Valentine’s Day is almost here! Although historians and some scientists posit many theories regarding the origin of Valentine’s Day and the heart shape we’ve come to associate with the day, most of the advertisements in print and other forms of media are geared to gift giving…primarily to women. I often wonder why the ads tend to give males short shrift in the Valentine gift-giving department. Maybe it’s easier to focus on the jewelry (diamonds!), flowers and fancy dinners promoting romance. (It’s difficult to find romance in a snow blower or a bench saw.)
There is one gift, however, universally enjoyed by men and women and that’s chocolate. Heart-shaped chocolate is romantic, the smooth and silky melt-in-your-mouth consistency is sexy. Chocolates look, smell and taste like love. Pay close attention to the chocolate commercials and the scenes are perfectly scripted for a loving experience. And one of the best things about chocolate is that it tastes just as wonderful even if you’re eating it without a Valentine partner by your side.
So here’s this week’s tip: Chocolate is good for you! (In moderation, of course, let’s not throw caution to the wind.) Dark chocolate is especially good for you, and if you or your Valentine is watching their sugar intake you can find delicious dark chocolate sweetened with stevia, monk fruit, or erythritol (the only sugar alcohol that does not cause abdominal or stomach upsets…a definite mood killer!) Erythritol does not spike blood sugar or insulin levels and is an excellent alternative for diabetics.
The aforementioned refined-sugar alternatives are natural, and a much better choice for sugar-free…well, sugar-free anything.
What are the Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate?
The most important thing to understand about the health benefits of chocolate is that they only apply to dark chocolate—and the higher the percentage of dark chocolate, the better the health benefits! Sad, perhaps, but definitely true. But if you only eat milk chocolate, the reasons that follow could make you an enthusiastic convert. The following are some of the proven benefits of dark chocolate (at least 70% cacao).
- 1 ounce of dark chocolate contains (70-85%)
- Total carbohydrate: 13 grams
- 7 grams of sugar (if sweetened with refined sugar)
- 3 grams of dietary fiber
- 168 calories (108 calories from fat)
- 2 grams of protein
- Glycemic load: 4
- 9.5 mg of omega 3 fatty acids and 341 mg of omega-6 fatty acids
- Most of the fats are saturated or monounsaturated
- 19% of the Daily value (DV) for Iron
- 16% of the DV for Magnesium
- 25% of the DV for Copper
- 27% of the DV for Manganese
- Some potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium
- 22.4 mg of caffeine and 225 mg of theobromine (a substance similar to caffeine)
- Total carbohydrate: 13 grams
Dark chocolate is an excellent source of antioxidants. Antioxidants can help prevent the damage caused by oxidative stress and it is believed that chronic diabetes of any type is a disorder of oxidative stress.
- The flavanols in dark chocolate can stimulate the blood vessels to form Hnitric oxide, NO, which helps relax blood vessels—this can lower blood pressure and improve blood flow.
- Dark chocolate increases HDL (GOOD) cholesterol and lowers LDL (BAD) cholesterol and lower the risk of heart disease.
- Probably due to the caffeine and theobromine content, dark chocolate can help improve brain functions such as memory and cognition.
- Importantly for those with diabetes, dark chocolate can reduce insulin resistance.
How Much Dark Chocolate Should I Have?
As with so many other things, too much of a good thing is, well, too much! There is no commonly accepted “dosage” for dark chocolate. Dark chocolate does contain a lot of calories and a moderate amount of sugar, unless your chocolate is sweetened with a refined-sugar alternative . Make sure you include the chocolate in your carbohydrate count. Talk to your physician and your nutritionist for specific recommendations. In general, aim for about 1 ounce of dark chocolate 4-5 times a week. This is probably easiest to keep track of as solid chocolate, but you can also use about 4 ounces of baking chocolate and spread out the baked chocolate item over 4-5 days.
One ounce of solid chocolate is equivalent to about 28 grams and 28 grams is equivalent to a bit over 5 ½ teaspoons, so you can also use 1 teaspoon of cacao powder in the evening to make a chocolate drink to relax with before you go to bed. Keep in mind, though, that cacao IS a stimulant and may not be the best thing to have right before bedtime!
So go ahead and present your Valentine with a gift of dark chocolate; and if you love yourself, you deserve dark chocolate too! Ahhh, dark chocolate: good to give, good to get, good to eat and good for you and your Valentine!