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Eat up (the good stuff, that is): A National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Family Heart study showed that people who ate chocolate five times per week were 49 percent less likely to have heart disease than those who ate no chocolate.
Credit: Pixland

Sweethearts needn’t feel guilty about giving, or receiving chocolate this Valentine’s Day. According to University of Scranton chemistry professor Joe Vinson, Ph.D., chocolate’s healthy rep as being antioxidant-rich is growing.
“I keep looking for the bad,” says Vinson, who was among the first researchers to report that chocolate, especially dark chocolate, was good for your heart. “But I still can’t find any negatives to chocolate. Polyphenols are good for you and chocolate has lots of them.”
Polyphenols, a class of compounds present in plant foods that have antioxidant properties, reputedly scavenge free radicals that damage cells and make them more vulnerable to diseases like cancer.
But not all chocolate is created equal. It’s important to select pure chocolate and not candy bars, and make sure it has a high amount of cocoa solids. The higher the cocoa solids, the higher the antioxidant effect. In his research, Vinson found chocolate containing 70 percent cocoa solids had twice the polyphenols as 35 percent. Vinson advises choosing 70 percent or higher for health.
The consensus is that moderate dark chocolate consumption has health benefits. But how much is moderate?
“I can’t confirm an amount for health,” Vinson says. “In studies comparing low dose and high dose, there was no noticeable benefit from the higher dose. One study found that blood pressure benefited after one dark chocolate Hershey Kiss. It happened over a four-month period. So, possibly, a low dose of chocolate over time has the most beneficial effect.”

What about white?
White chocolate, made of cocoa butter and sugar, has no detectable polyphenols and no known health benefit — in fact, Vinson says it can make things worse: “Fat and sugar cause oxidative stress in the body.”

 
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