Can Chocolate Really Be Good for Our Guts?

Can Chocolate Really Be Good for Our Guts?

Written by Caleb Johnson

Ever wished money grew on trees? Well, cacao beans were once used as a form of currency by the Aztecs. They believed that the seeds were a gift sent from Quetzalcoatl, the god of wisdom. And who can blame them?!  If you found the gift of chocolate on your doorstep, you’d probably go nuts for it too! Let's just make sure it’s actually chocolate before you go popping it into your mouth.  

We may not see the same value in the indulgent treat to this day, but it does still carry a strong message. We tell people we love them with it, we apologise to those we’ve done wrong with chocolate and flowers, and most importantly, we use it to bring happiness to ourselves or those around us. 

But can this coveted treat really be good for us? Could it be helpful for our intricate guts, and in turn, beneficial for the extra special kind of chocolate that our guts produce? 

Join us as we delve into the delight that chocolate can cause within our very own chocolate factories, our guts. From the good, the bad, and the sugary, we’ll be looking into how we can all use chocolate for our bodies’ benefit. So, is chocolate friend or foe? Let’s find out.  

Demystifying Chocolate for Gut Health 

Chocolate: The good, the bad, and the sugary 

When it comes to gut health, not all chocolates are created equal. It’s just our luck that the cheaper variety usually aren’t so great for us...go figure!  

We’re sad to say that sugary chocolates—those tempting options in colourful packaging at the checkout counter—are not your gut's allies. These are usually loaded with refined sugars and fats that can disrupt the delicate balance of your gut microbiome. Not that we ever assumed Cadbury’s triple chocolate, salted caramel, cookie crunch bonanza was going to be amazing for our bodies in the first place! 

Your body deals with this sugar overload by working overtime, leading to inflammation which can be a gut-busting experience. Plus, these types of chocolate often skimp on the real star of the show: cocoa. That means you're missing out on the potential benefits while your gut is left dealing with the fallout of a sugar rush. It’s best to keep these types of chocolate in moderation so you can avoid any unwanted disruption to your gut. That being said, on the odd occasion it’s okay to go ham, you deserve it! 

Surprising Wins: Good Quality Chocolate's Impact 

Now, let's flip the script and talk about the good guys—high-quality chocolate, particularly the dark variety with higher cocoa content. This is where you'll find a treasure trove of antioxidants, fibre, and minerals. These chocolates are not just a treat for your taste buds but can be a boon for your gut health too.  

The key players here are flavonoids (ugh, they even sound delicious), compounds found in cocoa that act as prebiotics, feeding the good bacteria in your gut. This can lead to a happier and healthier microbiome, which is linked to a whole host of benefits, from improved digestion to a stronger immune system.  

So, when you choose a bar with a high percentage of cocoa and low amounts of sugar, you're giving yourself and your gut microbes a healthy little snack. As they say – sharing is caring.  

Deep Dive: Cocoa Vs. Cacao 

Believe it or not, cocoa and cacao are actually different things, or more so, different variations of the same thing. If you’re not a health guru or dietitian, you might not have even noticed a difference between the two, but there are key differences between them, which bring different types of health benefits. 

The main thing to know is cacao is the natural thing that grows on trees, and cocoa is what it’s called once it’s been processed for chocolate.  

Cocoa for the Gut 

Cocoa is what you’ll find in your standard store-bought chocolate, which has been roasted in the process of making your preferred chocolate bar. 

Cocoa isn’t just a mere ingredient thrown into our favourite treats to make them taste good; it's a complex substance with properties that can benefit the gut. Cocoa is rich in polyphenols, plant-based substances that our body can't fully digest. While that might sound like a downside, it's actually great for our gut microbes, which thrive on these undigested compounds.  

They ferment the polyphenols, producing anti-inflammatory effects and strengthening the gut barrier. Regular consumption of cocoa has been linked to a decrease in digestive discomfort and an improvement in gut flora. However, the key is moderation and ensuring that it's part of a balanced diet (no fun, we know).  

Cacao: A Gut Miracle? 

Cacao takes the spotlight when we're talking premium gut health food. It's the raw, unprocessed version of cocoa and it's packed with even more healthful properties. Consider cacao the straight-A child of the chocolate family, you know, the one you kind of despise but can’t help to be happy for? It's loaded with more antioxidants and nutrients because it hasn't been subjected to high heat, which can degrade beneficial compounds.  

Cacao's superpower lies in its ability to boost the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut while fending off the harmful ones. It's a bit like a garden where the best plants thrive, and the weeds can't take hold. And because it's less processed, cacao retains its high fibre content, which helps keep things moving smoothly in the digestive tract. Cacao is one of the best friends your gut could ask for, as long as it's part of a varied and balanced diet. 

