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Antioxidants in Chocolate Can Help With Heart Disease

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Happy Valentine’s Day! Valentine’s day has turned into a holiday symbolized by cards, chocolate and flowers. So on this day I wanted to look at the health benefits of receiving chocolate as gifts on Valentine’s Day or any day of the year.

Since Americans love their chocolate, I figured any medical studies on chocolate would be of interest. The caveat, or caution, about healthy chocolate is that the more processed chocolate is, the less health benefit it has.

Commercial chocolate tends to be very processed, through fermentation, Dutch processing, roasting, etc. In chocolate, additives must be monitored as well. Sugar, milk and other additives reduce the healthy benefits of chocolate. Milk chocolate and white chocolate are processed and less healthy.

Now that we have cleared that up, let’s look at the health benefits. Chocolate has been studied for its antioxidant properties for heart health. Foods that have antioxidants are believed to help protect the body from free radicals cell damage.

Free radicals are produced during normal body processing like exercise or breathing as well as external agents like environmental toxins like pollutions or smoking. When the body doesn’t have enough antioxidants cells can become damaged and not heal correctly.

In heart disease free radicals can cause damage to the blood vessels and help promote plaque formation.

There are several different types of antioxidants one main group is called flavonoids. University of Cambridge looked at seven studies to see the conclusions about chocolate and heart disease.

Flavonoids are chemicals that help protect plants from environmental toxins and they also repair damage to plant cells. Flavonoids are found in other foods as well ,especially fruits and vegetables.

When we ingest flavonoids the protective properties are taken into our body. Chocolate, especially dark chocolate, has health-promoting flavonoids called flavanols, which have been showed to reduce cardiovascular risks.

They have the potential to support blood vessel health, lowering blood pressure, improving circulation to the heart and brain and improving platelets ability to correctly clot. Examples of flavanoids are dark chocolate, cranberries, peanuts, onions, red wine, blackberries, green tea and red apples.

The University of Cambridge found that there was an overall benefit of 37 percent reduction in heart disease in those participants with the highest chocolate consumption. There was also a 29 percent benefit for stroke patients as well.

The research also stated that the benefits have to be tempered with the high sugar and fat that is also found in certain types of chocolate.

Fat in chocolate is derived from cocoa butter. Cocoa butter is made up of equal parts of oleic, stearic and palmitic acids.

Oleic acid is actually a healthy monounsaturated fat. Stearic acid is a saturated fat, yet research shows it has a neutral effect on cholesterol levels so it doesn’t raise or lower it. Palmitic acid also doesn’t seem to have an effect on cholesterol levels.

Valentine’s day is a holiday of sorts so if you want to eat chocolate, enjoy it. If you decide that you can’t live without chocolate more often than once a year, just remember that high quality dark chocolate that has been minimally processed is your best bet.

If you are working on improving your heart health then eat foods high in antioxidants and flavanoids. This means fruits and vegetables daily, not chocolate.

But this Valentine's Day, feel free to enjoy your holiday!

Dr. Dae

Dr. Dae is a Naturopathic Physician who practices in the Washington DC metro area treats the whole person using safe and effective combinations of traditional and natural methods to produce optimal health and well-being in the lives of her patients.


" Cleveland Clinic." Cleveland Clinic. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2012. http://my.clevelandclinic.org/heart/prevention/nutrition/chocolate.aspx.

Hirschler, Ben. " Is chocolate good for your heart? It depends| Reuters." Business & Financial News, Breaking US & International News | Reuters.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Aug. 2011.

"Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University." Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Aug. 2011. http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/phytochemicals/flavonoids/flavtab2.html.

Reviewed February 14, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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