Sweet News for your Sweetie

Sarah Coulter, MS, RD, LD, clinical nutrition manager for Roper St. Francis discusses dark chocolate and other sources of flavonoids that offer antioxidant benefits and encourages heart health. 

February is heart health awareness month, but here’s a frightening fact to be aware of: heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., accounting for one in seven deaths, according to the American Heart Association.

With Valentine’s Day approaching, it’s a perfect time to focus on your loved ones’ heart health. This February 14th, many will be giving or receiving a traditional box of chocolates (hello Whitman’s sampler). But if you truly want to melt your Valentine’s heart, consider exploring dark chocolate as a healthier version of this treat.

More than 100 studies have been conducted on chocolate since the early 1990s, and some research reports small portions of dark chocolate can maintain heart health and the health of blood vessels. One study indicated chocolate consumption to be associated with a lower incidence of hypertension and stroke.

More good news for chocolate lovers: epidemiologic studies have shown a link between chocolate consumption and a reduced risk of all heart disease, including heart attack and heart failure.

But not all chocolate is created equal. Dark chocolate provides flavonoids and antioxidant benefits from extracts of the cocoa bean. Choosing dark chocolate with a greater percentage of cocoa gives a higher dose than the milk chocolate counterpart. To be fair to fruits, however, berries — especially dark ones such as cherries, blueberries and blackberries — also contain flavonoids and antioxidants. Dark chocolate covered cherries, anyone?

For those who are already incorporating dark chocolate into your diet, please continue in moderation. For those who aren’t, many other sources of flavonoids and antioxidant benefits exist in the fruit and vegetable realm, including different varietals of grapes, apples, citrus fruits, kale, broccoli, celery, hot peppers, soybeans, soy foods and legumes.

So for this year’s day of love, show your Valentine true affection with a gift that benefits what really matters: the heart.

By Sarah Coulter, MS, RD, LD, clinical nutrition manager, Roper St. Francis