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Valentine’s Day: Love your heart with dark chocolate and red foods

Heart-shaped chocolates

Many people celebrate Valentine's Day with gifts of red, heart-shaped boxes filled with chocolates. It’s been rumored that chocolate has some benefits for your heart.

Is chocolate good for your heart?

Eating dark chocolate regularly may help reduce your risk for heart disease or stroke. Small amounts can help increase blood flow, lower blood pressure, and improve HDL (or good) cholesterol. Dark chocolate contains antioxidants – substances that keep us healthy by repairing cell damage in our bodies every day. Flavonoids are one type of antioxidant in dark chocolate that helps reduce inflammation in the body.

Milk chocolate, white chocolate, and some dark chocolates do not contain enough flavonoids to help protect heart health. Recent studies show dark chocolate with at least 70% or more cacao solids have the most flavonoids. Those studies recommended consuming 20 - 30 grams of dark chocolate (1-2 ounces) daily for those benefits.

Don’t use the possible health benefits as an excuse to overindulge. Enjoy dark chocolate in moderation since you can obtain flavonoids from other foods, too.

Hot chocolate with heart-shaped marshmallows

Hot cocoa to warm your heart

Cocoa powder is also a source of flavonoids. Avoid any brands labeled alkalized or Dutch processed as the flavonoids are removed during processing. Read the label to see if your favorites are a good source.

To make your own hot cocoa, pour 8 ounces of skim or 1% milk in a large mug. Mix in 2 tablespoons of non-alkalized unsweetened cocoa powder and add sugar or sugar substitute to taste. Add a dash of vanilla extract, and heat in the microwave to the desired temperature.

Brownies

Fudgy Cocoa Brownies

Unsweetened cocoa powder can also be used in baking. It gives a rich chocolate flavor to this fudgy dessert. It also provides some whole grains and fiber courtesy of whole wheat flour used in place of white flour. While made with some healthful ingredients, and only 100 calories per brownie, portion control is still important.

View full recipe

Heart-shaped watermelon

Eat your red foods

Many colorful fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants, too. Different color foods contain different antioxidants. It’s important to eat a wide variety of foods rather than relying on one or two to meet your nutrition needs. In celebration of February’s National Heart Month, include some of these red foods that contain the antioxidants anthocyanin and lycopene. They promote heart health as well as help reduce other disease risks.

Anthocyanins:

Red berries  cranberries, strawberries, raspberries

Other fruits  red grapes, red apples

Vegetables – red beans, red cabbage, red onions, red potatoes

Lycopene:

Fruits – pink grapefruit, watermelon, red or pink guava, cherries, pomegranates

Vegetables – beets, red onions, red pepper, rhubarb, cooked tomato products

Recipes created or adapted by Mary-Jo Sawyer, VCU Health Registered Dietitian