I look forward to Valentine’s Day every year. It’s a day to celebrate love of family, friends, and chocolate! As a dietitian, I get many questions about the health benefits of chocolate. Is it true? Well, it is no coincidence that the American Heart Association chose February as American Heart Month. Well, maybe that’s because of Valentine’s Day, but the science is true. As part of an overall nutritious and physically active lifestyle, chocolate has a place!
Specifically, cocoa contains agents protective against high blood pressure and other risk factors for heart disease. These benefits are from flavonoids, a type of antioxidant; antioxidants have been shown to protect cardiovascular tissue by neutralizing the damaging effects of free radicals. Like fruits and vegetables, cocoa is a plant food. However, how chocolate is manufactured tends to make it less than healthful. In other words, processing and added fat and other ingredients increase fat and calories while limiting cocoa’s antioxidant properties.
However, a moderate portion of dark chocolate is a fairly healthy option, because dark chocolate contains more cocoa and fewer added ingredients. To get a heart-healthy benefit this Valentine’s Day, try dipping or drizzling melted chocolate over your favorite fruit! For instance, pears are full of nutrients, fiber, and water, and will help you fill up faster (and limit going overboard on sweet treats!). Either creamy or crisp pears are delicious paired with dark chocolate. Try this easy and tantalizing recipe: Halve and core pears, grill until tender, and then drizzle with melted dark chocolate. Not only will you and your sweetie find this dessert delicious, but it’s also nutritious!