Its 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.