Newswise — "The great news this Valentine's Day is that in addition to being decadent and delicious, moderate amounts of dark chocolate may play a role in cancer prevention," said Sally Scroggs, M.S., R.D., L.D., health education manager at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center's Cancer Prevention Center.
Recent research indicates that dark chocolate's chemicals, which act as antioxidants, have been shown to play a role in reducing cancer risks by helping to combat cell damage that can lead to tumor growth. These antioxidants occur naturally in the plant-based cacao bean, the base of all chocolate products. Cacao beans are, in fact, one of the most concentrated natural sources of antioxidants that exist.
"Dark chocolate has a higher percentage of healthy antioxidants, without the increased sugar and saturated fats added to milk chocolate," Scroggs said.
Chocolate has been a favorite food for centuries, according to the American Dietetic Association. "It has become a symbol for love, indulgence, temptation and now, we can justify it for its health attributes," Scroggs said.
Darker Chocolate Packs a Punch
"The main reason that eating dark chocolate, versus milk or white chocolate, reduces cancer risks is because it has a higher percentage of cacao, and thus antioxidants," Scroggs said.
As the cacao content goes up, there also is less room for sugar. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, people should aim for pure dark chocolate that contains at least 65 percent cacao, as opposed to the kind of chocolate commonly used in cakes and cookies, which contain more calories, sugar and unhealthy fats.
When eating chocolate, looking at portion size and calorie content also is crucial. Recommended servings for dark chocolate are seven ounces per week, which is about one ounce per day.
"Savoring a small amount of dark chocolate is much better than gulping soft drinks or eating doughnuts," Scroggs said. "Remember, dark chocolate is still a calorie-dense food that can be high in fat. You can enjoy it daily as part of a balanced diet, as long as you keep your portion size in check."
Dark Chocolate Gift Guide
Here are some tips on buying a Valentine's Day gift that is good for the heart in more ways than one.
* Choose dark chocolate with a high cacao percentage (65 percent or higher).
* Buy chocolate that can be eaten in small portions, such as individually wrapped chocolates or boxed candy (approximately 1 oz per serving).
* Check the ingredients. Make sure they don't contain fats, such as palm and coconut oils, and they are made without the use of 'hydrogenated' or 'partially hydrogenated' oils.
* Include a special message in a Valentine's Day card. Remind the person you love that dark chocolate can aid in cancer prevention. Because it's only healthful in small portions, also encourage him or her to share the chocolates with others.
* Give cocoa powder " it also makes a great gift. In addition to dark chocolate candies, gourmet cocoa powder, used for hot chocolate and baking, also comes in 65 percent cacao versions.
* Make your Valentine's Day shopping easy and fun by looking-up the nutrition information and portion sizes of your favorite brands before hitting the stores. Most companies now list everything online.
For additional information, visit www.mdanderson.org/focused.
M. D. Anderson experts available for interview:
Sally Scroggs, M.S., R.D., L.D., Health Education Manager, Cancer Prevention Center
Scroggs is a registered dietitian and health educator in M. D. Anderson's Cancer Prevention Center. She received a master's degree in health education from Texas A & M University. She currently works with clients to individually assess their food intake, nutrient supplements and botanical supplements. She has presented at oncology education programs for health professionals, and to physicians on alternative nutrition therapies and the role of nutrition in cancer risk reduction.