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Is Chocolate Good for Your Heart?
Can something so delicious and decadent as chocolate actually be good for you and your heart? Observational studies have linked chocolate consumption to a lower risk of heart disease and stroke. This appears to be due the flavonoid compounds, which have powerful antioxidant properties that protect the body. Chocolate is made from cocoa beans which are extremely rich in these compounds. However, when it comes to chocolate, all is not is not created equal. nor does it have the same health benefits.
Chocolate & Heart Health
It is believed the flavanols, the main type of flavonoid in chocolate protects your heart by:
- Lowering blood pressure
- Reducing inflammation
- Improving blood flow
- Reducing blood clotting
- Decreasing insulin resistance
- Possibly improving HDL/LDL cholesterol levels
Not all chocolate contains high levels of the flavanols that provide health benefits. The highest levels are in natural cacao or cocoa powder. It has a very strong bitter taste which comes from the flavanols. When the cacao is processed (by adding cocoa butter and sugar) the bitterness is reduced. The more it is processed the less flavanols it contains.
The higher percentage of cacao and the lower the sugar content the greater the health benefits. In the US, dark chocolate is required to contain 35% cacao. Most commercial chocolates are highly processed. The best choices for chocolate (ranked from best to least) are:
- Cocoa powder (not Dutch processed)
- Unsweetened baking chocolate
- Dark chocolate and semisweet chocolate chips
- Milk chocolate and chocolate syrup - have more fat and sugar added
- White chocolate - does not contain flavanols
Chocolate is a source of saturated fat, naturally from the cacao and cocoa butter; however, may have other forms of fat added. Cacao and cocoa butter do not have the same negative impact as other saturated fats. Try to avoid chocolate with added ingredients such as: caramel, nuts, and dried fruit. These increase calories, sugar and fat content.
The Bottom Line-
- Choose plain dark chocolate with the highest percent cacao you will eat.
- Portions matter, chocolate is high in calories. Depending on calorie needs, limit to no more than 1 oz. per day.
- Substitute chocolate for other high calorie processed sweets and desserts such as cakes, pies, cookies and ice cream.
- Incorporate cocoa powder into meals or snacks. Add to yogurt, oatmeal or coffee. 1 Tablespoon only contains 12 calories!
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