Gut health is the hottest topic in health and fitness circles, and it now has a delicious new ally in the form of chocolate – or rather cocoa.
New studies have shown that the fruit can promote friendly bacteria and reduce inflammation in the gut.
So why is gut health important?
The bacteria living in our guts play a role in our immune system, metabolism and other vital processes within our bodies.
But when the delicate balance in the intestines is disturbed, the consequences can be quite serious.
Ailments like irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, allergies, asthma and even cancer have been linked to abnormalities in the gut.
That is why maintaining a healthy diet which supports bacterial diversity and health is so important.
So where does chocolate come in?
Well, it actually doesn’t. It’s actually cocoa that offers the benefits.
The human body is only able to absorb certain nutrients in cocoa. So cocoa metabolism is partly dependent on the bacteria that live in our intestines.
They break complex molecules into smaller components. That makes us able to absorb them, enabling us to fully benefit from the plant’s health-giving properties.
But what about the gut?
Research shows that eating cocoa boosts levels of friendly bacteria in the gut, further enhancing the food’s positive effects on our health.
The University of Reading study reported higher levels of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species in the intestines of volunteers who drank high-cocoa chocolate milk over a period of four weeks.
These types of friendly bacteria have been credited with promoting anti-inflammatory effects in the intestine. Hello healthy guts!
A previous study by the same team also showed a reduction in levels of Clostridium histolyticum. This is a bacteria which is associated with inflammatory bowel disease.
And the other health benefits of cocoa?
According to a number of studies, chocolate can have many positive effects. This is thanks to its cocoa content which delivers a range of powerful antioxidants.
These range from lowering cholesterol levels, slowing cognitive decline and encouraging cardiovascular health. And that’s just for starters.
But that doesn’t mean you should head to the newsagents to load up on sweet treats.
Chocolate contains sugars and fats which come with their own health concerns and reduce the confection’s use in a healthy diet.
If you are going to try to reap the rewards of cocoa, use it in its pure form or opt for chocolate that contains at least 70% cocoa and consume in moderation.
Are you partial to a spot of chocolate?