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Benefits of Chocolate for Heart Health

Is chocolate an unhealthy decadence or a healthy treat choice? It can actually be both! 

There’s nothing quite as cozy as a mug of hot chocolate on a cold winter night. But how much chocolate is too much chocolate? acac Medical Director Dr. Greg Degnan shares some insight into the sweet treat. 

Cocoa, the “stuff” from which chocolate is made, is rich in a type of plant nutrient called flavonoids. Flavonoids are antioxidants which protect plants (and humans, to some extent) from environmental toxins. They also help facilitate cellular repair of damage caused by something called free radicals. These are produced as waste products which result from normal bodily processes. These free radicals lead to cell damage. Flavonoids combat this damage. 

Flavanols, the main flavonoid in cocoa, also lower blood pressure, make arteries less sticky, and improve blood flow to the brain and heart.

The fat in chocolate comes from 3 types of fatty acids. One, oleic acid, is the heart-healthy fatty acid found in olive oil. The second, stearic acid, has no effect—good or bad—on cholesterol. The third, palmitic acid, does adversely affect cholesterol, but only makes up 1/3 of the fats in chocolate.

Sound too good to be true? Well, as with many things, it is.

Most chocolates are highly processed in ways that decrease the flavonoids. Milk chocolate is usually loaded with other fats and sugars. Also, unfortunately, most chocolates are enhanced with unhealthy add-ons such as caramel, marshmallow, and high calorie nuts.

There is also no established serving size of chocolate which is known to maximize the heart benefit.

Your best bet to enjoy a guilt-free slice of decadence is to stick with moderate (roughly 1 oz) portions of dark chocolate which you can spice up with other healthy antioxidants like cherries, blueberries, or cranberries.