Beautifully packaged, Chocolates are a popular Valentine’s Day gift as they have been forever associated with love and romance. Experts recommend that skip the milk chocolate candy and replace it with a cup of dark hot cocoa or dark chocolate bar.
“In terms of protecting the heart, research suggests that drinking a cup of dark hot chocolate can be equated with drinking a glass of wine,” says Dr Lona Sandon, a registered dietitian at UT Southwestern Medical Center who urges people to eat and drink in moderation.
Typical candy bars and boxed chocolates may be tasty, but their added fat, sugar, and calories make them less healthy treats, she says. But pure chocolate, made from cocoa beans, is rich in flavanol, an antioxidant that may help protect arteries from damage, maintain healthy blood flow, and fend off heart disease.
When two persons are attracted to each other, a virtual explosion of adrenaline-like neurochemicals occurs. Phenylethylamine, a naturally occurring amphetamine, speeds up the flow of information between nerve cells. Chocolate contains phenylethylamine and this is one reason it is often used by persons embarking on a new relationship. The caffeine and theobromine in chocolate are both stimulants and may at least partly be the reason as to why chocolate is so addictive. Chocolate triggers the release of endorphins, the feel-good hormones, which bring on a feeling of well-being. They can also bring about feelings of euphoria. Serotonin is also released when chocolate is eaten, which makes a person more calm and happier. Chocolate contains tryptophan, which produces serotonin.
It also contains anandamide, an endogenous cannabinoid in the brain, which helps to stimulate and open synapses in the brain and facilitates easy transmission of the “feel good” waves. Anandamide was discovered in 1992 and has been named after “ananda”, the Sanskrit word, which means joy, bliss and so has been called the “bliss molecule”.
Dark cocoa and baking cocoa contain a higher percentage of cocoa solids and less or no added sugar, respectively. They are excellent sources of polyphenols, a class of compounds that includes flavanols. Chocolate in its more processed form, meanwhile, is loaded with extra oils, milk, and sugars that combine to lower its level of polyphenols.
A bar of dark chocolate weighing about 1½ ounces contains approximately 950 milligrams of antioxidants, while a similar bar of milk chocolate contains only about 400 milligrams. White chocolate is a confection of fat and sugar and contains no antioxidants.
“Cocoa by itself may provide some health benefits. It’s what is added to it that’s not so good for us,” she says.
A day of indulgence should be tempered, she advises. It’s still important to pay attention to the overall calorie counts.