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The Skinny on Chocolate—The Good and The Bad

Valentine’s Day gives everyone the opportunity to lavish love on their favorite people through gifts like a romantic dinner, a romantic get-away, jewelry, perfume, flowers, wine, champagne and the ever-popular chocolates in the familiar heart-shaped box. Even people on diets enjoy receiving chocolates on special occasions. From the commercial chocolate bar to the expensive chocolate truffle, how good is chocolate for your health?

The best chocolate to eat is dark chocolate. Small daily doses of flavonoid-rich dark chocolate eaten over a two-week period have been found to help the blood vessels to better dilate. Scientists targeted epicatechin, a specific flavonoid that was absorbed at high levels in the blood. This was particularly beneficial in blood vessel functions. Research has found that elevated levels of epicatechin trigger the release of active substances that increase blood flow through arteries and improve heart health.

Flavanoids, chemical compounds with antioxidant properties found in a variety of plants, have been shown to promote a number of cardiovascular benefits, including decreasing bad LDL cholesterol as well as the body’s inflammatory immune responses and inhibiting the accumulation of blood platelets which contribute to blood clots that produce heart attacks and strokes.

Even with this good news, chocolate lovers beware. Don’t go shoveling down Snickers and Hershey bars just yet. Chocolate is still a processed food and many chocolates are manufactured in such a way that much of the antioxidants are damaged during standard processing. Most consumers don’t understand that chocolate comes from the cocoa bean, which is a plant. Without adding lots of sugar, people would find the cocoa bean extremely bitter. Chocolate manufacturers remove flavanoids from chocolate because of their natural bitter taste. This leaves only the sugar, fat and calories. Don’t forget that one ounce of dark chocolate still contains 9 grams of fat and 149 calories.

Many people call themselves chocoholics. Being a serious chocoholic is similar to other addicts. Chocoholics can feel guilt, frustration, depression, anxiety and restlessness when exposed to chocolate. All these feelings are felt by people addicted to drugs or alcohol. Of course, that is the extreme of loving chocolate. For many, chocolate has a more subtle meaning beyond the delicious taste of chocolate. It gives fleeting moments of decadent pleasure. Sometimes there is guilt, or eating chocolate can give that elusive bittersweet feeling like an unsuccessful love affair.

So is chocolate good or bad? Despite the benefits of flavanoids found in chocolate, there are healthier options like blueberries, apples, grapes, onions, greens and broccoli. According to the USDA, blueberries are the top-rated food as far as antioxidant capacity is concerned. They have anthocyanins that are more powerful than the flavanoids found in cocoa for protecting against free radical damage. Unfortunately, blueberries and other berries have a relatively short growing season. During those months when fresh berries are not available, you can purchase them frozen at your grocery store.

Sometimes chocolate is the perfect food for that special occasion. If you want to eat chocolate, here are three considerations: Use moderation when consuming chocolate. Instead of wolfing down, savor each bite. If you have constant cravings for sweets, you are likely not eating a correct and balanced diet. If you crave chocolate when you are upset, lonely or bored, you might find that there are underlying emotional issues which need to be resolved.

Do not eat chocolate if you have a disease and are struggling with serious health issues. Only eat chocolate if you are healthy. Dark chocolate still contains large quantities of sugar and fat.

Eat only dark chocolate. Dark chocolate has twice as much flavanoids as light or milk chocolate and white chocolate contains no nutrients.

I still believe in celebrating life, and chocolate can be the perfect food. Use common sense when eating chocolate. If you still feel that tinge of guilt, a good compromise would be to eat strawberries dipped in chocolate. But then, Valentine’s Day comes only once a year, so go ahead and enjoy some dark chocolate.

Wishing you all a healthy happy Valentine’s Day!

Daisy Villa is a local yoga teacher. She has recently received her certificate of completion for Reiki 1 & 2 and has added Reiki to her holistic services.

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