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Dark chocolate offers benefits ranging from weight loss to walking in studies

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When it comes to food, dark chocolate ranks high on the list of ultimate pleasures. Now new studies are showing that we can lose the guilt about this delight, because researchers have discovered benefits ranging from weight loss to improvement in walking ability, reported MedPage Today on Wednesday.

In the newest study, researchers found that dark chocolate can help patients with peripheral artery disease (PAD). They succeeded in walking without help for longer periods of time after eating dark chocolate, but not milk chocolate.

Patients who ate dark chocolate walked 11 percent more alone, while those who consumed milk chocolate experienced no benefits. But it's too soon for doctors to write prescriptions for dark chocolate, cautioned Natalie Evans, MD, of the Cleveland Clinic.

"Who wouldn't want to eat dark chocolate to feel better?" Evans said. "But I think there is a lot more bang for your buck in terms of managing traditional risk factors for PAD."

However, the research is beneficial in that it shows the benefits of antioxidants known as polyphenols for circulation problems, reported WebMD on Wednesday. And for those with limited walking ability, that discovery could be significant.

"Our body secretes chemicals that naturally dilate blood vessels in response to certain stimuli, improving the blood flow to certain areas," explained Dr. Richard Chazal, vice president of the American College of Cardiology. "Some of the chemicals inside dark chocolate could affect the way these enzymes are metabolized in the body."

Dark chocolate also can help you shed pounds, according to a different study. Researchers found that a group of compounds called oligomeric PCs boost weight loss.

In that study, one group of mice consumed cocoa flavanols and the other consumed oligomeric PCs. The winner was the latter group.

The research was described in the Journal of Agricultural & Food Chemistry in an article entitled "Oligomeric Cocoa Procyanidins Possess Enhanced Bioactivity Compared to Monomeric and Polymeric Cocoa Procyanidins for Preventing the Development of Obesity, Insulin Resistance, and Impaired Glucose Tolerance during High-Fat Feeding." Translation: Eat dark chocolate to prevent weight gain.

So how do cocoa butter, drinking cocoa and dark chocolate all compare? Dr. William Lagakos recently penned a pensive column comparing various forms derived from our little friend the cacao bean (which Dr. Mehmet Oz once termed yet another "miracle" food, but that's another story...).

And while some say only the very bitterest dark chocolate can qualify as a "health" food (or unsweetened dark chocolate cocoa powder), some studies indicate possible benefits for cocoa butter. Now if you dunk a dark chocolate square into cocoa butter, you might just have the perfect health food.

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