Every year, heart-shaped boxes of candy fly off store shelves as people gear up for Valentine’s Day. Large or small, their contents have come to symbolize love and affection for that special someone.
Sharing sweets with your sweetheart might help boost the happiness of your relationship. But, according to an Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation scientist, there also is growing evidence of the long-term health benefits found inside those shiny red boxes, specifically if you lean toward dark chocolate.
“Epidemiological studies show an association between the intake of dark chocolate and health benefits, primarily protection from heart disease,” said OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D. “So a moderate amount of dark chocolate almost certainly can have positive effects. But I’d stress ‘moderate’ in this case.”
In other words, if you pick your chocolates wisely on this Feb. 14, you’ll likely accomplish more than warming the heart of your significant other. You might help make their heart healthier, too.
Studies have shown links between dark chocolate and lowered cholesterol, decreased blood pressure, lower body-mass index, improved blood flow, and even reduced risk of diabetes and stroke.
“All of these would fit under the umbrella of inflammation,” said Prescott, a physician and medical researcher. “Heart disease and diabetes caused by obesity are linked to low-level systemic inflammation. It’s often the genesis of the majority of these issues. So if dark chocolate suppresses low levels of inflammation, then you would expect to end up with multiple favorable observations and effects on heart disease and diabetes.”
Other research has shown dark chocolate’s ability to improve mood and suppress appetite.
Prescott said that while plenty of evidence exists, the exact reason for dark chocolate’s health benefits is yet to be proven. Recent studies point to antioxidant properties in cocoa polyphenols — or “micronutrients” — which may assist in the prevention of cardiovascular and inflammatory diseases, metabolic disorders, and possibly more. Flavanols, other substances found in chocolate, have been shown to help lower blood pressure and vascular function, improve cognitive function and even provide UV protection.
But, Prescott warns, before you use this as an excuse to raid the candy aisle, the confection’s health benefits can easily be offset by its high levels of fat, sugar and calories. “It’s kind of a catch-22,” said Prescott. “A little chocolate is fine, but you can’t go on an all-chocolate diet and live forever.”
“Chocolate may be good for the soul and perhaps your love life, but not all chocolate is created equal,” said Prescott. Milk chocolate still has some of the good stuff, but because of the dramatic increase in calories, the sheer volume you’d have to eat would offset any positives.
“Target the purer darker chocolates and varieties with nuts if you want to mix it up,” said Prescott. “Give a smaller box of candy and maybe add some flowers for a calorie-free boost that’s sure to please your sweetie.”
MORE ON CHOCOLATE:
· For the best health benefits, look for dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 70 percent or higher. “The higher the percentage, the fewer unnecessary calories will be present from sugar and other additives,” said OMRF’s Dr. Stephen Prescott.
· Americans purchase 55-65 million pounds of chocolate for Valentine’s Day.
· Research shows dark chocolate produces the feel-good hormone serotonin in your brain, which causes you to feel happy. According to Dr. Prescott, this feeling of pleasure can also cause people to eat less.
· Americans love chocolate, but Switzerland leads the pack with a whopping 22 pounds consumed annually per person.
· Why does chocolate symbolize love? It can be traced back to the Aztecs, who gave chocolate as gifts on special occasions.