Nutrition News: Hearts and Chocolate

When we think of February and Valentines day- what comes to mind? For many it is hearts, chocolate and flowers and that is a good thing. More and more studies are showing that moderate amounts of chocolate are actually good for your heart. You may have already heard this and recent studies are supporting it to greater lengths.

From the Harvard Health Publications, recent results from a study out of England were published in the medical journal of Heart. Some of the findings are showing a link between eating chocolate and a lower risk of heart disease. Chocolate which comes from cacao beans, is abundant in flavonoids, which is an antioxidant produced by plants. Flavonoids are also found in other foods you may enjoy such as tea, red wine, blueberries, apples pears, cherries and nuts. Flavonoids in cocoa have been shown to help lower blood pressure, improve blood flow to the brain and heart, prevent blood clots and fight cell damage. Studies are also showing that they also help with thinking skills.

Beware; there can be a few drawbacks with any good thing. Most of the studies are indicating choosing dark chocolate (70%), and avoiding the extra saturated fats and calories from additives: marshmallow, caramel or candy bits. The more processed the chocolate is through fermentation, alkalizing ,roasting etc., the more flavonoids are lost. Most commercial chocolates are highly processed. The good news is that major chocolate manufactures are looking for ways to keep the flavanols in their processed chocolates.

What about the fat? The fat in chocolate is from cocoa butter and is made up of equal amounts of oleic acid (heart healthy monounsaturated fat also found in olive oil), steric and palmitic acids. Stearic and palmitic acids are forms of saturated fats. Yet, research shows that stearic acid appears to have a neutral effect on cholesterol, neither raising it nor lowering it. Although, palmitic acid does affect cholesterol levels, the good news is that it makes up only a third of the calories found in chocolate. This should make you realize that you cannot consume all the chocolate your heart desires.

Some thoughts to consider while optimizing your healthy chocolate indulgence:

  • Limit yourself to 1-2 oz. of chocolate a few times a week
  • Go for dark, minimally processed 70% cacao
  • Avoid cocoa powder that has not undergone Dutch processing which changes the natural acidity
  • Avoid milk chocolate that has added fats and sugars
  • Indulge in a variety of foods that contain flavonoid antioxidants such as apples, pears, red wine, tea, onions, peanuts, cherries and cranberries.

It might be a great choice to have a piece of dark chocolate with cranberry and peanuts, along with a bouquet of your favorite flowers.

Enjoy with your heart and soul.

Happy Healthy heart Month!

Be Well,

Mary

 

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