Julie Whittington, RD

Healthy tips from a Registered Dietitian

Dark chocolate good for your health

With Valentine’s Day coming next weekend, you may be hoping to get a heart-shaped box of chocolates. Good news to us…recent research continues to show consumption of small amounts of dark chocolate may be heart healthy.

According to 2008 research published in the Journal of Nutrition, as little as one-quarter of an ounce (6.7 grams) of dark chocolate per day provides sufficient polyphenols (types of phytonutrients, including ones called flavonols) to give anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects shown to reduce cardiovascular disease risk. Too bad more is not better! Seems the research showed that chocolate consumed in amounts higher than one-quarter of an ounce do not show reduction in disease risk. Makes sense, though…if you eat a lot of chocolate you would also be eating a lot of fat and calories, thus working against your health.

How much is one-quarter of an ounce? It is about one-eighth of a regular 2 ounce chocolate bar. Additionally, research shows it is only the high quality, pure dark chocolate that has shown health benefits. Milk chocolate and other chocolate candies do not count. Look for chocolate with a high percent cacao. At least 65% cacao is ideal, while even higher percents are available and preferable for health benefits. If you look at a chocolate label, it will list the percent cacao if it is reasonably high. If it is not listed, it is probably not high enough for cardiovascular health benefits. Remember, milk chocolates and chocolate candies are usually made with a lot of added sugar and likely artificial flavors and or colors. Read the nutrition facts label and ingredients list to be sure. Know, however, the higher the percent cacao, the less sweet the chocolate will be and it make take some getting used to, if you are accustomed to eating the ones with a lot of added sugar.

Dagoba and Green & Black’s are two of my favorite brands of organic chocolates and offer a variety of high percent cacao chocolates. Find the best selection at natural food stores like the Home Economist and Earthfare. Organic versions ensure no artificial flavors or colors have been added. You would be surprised how many mainstream chocolates contain the fake stuff. Some good quality non-organic versions include Ghirardelli and Lindt & Sprungli. Look for chocolate bars but don’t overlook cocoa powders, too for adding to baking, coffee or hot chocolate. Opt for unsweetened versions and then sweeten yourself if needed.

So, this Valentine’s Day, opt for the high quality chocolate. It only takes a little for health benefits, so you do not have to have a huge heart shaped box of chocolates that costs a lot of money. Instead, a few high quality bars totaling less than $10 will taste better and will love your heart more.

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