heart healthy dark chocolate

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It’s no secret that people love chocolate. In fact, the average American eats 10-12 pounds of chocolate a year. Chocolate lovers will be glad to learn that dark chocolate (containing at least 35% cocoa solids) is good for your heart.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, cocoa beans are rich in flavonoids, a class of plant nutrients that help to protect plants from environmental toxins and repair cell damage. When people eat foods rich in flavonoids, they benefit from these antioxidants as well. Flavanols are the main type of flavonoid found in cocoa. Research has shown that flavanols can also lower blood pressure, improve blood flow to the brain and heart, and make blood platelets less sticky and more able to clot.

But what about the fat?

Cocoa butter is responsible for the high fat content in chocolate. It is made up of equal amounts of oleic acid (a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat also found in olive oil), stearic and palmitic acids (saturated fats). Studies have shown that stearic acid neither raises nor lowers cholesterol. Although palmitic acid does have an effect on cholesterol levels, remember that it only makes up one-third of the fat content in chocolate.

The Take-Home Message:

A 1-ounce portion of dark chocolate can be enjoyed a few times a week, guilt-free. Just be sure to read the label. To get that heart-healthy boost, you are looking for chocolate that is minimally processed and ideally that is made with at least 70% cocoa solids.

If you’re not a chocolate lover (it’s true – there are people who don’t love chocolate!), not to worry. Flavanols can be found in a variety of other foods and beverages. Some examples include strawberries, cranberries, apples, brussel sprouts, beans, peanuts, red onions, red wine and tea. But if you DO love chocolate, increase your antioxidant intake even further by eating chocolate with some of these other foods or drinks. Have a few chocolate-covered strawberries for a special treat or enjoy a glass of red wine after dinner with an ounce of chocolate.