February 10, 2009

Help your Valentine prevent cancer too

A U.S. health educator advises giving the gift of cancer prevention -- dark chocolate on Valentine's Day.

Sally Scroggs of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center's Cancer Prevention Center in Houston also advises adding a special message in the card noting dark chocolate may aid in cancer prevention.

Dark chocolate has a higher percentage of healthy antioxidants, without the increased sugar and saturated fats added to milk chocolate, Scroggs said in a statement. Choose dark chocolate with a high cacao percentage -- 65 percent or higher.

Recent research indicates dark chocolate's chemicals act as antioxidants that have shown to play a role in reducing cancer risks by helping 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, Scroggs said.

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.

Cocoa powder -- for hot chocolate and baking -- also makes great Valentine's gift, Scroggs recommended.