For all of you worried Valentine's Day may tempt you to break your New Year's resolution to cut out sweets, fear not!
"How can chocolate be healthy?"
Jennifer Motl, RD, Columbia St. Mary's Women’s Heart Secrets Program clinical dietitian, explains that because chocolate is plant-based (it comes from the cacao bean) it contains many of the same health benefits found in red wine, apples, onions and grapes. Dark chocolate is rich in flavonoids, antioxidant chemicals that help prevent cell damage which can lead to heart disease.
When consumed in moderation, extra dark chocolate in particular can:
- modestly lower blood pressure by about 6 points in people with high blood pressure
- reduce LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) by up to 8 percent
Beyond its potential benefits to your heart, chocolate stimulates endorphin production, giving a feeling of pleasure. It also contains serotonin, which acts an anti-depressant; theobromine; caffeine; and other stimulant substances. What's not to love?
How can you incorporate this sweet treat into your Valentine’s Day celebration?
Jennifer has some advice:
- Opt for solid dark chocolate. It contains far more antioxidants than milk or white chocolate.
- The darker the better. The greater the percentage of cocoa, the higher concentration of flavonoids. Select chocolate that is at least 60 percent cocoa. Most palates will find more than 85 percent cocoa too bitter.
- Moderation is essential. Try to limit portions to about an ounce of dark chocolate (60 percent or more cocoa) per day, or about 200 calories. Eat any more than that, and chocolate’s calories outweigh its potential benefits to your heart.
- Avoid fillings. Select pure dark chocolate or dark chocolate with nuts, dried cranberries or other dried fruits. Avoid chocolate with caramel, nougat or other fillings that just add sugar and fat.
- Cocoa is a also terrific choice. It's high in antioxidants and magnesium and low in fat and calories. Many cocoa mixes contain more artifical flavors than real cocoa, but it's easy to make cocoa at home. Heat 1 cup of low-fat milk in the microwave and stir in 1 tablespoon cocoa powder and a teaspoon of sugar or sugar substitute. Add a drop of vanilla extract or a dash of cinnamon if you like. Make a toast to your heart!