How is chocolate good for my stomach?

If you've got a soft spot for chocolate, give yourself a little pat on the tummy. Turns out the antioxidants in chocolate may be good for your gut.

In a new study, drinking antioxidant-rich cocoa daily increased the levels of protective gut bacteria in people's stomachs.

This new research will need further confirmation from other independent studies, especially because it was backed partly by chocolate makers. But the results do shed interesting light on some new potential health benefits of chocolate. In the study, a small group of participants drank a cocoa-flavored beverage high in flavanols every day for four weeks. Then, after a few weeks' break, they followed the same regimen using cocoa much lower in flavanols. And researchers found that the high-flavanol cocoa had kicked up people's levels of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium -- two beneficial types of gut bacteria that help slow the growth of disease-causing bacteria and organisms. Bifidobacteria may also help with vitamin synthesis and have cholesterol-improving powers

Not only did the chocolate ritual seem to be good for people's guts, but it also appeared to reduce blood levels of inflammatory compounds called C-reactive proteins. And the study participants' cholesterol levels took a little dip after each drink trial as well. It all points to the wonderful health-promoting powers of flavanols, which have been shown to have numerous health benefits in many other studies. But still, no matter how wonderful chocolate may sound, remember to enjoy it in moderation. You won't do your waistline any favors if you overindulge. But a nibble now and then -- every day even -- is perfectly reasonable, as long as you're eating dark chocolate. Look for at least 70% cacao on the label.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.