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Dark Chocolate & Your Heart: Delicious Advice

Posted by Joan Salge Blake  February 13, 2012 11:00 AM

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Source:  Flickr, Joits
What’s not to love about chocolate? It is the most commonly craved food among women, and according to the National Confectioners Association, it is the favorite flavor of about 50 percent of Americans (male and female).

Chocolate melts just a tad below body temperature so it literally and lusciously “melts in your mouth.”  To top it all off, since chocolate is made from the cocoa beans of the Theobroma cacao fruit tree, it is rich in flavonoids, more specifically, flavanols, which are phytochemicals and antioxidants that can be heart healthy.  

Antioxidants counteract oxidation, a harmful chemical reaction that takes place in your body.  For example, antioxidants can  help to protect the “bad” LDL cholesterol from becoming oxidized and contribute to the hardening of the arteries and heart disease.   In addition to being an antioxidant, flavanols have other heart healthy properties.   Studies have shown that flavanols may help reduce high blood pressure and the clumping of platelets into an unhealthy blood clot, both of which can increase the risk of heart disease.   Even though milk chocolate, black tea, blueberries, strawberries, cherries, grapes, apples, and strawberries also contain flavanols, dark chocolate, by far, contains a higher concentration of this phytochemical.

Before you start passing out the chocolate bars in celebration, the million dollar question is exactly how much dark chocolate should you eat as sweet treat to fight heart disease?   According to Norman Hollenberg, a physician and researcher who has studied flavanols for over 20 years at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the exact amount of dark chocolate that can be enjoyed to reap heart healthy benefits isn’t currently known.  However, based on his research, Hollenberg feels that one to two ounces weekly (the equivalent to 6 to 12 Hershey Dark Chocolate Kisses) could be beneficial.  

Is there a downside to consuming this amount of dark chocolate?  There could be.  Since an ounce of dark chocolate provides 170 calories, consuming up to two ounces weekly can have you adding an extra 340 calories to your weekly calorie intake.  If you don’t compensate for these calories elsewhere in your diet, there could be an extra 5 pounds of you on the bathroom scale by year’s end.   Since obesity increases the risk of heart disease, all of a sudden eating chocolate may not appear to be such a sweet idea.

It may make better sense to use dark chocolate to replace an existing weekly dessert choice, such as ice cream, cake, or cookies.  To avoid over-consuming dark chocolate, consume it with low calorie, flavanol-rich fruit to help you keep to a more reasonable, one ounce portion and also gain a bonus of  additional flavanols from the fruit. 

Try this:

1.    Melt one ounce of dark chocolate in a microwavable bowl.
2.    Place a variety of flavanol-containing fruit, such apple slices, blueberries, and strawberries on
       a dessert plate.
3.    Dip the fruit into the ounce of melted dark chocolate.

Double Bonus tip Brew up a cup of black tea to add more flavanols to your heart-healthy dessert.

Here's to dark chocolate (in moderation) & your health!

Originally published on the blog Nutrition and You!.
This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Joan Salge Blake, MS, RD, LDN, is a clinical associate professor and registered dietitian at Boston University in the Nutrition Program. Joan is the author of Nutrition &You, 2nd Edition, More »

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