There’s been a lot in the news lately about chocolate and health, and it’s not just people trying to justify their favorite sweet treat. Studies indicate that chocolate has high levels of minerals and antioxidants and positively impacts heart health, blood pressure, mood, cholesterol, insulin resistance, brain function, and inflammation.
But what about digestion and the stomach? How does ingesting chocolate affect the way our digestive system and intestines work? For some, chocolate has positive effects, but there are drawbacks for others. We’re all different, so in good part, decisions about how healthy chocolate is must consider individual responses to the delicious, creamy stuff.
The Relationship Between Chocolate and Digestion
There are indications that chocolate acts as a prebiotic in the gut, promoting the growth of probiotics that can positively affect many body systems. The studies that got these results used 70% and 85% dark chocolate.
Digestive enzymes and bacteria in our gut digest cocoa, and that’s how we reap its benefits. A study showed that antioxidants in cocoa were hard for the body to break down, but when microbes in the colon digested the cocoa, their action released powerful antioxidant properties into the body.
If you have stomach issues after eating chocolate, it may not be the chocolate. If you eat milk chocolate, or if the chocolate has nuts, coatings, or artificial colorings, you could be reacting to milk or another ingredient.
Some unfortunate people have a sensitivity or allergy to chocolate, which can cause acid reflux, migraines, or IBS symptoms with digestive issues like gas, diarrhea, and cramping. In this case, it may be best to use an alternative like carob that is not irritating.
Types of Chocolate and Their Effects on Digestion
As you are likely aware, there are three basic types of chocolate and many different brands of each type. Each has a certain percentage of cocoa, a particular sugar level, and other added ingredients. Reading labels is essential to determine the chocolate that works best for you.
Dark Chocolate and its benefits for digestion
Cocoa is the element in chocolate that confers its positive effects, so the higher the concentration of cocoa, the greater the health benefits. As mentioned above, dark chocolate typically has the highest levels of cocoa. You can find it with 50% to 95% cocoa solids on the shelf, and it also tends to have the least sugar.
Milk chocolate and its drawbacks for digestion
Milk chocolate is typically 10-30% cocoa, so when eating milk chocolate, you’re getting less cocoa, more sugar, dairy products, and fewer health benefits. About 65% of the people in the U.S. are lactose intolerant to one level or another, so you could have more digestive issues from the lactose and increased sugar.
White chocolate and its impact on digestion
White chocolate contains no cocoa, only cocoa butter, sugar, and other ingredients. A study compared the effects of dark and white chocolate on blood pressure, and while dark chocolate had positive results, there were no positive effects from ingesting white chocolate.
How to Consume Chocolate for Optimal Digestive Health
While a candy bar may be the most attractive way to reap the positive effects of chocolate, it may not be the best for digestive health. The health benefits of a chocolate bar come with a hefty wallop of sugar, fat, and calories. Make sure to read labels for sugar levels and calories per serving.
There may be other issues as well. Even if a chocolate bar doesn’t list tree nuts or dairy products on the label, it could have traces of those or other items from manufacturing. If you react to the chocolate, it could be one of those items rather than the chocolate.
Recently there have been stories in the news about high lead and cadmium levels in many chocolate brands, and most brands tested had unsafe levels of these heavy metals. Mast Organic dark chocolate, Taza, Ghirardelli, and Valrhona were the safest of the brands tested.
Best Ways to Consume Chocolate for Digestive Health
Consider purchasing raw cocoa powder and adding it to a smoothie, coffee, yogurt, or granola. You reap all the benefits of cocoa without all the sugar and fat. Add it as a powder or as cacao nibs – roasted crushed cocoa beans with a nice crunch.
How to Avoid Digestive Issues when Consuming Chocolate
You’re more likely to avoid digestive issues if you choose the purest chocolate with the lowest sugar content. Cacao powder and cacao nibs are great choices. Use chocolate in moderation. Most sources recommend 20-30 grams or about an ounce a day.
Chocolate Recipes that are Good for the Stomach
So how do you get your daily allotment of chocolate more healthily? Here are a few suggestions:
- Make an avocado chocolate mousse
- Heat your favorite dairy or non-dairy milk, and add cacao powder and your favorite sweetener for delicious hot chocolate
- Dip fruit in melted dark chocolate
- Get creative and make up your own!
Common Questions People Also Ask (PAA) Related to Chocolate and Digestion
Can chocolate cause stomach problems?
Yes, chocolate can cause stomach problems. Before pinning gas, bloating, or diarrhea on the chocolate, however, consider other compounds in the chocolate. Milk products and tree nuts are two possible offenders. Also, many chocolate products not listing dairy or tree nuts as ingredients may have traces of these items from manufacturing.
If you’re not sensitive to dairy products and dairy-free chocolate still causes issues, you could have a sensitivity or allergy to chocolate.
Is dark chocolate good for your stomach?
Prebiotics promote healthy bacteria in your intestines, and chocolate is considered a prebiotic.
What are the health benefits of chocolate for the stomach?
Chocolate can promote a healthy microbiome, which supports digestion.
Can chocolate help with digestion?
Dark chocolate can help with digestion by promoting healthy bacteria in the gut.
How much chocolate is too much for the stomach?
It’s hard to know because everyone is different, but studies have used 20-30 grams or about an ounce of 70% dark chocolate daily. The studies used dark chocolate because it contains less sugar and more cocoa.
What is the best type of chocolate for digestion?
Studies have found dark chocolate to be a prebiotic that promotes healthy gut bacteria, and good bacteria aid digestion.
Can chocolate aggravate acid reflux?
Researchers from Stanford University believe that people with acid reflux can eat chocolate.
Is chocolate good for gut health?
A 2022 Korean study found that dark chocolate consumption had prebiotic effects and created greater gut microbial diversity than in a control group that did not consume chocolate.
How does chocolate affect bloating?
If you have irritable bowel syndrome, chocolate can be a trigger food that causes bloating.
What are the digestive enzymes in chocolate?
Chocolate does not contain digestive enzymes, but the digestive tract’s enzymes and bacteria help release the health benefits of cocoa.