Dark chocolate -- with a high content of nonfat cocoa solids -- is the new guilt-free super food! The scientific evidence is stacking up linking daily consumption of deep, dark chocolate with phenomenal health benefits, especially on your heart and blood vessels.
Studies show that people who eat generous amounts of superbly-heart-healthy and flavonoid-rich cocoa rarely develop high blood pressure and have a very low death rate from heart disease.
Eating dark chocolate is key to heart health because it is loaded with powerful plant antioxidants called flavonoids. That's why it's included as a bonus in a plan I developed to reverse heart disease, and/or to build good heart health to hopefully avoid heart troubles. My full program is detailed in Prevent a Second Heart Attack: 8 Foods, 8 Weeks to Reverse Heart Disease (www.PreventaSecondHeartAttack.com).
The eight key food groups that form the core of my plan are extra virgin olive oil, leafy greens, figs and other fruits, salmon and other seafood, lentils and other legumes, walnuts and flaxseeds, oatmeal and other whole grains, and red wine.
Eating your daily sweet treat will make a significant contribution to the antioxidant potential of your diet, as dark chocolate has a higher antioxidant quality/quantity than most heavy hitters -- red wine, black tea and green tea. Consumption of the dark, flavonoid-rich type of chocolate can improve your blood vessel health by increasing your endothelium's production of that crucial blood vessel relaxation chemical nitric oxide, rendering your dysfunctional endothelium (the damaged inner arterial layer that instigates and promotes heart disease progression) healthier and more functional. In fact, research shows that consuming a small daily dark chocolate treat reduces inflammation and promotes more relaxed and dilated blood vessels, especially if you're diabetic.
To sum it up, consuming just one or two squares (up to one ounce) of dark chocolate (at least 70 percent cocoa) every day can help:
Boost your blood antioxidant level
Lower your blood pressure
Make your dysfunctional endothelium more functional
Here are a few ideas to eat chocolate daily -- for you and your heart.
Try a nightly cup of steaming, decadent homemade hot chocolate. For my Quick, Healthy (and sinfully satisfying) Dark Hot Chocolate, put 2 tablespoons of dark unsweetened cocoa powder into a mug, add a touch of sweetener (you might consider a sugar substitute), and mix together with 12 ounces of soy milk and 1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract. Microwave till warm, stirring at least once. Top with fat-free whipped topping and you have a delicious, chocolaty, super-heart-healthy sweet treat.
Remember, to satisfy your chocolate craving and fortify your heart disease defense strategy simultaneously, think real cocoa. Natural unsweetened cocoa powder has the highest concentration of flavanols compared to other chocolate products (followed by unsweetened baking chocolate), plus it is low in sugar, fat and calories, so favor this chocolate choice over solid bars when possible. And don't forget that milk chocolate and chocolate syrup rank lowest on the antioxidant scale, so avoid choosing them for your heart-healthy chocolate splurge.
Look for dark chocolate products derived from single-origin countries or areas. Note that Madagascar and Java cacao beans have been shown to contain double the flavanols compared to beans from other areas.
If you prefer a small piece of chocolate, purchase one of the new high-flavonoid chocolate bars (not milk chocolate or Dutch processed) -- with at least 70 percent cocoa, and limit yourself to one to two small pieces a day. Be sure to check the ingredients list and choose a bar where the first ingredient is cocoa solids or chocolate (not sugar) such as Lindt® Excellence 70% Cocoa Bar.
Add a couple of tablespoons of dark cocoa powder to your banana and soy milk smoothie -- a luscious addition to a heart-healthy drink.
Isn't this the best nutrition news to come along in decades? In addition to my Quick, Healthy (and sinfully satisfying) Dark Hot Chocolate (see above), try my Flourless Dark Chocolate Brownies with Walnuts (see below).
So this Valentine's Day, or any day, enjoy your chocolate. Just make sure it is dark chocolate in the appropriate quantity only. It isn't so hard when you remember that a healthy heart is the best treat of all.
By Janet Bond Brill, Ph.D., R.D., LDN
Janet Brill, Ph.D., R.D., LDN, is a leading diet, nutrition, and fitness expert. She is the author of Prevent a Second Heart Attack and Cholesterol Down. Learn more at www.drjanet.com.
Dr. Janet’s Flourless Dark Chocolate Brownies with Walnuts
Serves 16 -- A dark, moist chocolaty treat.
One 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
3/4 cup packed Splenda ® Brown Sugar Blend
1/2 cup quick-cooking oats
1/4 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons ground flax seed
1 tablespoon espresso powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 9-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Place black beans in a mixing bowl. Add the sugar, oats, cocoa powder, olive oil, espresso powder, flax seed, vanilla, and salt. With an electric mixer blend the ingredients until the black beans are mushed up and the mixture is smooth, about 2 minutes. Scrape batter into the prepared pan, top with walnuts, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes until the edges pull away from the sides of the pan and the middle of the brownies is firm. Let cool before slicing into 16 pieces.
NUTRITION PER SERVING (1 brownie):
Fat: 6 g (0 g EPA, 0 g DHA, 1 g ALA)
Saturated Fat: 1 g
Cholesterol: 1 mg
Sodium: 89 mg
Carbohydrate: 16 g
Dietary Fiber: 2 g
Sugars: <1 g
Protein: 3 g
Excerpted with permission from Prevent a Second Heart Attack by Janet Bond Brill, Ph.D., R.D., LDN ©2/2011.