Chocolate Can Win -- And Help -- Hearts

Posted at 7:50 AM, Feb 12, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-12 07:50:00-05

(CNN) -- It's easy to think "chocolate" when we want to express our love, especially around Valentines Day. But the rich indulgence may be a great way to show some love to your heart as well.

"Chocolate's more than just a matter of the heart for what we give to people that we love.  Chocolate has nutrients in it that can help us to protect our heart. They're called flavonols, and they help to increase the blood flow to your heart. It also helps your body to reduce the amount of plaque that will stick on your arterial walls, so it's not going to lead to clots that'll eventually lead to a heart attack and then a stroke,"  explained Tamara Melton, a registered dietician.

But not all chocolate is heart healthy.

"If you're looking for the healthier versions of chocolate, look for the term "dark chocolate." So that's going to be on the label, and then look for a higher percentage," said Melton.

Other benefits of cocoa powder, the main ingredient of dark chocolate, may include raising "good" cholesterol levels, the high density lipids or HDL, while lowering "bad" cholesterol levels, the low density lipids or LDL.

Dark chocolate with at least seventy percent cacao contains fiber and is high in antioxidants.

"Antioxidants are really important because they help to protect us against certain diseases like cancer, and macular degeneration from aging," said Melton.