Chocolate Is A Sweet Antioxidant

Great news for chocolate lovers: It’s good for you! OK, it shouldn’t replace the fruits and vegetables on your plate, but according to a new study, the flavonoids in chocolate may contribute to heart health. So say goodbye to guilt if you indulge your cravings now and then.

Chocolate’s flavonoids help keep your heart healthy in several ways. “Chocolate has an aspirin-like effect on blood components called platelets, making them less likely to cause blood clotting. This could decrease the risk for a heart attack or stroke,” says Marguerite M. Engler, PhD, professor and vice chair of the department of physiological nursing at the University of California, San Francisco. Engler presented her research findings on dark chocolate at the 2002 American Heart Association Scientific Sessions. “Chocolate flavonoids may also prevent oxidation of LDL, or ‘bad’ cholesterol, by increasing antioxidant activity in the blood,” she says. LDL oxidation contributes to the development of heart disease.

Dark chocolate, more so than milk chocolate, increases blood-vessel dilation, which increases blood flow. Dark chocolate also has more antioxidant power because it contains more cocoa-bean liquor and therefore more flavonoids.

Keep in mind, though, that chocolate contains fat and sugar, so it’s high in calories. You risk putting on some pounds if you add chocolate to your diet without making some caloric tradeoffs. But if you eat a balanced diet and exercise, getting your chocolate fix can be good medicine.

—Dena Nishek