Can one chocolate a day really keep heart disease at bay? As we celebrate Heart Awareness this month, we’re giving you one more reason to fall in love with chocolate: it may actually help your heart!
Heart Health and Chocolate
The health benefits of chocolate have been known for centuries, but the true hero behind the ‘chocolate mask’ is cacao. The cacao bean is produced by the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, which is native to South America. The tree bears fruit (or pods), and within each pod is roughly 20-40 cacao beans.
Considered a superfood, cacao naturally has:
- Antioxidants and dietary fiber
- The highest sources of flavonoids and polyphenols
- Tons of minerals: magnesium, iron, potassium, zinc, & calcium
- Monosaturated fat (like that found in olive oil)
Why does this matter?
All of the elements found in cacao help improve heart health by reducing inflammation in the body and eliminating damaging free radicals. The flavonoids and polyphenols in cacao can also help lower blood pressure, prevent blood clots, and improve blood flow to the brain and heart.
Sweet Ways to Add a Little Chocolate to Your Diet
The following are some descriptions of various types of chocolate and cacao products; it is NOT a list of recommended types of chocolate! *Special thanks to WakeMed dietitian, Parul Kharod, for her contributions to this portion of the article.
- What it is: paste made from ground, cacao beans
- Where you’d find it: baking chocolate, chocolate bars
- What it is: fat that remains after cocoa solids have been removed from cocoa liquor
- Where you’d find it: cocoa butter (and other skin care products), some baked goods
- What it is: the cocoa solids that are left after cocoa butter is removed from the liquor
- Where you’d find it: pudding, brownies, hot chocolate
- What it is: made by mixing cocoa liquor + cocoa butter + other ingredients for flavor and taste (ex: sugar, milk, nuts, etc.)
- Where you’d find it: any chocolate candy bars
- What it is: chocolate + condensed milk/powdered milk + sweeteners
- Where you’d find it: chocolate bars, chocolate milk
- What it is: cocoa butter + sweeteners + dairy ingredients *(white chocolate contains zero cocoa, so it doesn’t have any health benefits)
- Where you’d find it: candy, beverages
Love Your Heart A LOT; Love Your Chocolate A Little
If you love your heart, you’ll love your chocolate in moderation. While there is no set standard or daily recommendation for how much chocolate you should consume (bummer), most researchers agree that you should set the bar: dark. WakeMed dietitian, Parul Kharod, recommends that you limit yourself to approximately 1 oz. of dark chocolate daily. The higher the cacao content of the chocolate bar, the better it is for your health. Look for bars containing 70% cacao or more.
As a general rule, darker chocolate typically contains more cacao and therefore more flavonoids than other varieties of chocolate. So, before you go for the candy grab, be mindful of the type of chocolate you’re reaching for!
If you would like help from Parul or another dietitian to start off on the right track, learn more about our outpatient dietitian services. Many times these consultations are covered by insurance and are available to you at no additional charge.