Hey Valentine, Is Dark Chocolate Really Heart Healthy?

Hey Valentine, Is Dark Chocolate Really Heart Healthy?

Is chocolate your love language? Fifty-eight million pounds of chocolate is purchased during the week of Valentine's Day alone, proving that most Americans are cuckoo for cocoa.  

And maybe that’s not such a bad thing. You’ve probably seen the headlines about chocolate’s heart-healthy nature. Specifically, people who eat more chocolate have lower rates of heart attacks, heart failure, and even death from heart disease. The consumption of cocoa can raise your good cholesterol (HDL) and lower your bad cholesterol (LDL). Or that cocoa also has an impact on the arteries that carry blood through the body, which determine your blood pressure.

But is all this sweet talk too good to be true? Here’s just a small sample of what the research says.

Tasty. Tantalizing. Heart-Healthy?

We know that chocolate raises our levels of the happy hormone serotonin and triggers the release of dopamine (No wonder we’re addicted to the sweet stuff). But in addition to the short-term mood boost, high-cocoa chocolate is good for your long-term heart health for the following reasons: 

  • Fat content. One-third of the fat found in cocoa is composed of stearic acid, which doesn't raise your bad cholesterol and is converted into good-for-your-heart oleic acid by the liver.
  • Lowers inflammation. An Italian study shows dark chocolate can reduce the inflammation that leads to heart disease. According to the study, patients who have a low amount of C-reactive protein in their blood have lower levels of inflammation. People who eat dark chocolate regularly, and in small portions, have significantly lower levels of C reactive protein. Chronic inflammation can be harmful to the heart, so keeping inflammation in check is a key part of preventive treatment.
  • Antioxidant content. Chocolate is super-rich in polyphenols, which may help reduce blood pressure and inflammation. Research shows that the antioxidants in cocoa play a role in battling the chronic vascular inflammation that often leads to atherosclerosis. 
  • Lowers blood pressure. A study of randomized control trials uncovered that ingesting cocoa epicatechins (about 50 grams of 70 percent cocoa chocolate daily) reduces blood pressure by approximately 4.6 points for systolic and 2.1 points for diastolic.
  • Protects against AF. A recent study involving over 55,000 men and women whose health was monitored for 13 years, conducted by research teams at Harvard and in Denmark, indicates that chocolate protects against another heart condition, atrial fibrillation (AF). AF raises a person's risk of heart failure, stroke, dementia, and death. Compared to those who ate chocolate less than once per month, those who had two to six servings of chocolate per week had a 20% lower rate of AF.

The Type of Chocolate You Should Be Eating

Don’t get it twisted. You can’t eat a candy bar a day to keep heart disease away. But you can savor a square or two (one to two ounces) of high-quality dark chocolate. Aim for bittersweet chocolate with at least 60% or more cacao content. Artificial chocolate flavorings, milk chocolate candies, and white chocolate don’t count. Those sweet traps will only expand your waistline and cause the dreaded sugar crash.  

A Love-Love Relationship

We love chocolate and, due to a range of health perks, apparently chocolate loves us. Just make sure to be choosy. Select really good dark chocolate with a high percentage of cacao content and — like a fine red wine — enjoy it in moderation.

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