The month of February is not only the month for love, but it’s American Heart Month. With Valentine’s Day smack in the middle and thoughts of cards, flowers, and chocolate, it’s also a time to focus on steps we can take to ensure a healthy heart… and mind. Exercise, food choices, and modifying unhealthy habits are among the areas of our lives where we need to concentrate. With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, this article will address a particular food at the forefront of this day for sweethearts — dark chocolate.
Food of the Gods
The botanical name for chocolate is Theobroma cacao, which means “food of the gods.” Not only is it delicious, but dark chocolate is good for your heart and mind when combined with a healthy lifestyle. Notice, it’s the dark chocolate not the milk chocolate that may benefit you. Let’s check out why… .
What Makes Dark Chocolate Special?
Dark chocolate comes from the cacao bean which is rich in a type of phytochemical called flavonoids. Although milk chocolate contains some, it does not contain enough to make a difference — the darker the better.
Potential Health Benefits
According to current research, when dark chocolate is incorporated into a healthy lifestyle, it
- can enhance heart health,
- improve blood pressure,
- decrease the “bad” LDL cholesterol, and
- cause an increase in blood flow to the brain.
There are also studies that point to another benefit — it may improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar levels thereby reducing the risk of an ever growing problem — diabetes. Diabetes is a risk factor for heart disease with the risk even higher for women.
A NOTE OF CAUTION…
In order to enjoy the health benefits of dark chocolate, a healthy lifestyle is important. Here are few tips to keep in mind:
- Balance your calorie consumption — according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a 100-gram serving of Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate Bar has 531 calories whereas that much raw apple contains only 52 calories.
- Avoid the dark chocolate that is higher in sugar and fat — in other words, avoid the chocolate coated bonbons that contain all the cream, marshmallow, and other unhealthy centers.
- When you enjoy a little dark chocolate, eliminate another sweet from your diet, not another nutrient rich food.
- If you have a choice between U.S. made dark chocolate or European, choose the European — they tend to be richer in the cocoa flavanols.
REMEMBER THE DARKER THE CHOCOLATE THE BETTER
What’s your favorite Valentine treat?
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