A New Reason to Love Dark Chocolate?

We rarely need an excuse to eat chocolate but if Valentine’s Day weren’t enough, a new study out of Britain’s Kingston University found that in a randomized trial, a group of 8 cyclists who consumed 40 grams of white or dark chocolate daily were able to improve their VO2max performance and time trial times.

The study, published in a recent edition of the Journal of the International Society of Sports Medicine, supported previous findings that the flavanols in dark chocolate (which is higher in flavanols than other types of chocolate) increase the bioavailability of nitric oxide (NO) which helps widen and relax the blood vessels.

After 14 days, cyclists who were supplementing with dark chocolate saw an 11 percent increase in their GET (gas exchange threshold) over those who ate white chocolate and a 21 percent increase over those who ate no chocolate.

Other observational studies (where researchers look at behavior, instead of testing subjects) including two large studies done at Harvard and at Norwich University in the U.K., have also found a correlation between a reduced risk of heart disease and people who regularly consume dark chocolate.

However, as Harvard Health Publications chief medical editor Howard LeWine observed in a column last spring, the observational studies are just that: observations that may or may not be borne out in clinical tests. “I routinely write my patients a prescription for exercise, and sometimes for eating more vegetables and fruits. I won’t be writing any prescriptions for chocolate in the foreseeable future.”