Is Chocolate the New Health Food?

chocolateIts hard to miss the signs. The supermarket has shelves are packed with  red heart shaped candy  boxes, the bakery is offering  heart shaped cookies and  the drugstore card aisles   are overflowing with  rows of  red and white cards.  Valentines  Day is right around the corner– and Americans  will be spending more than one billion dollars on chocolate.

For more than 2000 years, chocolate has been viewed  as an aphrodisiac.  It was said the the Aztec ruler Montazuma would drink a big cup of hot  chocolate  before he paid a visit to his harem.  Centuries later scientists  confirmed  his choice of beverage actually identifying a chemical in chocolate ( phenylethylamine to be  technical) that promotes  feelings of attraction and arousal.

For much too long chocolate had been lumped into the “unhealthy” column  along with sugar and fat.  Now researchers  have identified very welcome  psychological and  medical benefits . Chocolate  and its similar ingredient, cocoa can increase levels of endorphins and seratonin that improve  mood and reduce depression.  The flavenols in dark chocolate can lower blood pressure, improve blood flow to the brain  and reduce risk of blood clots.

But don’t trade in a bunch of kale for a bag of chocolate kisses just  yet.   The active healthy ingredients  in chocolate  are reduced with every step of processing used in the manufacture of chocolate products.    In addition the natural health benefits of chocolate can be  sabotaged if it has  been paired  with fat and sugar  such as in chocolate mousse, chocolate cheesecake or a chocolate doughnut. 

Plain dark chocolate has the highest levels of flavenols.  Look for bars of organic  dark chocolate with at least 65% cococa and keep  serving size to a perfect one ounce chunk.    If you select an organic fair trade chocolate product you will improve   both  your life as well as the lives of people who work in the cocoa fields.    To my mind, nothing says I Love You  than  a gift that benefits   both you and the planet.

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