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Dark Chocolate: A Healthy Valentine’s Day Treat

ChocolateCelebrating Heart Health in February couldn’t get any healthier or sweeter than with a delicious heart-healthy piece of dark chocolate or dessert made with dark chocolate.  By now you already know that almost any recipe can be made healthier with a few substitutions.  But chocolate is one ingredient you don’t need to eliminate.  It’s really healthy when eaten in moderation.  But not all chocolate is created equal.  Let’s take a closer look.

Chocolate, specifically the dark type, is one “sweet treat” that you can feel good about eating for your heart. Dark chocolate contains flavan-3-ols, a type of flavonoid.  Flavonoids are organic compounds found in plants shown to have potential health benefits.  There are six major categories of flavonoids in food: flavonols, anthocyanidins, isoflavones, flavan-3-ols, flavones, and flavonones.  The flavan-3-ols in dark chocolate contain powerful antioxidant compounds that may help protect cells from damage which can reduce risk of certain cancers as well as promote heart health.  Dark chocolate, fresh blueberries, black tea, and red wine are the most commonly known sources of flavan-3-ols.

Flavan-3-ols Content of Four Select Foods

Food Source Flavan-3-ols (mg/serving)
Black tea, brewed 1 cup 273
Blueberries, fresh, 1 cup 38
Dark chocolate, 1 ounce 30
Red wine, (Cabernet Sauvignon), 5 ounces 27

USDA Database for the Flavonoid Content of Selected Foods, Release 3.2

But before you head out for the chocolate aisle, remember the rule of “moderation.”  While dark chocolate is rich in flavonoids, it is high in fat and calories.  The calories in a one-ounce serving of dark chocolate depends on the percent of cacao solids: 45 – 59% = 155 calories; 60 – 69% = 164 calories; and 70 – 85% = 170 calories.  Furthermore, because of the caffeine content in tea and alcohol levels in wine, it is recommended to check with your health care provider before adding or increasing these items to your diet.

Now back to reality.  Chocolate is not a food group, no matter if it is dark chocolate.  However, fruits and vegetables are two food groups that contain many choices rich in flavonoids.  A healthful approach to increasing flavonoids in your diet would be to design your daily eating pattern around a variety of fruits and vegetables according to the 2015 – 2020 United States Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines.

So, if you are a chocolate lover, (and who isn’t), savor dark chocolate, but limit yourself to an occasional small piece as part of a healthful eating pattern.  Beyond that small tasty bite, check out the Internet for healthful dark chocolate recipes.  Click here for more information about flavonoids from the University of Florida Extension Service.