Chocolate and Heart Month

February is American Heart Month! I hope you all had a HAPPY Valentine’s Day and celebrated with a special someone! Valentine’s Day is usually filled with flowers and chocolates or your favorite chocolate covered fruit or candy (mine being– chocolate covered strawberries…YUM!). I am here to reveal the benefits of chocolate—dark chocolate that is! However, chocolate is still rich in calories, sugar, and fat so MODERATION is key to prevent weight gain.

Chocolate contains powerful antioxidants called flavonoids, as well as some magnesium. These nutrients may reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke (focusing again on heart month) and help to lower your blood pressure.

Dark chocolate (containing 70% cacao or cocoa) is the most nutritious form of chocolate because it contains more than double the amount of heart-healthy flavonoids than milk chocolate. In addition, the added milk in the chocolate may decrease the body’s ability to absorb the heart healthy flavonoids. The best dark-chocolate varieties contain only one type of fat (cocoa butter) and do NOT contain added palm oil, coconut oil, or milk fat. Cocoa butter has a neutral effect on blood cholesterol levels, therefore it will not raise your cholesterol (specifically your LDL “bad cholesterol”) the way that saturated fat does.

Now that you know the benefits chocolate has to offer, your biggest concern is PORTION CONTROL! I know this is the most difficult part. Most people can’t just have a small PIECE of chocolate; instead they want the whole BAR!  Try sticking with one-ounce, snack sized portions and be sure to account for the 150 calories in your daily total calorie allotment. Remember, calories in equals calories out! Split your chocolate with a friend or your significant other. You can also take a small piece and put it in a mini zip lock bag to store in your purse or work briefcase so that when your stress rises in the afternoon, and cravings are high, you won’t be tempted to eat the whole bar!

 

Ideas on how to incorporate heart healthy chocolate into your diet:

  • 1 cup of low-fat hot cocoa (<100 calories per cup)
  • 1 cup of soy milk with one tablespoon of dark chocolate syrup or powder
  • Add unsweetened cocoa powder (ok for individuals who have Celiac disease or who are gluten sensitive) as a flavoring in lower-calorie dessert recipes
  • (i.e. Chocolate Angel Food Cake, Warm dark chocolate sauce drizzled over fruit)

So, enjoy chocolate in moderation! If eaten in excess, it can be a powerful migraine trigger because it contains both caffeine and the amino acids tyramine and phenylethylamine. Chocolate can also trigger IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) symptoms or increase acid reflux in individuals with GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease).

To learn more about heart healthy foods to include in your diet and how to prevent heart disease, schedule an appointment with Courtney Walberg, Registered Dietitian and Founder of Nutrition For Body And Mind. I look forward to helping you reach your health goals!