TYLER (KYTX) - If you want to spoil your sweetheart this Valentine's Day, and keep his or her health in mind, researchers have a sweet prescription for you. They say dark chocolate is packed with some heart healthy benefits and can even protect you from some types of cancer.
CBS 19's Dana Hughey found out what sets dark chocolates apart from the rest in "Sweet Prescription," a CBS 19 Special Report.
When it comes to your chocolate craving, just know, not all chocolate is created equal. Health experts say when in doubt, darker is better. Cindy Caid is a self-proclaimed chocolate enthusiast.
There are times when I go a little overboard. Recently I just bought my last bag of peppermint dark chocolate. I am sad to see that go. I have tried chocolate that has orange in it. I have even bought my husband a chocolate bar that had bacon in it," says Cindy Caid, dark chocolate enthusiast.
If you make your way around Cindy's house, you'll find little chocolate stashes, but not just any chocolate, dark chocolate.
"My grandson found my dark chocolate stash in my bedroom and got into it and claimed that the monkey that was jumping on my bed got my chocolate. Lulu the monkey got your chocolate," says Cindy.
Cindy likes to cook treats for her family using dark chocolate. She says it was the intense flavor that got her hooked and the benefits are a bonus.
"I started reading articles, seeing things in newspapers and magazines that it actually has health benefits and I was like, yes! That's great. You know everybody is watching their weight and that would be hard for me to give up. So, I can still have it and not feel too guilty about it," says Cindy.
Natalie Overstreet is a clinical dietitian at Trinity Mother Frances. She says those little pieces of dark decadence are loaded with antioxidants. "The cocoa that is in the dark chocolate contains the antioxidants, which are molecules that help prevent the oxidation of other cells in your body," says Natalie Overstreet, Clinical Dietitian with Trinity Mother Frances.
Researchers say the higher the percentage of cocoa in the chocolate, the better it is for you. 70% or higher packs the best antioxidant punch. "What happens when you eat antioxidant rich foods, those antioxidants bind to those free radicals and keep them from destroying other cells in your body," says Natalie Overstreet.
Dietitians say that's where you get the protection against cancer and cardiovascular disease. Some studies show even more benefits for dark chocolate: It's been proven to lower blood pressure; increase elasticity of blood vessels and decrease plaque on blood vessels; dark chocolate also reduces inflammation in the body; and can lower LDL, or bad cholesterol.
"Because chocolate does contain a lot of calories as well, make sure we are exercising. Make sure we have a well balanced diet overall," says Natalie Overstreet.
But remember, before you go diving into a box of chocolates, like these from Sweet Gourmet, dietitians say moderation is key. They say it's best to stick to 1.5 to 3.5 ounces of dark chocolate a day and don't enjoy it with a side of milk. "Milk and chocolate, while it does taste wonderful together, it is not the best as far as getting those health benefits, because the milk is going to inhibit the amount of antioxidants you can absorb from that chocolate," says Natalie Overstreet.
Cindy says her husband, kids and grandchildren can expect dark chocolate from her this Valentines Day, like her homemade cake, she'll be serving them up with love.
"Instead of handing them just pure sugar, I will feel a little bit better about giving them something that will benefit them health wise," says Cindy Caid.
And if you are one of those people that likes just a taste of dark chocolate at bedtime, dietitians say that's not a great idea since it contains caffeine and that could keep you up at night.