As you begin stocking up on treats for trick-or-treaters, consider forgoing the popular milk chocolate candies this year. Do something healthier for all the little ghouls and goblins and hand out dark chocolate instead. In fact, you may want to set some aside for yourself as well.
Of course, modern research shows dark chocolate made with at least 85 percent cacao has many health benefits. And a new, small study showed that eating dark chocolate actually improved walking distance and walking time in patients with peripheral artery disease (PAD).
PAD is atherosclerosis–or hardening of the arteries–of the legs. (When atherosclerosis involves the heart’s coronary arteries, it causes heart disease. And when it involves the carotid arteries, it causes stroke.) In the case of PAD, leg muscles don’t get enough blood supply and oxygen, which causes the patients to experience pain and cramping when they walk or exercise.
For this study, researchers wanted to see if eating chocolate would improve symptoms of PAD. The study was a simple cross-over design involving 20 PAD patients. Participants acted as their own controls, observing “before and after” effects of eating chocolate.
In the first phase of the study, the patients walked on a treadmill in the morning. Then, two hours after eating 40 grams (a little less than an ounce and a half) of dark chocolate with more than 85 percent cacao, they walked again on the treadmill. The researchers measured how far and how long the patients walked during each session.
On a different day, the patients repeated the process…except this time they ate a milk chocolate bar with cacao content below 30 percent. Again, the researchers measured walking time and distance during both sessions.
And here’s that they found…
After eating the dark chocolate, the PAD patients walked an average 11 percent farther and 15 percent longer than they could earlier that day. But distance and time didn’t improve at all after eating milk chocolate.
The researchers concluded that eating dark chocolate results in more blood supply to the legs. This increase allows patients to walk significantly longer and farther compared to those who had milk chocolate.
That finding doesn’t surprise me one bit. You see, dark chocolate is rich in polyphenols. But milk chocolate on the other hand has far fewer polyphenols. And that’s the key. The polyphenols in the dark chocolate probably help reduce oxidative stress and improve blood flow in peripheral arteries.
In fact, the researchers measured the participants’ blood levels of some of these polyphenols, including the well-known epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). And they found the patients’ levels of polyphenols only increased after eating dark chocolate. There was no increase at all after they ate milk chocolate.
The findings by these Italian researchers actually remind me of an old saying, “chi va piano, va sano; chi va sano, va lontana.” Roughly translated, it means: He who goes quietly/softly, goes well; he who goes well, goes far.
Now we know the journey goes better with dark chocolate.
In my Insiders’ Cures newsletter, I reported on other studies that show walking better, longer and further is the single best predictor of longevity. It’s a virtuous cycle. Indeed, walking is a great practice for health and “anti-aging” (or, more accurately, healthy aging). And the better you can walk, the longer you will live–statistically speaking.
So now, you know how best to be ready for the end of the month, whether you are going on the walk with your “trick-or-treaters,” or just handing out the treats.
- “Dark Chocolate Acutely Improves Walking Autonomy in Patients With Peripheral Artery Disease,” J Am Heart Assoc, July 2014;3(4)