For Valentine’s Day, go ahead and give your sweetheart some dark chocolate this year … but remember to consume it in moderation.
Many research studies have shown that consuming chocolate in moderation is associated with good cardiovascular health. The secret behind the health benefits of chocolate are due to powerful micronutrients known as polyphenols. Flavonoids are a type of polyphenol that are found naturally in the cocoa bean, teas, fruits and vegetables. These compounds have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Diets rich in flavonoid-containing foods are associated with lower risk of cancer and heart disease.
High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease and decreasing blood pressure (BP) through diet, exercise and medications can help to reduce one’s risk for heart disease. Flavonols produce nitric oxide which help blood vessels relax thereby lowering blood pressure.
Studies have shown that moderate cacao consumption lowers blood pressure and there is a greater BP reduction seen in participants with higher blood pressure at baseline compared to those who had normal baseline blood pressures. In addition, both the systolic and diastolic blood pressures were significantly decreased with moderate cacao consumption.
Chocolate intake also lowers levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and increases levels of good cholesterol (HDL). Finally, researchers believe that dark chocolate can help improve endothelial function. This refers to the cells that line the blood vessels to help keep them dilated and elastic. Chocolate also prevents platelets from sticking together and forming a clot which can lead to a stroke or heart attack.
Unfortunately, there can be negative effects to the chocolate we eat every day. First, when chocolate is processed to eliminate its natural bitter flavor, the beneficial flavonoids and phenols are also removed. Second, the chocolate we consume is usually processed with excess fat and sugar. These extra calories can lead to obesity and diabetes, which can negate the positive effects that dark chocolate may have on the heart.
So, like all things in life, the best solution is to eat dark chocolate in moderation:
- Cacao is the raw form of chocolate, while cocoa is the heated version of cacao. Look for a cacao content of at least 65 percent and remember the higher the cacao content, the greater the amount of flavonoids present.
- Milk chocolate has lower levels of cacao (about 10% cacao) and white chocolate does not contain any cacao. Dark chocolate on the other has a minimum of 35% cacao. Even worse, both milk and white chocolate contain more fat and sugar than dark chocolate.
- Limit yourself to no more than 3 ounces (85 grams) a day.
- Remember other sources of flavonoids and phenols like fruits, vegetables and red wine.
To make an appointment with an Emory Healthcare cardiologist, call 404-778-7777.