Almost everyone will agree that chocolate tastes delightful and. Yet, despite its somewhat decadent taste, it’s still packed with health benefits. How often does that happen? Most notably, dark chocolate is rich in flavonoids, a class of antioxidant compounds. One type of flavonoid called epicatechin is well known for its heart health benefits. Dark chocolate also contains other bioactive, plant compounds such as polyphenols and flavanols, to name a few. All in all, dark chocolate, is a complex blend of chemicals and compounds with a growing list of health benefits.
In terms of heart health, compounds in dark chocolate exert health perks in several ways. For one, these compounds ramp up production of a gas called nitric oxide by the inner walls of arteries, the blood vessels that carry blood away from your heart. Once released, this volatile gas, opens up the blood vessels, thereby enhancing blood flow while, at the same time, lowering blood pressure. That’s a positive for heart health.
Compounds in dark chocolate also have favorable effects on blood lipids. In this case, they work by lowering LDL-cholesterol and raising HDL-cholesterol, the so-called good form of cholesterol. What’s more, due to their antioxidant effect, these chemicals help prevent oxidation of LDL-cholesterol, which damages the walls of the arteries. Researchers now know that such damage is linked with cardiovascular disease.
How much does dark chocolate reduce heart disease risk? A study called the Zutphen Elderly Study that looked at cocoa intake among men, a cocoa-rich diet reduced cardiovascular disease by 50%. Other observational studies show a similar risk reduction or greater. Of course, observational studies don’t show causation but when you consider how the compounds in dark chocolate behave in the human body, that they would be heart healthy isn’t surprising.
Dark Chocolate Before a Workout
Does dark chocolate have benefits for athletes as well? A small study carried out by researchers at Kingston University in England suggests that it does. In this study, researchers asked eight male cyclists to eat roughly 1.4 ounces of dark chocolate daily after undergoing fitness testing on a stationary bike. Another group ate a similar amount of white chocolate and served as a control group. After a week of eating this amount of chocolate daily for 2 weeks, they repeated the fitness tests.
Encouragingly, the athletes performed better on the fitness tests after consuming the dark chocolate. They were able to cover more distance when pedaling hard for a short period of time and they required less oxygen when they rode at a moderate pace. Dark chocolate seemed to improve performance with sprint-pace cycling as well as moderate-intensity cycling. If you do any type of endurance exercise, eating dark chocolate beforehand could boost your performance. Maybe it’s time to consider dark chocolate as a pre-workout snack.
Choosing the Best Dark Chocolate
Not all chocolate is created equal. You will get little or no benefit from nibbling milk chocolate before a workout since it’s light on flavonoids and other active compounds