Well, I intended to have this ready for Valentine’s Day, but sometimes there’s just not enough time in the day and time just flies by. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. I may have missed Valentine’s, but it’s still February therefore I am still in time for American Heart Month.
While chocolate is a pretty huge part of Valentine’s Day – 58 million pounds of chocolate was purchased during the week of Valentine’s Day last year – it does play a role in heart health.
First, a quick low down on chocolate. Chocolate comes from the cocoa or cacao bean which contains high amounts of flavonoids – the properties that help protect the heart. To make chocolate, the cocoa beans are dried, fermented, roasted and formed into cocoa powder. Then, ingredients like fat (cocoa butter) and sugar are added to form dark chocolate, bittersweet chocolate or milk chocolate. Sorry, but since white chocolate does not contain any cocoa solids it is not really chocolate.
Why all the buzz? What are the reported health benefits?
• May have beneficial effect on cholesterol by decreasing LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.
• Reduces the risk of blood clots.
• Increases blood flow in arteries and the heart.
• May lower high blood pressure.
• May improve mood.
• Is associated with better cognitive performance in the elderly.
Also good to know: the more processing the cocoa bean goes through, the lower the flavonoid content, the fewer the potential health benefits and the greater the calories.
So, which chocolate offers the most health benefits?
A high percentage (70% or more) dark chocolate. The % refers to the total percentage of ingredients that come from cocoa beans. The higher the percentage, the more flavonoids, the less sugar and the less unhealthy saturated fat.
Another good choice is natural cocoa powder which has not undergone Dutch processing or has not been processed with alkali. How do you know? Read the ingredient list and look for “cocoa” or “chocolate” not “dutched cocoa” or “cocoa/chocolate processed with alkali.”
• Cover bananas with dark chocolate, roll in chopped nuts, and freeze for a delicious frozen treat.
•Dip fruit like mandarin orange sections and banana slices half way into dark chocolate.
•Chop or shave some dark chocolate into your morning hot cereal or plain Greek yogurt.
Dark chocolate is still high in calories and fat. So, moderation is key. To avoid overindulging:
• Eat it after you have enjoyed a nice lunch or dinner.
• Have a piece of fruit prior to help satisfy your sweet craving.
• Eat it slowly and mindfully in order to get the most enjoyment from the rich flavor.
Milk binds to the antioxidants in chocolate making them unavailable. To get the most benefits out of dark chocolate, avoid drinking milk with it.
Yes, there is health benefits associated with dark chocolate, but it does not mean you get to eat all that you want.
The recommended serving is 1 ounce per day. I believe food is medicine but some people have the mindset that “if some is good, more must be better.” If we keep the mindset that food is medicine, I ask “Would you apply the same thinking to the medication your doctor prescribes you and overdose on prescription medicine?” I think not. So, just because dark chocolate is beneficial I ask that you practice moderation and include in your diet other antioxidant rich foods offering less sugar, saturated fats and calories than dark chocolate such as apples, onions, garlic, mushrooms and tea.
To your health!