Today's post is a guest post written by my wife, Certified Nutrition Specialist Courtney Carpenter.
High cocoa content chocolate is the perfect heart healthy gift for Valentine's Day, but not just for its sweet taste. It's real benefits are just beginning to be recognized. Flavonoid antioxidants in chocolate specifically help reduce inflammation in the lining of arteries, known as the intima. The main flavonoid, epicatechin, is similar to flavonoid antioxidants found in green tea. It seems to help reduce unnecessary clotting in the blood which is another factor that can promote cardiovascular health, including lower blood pressure. Some studies have suggested that it also normalizes insulin response by enhancing the production of nitric oxide, a compound that functions as a local vaso-dilator.
Dark chocolate, which has no milk content, or "raw," "non-alkalized," or "un-dutched" cocoa or cacao powder are the most beneficial forms, since they have the highest flavonoid content. Powders can be made into hot chocolate with any milk substitute and sweetened with any sweetener. Cow's milk proteins bind to the flavonoids making them unavailable, so avoid traditional cocoa mixes or milk chocolate. Two tablespoons of cocoa powder is roughly equivalent to 1 ounce of unsweetened baker's chocolate or about 1.5 ounces of 70-80% dark chocolate in a bar. This about the right daily dose for your heart's health, so you and your beloved should be splitting most of the three to four ounce bars that are popular where dark chocolates are sold. Cacao (pronounced 'ka-COW,) is the Spanish word derived from the native language of people using the beans in Central America in the 15th Century. You will see both cocoa and cacao on packages. Cacao is often the term used when the marketer wants to let you know the product is raw, but there is no legal trade definition for these terms at all, so read the label to be sure.