Love Chocolate? Surprise! It Loves You (and Your Heart) Back!

Do you <3 chocolate?

It turns out chocolate <3s you back.

Like many other plant-based foods, such as red wine, tea, fruits and veggies, chocolate contains flavonoids — powerful antioxidants whose job is to counter the harmful effects of free radicals and toxic metals in our bodies. In fact, move over Earl Grey, dark chocolate contains four times more of the tea flavonoid catechin than, well, tea.

These industrious little flavonoids (along with other healthy compounds and fatty acids) zip around doing amazing things, like calming inflammation, fighting allergens, lowering blood pressure and improving our ratio of good to bad cholesterol.

The average American eats nearly 10 pounds of chocolate a year, so it’s no wonder studies of its health benefits abound. While not all the research is conclusive, science continues to find more reasons we should continue our sweet love affair.

• Chocolate is heart smart. Studies suggest regular dark chocolate eaters with heart disease have a lower risk of dying following a heartattack than those who don’t indulge. Other studies show that frequent chocolate consumption may lower your risk for heart disease in the first place.

• Chocolate is brain food. Flavanols (the main type of flavonoid found in chocolate) increase cerebral blood flow, which may trigger the creation of new blood vessels and brain cells. Research shows that drinking two cups of hot chocolate a day may prevent memory decline in older adults, so scientists are studying whether this may have applications for the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

• Chocolate is recommended by 4 out of 5 dentists. Okay, probably not. But in numerous studies, compounds in dark chocolate have been shown to strengthen enamel, fight tooth decay and help prevent cavities better and with fewer adverse effects than fluoride. It’s possible we could start seeing those compounds in toothpaste, but until then, don’t be fooled by products that are simply chocolate flavored.

Move to the dark side, dark chocolate, that is!

You’ll only reap the health benefits of le chocolat by going to the dark side: 70% or higher. Pure chocolate’s strong, pungent taste (think unsweetened cocoa or baking squares) comes from its flavonoids, which are diminished through processing and diluted with the addition of other ingredients.

Before you wrinkle your nose and pledge unwavering exclusivity to milk chocolate, hold the phone. There’s a clean way to break up with the light stuff and begin a lifelong romance with tall, dark, handsome chocolate. Since chocolate varies widely in its ratio of ingredients, your best bet is to look for the cacao content on the package and move up through the numbers till you hit 70% or higher.

Here’s a look at the players:

White “chocolate”: 0% cacao, minimum 20% cocoa butter, 14% milk solids, maximum 55% sugar.

Verdict: Without any cacao this wannabe isn’t technically chocolate, and many countries outlaw calling it such. You should stop taking its calls.

Milk chocolate: minimum 10% cacao, 3.39% cocoa butter, 12% milk solids.

Verdict: This is most people’s sweet spot, but it’s just not that into you. Say goodbye and plan to meet just a few times a year on special occasions.

Sweet dark chocolate: 20% to 40% cacao, 0% milk solids.

Verdict: You’ve made it to the dark side: chocolate without milk solids. It’s a great place to meet and see if you hit it off. You may need more than one date to form a relationship, so don’t give up. Try different brands to see which one tickles your fancy, and consider those with fruit or nuts to add antioxidants and balance out the mildly intense chocolate flavor.

Semisweet chocolate: minimum 35% cacao.

Verdict: Chances are you’ve eaten one of the famous homemade chocolate chip cookies and loved every bite. Semisweet is typically darker than sweet dark chocolate but sweeter than bittersweet. It’s a classic, but you can do better.

Bittersweet chocolate: minimum 35% cacao but usually higher.

Verdict: Most chocolate labeled bittersweet has at least 50% cacao and often 70% and higher for very dark bars. This is your hunky, chunky, dark chocolate dream date. As you move up through the percentages of cacao, your taste will adjust and you may find milk chocolate too sweet. Dark chocolate is also more filling and satisfying, so you’ll eat less and benefit more.

And that’s a good thing. Although dark chocolate is relatively low in sugar, it’s still a fat- and calorie-dense food. While experts disagree on how much you should eat, many recommend 1 ounce a day. No matter how you enjoy it — by the square, sprinkled on your yogurt or steaming hot from a cup — you’ll fall in love with dark chocolate every single time. And it will love you right back.



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