Chocolate-covered strawberries, heart-shaped boxes of chocolate, cute cards and romantic gestures. Yes, it’s the month of love and — appropriately so — heart health.
So, can that Valentine’s Day chocolate be good for your heart and health?
Short answer: yes. Long and less fun answer: yes, if the proper type of chocolate is consumed in the proper quantities.
According to OhioHealth’s Nitin Gera MD, MPH, there are many health benefits of dark chocolate due to the fact that it is rich in polyphenols.
“One category of polyphenols present in chocolate is called flavonoids, which are strong antioxidants beneficial to the cardiovascular system because they increase the availability of nitric oxide within the circulatory system,” Gera explains.
The availability of nitric oxide is important because it helps keep blood vessels dilated — lowering blood pressure and minimizing damage to the blood vessels’ lining.
“The flavonoids are also beneficial in reducing lipid peroxidation, which is a key step in the formation of the cholesterol plaques that can clog blood vessels,” he says.
According to Gera, some of the best data showing the benefits of chocolate on the cardiovascular system came out of a study done in the United Kingdom in 2015, which used Lindt 70 percent cocoa as the source of chocolate.
“This study randomized participants to a low-polyphenol diet or a high-polyphenol diet. The high-polyphenol diet consisted of six portions of fruits and vegetables per day, which included one portion of berries and 50 grams of dark chocolate. After being on this diet for eight weeks, the participants underwent testing to assess the function of their blood vessels.”
The results? The group taking in the high-polyphenol diet had a significantly better blood vessel function than the group eating the low-polyphenol diet.
For those ready to stock up on chocolate during the next grocery run in the name of health, just don’t go overboard. While there are health benefits of dark chocolate consumption, they can be erased by having too much.
“The participants were not eating large amounts of chocolate on a daily basis, and it is likely that if they did they would not have the same benefits. Larger amounts of chocolate would result in higher caloric intake, and the resulting increase in weight would likely outweigh the benefits of the antioxidants,” Gera says.
Remember that balance is key. Sure, throw that dark chocolate bar into the grocery cart, but also remember to stock up on fruits and vegetables and maintain an active lifestyle.
“A daily serving of dark chocolate, in addition to these other important factors, can play a helpful role in maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system,” Gera says.
If you’re worried about your heart health, set an appointment with one of the heart specialists at OhioHealth.