The sweet treat you can indulge in guilt-free

As you get ready for All Hallows Eve, I recommend stocking up on dark chocolate for those little ghosts and goblins ringing your doorbell and knocking on your door. And go ahead and set some aside for yourself, as two more new studies show it has powerful benefits for the body and the mind…

Polyphenols improve circulation

In the first study, Italian researchers wanted to see if eating dark chocolate would improve symptoms of peripheral artery disease (PAD). The study had a simple cross-over, “before-and-after” design and involved 20 patients.

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 your typical full-sized chocolate bar) of dark chocolate with more than 85 percent cacao, they walked again on the treadmill.

Researchers measured how far and how long the patients walked during each session.

Then, 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, researchers measured walking time and distance during both sessions.

It turns out, the patients’ walking time and distance significantly increased after eating the dark chocolate. But neither improved at all after eating milk chocolate.

Researchers concluded that eating dark chocolate results in more blood supply to the legs. Which makes sense, as dark chocolate is rich in polyphenols, already known to help reduce oxidative stress and improve blood flow in peripheral arteries.

Of course, walking stamina is a very important aging indicator. In fact, other studies show that walking faster, longer, and further is the single best predictor of longevity. Which is just another reason why I recommend taking a daily walk. (Learn more about the importance of gait in the May 2013 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter, [“Survival at the gait”]. Not yet a subscriber? Now’s the perfect time to get started. Click here!)

Dark chocolate reigns supreme, again

In another “leg” of this study, so to speak, researchers measured the participants’ blood levels of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a well-known polyphenol, after eating both dark and milk chocolate.

It turns out, the patients’ levels of EGCG and other polyphenols significantly increased after eating dark chocolate. Again, there was no increase at all after consuming milk chocolate. Which comes as no surprise to me, as milk chocolate has far fewer polyphenols in the first place!

Now, I know many people drink green tea because it also contains some EGCG. But remember—as I explained earlier this month—you’d have to drink eight cups or more of green tea a day to get an “active dose” of EGCG. And that amount may actually become toxic to your health from other constituents in green tea, such as oxalic and tannic acids.

So, really, you’re far better off sticking with dark chocolate…or even coffee, which also contains related polyphenols at higher doses than tea.

Good for the mind too!

In the second study, Italian researchers looked at the effects of dark chocolate on cognitive health. Specifically, they assessed brain activity 30 minutes and 120 minutes after the participants consumed 48 grams dark chocolate with 70 percent cacao and 30 percent cane sugar.

Researchers found that eating dark chocolate enhanced the brain’s neuroplasticity—which is the brain’s ability to adapt to change and create new neurological pathways. They also found it had a positive effect on stress levels, inflammation, mood, memory and immunity.

Amazingly, the lead researcher said that before this study, they had, “looked at the influence of chocolate on neurological functions from the standpoint of sugar content—the more sugar, the happier we are.”

But, seriously, of course it’s not the sugar.

Again, it’s the polyphenols in cacao that boost brain function. Or, more specifically, special polyphenols called flavonoids.

These flavonoids are highly potent antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents with known mechanisms that are beneficial for brain and heart health.

When all is said and done, these important findings actually remind me of an old Italian saying, chi va piano, va sano; chi va sano, va lontana. Roughly translated, it means: “He who goes quietly/softly, goes safely; he who goes safely, goes far.”

Now we know the journey goes better with dark chocolate…


“Dark Chocolate Acutely Improves Walking Autonomy in Patients With Peripheral Artery Disease,” J Am Heart Assoc., July 2014;3(4) pii: e001072. doi: 10.1161/JAHA.114.001072

“Dark chocolate consumption reduces stress and inflammation.” Science Daily, 4/24/19. (