Chocolate – Making Valentine’s Day Heart Healthy

Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love, kindness, and all things heart-shaped. Bright red hearts can be seen everywhere this year, from shop windows to greeting cards, to dentist offices to postage stamps. It’s definitely the season of love, but did you know that it’s also the season of heart health? That’s right! According to research from all around the world, dark chocolate eaten during Valentine’s Day can be extraordinarily healthy for your heart, as well as your entire cardiovascular system.

Why is Chocolate so Good for You?

Don’t get your hopes up… because of the high amount of fat it contains, chocolate is still considered bad for the waist line. However, dark chocolate has also been linked to many surprising health benefits. The largest component of chocolate, cocoa, contains helpful antioxidants and flavonoids which are great at combating the free radicals in our bodies. Rice University describes free radicals as, “[A]toms or groups of atoms with an odd (unpaired) number of electrons and can be formed when oxygen interacts with certain molecules. Once formed these highly reactive radicals can start a chain reaction, like dominoes. Their chief danger comes from the damage they can do when they react with important cellular components such as DNA, or the cell membrane. Cells may function poorly or die if this occurs. To prevent free radical damage the body has a defense system of antioxidants.”  According to the US National Library of Medicine, “If free radicals overwhelm the body’s ability to regulate them, a condition known as oxidative stress ensues. Free radicals thus adversely alter lipids, proteins, and DNA and trigger a number of human diseases. Hence application of external source of antioxidants can assist in coping this oxidative stress.”

The flavonoids in chocolate are also helpful in that they work towards stabilizing the lining of our arteries and veins. Flavonoids are plant metabolites which are great for our bodies because of their anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidizing qualities. Flavonoids are abundant in dark chocolate, so feel free to indulge this year.

To make sure you get the most heart healthy treat for your sweet tooth this holiday season, shop for the darkest variety of chocolate that you can find. Your best bet is to opt for an organic (and preferable fair trade) brand of dark chocolate, because the USDA Organic seal guarantees that your chocolate will be free of harmful additives, herbicides, and pesticides. Another good tip is to look for the highest amount of cocoa you can find. Typically, the best number to shoot for is anything 70% cocoa or greater. But watch out, if dark chocolate isn’t usually your thing, the higher the cocoa, the more bitter the taste will be… so tread lightly.

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