DALLAS, Feb. 9 (UPI) -- Consider skipping the box of chocolates and replace it with a healthier cup of dark hot cocoa for Valentine's Day, a U.S. dietitian suggests.
"Research suggests that drinking a cup of dark hot chocolate can be equated with drinking a glass of wine in protecting the heart," Lona Sandon, a registered dietitian at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, says in a statement.
Pure chocolate, made from cocoa beans, is rich in flavanol, an anti-oxidant that may help protect arteries from damage, maintain healthy blood flow and fend off heart disease, Sandon says.
Dark chocolate and baking cocoa retain most of the original cocoa bean and are excellent sources of polyphenols, a class of compounds that includes flavanols. Chocolate in its more processed form, however, is loaded with extra oils, milk and sugars that combine to lower its level of polyphenols.
A bar of dark chocolate weighing about 1.5 ounces contains approximately 950 milligrams of anti-oxidants, while a similar bar of milk chocolate contains about 400 milligrams. White chocolate is a confection of fat and sugar and contains no anti-oxidants, Sandon says.
"Candy bars and boxed chocolates may be tasty, but their added fat and calories make them less healthy treats," Sandon says.