I have been compensated for my time by McNeil Nutritionals, LLC, the maker of SPLENDA® Sweetener Products. All statements and opinions are my own. I have pledged to Blog With Integrity, asserting that the trust of my readers and the blogging community is vitally important to me.
Have you ever stopped to think about why the iconic heart we see everywhere for Valentine’s Day is the symbol of love? I did, and after a little research I learned that in ancient times people believed the heart was the center of all human emotions because it was in the center of the chest. That isn’t a very scientific explanation, but I can’t argue with it since we still don’t have a better answer.
Then I started to wonder how chocolate become part of the “love story.” If you love chocolate, you’ll be happy to learn there is a scientific connection!
The Benefits of What’s in Chocolate
First, a brief anatomy lesson. The heart is a pump that pushes blood through a network of more than 60,000 miles of blood vessels made up of arteries, veins and capillaries. Together the heart and blood vessels are referred to as the cardiovascular system and its job is to deliver essential nutrients and oxygen to every cell in the body.
As we age our blood vessels become less flexible, making it harder for them to expand and contract with changes in blood flow. This can increase the risk of heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases.
Flavanols are naturally occurring compounds found in many plants, including the cocoa beans used to make chocolate. Research has shown that when we eat certain types and amounts of these “cocoa flavanols” they can have effects on blood vessels that may help keep them more elastic and therefore make the cardiovascular system work better.
Is Eating Chocolate Good for the Heart?
Just like any other food, all chocolate is not created equal. Differences in the seeds that are planted to grow a cocoa tree, to differences in the way the cocoa beans are fermented, dried, roasted, liquefied and combined with other ingredients to make the chocolate we know and love can affect the flavanol content of the finished products. And contrary to popular notions, the darkness of the chocolate, or percent cocoa, is not an indication of flavanol content.
At present there is evidence that cocoa flavanols can be good for our hearts. Studies have shown these flavanols can reduce the clumping of platelets that create plaque in the arteries, and may help protect against higher blood pressure and reduce levels of harmful oxidized LDL-cholesterol in the blood. And further research indicates that what’s good for our hearts is good for our brains!
The only problem is that the science is still evolving on how much cocoa flavanol we need to eat to be sure of benefits, and products made with cocoa don't always have a meaningful amount of flavanols.
Delightful Chocolate Recipes from SPLENDA® Brand
We can still enjoy the undeniably delicious taste of chocolate just for the pleasure it brings us while following the Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations of the American Heart Association to help keep our cardiovascular systems strong. And when we prepare chocolate treats using a no-calorie sugar substitute, like SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener, we can enjoy that chocolaty-sweet taste with fewer calories and carbohydrates from added sugar.
My all-time favorite chocolate recipe is this Chocolate Pudding Cake because it combines the comfort of a mug of rich hot chocolate with the decadent satisfaction of a warm chocolate cake. You might also want to try these Chocolate-Chocolate Cupcakes. They’re made with ½ cup cocoa powder and are so moist and flavorful that the Rich Chocolate Frosting is optional.
For those who like their chocolate creamy and smooth, this Chocolate Pudding with Strawberries is the way to go. It’s made with skim milk and fat free whipped topping to help with reducing the calorie and fat content. And if you prefer a little crunch with your chocolate, you can whip up a batch of these Chocolate-Almond Biscotti. They’re perfect with a cup of flavored coffee at just 60 calories each.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN, “The Everyday RD,” is an author and nutrition consultant who has headed the nutrition services department in a large teaching hospital and maintained a private practice where she provided diet therapy to individuals and families. With more than 30 years of experience, Robyn is motivated by the opportunity to help people make the best eating decisions for their everyday diet. She believes that choosing what to eat should not be a daily battle and aims to separate the facts from the fiction so you can enjoy eating well.
For more information, visit:
- Food Timeline: Valentine’s Day Candies.
- Bultrago-Lopez A, Sanderson J, Johnson L, Warnaakula S., Wood A., Di Angelantonio E., Franco OH. Chocolate consumption and cardiometabolic disorders: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ.2011;343:d4488
- Corti R., Flammer AJ, Hollenberg NK, Luscher T. Contemporary Reviews in Cardiovascular Medicine: Cocoa and Cardiovascular Health. Circ. 2009;119:1433-1441
- Brickman AM, Khan UA, Provenzano FA, Yeung LK, Suzuki W, Schroeter H, Wall M, Sloan RP, Small SA. Enhancing dentate gyrus function with dietary flavanols improves cognition in older adults. Nat. Neuro. November 2, 2014; 17:1798–1803 doi:10.1038/nn.3850
- American Heart Association. The American Heart Association’s Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations.