February is American Heart Month, a time to be aware of and encourage behaviors that support heart health. If you’re feeling a bit guilty about the chocolate you ate for Valentines Day, here’s some good news.
Chocolate and its main ingredient, cocoa, appear to reduce risk factors for heart disease. Flavanols in cocoa beans have antioxidant effects that reduce cell damage implicated in heart disease and may also lower blood pressure. Flavanols are natural compounds also found in fruits, especially berries, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and green tea.
Most of the studies to date highlight dark chocolate's health benefits because it has the highest percentage of cocoa solids, therefore more flavanol antioxidants. Unfortunately for white chocolate fans, white chocolate does not contain any cocoa solids, only cocoa butter, and therefore does not contribute the same health properties as dark chocolate.
Recommending chocolate sounds like a dream come true, but consider the calories, fat and sugar that also come with eating that chocolate bar. If you want to indulge, do so in moderation and be selective. Choose dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 65 percent or higher. Yum!
Image from University of California, San Francisco
Contributed by Leslie Kay-Getzinger, MS, RD, Registered Dietitian, Nutrition Management Services, Fairmont Private Schools