That heart shaped box of chocolates really can provide you with some heart health benefits – if that chocolate contains cacao beans. These beans, which are actually the seeds within the cacao pod are a powerhouse of nutrients. Some of the nutrients include minerals (copper, iron, magnesium, and manganese), insoluble and soluble fiber, protein (specifically the amino acid tryptophan which is the precursor to serotonin—our feel good neurotransmitter!), and healthy fat. Wait, there’s more! Dark chocolate is one of the richest food sources of antioxidants in the form of polyphenols and flavonoids. So, the darker the chocolate, the higher the level of cacao. Chocolate also contains resveratrol (yes, red wine is another source) a compound known for its anti-inflammatory properties that is good for the heart.
The health benefits of consuming a moderate amount (1-2 ounces) of dark chocolate a few times a week mainly come from the high level of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds which contribute to maintaining general wellness. Human studies have found cacao to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, improve insulin sensitivity, reduce blood pressure, support the immune system, act as a prebiotic for beneficial gut bacteria, lower cholesterol levels, and prevent cognitive decline. WOW!
Of course, to obtain some of these health benefits, selecting the highest percentage of cacao that you find palatable, somewhere in the range of 70-100%, is ideal. As the percentage of cacao goes up, the percentage of sugar goes down. Also, watch out for alkalinized or Dutch cocoa. Although these chocolates may taste better because the acidity, which gives the chocolate a bitter taste has been chemically removed, the majority of the antioxidants are now missing also. A high quality chocolate contains just the necessary ingredients to taste delicious. Avoid commercial chocolates with ingredients like corn syrup, vegetable oils, preservatives, dyes, artificial flavorings, and almost any ingredient that you don’t recognize or can’t pronounce.
Just because chocolate has some great health benefits, it’s not great if you eat too much, choose poor quality products or have a health condition or sensitivity that is aggravated by chocolate.
Rather than trying to resist that chocolate temptation on Valentine’s Day, indulge in a few pieces of high quality, dark chocolate!