Valentine’s day is quickly approaching and for many people, that means it’s time to give and receive delicious chocolate treats. Salted caramels covered in chocolate, coconut chocolate clusters, dark chocolate truffles, and many more. Some people turn to chocolate to help heal a lonely heart but what about improving the health of your heart?
Chocolate Health Benefits:
Researchers have known for many years that chocolate has health benefits. It has been shown to decrease blood pressure, have a positive impact on cholesterol levels, and it is very rich in antioxidants – all good things for our health. So what’s the magic in chocolate?
Raw cacao (the seed from cacao fruit where chocolate is derived from) is naturally high in flavanols which are antioxidant compounds. Flavanols have been shown to help with the process of vasodilation in the body which improves blood flow. This ultimately lowers blood pressure in those with systolic hypertension.
Various compounds in cacao appear to be protective against the oxidation of LDL cholesterol as well. While eating dark chocolate may not actually lower your cholesterol, it can assist in preventing it from getting higher.
There are other lofty health claims for chocolate out there including a improved brain/cognitive function, reducing the chances of having a stroke, reduced stress levels, and more. Currently, there is little scientific research to back these claims and more research studies need to be conducted before they can be added to the list of health benefits. We are slowly understanding the full health benefits of chocolate but so far, the case for chocolate is looking good!
Which Chocolate is Best?
So we know cacao has health benefits but what about milk chocolate, white chocolate, and dark chocolate?
We do have to remember that most chocolate treats are very high in sugar which will counteract the health benefits. The benefits of chocolate come from the cacao itself which is very bitter on its own. Put simply, the darker the chocolate, the more benefits you will receive.
Milk chocolate contains very little amounts of cacao and high quantities of sugar. The high sugar content makes milk chocolate more of a treat/candy rather than a health food.
White chocolate has a dirty little secret - it isn’t actually chocolate at all. White "chocolate" contains no cacao and is mainly milk and sugar therefore does not have any of the benefits of cacao.
In order to receive the heart health benefits of chocolate, it is recommended to consume 1 ounce or less (usually one square) of high quality dark chocolate made with at least 70% pure cacao each day.
This may be bad news for some as dark chocolate with 70% cacao is fairly bitter when compared to your standard Hershey’s milk chocolate bar. Others can’t seem to get enough of the rich dark chocolate flavor. Whatever your preferences, chocolate should be consumed in small amounts (1 ounce or less) and enjoyed often.
This valentine’s day (or any day for that matter) buy yourself or a loved one a bar of quality 70% cacao dark chocolate. Your heart and taste buds will thank you!
Post by: Abby Douglas, RD, LD
RanDee Anshutz is a Registered Dietitian and Licensed Massage Therapist practicing in Bend, Oregon. As a Health at Every Size (HAES) provider she strives to help EVERYONE in EVERY BODY achieve optimal health.