Dark Chocolate Benefits Heart Health
For Valentine’s Day, skip the milk chocolate candy and replace it with a cup of dark hot cocoa.
“In terms of protecting the heart, research suggests that drinking a cup of dark hot chocolate can be equated with drinking a glass of wine,” says Dr. Lona Sandon, a registered dietitian at UT Southwestern Medical Center who urges people to eat and drink in moderation.
Typical candy bars and boxed chocolates may be tasty, but their added fat, sugar and calories make them less healthy treats, she says. But pure chocolate, made from cocoa beans, is rich in flavanol, an antioxidant that may help protect arteries from damage, maintain healthy blood flow and fend off heart disease.
Dark cocoa and baking cocoa contain a higher percentage of cocoa solids and less or no added sugar, respectively. They are excellent sources of polyphenols, a class of compounds that includes flavanols. Chocolate in its more processed form, meanwhile, is loaded with extra oils, milk and sugars that combine to lower its level of polyphenols.
A bar of dark chocolate weighing about 1 1/2 ounces contains approximately 950 milligrams of antioxidants, while a similar bar of milk chocolate contains only about 400 milligrams. White chocolate is a confection of fat and sugar and contains no antioxidants.
Consuming dark chocolate can improve several important risk factors for heart disease. In a controlled study, cocoa powder was found to significantly decrease oxidized LDL (bad) cholesterol in men. It also increased HDL (good) and lowered total LDL for those with high cholesterol. Dark chocolate can also reduce insulin resistance, which is another common risk factor for many diseases like heart disease and diabetes.
A 3.5-ounce bar of dark chocolate with 70–85 percent cocoa contains 11 grams of fiber, 67 percent of the recommended daily intake of iron, 58 percent of magnesium, 89 percent of copper and 98 percent of manganese. It also has plenty of potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium.
The bioactive compounds in dark chocolate may also be great for your skin. The flavonols can protect against sun damage, improve blood flow to the skin and increase skin density and hydration.
Dark chocolate may also improve the function of your brain. One study of healthy volunteers showed that eating high-flavanol cocoa for five days improved blood flow to the brain. Cocoa may also significantly improve cognitive function in elderly people with mental impairment. It may improve verbal fluency and several risk factors for disease, as well.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should go all out and consume lots of chocolate every day.
“Cocoa by itself may provide some health benefits. It’s what is added to it that’s not so good for us,” she says.
A day of indulgence should be tempered, she advises. It’s still important to pay attention to the overall calorie counts.