Go Loco for Cocoa this Valentine's Day

February 14, 2014

Valentine's Day is here and that means chocolate and love are in the air! Find out the many reasons to include chocolate in your Valentine's Day diet and year round...

Valentine's Day is here and that means chocolate and love are in the air! Chocolate has been on the food radar for over than 2,000 years. From chocolate beverages, sweets, desserts and even entrees (think Mexican mole), chocolate’s uses truly span the gamut. The tasty treat has long been considered an aphrodisiac and more recently researchers point to its many medicinal qualities and health promoting aspects.

There are over 300 chemicals in chocolate, and scientists are constantly discovering new information about how they benefit our body. Mayo clinic studies, for example, have found that chocolate contains stearic acid, a saturated fat that is associated with lower LDL cholesterol levels. Two independent studies from Harvard have arrived at the same conclusion: cocoa is a super food when it comes to cardiovascular and metabolic health. According to these studies, cocoa improves blood pressure, endothelial health, cholesterol levels, and reduces the metabolic precursors leading to heart disease (Journal of Nutrition and The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition respectively).

Other research has pointed to the antioxidant effects of dark chocolate as well as its mood-elevating properties. Antioxidants have the potential to improve overall health, delay the onset of many age-related diseases, prevent macular eye disease, reduce the risk of some cancers, improve cardiovascular function, and more.

And there is even more good news. A study from researchers based at Reading University’s School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, (published in the journal Physiology & Behavior) in the UK, found that consuming cocoa flavanols (a type of flavonoid) may improve aspects of eye and brain function. Cocoa contains a high concentration of flavanols, the phytochemical associated with improved vascular function among other things.

Flavonoid-rich cocoa consumption also was linked to reductions in risk factors for diabetes. Insulin resistance, favorably dropped among people who consumed flavonoid-rich cocoa, compared to controls in other studies.

While all chocolate contains flavonoids, it is important to choose dark chocolate with a cacao content upwards of 70 percent. The higher the cocoa percentage, the more flavanols and antioxidants it contains. This should be clearly stated on the package; if not, look for dark chocolate with the content clearly labeled, and few added ingredients.

So go ahead enjoy some chocolate this Valentine's Day!