According to CNN, an estimated 58 million pounds of chocolate are sold in the United States during the week leading up to Valentine’s Day. Whether you’re giving the chocolate to a loved one or lucky enough to receive the chocolate, this research may allow both parties to enjoy the chocolate-filled holiday, guilt-free.

Various observational studies that have been completed over the past several years show that chocolate consumption is associated with a lowered risk of heart disease. Back in 2011, the British Medical Journal first published a meta-analysis of seven studies indicating that chocolate consumption was linked to a 39 percent reduction in cardiovascular disease and a 29 percent reduction in stroke. Another, more recent study showed that participants in their non-chocolate eating group had higher average weight, more artery-damaging inflammation, more diabetes, were less physically active, and had diets with the least amount of fat compared to the chocolate eaters.

So what about chocolate is beneficial?

Most studies done on the connection between chocolate and heart health found that only dark chocolate had something to offer in terms of cardiovascular protection, so not just any type of chocolate will cut it! Although scientists are still trying to determine just what it is about chocolate that boosts heart health, they think it may have something to do with flavonoids.

Flavonoids are a type of powerful antioxidant found in almost all fruits and vegetables. They are especially abundant in cacao beans – the seeds of the cacao tree that are used to make cocoa powder, which in turn is used to make chocolate. Flavonoids in cocoa have been shown to reduce high blood pressure, prevent blood clots, kill free radicals (which are associated with cancer cell growth), and improve cognition.

Unfortunately, most companies do not list the flavonoid content of their chocolate on their packaging, so it is difficult to discern which brands or types of chocolate may offer the most benefits. When shopping for chocolate, try to select dark chocolate that is high quality and not Dutch-processed, as the alkali in that process can damage the flavonoids. Of course, the darker the chocolate the better, but any 70 percent dark chocolate or higher contains antioxidants, fiber, potassium, calcium, copper, and magnesium, according to a study published in the journal Antioxidants & Redox Signaling.

Other studies show that dark chocolate can help in:

  • Making platelets in the blood less sticky and able to create clots, which can cause a heart attack or stroke
  • Processing nitric oxide, which helps improve blood flow throughout the body, including the brain
  • Lowering the risk of insulin resistance, which reduces the risk of diabetes
  • Controlling chronic inflammation, which can lead to heart disease.

So whether it’s Valentine’s Day or anytime you crave chocolate, choose dark chocolate. You can relax and enjoy it, knowing that your body, heart, and soul will thank you for it later.

 


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