This Valentine’s Day, reassess your feelings about chocolate, getting rid of guilt or fear and replacing it with understanding and mindfulness. Being selective about which chocolate you eat and how much you indulge will make all the difference between a healthy relationship and a toxic one.
There are three types of chocolate: dark, milk, and white. To get the highest level of antioxidants and the least amount of added fat and sugar, dark chocolate is your best bet. The darker the chocolate, the higher the percentage of cocoa solids. Cocoa solids are obtained by drying and roasting the cocoa beans and then grinding them into a paste called chocolate liquor, which consists of about 50% dry particles and 50% cocoa butter. The percentage of cocoa solids in a chocolate bar refers to both the dry particles and the cocoa butter. Sugar is added to the cocoa solids to make a chocolate bar, so the percentage of cocoa solids indicates how much cocoa you have vs added sugar or other ingredients. A good quality dark chocolate bar should have at least 70% cocoa solids to be beneficial. (Milk chocolate typically only has about 30% cocoa solids and white chocolate has none or very little).
Dark chocolate is high in antioxidants called flavanols that offer many health benefits:
- Heart health – the antioxidants relax blood vessels and help lower blood pressure. They also raise HDL (good) cholesterol and inhibit the oxidation of LDL (bad) cholesterol so that it doesn’t stick to the artery walls and increase the risk of heart attack or stroke.
- Diabetes risk – cocoa flavanols improve your body’s sensitivity to insulin (how effectively insulin works in your body), thus reducing insulin resistance and decreasing the risk of developing diabetes.
- Brain health – the flavanols in cocoa also improve blood flow to the brain and improve brain function.
- Mood booster – chocolate triggers the production of endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain that create feelings of pleasure. It also contains serotonin, which is an antidepressant.
- Nutrient rich – in addition to the high levels of antioxidants, dark chocolate is high in iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, and fiber. It also contains potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and selenium.
To keep your relationship with chocolate healthy, moderation is key. Feel free to eat about one ounce of 70%+ dark chocolate per day, (if you eat two ounces one day, just skip the next day). Eat chocolate mindfully and take pleasure in knowing that you are improving your health while enjoying a delicious treat.