When choosing Valentine's sweets, consider heart healthy chocolates
CHICAGO, Feb. 9, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A chocolate bar a day keeps the doctor away? Not exactly, but experts do agree that chocolate in moderation can provide certain health benefits for the heart. Northwestern Medicine cardiologist Stephen Devries, MD, says it's okay to indulge a bit and explains that dark chocolate may help lower blood pressure and improve blood flow.
"Chocolate, especially dark chocolate, is rich in flavonoids, the same compound that gives plants their vibrant color and reduces cellular damage. Flavonoids are also found in grapes, red wine and tea," said Devries.
Flavonoids aid in cardiovascular health by reducing LDL ("bad") cholesterol and plaque formation on the walls of the arteries. It also improves the ability of arteries to deliver oxygen, increase blood flow, and reduce the risk of blood clotting.
"Studies showed less calcium deposits in the arteries and lower rates of heart disease in people who ate more chocolate than their counterparts," added Devries.
While chocolate may have health benefits, there is need for more research. There are no established guidelines for how much chocolate needs to be consumed to be beneficial to the heart, but available studies show benefit with 2 ounces per day.
"There's nothing wrong with the occasional sweet treat, but eating too much chocolate may cause weight gain, which in turn raises blood pressure. Like any food high in fat, moderation is vital to stay healthy."
Opt for dark chocolates when picking your Valentine's Day treats; they yield the highest content of flavonoids and the greatest health benefits. Milk chocolate has less flavonoids plus more hydrogenated fats and empty calories. White chocolates have no health benefit.
"Cocoa is the source of the healthy flavonoids in chocolate. Look for dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 60 percent or more. Remember, the darker the chocolate, the higher the cocoa content and the more antioxidants it contains. The healthiest choices also have the lowest content of added sugar," explained Devries.
Devries suggests incorporating a small amount of dark chocolate in place of other desserts in addition to a balanced diet combined with exercise to encourage cardiovascular health.
For more information about cardiovascular health, please visit http://www.nmh.org/heart.
About Northwestern Memorial Hospital
Northwestern Memorial is one of the country's premier academic medical center hospitals and is the primary teaching hospital of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Along with its Prentice Women's Hospital and Stone Institute of Psychiatry, the hospital comprises 854 beds, 1,603 affiliated physicians and 7,144 employees. Northwestern Memorial is recognized for providing exemplary patient care and state-of-the art advancements in the areas of cardiovascular care; women's health; oncology; neurology and neurosurgery; solid organ and soft tissue transplants and orthopedics.
Northwestern Memorial possesses nursing Magnet Status, the nation's highest recognition for patient care and nursing excellence, and it is listed in 12 clinical specialties in U.S. News & World Report's 2010 "America's Best Hospitals" guide. For 10 years running, it has been rated among the "100 Best Companies for Working Mothers" guide by Working Mother magazine. The hospital is a recipient of the prestigious National Quality Health Care Award and has been chosen by Chicagoans as the Consumer Choice according to the National Research Corporation's annual survey for 11 years.
SOURCE Northwestern Memorial Hospital