The New York Times, like most news sources, is filled with what could only be described as bad news. Whether the paper is reporting on the U.S. economy or the Middle East, there isn’t much to gladden soul.
Until now. According to Gretchen Reynolds, chocolate can help you be more physically fit. “How Chocolate Can Help Your Workout” explains a scientific study from the University of California, San Diego. In this study, mice were given “a purified form of cacao’s primary nutritional ingredient, known as epicatechin.” Then they worked out. The result? Mice given epicatechin fared much better than mice without it, especially if they exercised.
The muscle biopsies offered some explanation for their dominance. The muscles of all of the animals that had been given epicatechin contained new capillaries, as well as biochemical markers indicating that their cells were making new mitochondria. Mitochondria are structures in cells that produce cellular energy. The more functioning mitochondria a muscle contains, the healthier and more fatigue-resistant it is.
The leg muscles of the mice that had been given epicatechin and exercised displayed far more mitochondrial activity than the leg muscles of the control mice. Even the mice that had drunk epicatechin and not exercised contained markers of increased mitochondrial health, suggesting that the flavonol prompts a physiological reaction even among the sedentary. But that response is greatly heightened by exercise, no matter how slight.
So, we now have reason to believe that eating chocolate (dark chocolate, especially) can help us be healthier, in addition to previously documented benefits related to blood pressure, heart disease, and strokes. That’s good news.
The not quite so good news is that you don’t have to eat much chocolate to get the benefit of epicatechin. In fact, eating a giant pile of dark chocolate M&Ms just might counteract the benefit. Oh well, moderation in all things, right?