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OUR HEALTH: Putting Chocolate on Your To-Do List

It is heart month. We celebrate both Valentine's Day and American Heart Month in February, so what better way to address both than by talking about chocolate.

Many of my female weight loss clients have some form of chocolate in their diets, and they are very happy to find out after my initial diet assessment, that they do not have to give it all up. Chocolate can be incorporated into a healthy eating plan, just as many other types of food, as long as it is eaten in the right portion and with moderation.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and in 2008, an estimated 770,000 Americans will have a new coronary attack, and about 430,000 will have a recurrent attack. About every 26 seconds, an American will have a coronary event, and about one every minute will die from one. Now chocolate, by itself, is not going to prevent these occurrences. Attention to a heart healthy diet can help (see below), weight control, exercise, taking medications properly and keeping regular appointments with your physician are all important; but including a little bit of chocolate in your diet, can make living more enjoyable.

Despite the evidence that dark chocolate may be beneficial to heart health, it is important to note that a small portion of dark chocolate is not a substitute for a heart healthy eating plan if you have heart disease or a family history of it. Weight control is the single best strategy to maintaining a healthy blood pressure and reducing risk factors for heart disease.

Consider these facts supported by recent research on chocolate and heart disease:
- Cocoa products contain greater antioxidant capacity and greater amounts of flavonoids per serving than all teas and red wines.
- The body of short-term randomized feeding trials suggests cocoa and chocolate may exert beneficial effects on cardiovascular risk via effects on lowering blood pressure, anti-inflammation, anti-platelet function, higher HDL ("good" cholesterol), decreased LDL oxidation ("bad" cholesterol)

Studies of flavonoids suggests the flavonoid content of chocolate may reduce risk of cardiovascular mortality

Studies have shown that small portions of dark chocolate are all that is needed for the health benefit. One study suggested that only one Hershey Kiss daily reduced blood pressure in participants who had mildly elevated blood pressure. Other studies have shown that the benefit would occur with one ounce (see guide below) of dark chocolate in incorporated daily.

Before you grab a chocolate bar, or a slab of chocolate cake, keep in mind that when cocoa is processed it goes through several steps to reduce its naturally pungent taste (the flavonoids provide this taste). The more processing, the more flavonoids lost, so you do want to choose simple dark chocolate varieties for the most benefit as they contain the most flavonoids per calorie.

Here is your portion guide for choosing your daily dark chocolate dose:

- Dove dark miniatures, 3 pieces
- Two squares of a dark chocolate bar (about a 1 inch square)
- Hershey Special Dark Kisses, 5 kisses

Keep it fad-free this Valentine's Day and consider choosing a bar of good dark chocolate for your Valentine. For wine drinkers, adding a glass of flavonoid-rich red wine to your dark chocolate square may even provide additional heart-healthy benefits. Candles can't hurt either. Enjoy!

Source: Meadville Tribune

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