The 7 chocolate bars that could actually be good for your gut health – and the ones to avoid | The Sun
THE phrase "gut-friendly foods" tends to conjure images of difficult-to-pronounce kefir, kimchi and kombucha.
But it turns out something as simple as a chocolate bar could actually have real benefits when it comes to your insides.
According to Dr Megan Rossi, a gut health scientist and dietitian, this is due to plant chemicals known as polyphenols, which are found in certain cocoa-based sweet snacks.
They have been found to support the growth of beneficial bacteria, and ultimately help protect against inflammation and illness.
Fibre also plays a major role in choccy's gut-boosting properties.
Dr Rossi, founder of The Gut Health Doctor, said: "Cocoa may even influence the growth of certain microbes in our guts."
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But not all confectionery is created equally, the expert warned.
While some can be advantageous, others can actually worsen your gut health thanks to ingredients like emulsifiers.
If you're reaching for a sugar hit but don't want to wreak havoc on your stomach, Dr Rossi recommends Lindt Excellence Dark 90%.
The bar, available for about £2 in most supermarkets, contains just four ingredients – cocoa mass, cocoa butter, low fat cocoa powder and sugar – and provides a gut-friendly hit.
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Dr Rossi said: "It's a favourite go-to chocolate bar of mine.
"After lunch I have two squares. I adopted this after a patient in his late 90s attributed his longevity to his daily dark chocolate habit."
Similar bars include: Taste the Difference Ugandan 90% Dark Chocolate (£1.65 from Sainsbury's), Ombar 90% Cacao Organic Vegan Fair Trade Dark Chocolate (£2.10 from Ocado), and Green & Black's Organic 85% Dark Chocolate (£1.75 from Tesco).
Dr Rossi also advises choosing bars with dried fruit and/or nuts for "extra fibre and plant points".
Lindt Excellence Raspberry and Hazelnut 70% Dark Chocolate (£3.50 from Ocado), Belgian Dark Chocolate with Raisins & Almonds (£2 from Waitrose), and Ritter Sport Sport Nut Selection Dark Whole Hazelnuts (£1.70 from ASDA) would all fit this category.
But the nutrition specialist would steer well clear of any products with sugar syrup centres, such as caramel, as they tend to be packed full of emulsifiers and other additives.
This likely means no Cadbury Dairy Milk Caramel Chocolate (£1.35 from Morrisons), Galaxy Smooth Caramel & Milk Chocolate Block Bar (£1.25 from Iceland), or LION bars (70p from Waitrose).
Chocolate with a high salt content should also be avoided as "too much salt isn't good for gut microbes", Dr Rossi added.
This might rule out 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 is some chocolate good for you and some isn't?
Dr Rossi said dark chocolate (70% cocoa or above) contains between 8-11g of fibre per 100g, compared to 3g in milk chocolate.
This means it is 'high fibre' and a great source of prebiotics so is able to feed our gut bacteria, she said.
Cocoa is one of the best-known sources of polyphenols, packing in a higher antioxidant punch than most foods, Dr Rossi said.
While these polyphenols decrease during the processing (which in turn reduces the bitterness), generally speaking, the higher the cocoa content the higher the level of polyphenols.
So when deciding on which bar to reach for, perhaps consider picking one with at least 70% cocoa, she added.
Several studies have linked dark chocolate consumption to potential health-promoting effects, including regulating insulin levels, lowering blood pressure and slashing the risk of stroke and type 2 diabetes.
"Interestingly, those who ate chocolate were also found to consume more veggies 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 — roughly two squares — had a 12 per cent lower risk of dying prematurely from all causes, compared with those who didn't eat any choccy.
Separate research revealed choc-lovers were 16 per cent less likely to die from heart disease and 12 per cent less likely to die from cancer.
"It's thought that flavonoids, the plant compounds in the cocoa, are anti-inflammatory, and inflammation is known to contribute to many common diseases)," the expert said.
"The higher the percentage of cocoa solids, the more flavonoids the chocolate contains.
"If you're not used to dark chocolate, start with 65 or 70 per cent and work your way up."
When comparing pricey collagen supplements to a humble cup of cocoa, you might assume the former is more likely to support a youthful complexion.
Despite promises of "glowing skin" and a "youthful appearance in weeks", the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology revealed that most claims by 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 are coming from your supper or your supplement.
"The polyphenols found in plant-based foods, such as cocoa, have been shown to support against ageing skin.
"A high quality, randomised controlled trial involving 64 women with visible facial wrinkles found those who drank a cocoa-based drink vs a placebo drink every day for 24 weeks saw a greater positive effect on lines and elasticity."
A study which looked at the link between chocolate intake and memory, brain performance and mental state found scores were significantly higher in those who ate the sweet stuff once a week compared to those who never or rarely scoffed it.
"While downing a block of chocolate each day isn’t going to boost your IQ, enjoying a few squares regularly may indeed support your brain health," Dr Rossi said.
Once considered 'food of the Gods' by the Ancient Maya, chocolate has been known to produce a transient feeling of wellbeing, and some people think of it as an aphrodisiac, Dr Rossi said.
"As tempting as it is to have yet another good reason to enjoy some chocolate, sadly the idea that chocolate is an aphrodisiac isn’t backed by science," she added.
When a group of 153 Italian women aged 26 to 44 were interviewed about their recreational habits and sexual function, it appeared those who ate more chocolate reported higher sexual activity.
But upon closer inspection of the data, it was revealed that these women were significantly younger and their scores were similar when adjusted for age.
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Just in case you're thinking you might start eating chocolate for every meal, Dr Rossi said it's important to remember "the boring truths".
"Many of the above health benefits were shown with cocoa (vs chocolate) and were from observational studies – so more high quality feeding studies are needed before I start ‘prescribing’ it to treat conditions (apart from mental heath – which anecdotally has worked a treat for some of my older patients!)," the gut health expert said.
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