Why Chocolate Is the Perfect Valentine’s Gift

Unless…!

Two of my favorite sayings are “Before there was medicine, there was food” and its corollary: “Before there was food, there was chocolate.”

The first insight reminds my patients and friends that food is medicine. In fact, it was the first medicine—and it remains one of the most important and most effective medicines we can take.

The second saying is more playful: chocolate is of course a food; however, some of us would say—only half-jokingly—that it’s the most important food! Not only does it taste good, it conveys a wealth of health benefits.

Chocolate is made from cocoa—the powder of fermented and roasted cocoa seeds. Rich in flavonoids, cocoa contains antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antidepressant, and many other therapeutic properties. As a result, chocolate can protect against infections, cardiovascular disorders, cancer, diabetes, obesity, neurodegenerative disorders, and many other health problems. Dark chocolate has less sugar than other forms, so it is recommended over varieties like milk and white chocolate.

A 100-gram (3.5-ounce) bar of dark chocolate with 70–85% cocoa contains:

  • 11 grams of fiber
  • 67% of the RDI for iron
  • 58% of the RDI for magnesium
  • 89% of the RDI for copper
  • 98% of the RDI for manganese
  • Plus potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium

The fatty acid profile of dark chocolate is also excellent. The fats are mostly saturated and monounsaturated, with small amounts of polyunsaturated fat.

(https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/sweets/10638/2)

Dark chocolate improves cardiovascular health

A study at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine found that a few squares of dark chocolate a day reduced the risk of heart attack by as much as 50% in some cases! The flavanols in cocoa beans appear to reduce platelet clumping, similar to—though not as effectively as—aspirin. Clumping platelets can form a blood clot that causes a heart attack. Similarly, a review of 136 publications by researchers at the Harvard University School of Public Health concluded that chocolate and cocoa may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering blood pressure, reducing LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) oxidation, and reducing inflammation.

Consumption of flavanol-rich cocoa also relaxes arterial blood vessels, improves arterial blood flow and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Other studies have shown that chocolate consumption increased blood flow to extremities, including the brain, which could be particularly helpful to elderly patients at risk for dementia.

Dark chocolate reduces blood pressure

Several studies have shown that prolonged consumption of cocoa or cocoa-containing products leads to decreased blood pressure (BP) in hypertensives. And, because many hypertensive patients discontinue their prescribed medications after a year, chocolate can be a more affordable—and delicious—alternative to a lifetime of prescribed medication. (But check with your doctor before stopping ANY prescribed medication!)

Dark chocolate reduces insulin resistance

A tiny study by Italian researchers found that three ounces of dark chocolate a day for 15 days significantly lowered insulin resistance (a risk factor in diabetes), relative to the subjects who ate three ounces of white chocolate (which lacks the flavanol phytochemicals of dark chocolate) daily for the same amount of time.

Chocolate reduces oxidative stress

Oxidative stress—the overproduction of free radicals as a result of smoking, obesity, diabetes, pollution, and other factors—is eased by chocolate! The flavonoids in chocolate counteract this oxidative stress and protect from vascular damage.

Chocolate improves mood and reduces Cultural Stress

Dark chocolate has been found to improve mood by increasing serotonin and endorphin levels in the brain, thereby easing the 24/7 impact of Cultural Stress.

Chocolate is a stimulant

The caffeine in chocolate is a stimulant. For a quick pick-me-up, try chocolate!

Chocolate can help people with chronic fatigue syndrome

Subjects with chronic fatigue syndrome consumed 1-1/2 ounces of 85% cocoa dark chocolate every day for eight weeks and reported feeling less fatigued after eating the chocolate, according to researcher Steve Atkin, PhD. Researchers believe that chocolate enhances the action of neurotransmitters, like serotonin, which help regulate mood and sleep.

Chocolate probably does NOT cause acne

It’s more likely that the sugar in a chocolate bar is to blame for any correlation between chocolate and acne. That’s another reason to reach for dark chocolate and reduce your intake of sugars and other refined carbohydrates if you’re worried about skin breakouts.

In fact, chocolate may protect your skin from sun damage

Dietary antioxidants contribute to endogenous photoprotection and are important for the maintenance of skin health. In this study, women who consumed high flavanol cocoa powder for 12 weeks experienced significantly less (25%) sun damage and greater blood flow to the skin for significant increases in skin density and skin hydration than the control group.

Chocolate is delicious

Eating chocolate in moderation is an easy way to increase your consumption of minerals, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, and anti-depressant compounds!

And more!
All of these benefits remain an incomplete listing of the wonders of chocolate. However, love—like health—is individual. You know best what would please your Valentine, but here are a few possible reasons to avoid a gift of chocolate:

Sugar content: Sugar is a culprit in many health conditions including obesity, diabetes, kidney disease, and of course, tooth decay. It’s hard to imagine that a Valentine’s Day treat would be the tipping point in any of these—but of course you know your Valentine better than I do!

Migraine risk: Some people may experience an increase in migraines when eating chocolate regularly due to cocoa’s tyramine, histamine, and phenylalanine content. However, research is mixed.

Bone health: There is some evidence that excessive chocolate might contribute to osteoporosis in older women. However, evidence is again mixed.

Allergies: Some people are allergic or sensitive to one or more of the compounds in chocolate. If your Valentine is one of the, you certainly won’t want to give them a case of hives or worse!

Wishing you love this Valentine’s Day—and remember to love and honor yourself, as well! Love is an important part of happiness (my Insight that inspired the artwork above). To receive daily inspirational Insights, download my free app!

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