No One Said You Have to Give Up Chocolate
In 2007, researchers at the Nestlé Research Center pointed out that “chocoholics” contain a different set of gut bacteria than those who have no preference for chocolate.1
What is the best type of chocolate to eat when you have a craving? Chocolate made with zero-calorie sugar alternative Lakanto offers a healthier treat without an aftertaste.
In 2014, we saw research suggest that microbes control our mood and our appetite, literally driving our taste for specific foods, including chocolate.2 Fortunately, scientists point out that we are not at the mercy of our microbes — prebiotics, probiotics, antibiotics, and diet can all change our inner ecosystem and control cravings.3
All that is to say: Your cravings for chocolate may not even be your own — they may belong to your gut bacteria.
But the gut-chocolate connection isn’t all bad. While most commercial chocolates pose a problem because they contain refined sugar (more on that later), it’s actually the good guys in your gut that are responsible for giving dark chocolate its health benefits. Findings presented at the 247th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), also in 2014, showed that good bacteria in the gut can feast on and ferment dark chocolate, producing anti-inflammatory compounds that can reduce cardiovascular inflammation and reduce the risk of stroke.4
What matters most is the type of chocolate you eat, and whether or not your gut is ready to digest it. Reducing the sugar content of your chocolate by using a gut-friendly sugar substitute can also prevent the spread and growth of pathogenic bacteria.
Chocolate, Your CYP1A Gene, and Oxalates
Like coffee, tea, and cola — chocolate contains caffeine.5,6 Caffeine and many prescription drugs are detoxified in the liver, mostly by the CYP1A2 enzyme. Your CYP1A gene codes for this enzyme. The problem? Not everyone has the same CYP1A gene. In other words, some people detoxify caffeine at a higher rate. This is not necessarily a good thing since detoxification can produce harmful byproducts that damage DNA and kickstart the formation of cancer.7
Fortunately, in her wisdom Mother Nature packaged many stimulating foods with a large amount of polyphenols.
Polyphenols make up a group of micronutrients that are found in a number of foods, including green tea, red wine, cruciferous vegetables, green leafy vegetables, sour fruits, spices, and fresh herbs. Studies show that polyphenols safeguard against degenerative diseases like cancer and heart disease.8 These polyphenols protect the body against cancer and oxidative stress. The polyphenols in chocolate may even buffer the stress of intestinal inflammation.9
One more thing: Chocolate is also high in a compound called oxalates, found in other foods like spinach, parsley, broccoli, almonds, blackberries, and blueberries. While this doesn’t mean you have to give up these foods completely, it’s important to understand what oxalates are and how they can affect your body. At Body Ecology, we like to say that we count oxalates, not calories. Oxalates found in food (and also produced as a waste product by the body and excreted through urine) can accumulate to form crystals. This crystal buildup can result in joint pain and kidney stones — and may even affect the health of the brain.
Because of the potential danger posed by oxalates, it’s critical to practice two Body Ecology Principles whenever you enjoy chocolate (preferably, the healthy chocolate that we recommend below). The Principle of Step-by-Step tells us to go slowly and see how the body responds when eating a food that may cause problems, like high-oxalate chocolate. The Principle of Uniqueness also tells us that every single one of us is totally different, and every food can be different, too. As a catchall, strengthening your gut with a daily probiotic is one of the most efficient ways to temper oxalate buildup as you watch your oxalate intake.
Setting the Record Straight About Erythritol
If your body can tolerate a small amount of dark chocolate and its oxalate content, then feel free to enjoy this rich treat in moderation. And for those who are hoping to cut sugar out of their diet, you can still indulge in your favorite sweet with the help of a natural sugar substitute.
