Is chocolate good for your heart?

February 5, 2015 Providence Health Team

Is chocolate good for your heart?It’s February and store shelves are bursting with Valentine’s Day merchandise – including candy. When your New Year’s resolve is dissolving, chocolates from your sweetheart might just push you past the point of no return. If a box of chocolates is in your future, don’t let your hips despair. You may just find health by chocolate.

Valentine’s Day: a conversation in chocolate

“Happy Valentine’s Day, honey! Here’s a little something I picked up for you.”

“Oh, look. Another box of chocolates. How nice.”

“They’re dark chocolates – and I thought you loved chocolate?”

“I do, dear husband. It’s just that I was hoping for something more, I don’t know… better for my health? I’m trying to live a healthier lifestyle in 2015 and a box of sweet treats won’t help.”

Cacao is a superfood

“Funny thing, that. Not only are these dark chocolates delicious, they’re also good for you.”

“Oh dear husband, you’re sweet for saying that. But everybody knows the only thing chocolate is good for is adding inches to your waistline.”

“I thought you’d say that, so I did some reading on the health benefits of eating chocolate. Did you know the chocolate is made from Theobroma cacao tree seeds? Cacao is a superfood, filled with heart-healthy antioxidants.

“Cacao is extraordinarily rich in flavanols, a type of phytochemical found in other plants like tea, grapes, and grapefruit. These flavanols have many heart-healthy benefits.”

Dark chocolate can reduce heart attack risk

“Heart-healthy benefits? Hmmm, sounds like a marketing term to me.”

“Not convinced? Well, research done at John Hopkins University School of Medicine found that a few squares of dark chocolate, rich in flavanols, decreases your risk of heart attack. The flavanols slow platelet clumping which helps prevent blood clots from forming. That’s important because blood clots that block blood flow cause heart attacks.

“And according to recent studies, men who consumed chocolate rich in flavanols had increased arterial flow.”

“Increased what?”

“It means that their arteries relaxed, making it easier for oxygen-rich blood to reach the heart and other organs. And that means lower blood pressure and more energy.”

“You’re kidding me.”

Affects blood pressure, too

“Nope. Not kidding. Harvard University School of Public Health concluded that the components in cacao (found in chocolate) reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering blood pressure, reducing inflammation and decreasing LDL oxidation.”

“Okay, you have my attention …”

“Chocolate has benefits that extend beyond the heart. Researchers in Italy discovered that eating dark chocolate can lower your risk factors for diabetes by decreasing insulin resistance.

“The antioxidants in chocolate high in cacao content can increase capillaries in the muscles, including the heart. More capillaries mean more oxygen and more oxygen means more mitochondria enter the muscles themselves. Mitochondria are what give us energy at the cellular level.”

“So eating dark chocolate can give me energy?”

“That’s right! And cacao helps release the feel-good hormones like serotonin and endorphins, so it helps improve your mood, too.”

“Well, sounds like I need to have chocolate at every meal.”

Be careful, though

“Not so fast. A lot of chocolate is filled with sugar and other fillers like caramel and nuts. That means the cacao content is lower and you’re not reaping the benefits of this superfood. It’s best to eat it in small doses.”

“So how much can I eat and still keep it healthy?”

“First, look for chocolate high in cacao content. Usually dark chocolate fits the bill, but it’s best to check the label. The greater the percentage of cacao, the more you can have. The good thing, however, is that dark chocolate is so rich in flavor, you don’t want a lot. A two-ounce serving is perfect.”

“So, dark chocolate can lower my risk of cardiovascular disease, lower my blood pressure, increase oxygen and energy from the cellular level and increase my happy hormones?”

“And don’t forget decrease insulin resistance and reduce your risk of diabetes.”

“You really did put a lot of thought into my Valentine’s Day gift! Thank you. But I have to ask, where did you learn all of this helpful stuff?”

“Oh, that’s easy. I read the ‘To Your Health’ blog from Providence Medical Group. So, dear wife, what did you get me for Valentine’s Day?”

“Oh, well, I um … I got you a tie.”


How healthy is your heart?

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Americans. The good news is that it can often be prevented. Providence is here to help. Use our easy online heart assessment tool to learn your heart’s age.

February is American Heart Month

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