Chocolate for Valentine’s Day: What’s the Scoop on this Popular Valentine’s Day Staple?
Chocolate is a favorite food of many people. We have been enjoying chocolate for thousands of years. Who doesn’t like candy bars, ice cream, cake, or a cold glass of chocolate milk? Chocolate comes from the fruit of the cacao tree, native to Central and South America. Since chocolate comes from a plant it contains phytochemicals (plant compounds), in particular one specific compound called flavanols. Flavanols are supposed to have an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effect, but the research has been inconsistent. There may be some benefits to using chocolate for heart health, digestion, improved mood, and less inflammation.
If you are looking to get higher flavanol in your chocolate, look for products that contain the highest percentage of pure cacao (usually your darker chocolates and pure cocoa powders (Natural cocoa powder is the most undiluted source of flavonols). When they take the cacao fruit and make it into chocolate that we eat, often much of the flavanols are lost and any health benefits are reduced. Look for chocolate that has at least 70% cacao. It is also important to note chocolate contains caffeine, which some people may be sensitive to. Here is the breakdown of other types of chocolate:
- Milk chocolate does contain some flavanols, but much less than dark chocolates and pure cocoa powders.
- White chocolate does not contain any flavanols.
Chocolate is often consumed as part of foods made with fats (oils and butter) and refined carbohydrates (sugars). If these foods are consumed in high quantities and too frequently, they can affect your weight and other medical conditions. The recommendation is to eat the chocolate with the highest % of cacao, but keep the portions small and not too often. I suggest adding 1-2 TB high cacao chocolate chips or finely grating high cacao chocolate into yogurt or a smoothie or sprinkling some onto your morning oatmeal. You can also use chocolate nibs which are crumbled bits of dried cocoa beans. You can add the nibs to smoothies, and oatmeal or add to healthy homemade trail mix.
Any food can fit into a healthy diet, it’s all a matter of balance. Since Valentine’s Day is only once a year, it’s okay to enjoy a delicious chocolate treat!