For years, Lakanto has been a Body Ecology favorite, as a calorie-free, diabetic-friendly, plant-based sugar substitute made from erythritol and the medicinal Chinese luo han guo fruit. Ideal to reduce or eliminate sugar for kids, the elderly, the immunodeficient, diabetics and hypoglycemics, and anyone hoping to lose weight, Lakanto has been used and tested for over 15 years in Japan. The Japanese Ministry of Health recommends Lakanto as a natural sweetener, and it can be found in over 9,000 Japanese hospitals.
The word “erythritol” may have caught your eye as a main component of the natural Lakanto sweetener. The non-GMO erythritol found in Lakanto is a natural sugar alcohol that can also be found in grapes, pears, soy sauce, mushrooms, cheese, beer, and wine. Erythritol is often confused for other sugar alcohols like xylitol, malitol, and sorbitol that are known to cause digestive issues, but the big difference is that erythritol is fermented and gut-friendly. To make matters worse, some negative reports have recently come out against the use of erythritol, when research unequivocally supports erythritol to be free from side effects and well-tolerated as a sugar substitute.10,11 Not only is erythritol safe, but it does not cause spikes in insulin or blood sugar and may protect against dental cavities in children better than other sugar alcohols like xylitol and sorbitol.12,13
Erythritol has also been rumored to have antioxidant potential.
No matter what you’ve heard about the negative effects of erythritol, we’ve found that there’s little, if any, research to support these claims. On the contrary, many doctors recommend swapping out refined sugar, known to feed unhealthy bacteria in the gut, with Lakanto as a healthy, calorie-free sugar substitute.14 Yes, you can have your cake and eat it too — as long as it’s made with Lakanto. You can also continue to enjoy delicious, rich chocolate as part of a gut-friendly diet, with our easy-to-make healthy chocolate recipe below.
Homemade Healthy Chocolate Recipe
Sarah Alarid, a “cacaolatier” living in Los Angeles, is uniquely acquainted with all the different forms of chocolate that we have access to.
Candy bars, chocolate filled with synthetic sweeteners, raw cacao — have you ever asked yourself which one is better? And why? Sarah explains that as a child she always loved the taste of chocolate but felt sick when she ate it.
“As an adult, I learned about alternatives to sugar. One of them was Lakanto.
I had learned about preparing healthier types of desserts, and I started making raw chocolate for myself and people around me. I have used Stevia, agave, honey, xylitol, and Lakanto. Lakanto works best. It mixes well with the chocolate and gives a good consistency. It tastes great, and there is no aftertaste.”
Sarah’s Halloween Chocolate Treats
- Chocolate candy mold
- 2 cups cacao butter
- 1 ½ cups cacao powder
- 1 cup Lakanto
- 2/3 cup coconut oil
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla bean powder
- On low heat, melt cacao butter and coconut oil using a double broiler. Mix together.
- Add cacao powder, Lakanto, and vanilla bean powder to oils.
- Mix well. Taste and add Stevia if you would like your chocolate sweeter.
- Fill molds with liquid chocolate mixture.
- Put in refrigerator for 30 minutes or until chocolate becomes solid.
If you are feeling adventurous, Sarah recommends adding an almond butter center to the chocolate once it’s in the mold, just after pouring. Because chocolate hardens as it cools, be sure to prepare the almond butter mixture ahead of time.
Almond Butter Center
- 1 cup almond butter
- ¾ cup Lakanto
- ¼ cup coconut oil
- Mix almond butter, Lakanto, and coconut oil.
- Refrigerate for 2-3 hours.
- Use spoon or melon scoop to form almond butter into a ball and place in the center of chocolate.
- Start with a small batch (10-12 pieces) in case chocolate cools before almond butter can be placed into the mold.
Sarah has been making raw chocolate truffles since 2006. She makes them to order and also sells her chocolates in boutique shops and specialty grocery stores throughout the L.A. area.
You can get in touch with Sarah at: [email protected], 323-802-9469
What To Remember Most About This Article:
Chocolate makes headlines because of its benefits. Specifically, it contains protective polyphenols, also found in green tea, red wine, cruciferous vegetables, spices, and herbs. Good bacteria in the gut can help to “unlock” the benefits of chocolate, gobbling up dark chocolate to release anti-inflammatory compounds that may reduce the risk of stroke.
