Main Article: Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health
Written by Arielle Kestenbaum | Reviewed by Jennifer Calo, MS, RDN, CDN, CLT
With Valentine’s Day rapidly approaching, many of us are starting to ponder romantic gifts, flowers, and of course, chocolate! For many years, chocolate has been a treat near and dear to many. It has become a “feel good” food, that unfortunately has developed a negative connotation over the years. What if you were told that chocolate may not actually be as bad for you as you thought? Well, this is true! Chocolate, in moderation, can in fact have protective qualities, specifically for our cardiovascular systems. The important part is to know which kind of chocolate and how much can be helpful in keeping our hearts healthy and strong.
The main ingredient in any chocolate bar is cocoa bean. Cocoa bean is rich in a class of plant nutrients called flavonoids. Flavonoids are considered to be an antioxidant, which means that they can help the body resist damage caused by free radicals that are formed by normal bodily processes, such as breathing, as well as from environmental contaminants.
Antioxidants sources help to prevent LDL (or bad cholesterol particles) from damaging artery walls. Research has shown that cocoa reduces levels of LDL cholesterol, in addition to slowing the rate at which LDL oxidizes. In addition to the antioxidant qualities of chocolate, research suggests that the flavonoids, specifically flavanols, have the potential to improve cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow, and allowing for normal blood clotting by platelets.
Of course, not all forms of chocolate have the same kind of positive effects on our heart, as they don’t all contain high levels of flavanols. For example, 70% cocoa chocolate has a much more bitter taste than 50% due to greater concentration of flavanols and reduced sugar content. It is important to avoid chocolate that is labeled “processed with alkali” which reduces the flavanols. We recommend looking for brands that contain at least 70% cocoa, and limiting to 1 oz portion per day. Check the ingredient list to make sure cocoa is the first ingredient listed, and not sugar. Some great brands to look for include: Green and Black’s, Pascha, Ghirardelli Intense Dark, and Vivani. Organic brands are best to avoid artificial chemicals and sweeteners. Consuming 1 oz dark chocolate daily can actually reduce blood cholesterol levels, reduce blood pressure, in addition to satisfying your sweet tooth!
So for now, it’s important to enjoy chocolate in moderation a few times per week, as we want its effects to remain positive in keeping us both happy and healthy!