Do you know the difference between the facts and fiction regarding chocolate’s effect on the heart, brain, and overall health?
Lots of Facebook posts this week have been from happy people buying discounted Valentine’s Day chocolate. Certain holidays have deep associations with chocolate: Valentine’s Day, Easter, Passover, Halloween, to name a few. From white to milk to dark chocolate, we have quite an array of chocolate to choose from!
Not all chocolate is created equal, however.
- Dark chocolate has lower added sugar and fat than white or milk and contains 50%–90% cocoa solids, which are rich in plant chemicals called flavanols. These flavanols support the production of nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessels and improves blood flow, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
- These flavanols also increase insulin sensitivity, which may eventually reduce the risk of diabetes.
- Dark chocolate is high in fiber, unlike most other sweet treats. In a small amount of dark chocolate (about an ounce), there’s about four grams of fiber.
- The antioxidants in dark chocolate improve blood flow to your skin and protect it from sun damage. The National Foundation for Cancer Research found that flavanols may reduce the risk of skin cancer and improve overall skin health.
- Dark chocolate has long been associated with feelings of pleasure and enjoyment. Those feelings may originate from what are called polyphenolic compounds. Polyphenols are antioxidants that lower cortisol, a stress hormone. So, there are mood-enhancing benefits to eating dark chocolate. In fact, a study published in January 2022 found that participants who ate 85% dark chocolate daily maintained better overall mood than others who ate chocolate with less cocoa — or no chocolate at all.
But, remember, chocolate is a treat. Dark chocolate is a high-calorie food, containing about 150–180 calories per ounce. It also contains saturated fat, which may affect cholesterol levels. Research suggests the benefits of flavanols outweigh the risks of higher cholesterol. Which means that when we enjoy it in moderation, we can still reap these health benefits. Make dark chocolate (more than 65% cacao) your choice when shopping for heart-healthy holiday treats and throughout the year.
Here’s a photo of my favorite dark chocolate brand. It tastes creamy instead of bitter like some of the other darks.
I received several bars on Valentines Day and they’ll probably last me until next Christmas!
And, here’s my fool proof and easy recipe to make Chocolate covered strawberries, which are fabulous to serve on any holiday!
Best of Health,