February 2020 Your Heart Loves Dark Chocolate
By Nancy Ghanem
Its heart month, and chocolate is on our minds! No wonder it’s a favorite Valentine’s treat—its delicious and sweet, and bonus, it actually has some heart-healthy properties. Let’s take a closer look at chocolate and its connection to health.
How is dark chocolate heart healthy?
Chocolate contains cocoa in addition to commonly added ingredients—sugar, fat, additives, and sometimes milk. The cocoa bean (AKA cacao bean) is the main ingredient of cocoa. Studies show that cocoa’s polyphenolic antioxidants (flavonoids) are what make chocolate “heart healthy”. These flavonoids may help to reduce blood pressure, decrease blood clot formation and reduce oxidation of LDL-cholesterol.
What to look for when buying dark chocolate
The name “dark chocolate” isn’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, which means any bar can be labelled as “dark” even if its not truly dark chocolate. When shopping for chocolate, look for options with a high cocoa percentage (at least 70%) to ensure you’re getting that healthy dose of flavanols and polyphenols. These varieties typically have cocoa or chocolate liquor as the first ingredient. Several forms of cocoa may be listed, like cocoa powder, cocoa nibs and cocoa butter.
How to decrease bitterness in dark chocolate
With a higher cocoa content comes a more bitter flavor. To decrease the bitterness, it can be helpful to break and chew dark chocolate in small pieces and let it melt in your mouth. Another tip is to pair your dark chocolate with fruit, nuts, wine, or coffee to complement the flavor.
Chocolate’s other ingredients
While dark chocolate is a heart-healthy choice, there are plenty of chocolate varieties that can also be a significant source of added sugar. Generally the higher the cocoa percentage, the lower the sugar content. High-quality dark chocolate often doesn’t contain milk, with the exception of milk fat. It is sometimes added to dark chocolate for a softer texture and flavor. The limited amount of milk in dark chocolate can make it a safer choice for people with lactose intolerance and vegans (make sure to check the ingredient list for added milk or milk fat).
Check out the lovely dark and decadent chocolate cupcakes on our Sweet Treats recipe page!
Get to know our author:
Ghanem is a graduate student in Food Science and Human Nutrition, and is a GTA for the Kendall Reagan Nutrition Center. Ghanem enjoys many aspects of the nutritional field. Her favorite areas include studying the relationship between nutrition and chronic disease and educating underserved populations. For these populations, she hopes to find interventions that prevent and manage chronic diseases and improve their overall quality of life. In the future, Ghanem hopes to do anything related to nutrition. Her current plan is to obtain her RDN credentials and eventually, her Ph.D. in nutrition. Ghanem is originally from Cairo, Egypt. She eventually moved to the United Arab Emirates at 11 years old and finally moved to the United States at 17 years old, and previously played tennis for CSU.
For additional resources to healthy eating, check out these programs from our registered dietitian nutritionists. Find delicious and healthy recipes on our Recipes page! More health tips are also available at the College of Health and Human Sciences Pinterest board. Lastly, don’t forget to sign up for the KRNC monthly newsletter!