Dark Chocolate and Heart Health

If you’re like most people, you probably love chocolate and red wine but avoid them to stay healthy and fit. Healthy chocolate sounds too good to be true, but studies show that eating it may reduce your risk of heart disease.

Chocolate and Heart Health

Adding small amounts of chocolate, especially dark chocolate, to your diet may be a heart-healthy choice. Chocolate does contain a substantial amount of fat, sugar and calories, so you should eat it in moderation to avoid potential problems with weight gain, diabetes and high blood pressure. You should choose dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 65 percent or more and limit your intake to three ounces per day which adds up to about 450 calories. Keep in mind you may need to step up your exercise routine to keep these additional calories under control. Studies show that eating one square of dark chocolate a day can lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of stroke and heart by as much as 40 percent. Chocolate reduces LDL “bad” cholesterol and promotes flexibility in arteries and veins.

Why Dark Chocolate?

Dark chocolate, also called semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, usually contains a minimum of 60 percent cocoa solids with very little or no added sugar. You can find it in candy, chocolate bars and baking chocolate.

Flavonoids, plant produced phytochemicals, are found in cocoa beans, the main ingredient in chocolate. They are also found in red wine, cranberries, apples, onions and other fruits and vegetables. These flavonoids have been shown in some studies to reduce cell damage associated with heart disease. Since dark chocolate has higher concentrations of cocoa, it also has more flavonoids that in turn increase health benefits. Do other foods contain higher amounts of flavoniods? Surprisingly, the answer is not really. Although plant based flavonoids are found in many other food sources, cocoa beans have extremely high amounts. For example, a dark chocolate candy bar has 5 times more flavonoids than a healthy apple.

Milk Chocolate vs Dark Chocolate

To get antioxidant benefits from flavonoids, you have to eat dark chocolate. Milk binds to flavonoids in chocolate and renders them ineffective, so milk chocolate offers fewer health benefits. If you choose a delicious milk chocolate candy bar, you’ll be getting more calories and sugar than beneficial flavonoids. Even if you drink a glass of milk with your dark chocolate bar, you may lose the antioxidant benefits from the dark chocolate. Pure white chocolate contains no cocoa solids and no flavonoids.

Additional Benefits of Dark Chocolate

  • Immune System – flavonoids in chocolate may act as antioxidants that fight inflammation, infection and disease.
  • Mood – chocolate stimulates the production of endorphins in the brain which elevate mood by producing a sense of pleasure, happiness and well-being.
  • Weight – dark chocolate reduces cravings for sweet, salty and fatty foods. Although it does contain fats, two-thirds of the fats in dark chocolate are healthy fats.
  • Skin Health – antioxidants protect the body from premature aging by promoting collagen production for clear, healthy skin.
  • Diabetes – flavonoids in dark chocolate may help reduce insulin resistance and control insulin sensitivity.

Although dark chocolate is a delicious way to boost heart health, a healthy diet and lifestyle are your best weapons to fight cardiovascular disease. If you’ve been diagnosed with heart problems, talk to your doctor about healthy foods, exercises and vitamins for heart disease patients. Your choices impact your long-term benefits for a healthy heart.