Better chocolate choices could benefit your heart health

For Valentine’s Day consideration, skip the milk chocolate candy and replace it with a cup of dark hot cocoa.

“In terms of protecting the heart, research suggests that drinking a cup of dark hot chocolate can be equated with drinking a glass of wine,” says Dr. Lona Sandon, a registered dietitian at UT Southwestern Medical Center who urges people to eat and drink in moderation.

Typical candy bars and boxed chocolates may be tasty, but their added fat, sugar, and calories make them less healthy treats, she says.

But pure chocolate, made from cocoa beans, is rich in flavanol, an antioxidant that may help protect arteries from damage, maintain healthy blood flow, and fend off heart disease.

Dark cocoa and baking cocoa contain a higher percentage of cocoa solids and less or no added sugar, respectively.

They are excellent sources of polyphenols, a class of compounds that includes flavanols.

Chocolate in its more processed form, meanwhile, is loaded with extra oils, milk, and sugars that combine to lower its level of polyphenols.

A bar of dark chocolate weighing about 1½ ounces contains approximately 950 milligrams of antioxidants, while a similar bar of milk chocolate contains only about 400 milligrams.

White chocolate is a confection of fat and sugar and contains no antioxidants.

“Cocoa by itself may provide some health benefits. It’s what is added to it that’s not so good for us,” she says.

A day of indulgence should be tempered, she advises. It’s still important to pay attention to the overall calorie counts.

February is American Heart Month.

Source: UT Southwestern Medical Center.