Chocolate For V Day? Don’t Turn V Day Into D Day!

Author: Shannon Miller

Valentine's Day Chocolates

Chocolate is a health food?   Hooray! 

Wait a minute…that huge box of chocolates from a Valentine Sweetheart may not be exactly health food. Take a step back and let’s see how to do chocolate the healthy way.

Where does chocolate come from?

First of all, not all chocolates are created equal. Where they originate may be somewhat equal. Chocolate comes from the cocoa plant. Cocoa is harvested and then manufactured in many ways. The plant itself is very healthy. Cocoa beans when eaten plain are powerful antioxidants.

What is an antioxidant?

Flavenols, the most powerful of the flavenoids, exist in the bean. Flavenols are antioxidants that exist in this and other plants that help protect the plant from dangerous environmental toxins. When ingested in the human body, the flavenols will, in effect, protect the human from toxins as well. The antioxidant has an extra electron that will attach itself to a harmful molecule and then neutralize it before it can break down the structure of the host being. These harmful molecules are called free radicals. The free radicals are broken molecules in search of a host. When they find a host, they can cause disease or bodily destruction (imagine your skin in contact with a free radical, and imagine the skin damage that can occur over time).

Examples of free radicals are:

  • smoke
  • environmental pollutants
  • unhealthy foods

Foods rich in antioxidants, such as plants rich in flavenols, can combat these free radicals and keep the body healthier for a longer period of time, based on research in nations and populations whose diets are full of antioxidant-rich foods. Not only that, but it appears that antioxidant-rich foods can help heal a previously unhealthy body tissue., especially in repair of the heart and arteries. A study by the Catholic Universtiy of Campobasso shows that a society that consumes a moderate amount of dark chocolate is far less likely to have hardening of arteries and heart disease. (Science Daily, Sept. 23, 2008)

What other benefits are there to chocolate?

Chocolate is known to release dopamine in the brain, the feel good hormone. Exercise, laughter, and affection are other ways to increase dopamine.

What kind of chocolate should I have?

Back to that heart of chocolate that is staring you down the day after Valentine’s Day. Though the original cocoa plant was an antioxidant powerhouse, it went through a lot of processes before making it to your candy dish. The cocoa bean is horribly bitter, as can be attested by anyone who scooped in to Mom’s baking cocoa can, only to be spitting and begging for milk a moment later. In the process that Valentine chocolate went through, it could have been minimally processed and is probably still rather bitter and strong-tasting, or it was processed in to milk chocolate. There is very little of the original flavenol left in milk chocolate, and is health-wise practically pointless.

Next year, when your honey goes out for a last minute chocolate run for a forgotten Valentine’s gift, remind him that a healthy chocolate is at least 70% cacao, or 70% retained from the plant. Even a chocolate that looks dark may not have the true character of the original plant. Dark chocolates that are 70% cacao will release that information on the label.

How much is a serving?

Now, how much of that antioxidant-rich cacao dark chocolate is safe today? Looking at a regular sized chocolate bar, 1 square (1 ounce) of that bar is enough for one day. Yes, that is it. The cocoa plant is an unusual plant in its high calorie and fat content, so consuming too much of a good thing can create the opposite of the desired effect. Add the processing, which is usually more fat and sugar, and the opposite effect is compounded.

SML TIP:  Yes, chocolate can be a beautiful thing when one knows its worth and knows how to use this powerful tool.  Like all things, the beauty is in moderation.

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