Eating chocolate doesn’t only make you happy; it also helps to keep the beneficial bacteria in your intestines happy and healthy.

Cocoa beans are high in a type of antioxidant called polyphenols. Some of these compounds are quite large. Beneficial bacteria in your colon feed on these antioxidants, break them down and the resulting small metabolites get absorbed into your bloodstream, where they have their beneficial effects.

By feeding your colon bacteria, the polyphenols increase levels of good bacteria in your intestines. Research has shown a significant increase in bifidobacterial and lactobacilli species, as well as significantly decreased clostridia levels in people who consume high polyphenol content chocolate.

It’s good to know that consuming probiotics and eating fermented foods isn’t the only way to ensure good levels of friendly gut bugs. Eating good quality chocolate is also of benefit. The darker the chocolate, the higher the antioxidant content. That means 85 percent or 90 percent cocoa chocolate is best.

Some studies have shown that adding milk to chocolate reduces the absorption of some of the antioxidants. Along with consuming small amounts of good quality chocolate, you can get a lot of benefits from using cacao or cocoa powder. They can be added to smoothies or made into healthy desserts like chia puddings. This way you’d get the antioxidant benefits without the added sugar.