February 11, 2012
Sara Savat

Chocolate: A Not-So Guilty Pleasure

Katie Eliot

ST. LOUIS -- Valentine's Day goes hand-in-hand with chocolate and now research shows that the sweet treat may be good for your heart, making it a great gift for your valentine.

For years, chocolate has received a bad rap. Critics have said that chocolate was high in saturated fat and caffeine, lacked any nutritional value and even caused acne. According to Katie Eliot, instructor of nutrition and dietetics at Saint Louis University, these myths are not true.

Chocolate - specifically dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 60 percent of higher - contains flavanoids, which are powerful antioxidants that promote cardiovascular health, Eliot says.

"Like green tea and berries, dark chocolate contains powerful antioxidants that have been shown to reduce blood pressure and the bad LDL cholesterol to prevent cholesterol from collecting in the arteries," Eliot said.

There are a few caveats to this good news, however, Eliot warns. While there are health benefits to chocolate, more is not better. Like all things, moderation is key.

"Most studies used one 40 gram serving - or three large squares of dark chocolate-to show cardiovascular benefit," Eliot said. "Because one serving packs 200 calories, it should be your one sweet treat for the day and part of a balanced diet. If you just add 200 calories to your daily diet, you will gain weight."

When selecting chocolates for your valentine, Eliot says dark chocolates - plain or with nuts or dried fruit - are always the best choice. Because its cocoa content is lower, milk chocolate contains less flavanoids per serving. Steer clear of white chocolate, which does not contain cocoa, and nougat-filled chocolates, which are high in sugar and fat.

Want to impress your Valentine with a delicious and easy chocolate dessert? Eliot recommends this dark chocolate fondue recipe as a special Valentine's Day treat.

1 bag of dark chocolates
1 cup of heavy cream
Strawberries or fruit of your choice

Directions: In a small pot, heat the heavy cream to boiling. Place chocolate in a bowl and pour the heated cream on top. Let the mixture sit for about 5 minutes before stirring.

Healthy Serving Size: 4 strawberries dipped in chocolate

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