dying prematurely from all causes. combined, compared to those who did not consume it. I don’t eat chocolate.
Separate research found that chocolate lovers were 16 percent less likely to die from heart disease and 12 percent less likely to die from cancer.
“Flavonoids, the plant compounds found in cocoa, are thought to be anti-inflammatory, and inflammation is known to contribute to many common illnesses,” the expert said.
“The higher the percentage of cocoa, the more flavonoids the chocolate contains.
“If you’re not used to dark chocolate, start with 65 or 70 percent and gradually increase.”
When comparing expensive collagen supplements to a humble cup of cocoa, one might assume that the former is more likely to promote a more youthful complexion.
Despite promises of “glowing skin” and a “youthful appearance in weeks,” the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology found that most claims about collagen supplements are unsubstantiated.
Chocolate, on the other hand, is a winner, according to Dr. Rossi.
She said: “Collagen is a protein, so when your body breaks it down into amino acids (the building blocks of protein), it doesn’t know whether those amino acids came from your dinner or your supplement.
“Polyphenols found in plant-based foods, such as cocoa, have been shown to fight skin aging.
“A high-quality randomized controlled trial of 64 women with visible facial wrinkles found that those who drank a cocoa-based drink daily compared to a placebo drink for 24 weeks had a greater positive effect on wrinkles and facial wrinkles. ‘elasticity.”
A study investigating the link between chocolate consumption and memory, brain performance and mental state found that scores were significantly higher in those who ate sweets once a week than in those who did not. never or rarely made fun.
“While drinking a block of chocolate every day isn’t going to increase your IQ, consuming a few squares regularly can indeed support your brain health,” Dr. Rossi said.
Once considered the “food of the gods” by the ancient Mayans, chocolate is known to produce a fleeting feeling of well-being, and some people consider it an aphrodisiac, Dr. Rossi said.
“As tempting as it is to have another good reason to enjoy chocolate, unfortunately the idea that chocolate is an aphrodisiac is not supported by science,” she added.
When a group of 153 Italian women aged 26 to 44 were surveyed about their recreational habits and sexual function, it appeared that those who ate more chocolate reported higher sexual activity.
But upon closer examination of the data, it was revealed that these women were significantly younger and their scores were similar when adjusted for age.
Just in case you’re thinking about starting eating chocolate with every meal, Dr. Rossi said it’s important to remember “the boring truths.”
“Many of the above health benefits have been demonstrated with cocoa (compared to chocolate) and came from observational studies. So higher quality feeding studies are needed before we start “prescribing” it for treating illnesses (apart from mental health – which anecdotally has worked as a treatment for some of my older patients!),” said the gut health expert.