Dark Chocolate – The Sweetest Choice for your Heart!headingContent

Posted on February 11, 2016

valentines day heart box with chocolatesAccording to a study published in the online medical journal Heart, higher chocolate intake is associated with a lower risk of future cardiovascular events. 

Chocolate is in the news regularly as a snack featured for promoting cardiovascular health. But, with so many different chocolate choices, how do you distinguish the sweetest choice to keep your heart healthy?

As a heart surgeon and expert on cardiovascular health, do you eat chocolate?

“I eat an ounce or two of dark chocolate, consisting of 75 to 90 percent cacao or cocoa bean, every single day,” says Dr. Erik Beyer, a cardiothoracic surgeon.

What makes chocolate heart healthy?

Cacao, also known as cocoa beans, is the dried fruit of tropical trees which is milled to make chocolate. The cocoa beans have a high concentration of flavonoids, or plant metabolites with antioxidant qualities. The flavonoids protect plants from toxins and repair cellular damage. Flavanoids found in chocolate are commonly defined as flavanols.

“You want to be constantly dosing yourself with these flavonoids and flavonols so that antioxidants are constantly going through your system,” says Dr. Beyer.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), regular dietary intake of plant derived foods and beverages reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. Among many ingredients, cocoa might be an important mediator. Recent research demonstrates the beneficial effect of cocoa on blood pressure, insulin resistance and vascular and platelet function. The recent discovery of biologically active phenolic compounds (plant metabolites found in fruits and vegetables) in cocoa has changed perception and stimulated research. Many studies have shown flavanols help the body with vascular health, lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow to the brain and heart, and promoting healthy blood platelets.

“Platelets are very important in your cardiovascular health and in the fact that you don’t want them (platelets) overreacting. You want platelets that are relatively stable,” says Dr. Beyer.

Why is dark chocolate better for the heart than milk chocolate?

Flavanols are found in cocoa solids. The percentage of cocoa solids used in making chocolate determines which type of chocolate has the most flavonols. Generally, unsweetened cocoa powder has about a 90 percent concentration, dark chocolate typically ranges from 45 to 80 percent and milk chocolate is on the low-end with only about five to seven percent of cocoa solids.

“Dark chocolate has potent antioxidant properties and that’s key. Antioxidants are important to your overall cardiovascular health because it can prevent atherosclerosis, a disease in which plaque builds up inside your arteries and it gets rid of the high oxidative stress in the bloodstream. When dark chocolate with a high concentration of cacao or cocoa beans is consumed the antioxidant capacity of your plasma and the content of flavonol increases in your bloodstream. Studies have shown it improves coronary blood flow,” says Dr. Beyer.

So, next time you’re craving a heart healthy snack, break off a piece of dark chocolate and enjoy! But, remember with anything else – consume in moderation.