I’ve said it before, but it’s something people love to hear, so I love repeating it: Chocolate is a health food. Not all chocolate, of course. I’ll get to that in just a minute. But first, let’s take a closer look at some of chocolate’s many benefits—and some new research that sheds additional light on its health-infusing qualities.
As I’ve said before, chocolate is so healthy because it’s packed with a specific kind of plant compound (polyphenol) called flavonols. Flavonols are powerful antioxidants. In fact, chocolate is one of the strongest antioxidants on the planet. It has an ORAC value greater than 10,000—one of the highest scores of any food substance yet discovered. (ORAC is a measure of antioxidant capacity.) So it’s no wonder previous research has shown chocolate can help guard against heart disease, dementia, obesity, stroke, diabetes, and even cancer.
And a new study adds yet another important benefit to chocolate’s already-impressive resume. Researchers found that it can have a significant impact on energy levels.
A few weeks ago, I told you how chronic fatigue syndrome is finally getting more attention—and respect—from mainstream medicine. (Of course, it’s always been treated as a serious condition in the world of complementary medicine.) So I was thrilled to see some research offering another natural way for people to boost their energy levels.
Chocolate confers this benefit by improving mitochondrial function. Mitochondria are like tiny powerplants inside your cells. They’re responsible for churning out a chemical called adenosine tri-phosphate, or ATP. And ATP fuels your energy levels.
So if your mitochondria aren’t operating up to par, you’re more likely to feel worn out. Of course, fatigue isn’t the only effect of malfunctioning mitochondria. This phenomenon has also been linked to any number of serious health concerns—from heart disease to diabetes to Alzheimer’s.
But as the researchers in this study discovered, one particular flavonol in chocolate—called epicatechin—appears to help improve mitochondrial function. Which, in turn, boosts energy levels, as well as some other important health markers.
Researchers gave 17 people (average age of 50) two squares of dark chocolate or placebo (i.e., nothing) every day for three months.
Not only did they find markers of improved mitochondrial function, but they also found the chocolate group had an improvement in something called “VO2 max.” VO2 max is common measurement of physical fitness and endurance. So a higher VO2 max also signals a boost in the chocolate groups’ energy levels.
Beyond these benefits, the researchers also found the chocolate group showed improvements in HDL cholesterol levels and a trend toward decreased triglycerides.
Not too shabby for a couple of small squares of dark chocolate per day. A “prescription” I dare say most people would have no trouble following.
Of course, it’s important to remember that not all chocolate is created equal when it comes to flavonol content—and the subsequent health benefits.
Look for minimally processed chocolate with at least 85% cacao. Or, even better, go for 100% cacao powder. Full disclosure: it doesn’t taste great on its own. But if you add a little stevia and mix it with almond milk, it’s not just palatable: It’s a downright tasty way to energize your body and fight disease.
“Dark Chocolate May Have Health Benefits for Older Adults.” Presented at: American College of Cardiology (ACC) 64th Scientific Session & Expo; March 14-16, 2015; San Diego.