By Dani Renouf, Renal Resource Dietitian, St. Paul’s Hospital
The time has come for Cupid to polish his bow and arrow as he aims to do his handy work on Valentine’s Day. On the day of love, we all celebrate over various types of heart-shaped confections, popping them in our mouths at our heart’s content. But not all chocolates are created equal. When it comes to our hearts, whether in love or health, this might be a good time to choose wisely.
Go to the dark side
Cocoa, a pod from which all chocolate stems, is rich in plant chemicals (antioxidants) called flavanols, which may help protect your heart health by lowering blood pressure. Some studies also show that flavanols can increase insulin sensitivity, so helping to reduce the risk of diabetes. Choosing dark chocolate, which contains 50-90 per cent cocoa solids, gives you the benefit of the highest amount of flavonoids. Remember, like with everything, moderation is the key to balance.
Less is more, so “pear” down
When it comes to the quality of chocolate best for health, chocolates that have been less-processed contain the highest level of flavanols. Choosing chocolates that contain the highest percentage of cocoa solids are often less processed, but might have a more bitter taste. Melting the chocolate and drizzling on fruit, like baked pears, still confers good health benefits, and helps manage the bitterness.
Love your gut
It appears that pure unsweetened cocoa has a direct impact on the production of good bacteria in the gut, as cocoa contains fibre that is used as a food source by our resident gut microbes. The research also shows that eating cocoa and fibre-containing foods at the same time can help even further to enhance gut health. So, perhaps the strawberries dipped in dark semi-sweet chocolate are on the menu this Valentine’s Day after all.
As Charles Schulz, creator of the Peanuts Comics put it, “All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” As a dietitian, I could not have put it better myself.