Be Mine

Posted February 14, 2008 in Mind Body Spirit

Valentine’s Day, our mid-winter homage to love (or to really bring it home that no one loves you), is actually named for three St. Valentines, all of whom were purported to do something romantical and all of whom died horrible martyrs hundreds of years ago. According to the History Channel, one of the legends contends that Valentine was a priest during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers he outlawed marriage for young men, which probably sounded totally logical to all those wise, older politicians in the community. But Valentine continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, he was immediately put to death. You just can’t help but smile.

In his honor, we have a holiday once a year to prop up the greeting card, rose and chocolate industries. Over one billion dollars worth of chocolate is purchased for Valentine’s Day. And now, in light of recent research, it seems that buying chocolate for your sweetie could help keep her or him around to love a whole lot longer. 

Or so you’d like to believe. But is it really true?

Chocolate, specifically the cocoa bean, contains flavonoids (polyphenol family), a naturally occurring compound found in a wide array of plant-based foods and beverages, such as cranberries, apples, peanuts, onions, tea and red wine. According to the Cleveland Clinic, flavonoids provide important protective/antioxidant benefits to plants, such as repairing damage and shielding from environmental toxins. Consuming antioxidants is believed to help the body’s cells resist damage caused by free radicals, which are formed by normal bodily processes such as breathing or by environmental contaminants such as cigarette smoke. When the body lacks adequate levels of antioxidants, free radical damage can lead to increases in LDL-cholesterol oxidation and plaque formation on arterial walls.

In addition to their antioxidant capabilities, flavonoids are also known to lower blood pressure and may positively affect the balance of certain hormone-like compounds called eicosanoids, which are thought to play a role in cardiovascular health. Basically, it appears that eating chocolate is pretty dang good for the original love organ, your heart.

But before you start stuffing your face with M&Ms and bon-bons, it is important to note that not all chocolate is created equal. I know it’s a major bummer for all the Hershey’s, Mars, Nestle and Cadbury fanatics in the US, but in the case of chocolate, milk does not do the body good. According to a report by Mauro Serafini, PhD, of Italy’s National Institute for Food and Nutrition Research in Rome, only dark chocolate is a potent antioxidant, not milk chocolate or even dark chocolate eaten with milk. Milk interferes with the absorption of antioxidants from chocolate, therefore negating any potential health benefits.

Which means you only get the fat, sugar and calories, which aren’t so good. The reason that milk and sugar were added in the first place is because pure cocoa has a naturally pungent, not sweet, intensely bitter taste that just so happens to come from the flavonoids. When cocoa is processed in order to become more appetizing, it loses the bitter flavor but also the associated flavonoids. The darker the chocolate, the higher the pure cacao percentage and the better it is for you.

However, regardless of any health benefits, remember that moderation is the key. A 100-gram serving of Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate Bar has 531 calories, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If you ate that much raw apple you’d only take in 52 calories. The negative health consequences connected with obesity will outweigh any positives gained from chowing down on chocolate, so if you truly wish to reap the cardiovascular benefits, enjoy a small piece of dark chocolate once in awhile. Like, for instance, on Valentine’s Day.





Be the first to comment!

You must be logged in to post a comment.