My Chocolatey Valentine’s Day!

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By Clara Matsumoto, Healthy Aggies Intern

Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate loved ones and often includes an iconic romantic gift: chocolate. In fact, more than 36 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate will be sold for Valentine’s Day. Though chocolate is thought to be unhealthy since it is a “dessert”, some chocolate possesses health supporting qualities. Unfortunately, I’m not talking about candy bars like Kit Kat since the amount of processed, added sugar in those do more harm than good. I’m talking specifically about dark chocolate which should be 72% cacao or more, and is not processed with added fats and loads of sugar. Dark chocolate not only has a much more complex and rich flavor, it has a multitude of health benefits!

Dark chocolate contains beneficial nutrients. These include polyphenols and flavanols, plant pigments that protect the heart by supporting the production of nitric oxide in the vessel endothelium which helps them relax and improves blood flow, lowering blood pressure. Flavanols also boost brain health by increasing the cerebral blood flow to gray matter. Chocolate contains an abundance of antioxidants which help fight against free radicals, highly reactive molecules that can damage our DNA, and make our skin age faster. It is rich in minerals such as iron, copper, zinc, magnesium, and phosphorus. These minerals help aid in the production of red blood cells, boost the immune system and energy levels, aid in calcium absorption, and keep our bones strong.

Though dark chocolate offers benefits, it’s important to keep the portion small because it is calorie dense!  A recommended portion of chocolate is about an ounce. One ounce of dark chocolate with 70-85% cacao contains about 168 calories, mostly contributed by fat since fat contributes 9 kcal per gram. The good news is that the fat in cacao has a good amount of unsaturated fat in it and the saturated fat (stearic acid) has been shown to have a neutral effect on serum cholesterol.  Palmitic acid, the other type of saturated fat in dark chocolate, does effect blood cholesterol levels, further enforcing that it should be eaten in moderation.

So when you are trying to figure out what to eat for dessert on Valentine’s Day, consider eating some dark chocolate. In small amounts it helps boost cardiovascular and brain health, fights free radicals, and contains beneficial micronutrients. After all, you deserve a sweet indulgent treat that not only tastes great and satisfies your sweet tooth, but also packs a punch in optimizing your health!

Sources:

  1. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/263176.php
  2. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/288165.php
  3. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/286839.php
  4. 4. https://www.thespruceeats.com/fun-valentine-candy-facts-521446
  5. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/dark-chocolate/
  6.  https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/16774-heart-healthy-benefits-of-chocolate

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