Heart and Vascular

Chocolate and Heart Health: What to Know

Feb 13 2023

Curious if chocolate is healthy for your heart? You aren’t alone. Americans spend an average of $22 billion on chocolate each year. And there is no doubt a lot of that spending happens around Valentine’s Day.

We’ve broken down everything you need to know about chocolate and heart health.

First off, what are the different types of chocolate?

Let’s start with how chocolate is made – from cocoa beans! These beans come from the fruits, or pods, found on cacao trees. Once the beans are harvested, dried and roasted, they officially become cocoa beans. And from there, they can be ground up and used to make chocolate.

While there are many different types of chocolate, there are three main types of chocolate that cover the ones we typically enjoy as a sweet treat.

  • Milk Chocolate: Thought to be the most popular type of chocolate, milk chocolate actually contains only 10 to 40 percent of cacao. The rest of it is made up of milk and sugar.
  • Dark Chocolate: This type of chocolate contains more cacao; 30 to 80 percent of it. It also doesn’t contain milk solids. However, it is typically more bitter than milk chocolate.
  • White Chocolate: This type of chocolate contains no chocolate or cocoa products, except cocoa butter. With its vanilla type of taste, it is mostly made up of sugar and milk.

What ways can chocolate help your heart?

Recent health studies are revealing many ways chocolate and heart health may be related.

One such study found that eating chocolate, specifically dark chocolate, can drastically reduce the low-density lipoprotein in your blood. Chocolate that is not highly processed can retain particles called flavanols, which can reduce the low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, also known as “bad cholesterol.” Lowering LDL particles in your body can help keep your arteries free from cholesterol buildup and reduce the risk of heart disease and heart attacks. It can also reduce the risk of developing coronary heart disease, among other heart conditions.

Along with lowering bad cholesterol levels, dark chocolate may also help lead to improvements of “good cholesterol” levels, or HDL cholesterol. Consuming dark chocolate has been proven to help with high blood pressure, lowering it by approximately two to three points. It can also help improve blood flow and blood vessel function over time.

In addition to heart health, dark chocolate is also linked to other health benefits, including the following:

  • Lower body mass index
  • Short-term alertness
  • Enhanced eyesight
  • UV protection

Can chocolate hurt your heart health?

Notice we mentioned dark chocolate when discussing ways chocolate is good for heart health. This is because the amount of cocoa content in chocolate determines its health levels. So, dark chocolate’s higher levels of cocoa are what make it more heart-healthy than other types of chocolates.

When it comes to milk chocolate and white chocolate, you are talking about adding a lot of sugar and milk to the finished product. With more of these ingredients, these two types of chocolate are more likely to lead to health problems, such as weight gain and diabetes.

However, it is important to note that all types of chocolate contain fat. This is something to consider when deciding not only which type of chocolate to eat but also how much of it to eat and how often to eat it.

So, chocolate and heart health: what’s the verdict?

Yes, chocolate can be good for heart health. But like most things, it’s complicated.

Certain types of chocolate, mainly dark chocolate, appear to have some heart-healthy benefits. However other types, like milk and white chocolate, contain lots of added milk and sugar which, over time, can lead to weight gain, among other health problems.

Like everything we eat, chocolate can be healthy in moderation. However, it is when we start consuming too much of it that problems can arise.  

One pro tip for when you’re searching for dark chocolate is to look for options that has been processed as little as possible. Search for shorter ingredient lists with names you recognize.

Also, not a fan of dark chocolate? Try swapping out almonds instead. Almonds have been proven to possess many of the same benefits as dark chocolate, when eating one-third cup.

Learn about the heart and vascular services we offer at Mercy Health.

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