Tips for a heart-healthy Valentine’s Day gift

Tips for a heart-healthy Valentine’s Day gift

Dr. Abdul Ghani, a cardiologist with Advocate Heart Institute at South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest, Ill., explains what researchers think makes chocolate beneficial for the heart.

“Some varieties of chocolate are packed with flavonoids, which are natural antioxidants that protect our cells,” Dr. Ghani says. “Some of the common flavonoids in chocolate are flavanols, which have also been shown to lower blood pressure, improve blood flow to the brain and heart, and lower the chance of blot clots.”

The American Medical Association and the American Heart Association have both published studies looking at chocolate’s ability to lower blood pressure.

“These studies, among others, have found that chocolate, especially dark chocolate, could lower blood pressure and levels of LDL cholesterol,” Dr. Ghani says. “However, these studies are not suggesting that chocolate be used as treatment for high blood pressure. Lifestyle changes and medication are still necessary.”

Dr. Ghani emphasizes that the darker the chocolate, the more likely the heart healthy benefits.

“Flavonoids give chocolate a very strong and bitter taste, such as the case with very dark chocolate,” he says. “Manufacturers process chocolate to lose that taste, but the more processing it goes through, the more health benefits are lost.”

Dr. Ghani explains that flavonoid rich foods, such as chocolate, can be beneficial as part of a healthy diet.  But he says that these benefits don’t give you an excuse to eat as much as you want.

“Chocolate is still a high-calorie, high-fat food,” says Dr. Ghani.  “A typical 1.5 ounce dark chocolate bar can contain as many as 220 calories, almost 20 grams of fat and more than 20 grams of carbs.”

He points out that chocolate, like many relatively high fat foods, can cause high blood pressure, clogged arteries, obesity and other types of cardiovascular disease when eaten in mass quantities.

“People who truly want to improve their heart health should do so through a number of lifestyle choices. A healthy, balanced diet combined with exercise is the best way to care for your heart,” says Dr. Ghani.  “Avoid high fat, high sodium foods and do not smoke.”

While the current research does not prove chocolate to be a cure-all for high blood pressure or heart disease, Dr. Ghani does recognize its benefits.

“I think it is fine to consume chocolate in small quantities,” Dr. Ghani says.  “Just remember to balance chocolate with a healthy diet that is supplemented by fruits, vegetables, and teas that are also known to be rich in flavonoids.”

Do you know your risk for heart disease? Take our heart risk assessment here. If you are at high risk, see one of Advocate Heart Institute’s cardiologists within 24 hours.

Related Posts


Subscribe to health enews newsletter

About the Author

Nate Llewellyn
Nate Llewellyn

Nate Llewellyn, health enews contributor, is a manager of public affairs at Advocate Medical Group. Nate began his career as a journalist and builds daily on his nearly 20 years of writing experience. He spends most of his free time following his wife to their two sons’ various activities.