Is Chocolate Healthy for Your Heart?

Healthy choco­late sounds like a dream come true, and although choco­late hasn’t gained the sta­tus of health food quite yet, researchers are sug­gest­ing it may be a healthy-heart choice.

The pos­si­ble health ben­e­fits of choco­late stem from the antiox­i­dant flavonoids. Flavonoids help pro­tect plants from envi­ron­men­tal tox­ins, assist in dam­age repair, and can also be found in a vari­ety of fruits and veg­eta­bles. Fla­vanols is a form of flavonoid and gives unprocessed choco­late its strong and pun­gent taste. When choco­late is processed into its var­i­ous forms, it loses its antiox­i­dant qual­i­ties and other poten­tial ben­e­fits for vas­cu­lar health.

It’s actu­ally good for your heart and also good for your blood pres­sure,” says Valen­tine Yan­chou Njike, MD, MPH, of the Yale Grif­fin Pre­ven­tion Research Center.

Researchers have found that phy­to­chem­i­cals in cocoa, an ingre­di­ent in choco­late, can improve blood ves­sel func­tion, slow blood clot­ting, improve insulin resis­tance and have defen­sive effects against cancer.

Although chocolate’s rep­u­ta­tion is on the rise, experts still warn against choco­late bar binges. The dark del­i­cacy is loaded with calo­ries per ounce from fat and sugar content.

Karen Collins, MS, RD, nutri­tion advi­sor to the Amer­i­can Insti­tute for Can­cer Research said, “We have a wide range of food—vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans—that pro­vide thou­sands of phy­to­chem­i­cals, and so our heart and our can­cer health does not depend on eat­ing choco­late. If you load up on choco­late for the phy­to­chem­i­cals, then that’s going to send your weight up.”

The bot­tom line is that you don’t have to beat your­self up for crav­ing choco­late if you enjoy it in small doses. Here are five tips from the Amer­i­can Insti­tute for Can­cer Research for a guilt-free choco­late fix:

Choose wisely: Choco­late may have health ben­e­fits, but should still be eaten as a treat and not used as a sub­sti­tute for fruits and vegetables.

Eat what you like: The darker the choco­late, the more phy­to­chem­i­cals and less sugar it will contain.

Think bite-size: It only takes a lit­tle bit of choco­late to curb a crav­ing, so buy­ing choco­late in small por­tions will help you avoid a choco­late binge.

Get a liq­uid fix: Choco­late bars aren’t the only way to sat­isfy a choco­late crav­ing; drink hot cocoa!

Savor it: Instead of gob­bling down a choco­late bar, take your time. You will get enough enjoy­ment from a small amount that you won’t need to eat a lot.

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