Do Microbes Love Chocolate Too?

by | Oct 24, 2021 |

As an avid chocolate lover, my eyes widened when I stumbled upon research suggesting why chocolate may be good for our health. I mean, what’s not to get excited about, a food that tastes amazing and is good for you: drop the mike! And while part of me would love to subscribe to the “chocolate is the answer; who cares what the question is” philosophy, as a budding scientist, I’m all about the evidence. Is chocolate the answer when it comes to our health?

Healthy Effects Of Eating Chocolate

Historically, chocolate has been touted as a health food, associated with reduced risk of cancer, lower body weight, improved vascular function and better heart and mental health (1). For example, one study (2) found that healthy young adults who ate a square of 70% cocoa chocolate each day for a month had improved vascular function when compared to their baseline and a control group. Other research (3) has shown that eating dark chocolate, one of the highest source of polyphenols in foods, improved insulin sensitivity in adults who don’t yet suffer from diabetes, implying the delicious treat could be used as a tool to help prevent or delay the onset of this life-threatening condition.

A Plausible Mechanism Behind Chocolate’s Healthy Effects

Hoping to find out why cocoa powder has many health benefits, researchers at Louisiana State University (4) developed an artificial digestive model in order to see what happens to cocoa powder when it’s digested.

What they found is that upon the consumption of chocolate, the pure, unsweetened cocoa powder made its way to the upper digestive tract where it was broken down leaving just the non digestible material such as large polyphenols and dietary fibre. These non-digestibles then traveled to microbes waiting in the lower gastro-intestinal tract which feasted on the cocoa leftovers, fermenting these compounds into smaller anti-inflammatories which were then able to be absorbed into the bloodstream. It’s these anti-inflammatory compounds which are able to protect our blood vessels from inflammation and have been linked to better health outcomes. Another benefit of this fermentation process is that some of the dietary fibre is converted to butyric acid, a metabolite that has beneficial outcomes for the colon, and also causes satiety, meaning you’ll feel full and thus less likely to eat more.

However it’s important to note that all microbiomes are not equal. The fermentation process is affected by the types of microbes you have in your gut, and because microbial composition varies between individuals, it may be the case that certain individuals gain more benefits from chocolate than others. Interestingly, cocoa might be good for the gut itself, increasing the amount of healthier microbes in the colon.

The next step now will be for researchers to test for this transformation in humans in order to better understand exactly what’s in chocolate that makes it healthy.

What type of chocolate do microbes like best?

As we can see, all the health benefits of chocolate come from the cocoa. Chocolates with the highest portion of cocoa (think 70% and above) are better than those with high levels of added sugar and fats, such as milk and white chocolate. Also, according to the Louisiana State University’s research, less processed cocoa powder produced more beneficial compounds in their experiments than dutch processed cocoa powder, something to be mindful of when selecting your hot chocolates.

And before you think about replacing everything in your fridge for chocolate, remember there can be too much of a good thing. Eating too much can lead to weight gain which can have a detrimental impact on your health. So be sure to consume your chocolatey treats in moderation.


Millions of people around the world adore chocolate and now, thanks to research, it looks like their microbes do too. Once again, the microbiome has shown to play an important role in the health benefits we derive from our food, highlighting more than ever why we need to look after this vital part of our body.

Brigid xx



(1) Latif R. Chocolate/cocoa and human health: a review. Neth J Med. 2013 Mar;71(2):63-8. PMID: 23462053.

(2) Pereira T, Bergqvist J, Vieira C, Grüner Sveälv B, Castanheira J, Conde J. Randomized study of the effects of cocoa-rich chocolate on the ventricle-arterial coupling and vascular function of young, healthy adults. Nutrition. 2019 Jul-Aug;63-64:175-183. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2019.02.017. Epub 2019 Feb 27. PMID: 31029045.

(3) Farhat, Grace. “Dark chocolate rich in polyphenols improves insulin sensitivity in the adult non-diabetic population.” Endocrine Abstracts, vol. 34, 2014, p. 206,

(4) Goita, Mfamara, et al. “Impact of the Microbiome on Cocoa Polyphenolic Compounds.” LSU AgCenter, 2014, Accessed 24 October 2021.

DISCLAIMER: This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to constitute or be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. 


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