Today is Valentine’s Day, which means cards, flowers, and of course the traditional box of chocolates. If you make that dark chocolate, you’re not only giving a gift that’s from the heart, you’re also giving a gift that’s heart-healthy and has other therapeutic benefits.
Here are six reasons you should add dark chocolate to your diet:
1. Lowers Blood Pressure. One of cocoa’s most abundant polyphenols is flavanol, which stimulates the production of nitric oxide (NO), a very important signaling molecule. When it is produced in the arteries, it acts as a vasodilator, relaxing the arteries and causing them to open up, thus bringing down blood pressure.
2. Improves Insulin Sensitivity. In March 2005, Italian researchers published results of a study that showed dark chocolate significantly improved markers of insulin sensitivity, decreasing fasting insulin and glucose levels, as well as insulin and glucose responses to the glucose tolerance test.
3. Mediates Inflammation. Inflammation plays a role in heart disease, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and more. The cocoa flavanols in dark chocolate have been shown to lower inflammation. They do this by reducing blood concentrations of 5-lipoxygenase (5-LO), a key enzyme in the synthesis of leukotrienes—the active compound involved in inflammation.
4. Raises Protective HDL Cholesterol. Although its hefty saturated fat content may give one pause, most of that fat is stearic acid, which, unlike other saturated fats, has no adverse effects on cholesterol levels. In fact, dark chocolate actually appears to raise protective HDL cholesterol, while having no effect on LDL cholesterol.
5. Helps You Lose Weight. Dark chocolate contains caffeine, theophylline, and theobromine which belong to a class of compounds that promote fat burning. Plus, cocoa helps to suppress your appetite and boosts your sense of well-being.
6. Reduces Stroke Risk in Women. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology showed that women with the highest chocolate consumption are 20 percent less likely to suffer a stroke. The reason is that the cocoa in chocolate contains flavonoids which act as antioxidants in the body, helping to keep LDL cholesterol from oxidizing and contributing to strokes.
What type of chocolate should you give? Look for high-quality dark chocolate that contains 70 percent cocoa or more. Don’t be put off by the fat content, and expect it to have some sugar. Unsweetened dark chocolate is extremely bitter, and even sweetened, it is for some an acquired taste, so shop around for a brand you like.
Because of its fat and sugar content, dark chocolate is quite calorie dense, so don’t go overboard—and eat it in place of, rather than in addition to, other foods or snacks.
Now it’s your turn: Are you giving, or hoping to receive, chocolate on Valentine’s Day?