Nothing says "Valentine's Day" like a red, heart-shaped box of chocolates. And don't let your sweetheart decline the treats because they're unhealthy. Turns out, in moderation, they're good for your heart.
It was good news for chocoholics when scientists released their findings that dark chocolate might actually be good for you. Dark chocolate contains antioxidants called flavonoids, which have been associated with a beneficial effect on the cardiovascular system because they are known to reduce cell damage and inflammation. Dark chocolate also might reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels.
The key ingredient is cocoa, and the more the better. Eating chocolate that contains at least 65 percent cocoa is your best bet for added health benefits, according to Tina Kelly, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator with Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center in Medford. "For me, dark chocolate is really good with herbal tea, which is also high in antioxidants," she says. "It pairs well."
The problem is in the portions. Since dark chocolate still has plenty of sugar and fat, the recommended amount of the sweet is one ounce a day — about one square from a bar, not a whole bar. "That would be my recommendation," Kelly advises. "Moderation is the key. We don't want to defeat the purpose."
Jeff Shepherd, owner and chocolatier of Lillie Belle Farms Handmade Chocolates in Central Point, specializes in dark chocolate confections. He's a big believer in dark chocolate's health benefits, although he was skeptical when the scientific findings first came out. "I have eaten it every day for 11 years," he says. His blood work is proof, he notes, adding that his doctor is paying close attention. "My cholesterol is better," he confirms. "All kinds of good things are happening with my blood since I started eating dark chocolate every day."
The chocolate maker, who uses organic cocoa beans and as many organic ingredients as possible, eats about one ounce of dark chocolate a day. "My doctor says the blood doesn't lie," Shepherd notes. "Chocolate has been very good to me."