But if you have out-of-control chocolate cravings, your balance of good-to-bad gut bacteria could be to blame. Meaning, you may not have enough good bacteria in your gut if chocolate and sugar cravings are a major issue for you. Nestlé research has shown that “chocoholics” have different gut bacteria than those who don’t have a taste for chocolate. Your cravings and your inner ecosystem can be affected by antibiotics, prebiotics, probiotics, and diet.
When you have a hankering for a sweet chocolate taste, go for a healthier alternative by making your own with zero-calorie and diabetic-safe Lakanto (plus added Stevia, if desired). Natural-tasting Lakanto chocolate makes the perfect Halloween treat without the guilt and without the “chocolate hangover” the next morning.
- Rezzi, S., Ramadan, Z., Martin, F. P. J., Fay, L. B., van Bladeren, P., Lindon, J. C., … & Kochhar, S. (2007). Human metabolic phenotypes link directly to specific dietary preferences in healthy individuals. Journal of Proteome Research, 6(11), 4469-4477.
- Alcock, J., Maley, C. C., & Aktipis, C. (2014). Is eating behavior manipulated by the gastrointestinal microbiota? Evolutionary pressures and potential mechanisms. BioEssays, 36(10), 940-949.
- Moore, A. (2014). At the mercy of our microbes?. BioEssays, 36(10), 905-905.
- “Precise reason for health benefits of dark chocolate: Thank hungry gut microbes.” American Chemical Society.
- Zoumas, B. L., Kreiser, W. R., & MARTIN, R. (1980). Theobromine and caffeine content of chocolate products. Journal of Food Science, 45(2), 314-316.
- Martínez-López, S., Sarriá, B., Gómez-Juaristi, M., Goya, L., Mateos, R., & Bravo-Clemente, L. (2014). Theobromine, caffeine, and theophylline metabolites in human plasma and urine after consumption of soluble cocoa products with different methylxanthine contents. Food Research International.
- Zhou, S. F., Yang, L. P., Zhou, Z. W., Liu, Y. H., & Chan, E. (2009). Insights into the substrate specificity, inhibitors, regulation, and polymorphisms and the clinical impact of human cytochrome P450 1A2. The AAPS Journal, 11(3), 481-494.
- Manach, C., Scalbert, A., Morand, C., Rémésy, C., & Jiménez, L. (2004). Polyphenols: food sources and bioavailability. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 79(5), 727-747.
- Andújar, I., Recio, M. C., Giner, R. M., & Ríos, J. L. (2012). Cocoa polyphenols and their potential benefits for human health. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, 2012.
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- Munro IC, Berndt WO, Borzelleca JF, Flamm G, Lynch BS, Kennepohl E, Bär EA, Modderman J. Erythritol: an interpretive summary of biochemical, metabolic, toxicological and clinical data. Food Chem Toxicol. 1998 Dec;36(12):1139-74. Review. Erratum in: Food Chem Toxicol 1999 Jun;37(6):I-II. Bernt WO [corrected to Berndt WO]. PubMed PMID: 9862657.
- Noda K, Nakayama K, Oku T. Serum glucose and insulin levels and erythritol balance after oral administration of erythritol in healthy subjects. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1994 Apr;48(4):286-92. PubMed PMID: 8039489.
- Honkala S, Runnel R, Saag M, Olak J, Nõmmela R, Russak S, Mäkinen PL, Vahlberg T, Falony G, Mäkinen K, Honkala E. Effect of erythritol and xylitol on dental caries prevention in children. Caries Res. 2014;48(5):482-90. doi: 10.1159/000358399. Epub 2014 May 21. PubMed PMID: 24852946.
- “LAKANTO® AMBASSADORS.” Lakanto.com.