White chocolate unfortunately has no cocoa or cacao. In fact, it’s not really chocolate at all in this sense. It derives from cocoa butter, which doesn’t hold the same benefits as cocoa or cacao.  

The Magic of Fermentation 

Fermentation: Chocolate's Secret Weapon? 

Fermentation should be a big golden buzzword for good gut health practice by now. This natural process, often associated with foods like kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi, plays a pivotal role in chocolate production as well. When cacao beans are fermented, it not only enhances flavour but also amplifies health benefits.  

The fermentation process encourages the growth of good bacteria and yeasts, which pre-digest some of the components in the cacao beans. This pre-digestion process creates new compounds that can have positive effects on our gut microbes. What's more, fermentation helps reduce the phytic acid content in chocolate, which can hinder mineral absorption.  

So, chocolate's fermentation might just be the secret ingredient to turning a guilty pleasure into a gut-friendly treat. It's not a magic bullet, but it certainly helps chocolate pull a few health rabbits out of its hat. 

Health Boost: Unpacking Fermented Chocolate's Benefits 

Fermented chocolate boasts a heightened level of biologically active compounds that can interact positively with gut flora, encouraging a diverse and robust microbiome. This diversity in the gut is crucial for digestion, immune function, and even mental health. Furthermore, the breakdown of fibres and sugars during fermentation makes it easier for our bodies to absorb the nutrients in chocolate.  

This means that with fermented chocolate, your body gets more of the good stuff without working as hard. So, in the context of gut health, fermented chocolate is a bit like a multivitamin that your taste buds actually enjoy. It's a small piece of indulgence that comes with a big health payoff. 

The 2 Cs: Chocolate & Constipation 

There seems to be a rumour floating around that chocolate consumption can be linked to constipation. And we’re here to set the record straight on it! 

Cocoa or cacao isn’t likely to affect your bowel movements, however some other aspects of chocolate could contribute to the hard passing of your very own chocolate buttons. A lot of chocolate contains milk, which can interfere with those who experience lactose intolerance. Chocolate contains caffeine, which can dehydrate the body, making your Hershey's Kisses harder to get out. Lastly, the sugar content in cheaper chocolate bars can mess with your bowels a bit.  

However, there’s no sufficient research that shows chocolate as a culprit of the slowing down or liquidation of your chocolate factory. So, you should be okay to go forward with your moderate consumption of the goddess-given Aztec currency! 

Our favourite indulgent picks! 

The affordable one 

Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference Ugandan 90% Cocoa – At £1.85, this chocolatey bar of goodness is great to get those high levels of cocoa solids for a decent price. This is a great option for those looking to get their velvety fix on a budget! 

Buy it here! 

The sustainable one (with vegan options!) 

Ombar – Ombar is BCorp certified and the first climate-labelled chocolate bar, tracking the entirety of the production journey. Their products are fairtrade, and they’re working towards projects in Ecuador to increase family income and protect the environment. Their oat milk chocolate is a great vegan option with lower carbon emissions too! 

Buy it in Holland & Barrett! 

The luxury one 

Fortnum & Mason: The Dark Chocolate Collection – If you’re looking to gift some great quality indulgence with beautiful presentation to a loved one, why not opt for Fortnum & Mason? From 100% cocoa dark chocolate to a refreshing minty treat, this heavenly gift is sure to knock the socks off that special someone with a fire for classy confectionary.  

Buy it here! 

Wrapping up! 

Chocolate tends to get a bad (w)rap due to the fact that many brands use refined sugars and fats in their products, and this is fine in moderation! Nobody should be able to tell you to cut out your favourite treats completely. However, there is a chance that we’ve been ignoring the potential health benefits in our good ol’ friend, dark chocolate. 

Ultimately, chocolate can be great for you and your gut, it just has to be the right kind. If you want to give your gut and the microbes that live within it a chocolate party, why not opt for darker chocolate with a high cocoa content, or better, some cacao nibs to nibble on? These will not only give you a tasty treat, but they’ll also nurture the biodiversity of your gut and keep your microbes happy and healthy! 

If you’re looking for a way to take care of business after dropping a different kind of chocolate, try the Wype Starter Kit to clean up on the confectionary isle when things get messy. 


  • Angela

    Loved your article about chocolate, as you stated, there’s little evidence that chocolate can ease bowel troubles, my mum and me have had severe irritable bowel for many many years following gall bladder removal. We both had a light bulb moment when discussing eating our yummy chocolate easter treats. A little each day! No Diarrhoea at all on these days!!! Heaven! Just thought I’d share . But not the Chocolate!

  • Alan Pickering

    I found this article extremely informative. It described and explained the production process very succinctly, the science behind the benefits and the disadvantages to the body if consumption is abused.

  • Fiona

    I absolutely love reading your clever, witty & informative articles.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published