With Valentine’s Day right around the corner and boxes of chocolates spilling over in store aisles everywhere, it’s time to set the record straight about the health benefits of chocolate.
Dark chocolate rich in antioxidants
The good news about chocolate pertains to cocoa — the dark chocolate rich in plant compounds called flavonoids — which originates from seeds from the cacao tree. Flavonoids are natural antioxidants that help lower blood pressure, improve blood flow to the heart and brain, raise “good” HDL cholesterol levels and lower “bad” LDL levels — all of which protect against heart attack and stroke. And although cocoa is not considered a health food, it certainly can play a role in helping to keep the heart healthy.
Choose dark chocolate that has at least 70 percent cacao, or cocoa. Dark chocolate with a high percentage of cacao has a bitter, but satisfying, flavor. The less processed the actual cocoa, the greater the health benefits of dark chocolate.
It’s true: Eating chocolate every day is good for you
In fact, researchers have found that people who ate flavanol-rich cacao or cocoa products every day for a few weeks saw their blood pressure drop by about two to three points. But, remember, dark chocolate should be eaten and enjoyed in moderation. No more than one ounce per day due to its high calorie count. Other foods rich in flavonoids include deeply colored fruits and vegetables, nuts, beans and spices. Unlike dark chocolate, milk chocolate does not have significant flavonoid content.
Kathy Rhodes, PhD, RDN, is manager of Nutrition Services with the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Medicine program.
The University of Michigan Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center is a top-ranked heart and heart surgery program among Michigan hospitals. To learn more, visit our website at umcvc.org.