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National Restaurant Association - Ask the Nutritionist: Picking the best chocolates for Valentine's Day

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Ask the Nutritionist: Picking the best chocolates for Valentine's Day

The National Restaurant Association’s Director of Nutrition & Healthy Living Joy Dubost, Ph.D., R.D., provides regular commentary on the NRA News blog. This time, she guides us to picking the best options for Valentine's Day chocolate treats.

Valentine’s Day is traditionally remembered as the day for celebrating love, which typically means giving and receiving delicious treats and desserts. Chocolate seems to be the favorite choice for many. There are three main types of chocolate:  dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and white chocolate, which are different due to the type and amount of ingredients.

Many tout about the health benefits of chocolate, however the calories can quickly add up so portion control is essential. The predominate fat in chocolate is saturated fat. However, research studies have indicated the type of saturated fat found in chocolate along with a healthy diet does not increase cholesterol levels, which is good news for us all. In fact, some studies have shown that a small amount of dark chocolate can maintain heart health and support healthy blood vessels.

Research points to flavanols, which are antioxidant compounds that come from extracts of the cocoa bean that have been associated with supporting heart health.  In general, the percentage of cacao can be an indicator of the flavanol content of a chocolate. For example, a 70% cacao chocolate will be higher in flavonol antioxidants compared with a 50% cacao, which is one reason you typically see dark chocolate being promoted. Generally, for the most flavanol antioxidants, choose a natural cocoa that is higher in cacao content.

If you're dining out this Valentine's Day, there are often a variety of chocolate desserts from which to choose. Look for bite-size dessert options and desserts served with fresh fruit or berries, such as dark chocolate-covered strawberries, fruit salad with chocolate accents, or an individual chocolate soufflé cake. You can also share a dessert with your dining companion, take part of your dessert home, and/or adjust your caloric intake at other meals that day.

As part of your healthy diet and active lifestyle, celebrate Valentine’s Day with a small chocolate treat. It not only tastes good, but may also be a source of heart healthy antioxidants to your diet.

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