It's Valentine's Day and I must confess - I am hopelessly entangled in a love affair... with chocolate. I am not worried about my wife being upset. She is embroiled in her own passionate relationship with chocolate.
Odds are you and your loved ones also share this love for the melt-in-your-mouth goodness of good old chocolate.
You might think that chocolate and healthy living cannot live together. Wrong! Food scientists have discovered that chocolate does indeed have health attributes.
Now don't go grabbing a king-sized Hershey's bar. The majority of the benefits are associated with the flavonoids that are found primarily in dark chocolate.
For me, it's a bitter pill to swallow. I have tried to enjoy dark chocolate. But after 50 years of savoring high-cal Hershey, Cadbury and Mars milk chocolate products, my taste buds can't acclimate to the earthy, less sweet stuff.
Too bad. Research tells us dark chocolate is crammed with high-quality antioxidants - the substances that just might reduce our risk of developing cancer and heart disease.
You may also not be aware that cocoa and chocolate are rich in magnesium and iron, minerals that your body craves.
There's no disputing that chocolate is America's favorite flavor. Trailing far behind are vanilla and berry. The bad news: 71% percent of America's chocolate lovers prefer milk chocolate to the much healthier dark chocolate - and 22% of all chocolate consumption takes place between 8 p.m. and midnight!
Okay so we love our chocolate and we love it in the dark... we just don't love dark chocolate.
Maybe a few facts about flavonoids will help enlighten you and lure you to the dark side.
According to the website of the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic:
"Flavonoids provide important protective benefits to plants, such as in repairing damage and shielding from environmental toxins. When we consume plant-based foods rich in flavonoids, it appears that we also benefit from this antioxidant power. Antioxidants are believed to help the body's cells resist damage caused by free radicals, formed by normal bodily processes such as breathing or environmental contaminants like cigarette smoke.
"When the body lacks adequate levels of antioxidants, free radical damage ensues, leading to increases in LDL-cholesterol oxidation and plaque formation on arterial walls. In addition to their antioxidant capabilities, flavonoids also:
•Are thought to help reduce platelet activation
•May affect the relaxation capabilities of blood vessels
•May positively affect the balance of certain hormone-like compounds called eicosanoids, which are thought to play a role in cardiovascular health.
So what are flavonoids?
The Cleveland Clinic says flavonoids are naturally-occurring compounds found in plant-based foods recognized as exuding certain health benefits. Flavonoids are found in a wide array of foods and beverages, such as cranberries, apples, peanuts, chocolate, onions, tea and red wine. There are more than 4,000 flavonoid compounds; flavonoids are a subgroup of a large class called polyphenols."
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, chocolate consumption has been linked to a longer life. Sweet!
Too much chocolate has been linked to obesity which could result in the onset of diabetes. Some researchers have also found that the stearic acid found in chocolate may promote blood clots.
So the rule of chocolate-covered thumb is ALL THINGS IN MODERATION!
The World Atlas of Chocolate notes, "There is no reason chocolate can't be eaten in moderation. Eating one or two pieces a month may do the trick, but remember that eating 10 times that won't increase the benefits tenfold... use common sense... because surplus calories leads to surplus belt sizes. However a chocolate treat now and then won't hurt!"
Now that you know a little about chocolate, you may want to put down that leftover 5-pound heart-shaped box of gooey chocolate treats. Next Valentine's Day, if you really love yourself and your partner, you may want to shop for chocolate with a high percentage of cacao which is the basis for all real chocolate.
Candy makers tend to overprocess the good stuff so the end result is a chocolate candy that has lots of sugar and fat but little of the health benefits. Do you really want a treat that's been fermented, alkalized and roasted? Most popular chocolates melt into this category.
Your best bet is to choose dark chocolate over milk chocolate. Dark chocolate retains the highest level of health-boosting flavonoids.
There is a glimmer of hope for us milk chocolate lovers. Some manufacturers are perfecting ways to retain the highest level of flavonoids while still providing yummy taste.
Be still my beating chocolate heart!