Julie Whittington, RD

Healthy tips from a Registered Dietitian

Valentine’s Day and chocolate – a heart-healthy match!

Chocolate and Valentine’s Day go hand-in-hand.  Have you eaten any (or will you) lately?  Being that Valentine’s Day just passed, chances are reasonably high the answer is, “yes!”

And, isn’t it delightful that chocolate can actually be good for you?  The key is to select high quality chocolate, absent of artificial flavors and colors.  The most health benefits come from the pure chocolates, high in percent cacao (cocoa) and without a lot of added sugars and fats.

Scientists have found many phytonutrients (plant nutrients that offer health benefits beyond nutrition alone) and other food chemicals in chocolate.  For instance, the polyphenols (a type of antioxidant) in chocolate may be particularly heart healthy and also help prevent chronic diseases.  One type of polyphenol, flavonoids, may reduce the stickiness of blood platelets, thus inhibiting blood clotting and reducing the risk of heart blockages.  Also, chocolate contains theobromine (a chemical similar to caffeine, with various affects on heart health, and possibly linked to why some people find chocolate “addictive”).  Other chemicals are also purported to contribute to chocolate’s affect on mood and other health markers.

On an interesting note, chocolate has been found to reduce stress!  Nestle Research Center in Switzerland recently found 1.4 ounces of chocolate given daily to adult study participants appeared to reduce the participants’ stress hormones.  Other research has even found pregnant mothers who eat chocolate to have happier babies.  Now, both of these findings of course point to the fact that when most people eat chocolate, it is an enjoyable experience, thus will lead to biochemical changes in the body impacting mood.

All this being said, you do not have a free ticket to overindulge.  The key, like with the rest of a healthful diet, is moderation.  Too much of a good thing can lead to health consequences, such as overeating, bingeing, overweight, obesity and high cholesterol. Aim for a small square (about 6-7 grams) of high quality dark chocolate daily, with at least 65 to 70% cacao.  If the percent cacao is not listed, the percent is likely not high enough for health benefits.  If it is pure dark chocolate, calories for that portion would be about 30 calories.

Read the ingredients label to see what else is in your favorite chocolates…this will help you seek out the good stuff!  Brands I recommend include: Green & Black’s and Dagoba – both are organic and fair trade certified.  Other good brands include Ghirardelli Intense Dark chocolate bars and the food bar called JOCALAT (a type of LARABAR), which is also organic and contains fair trade cocoa.

Today, however, it is the day of love.  A day to love yourself well enough to nourish it well!  So, if you love chocolate, be sure to have some today.  Your heart will be happy and ready to love you!

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