Chocolate Has a Special Place in Your Heart
Northwestern Memorial Hospital February 09, 2011
CHICAGO, IL – A chocolate bar a day keeps the doctor away? Not exactly, but experts do agree that chocolate in moderation can provide certain health benefits for the heart. Northwestern Medicine cardiologist Stephen Devries, MD, says it’s okay to indulge a bit and explains that dark chocolate may help lower blood pressure and improve blood flow.
“Chocolate, especially dark chocolate, is rich in flavonoids, the same compound that gives plants their vibrant color and reduces cellular damage. Flavonoids are also found in grapes, red wine and tea,” said Devries.
Flavonoids aid in cardiovascular health by reducing LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and plaque formation on the walls of the arteries. It also improves the ability of arteries to deliver oxygen, increase blood flow, and reduce the risk of blood clotting.
“Studies showed less calcium deposits in the arteries and lower rates of heart disease in people who ate more chocolate than their counterparts,” added Devries.
While chocolate may have health benefits, there is need for more research. There are no established guidelines for how much chocolate needs to be consumed to be beneficial to the heart, but available studies show benefit with 2 ounces per day.
“There’s nothing wrong with the occasional sweet treat, but eating too much chocolate may cause weight gain, which in turn raises blood pressure. Like any food high in fat, moderation is vital to stay healthy."
Opt for dark chocolates when picking your Valentine’s Day treats; they yield the highest content of flavonoids and the greatest health benefits. Milk chocolate has less flavonoids plus more hydrogenated fats and empty calories. White chocolate has no health benefit.
“Cocoa is the source of the healthy flavonoids in chocolate. Look for dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 60 percent or more. Remember, the darker the chocolate, the higher the cocoa content and the more antioxidants it contains. The healthiest choices also have the lowest content of added sugar,” explained Devries.
Devries suggests incorporating a small amount of dark chocolate in place of other desserts in addition to a balanced diet combined with exercise to encourage cardiovascular health.
Learn more about Northwestern Medicine Cardiovascular Care.