Add Chocolate to a Heart Healthy Diet (in Moderation, of Course!)

Don’t go out and buy up all the Cadbury Eggs, now, but did you know chocolate can be a heart-healthy additive to your diet? Research shows that chocolate, especially dark chocolate, has several key nutrients that can be very good for you heart.

Chocolate hasn’t exactly made its way into the category of ‘health food’, but when you know what types of chocolate are good for you, and how much is healthy to consume, it can be a great way to spruce up your weekly menu. Specifically, the cocoa bean – the main ingredient in chocolate – is filled with heart healthy goodness.

Who would have thought eating chocolate could actually help reduce the risk of diabetes? That’s not all, either. It’s also been found to be a great preventative for stroke and heart attack. But again, don’t go eating all the Nestle Tollhouse Morsels you intended to bake cookies with (although that would be healthier than eating all of the cookies).

Heart Healthy Chocolate

Let’s take a closer look at what nutrients are found in the cocoa bean.

Heart Healthy Properties of Chocolate

Flavonoids: According to Cleveland Clinical, flavonoids are a type of antioxidant naturally found in most edible plants. They “protect plants from environmental toxins and help repair damage.”

Much like ancient legends that tell us eating an enemy’s heart will give us his strength (ew…), consuming flavonoids helps our bodies to gain the same benefits they provide to plants. “When we eat foods rich in flavonoids, it appears that we also benefit from this “antioxidant” power.”

Antioxidants: These bad boys are exceptionally beneficial to a heart healthy diet. They help our bodies do everything from resist cell damage, to preventing LDL (build-up of ‘bad’ cholesterol in the arteries).

Flavonols: These are the dominant flavonoids found in chocolate, as well as many other edible plants like fruits and peanuts. Flavonols have a few key benefits, like improving blood flow to the heart and brain, lowering blood pressure and reducing the risk of blood clots.

Not All Chocolate is Heart Healthy

The bad news – eating candy bars and chocolate cake is not healthy.

Dark chocolate is the most beneficial to heart health, but the more the cocoa bean is processed, and the more sugars and fats that are added to it, the fewer falvonoids remain, and therefore the less healthy it becomes. This is not to say that milk chocolate can’t provide some benefits, but if it is infused with things like caramel, nougat and other sugary substances, you can toss the reduced risk of diabetes and weight gain right out the window.

Unfortunately, dark chocolate in its natural state isn’t all that tasty. In fact, if you’ve ever tried a spoon of cocoa powder, or unsweetened bakers chocolate, you know just how bitterly pungent this delicious fare can be prior to processing.

The Good News…

“The good news” says Cleveland Clinical, “is that most major chocolate manufacturers are looking for ways to keep the flavanols in their processed chocolates. But for now, your best choices are likely dark chocolate over milk chocolate (especially milk chocolate that is loaded with other fats and sugars) and cocoa powder that has not undergone Dutch processing (cocoa that is treated with an alkali to neutralize its natural acidity).”

Fat from Chocolate not a Detriment

Chocolate may have a relatively high fat content, but it’s equally made up of three types of fats – oleic acids (good), stearic acids (neutral), and palmitic acids (bad). Let’s review…

Oleic acids are heart healthy, monounsaturated fats; you know, the ‘good fats’ your doctor keeps telling you to eat more of. Stearic acids and Palmitic acids are saturated fats, known to contribute to LDL (bad cholesterol), but studies have shown that stearic acid does not raise or lower cholesterol, making it a neutral fat, unlike the bad palmitic acids that your dietician’s face squinch up like a twisted prune.

How does it all add up? Basically, because these fats are present in equal parts, you could say the good offsets the bad, throwing them all into the neutral category. But again, that doesn’t account for any additives thrown into the chocolate when mixing up a tasty dessert, like cupcakes, brownies and peanut butter chocolate bars.

“So, for now, enjoy moderate portions of chocolate (e.g., 1 ounce) a few times per week, and don’t forget to eat other flavonoid-rich foods like apples, red wine, tea, onions and cranberries,” suggests Cleveland Clinical.

Personally, I like mixing a 1/8 teaspoon of cocoa powder in a bit of milk, then adding it to my morning coffee. I considered adding red wine, but then thought better of it… j/k!

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