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Healthy chocolate sounds like a dream come true, but chocolate hasn't gained the status of health food quite yet. Still, chocolate's reputation is on the rise, as a growing number of studies suggest that it can be a heart-healthy choice.
Chocolate and its main ingredient, cocoa, appear to reduce risk factors for heart disease. Flavanols in cocoa beans have antioxidant effects that reduce cell damage implicated in heart disease. Flavanols — which are more prevalent in dark chocolate than in milk chocolate — also help lower blood pressure and improve vascular function.
In addition, some research has linked chocolate consumption to reduced risks of diabetes, stroke and heart attack. But more research is needed to confirm these results.
In the meantime, if you want to add chocolate to your diet, do so in moderation. Why? Most commercial chocolate has ingredients that add fat, sugar and calories. And too much can contribute to weight gain, a risk factor for high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.
On the other hand, cocoa itself, unlike chocolate, is low in sugar and fat while offering potential health benefits. If you enjoy chocolate flavor, add plain cocoa to your low-fat milk or morning oats.
Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D.
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