Chocolate. Say the word, and busy moms everywhere go to that place of contentment when you imagine it melting in your mouth, everything is silent, and the world seems dreamy…all from a small bite of chocolate. The good news is that this downright decadent food contains phytochemicals that can benefit your heart!
Scientists have found that the antioxidants in dark chocolate can help raise HDL (good) cholesterol, increase blood flow and in larger quantities lower blood pressure! The cocoa bean is a rich source of flavanols, a phytochemical that helps the heart pump blood more efficiently by dilating the arteries. Other sources include tea, berries, apple skin, and citrus fruits. However, it’s difficult to know how much flavanols are lost in the manufacturing to combat the extreme bitterness of raw cocoa beans. One such processing, called alkalization, can reduce flavanol content by as much as 90% (1). Luckily, alkali-treated chocolate is required by the FDA to be labeled as such in the ingredients (2). To get the recommended dose of flavanols (200 mg) for a blood flow benefit 2 oz. of dark chocolate will do the trick (3), which comes with a calorie price tag. If you love chocolate as a preferred dessert than include it but watch your intake. In other words, don’t start eating chocolate because you consider it a health food.
For deep chocolate flavor and antioxidants without any sugar or fat, get creative with cocoa powder or cacao powder. Cocoa powder (the unsweetened stuff you use to make hot chocolate or brownies) is a roasted form of raw cacao. Both are great, but the raw cacao tends to have a higher antioxidant content. A 1 ¾ tablespoon serving of cocoa powder has 200 mg of flavanols and only 20 calories (3). It is best to limit cocoa powders to one serving per day to reduce your risk of lead or cadmium intake (4).
Loving your heart is easy! Adding small amounts of dark chocolate and cocoa powder to your diet in simple, mouth-watering ways is a small change that can have positive impacts on your heart and overall health.
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