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It’s that time of year again. Heart shapes are everywhere (even Duncan Donuts has heart shaped donuts) and red and pink color schemes seem to be as common as air. That’s right, it’s Valentine’s Day. This holiday either makes you giddy and so grateful for being with the love of your life (or whoever seems to hold your infatuation at the moment) or it instills fear and anxiety. No matter how you feel about this particular holiday, there is always one positive: Chocolate. Except for those odd few people who don’t like chocolate. (I still don’t understand how that is possible….)

Anywho, besides being delicious and the (unofficial) cure to all bad days, chocolate actually has health benefits such as….

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improve cholesterol
  • Prevent memory decline
  • Lower risk of CVD
  • Improve blood flow
  • Enhance brain function
  • Activate brain receptors (causing a calming sensation that can boost your mood and ease stress)

The cocoa in chocolate is the prominent source  of the health benefits. Cocoa is a super good source for flavonols, which are an antioxidant. The less processed the chocolate, the more flavonols it contains. So, be sure to pick the least processed chocolate possible to get the most benefits. It’s quality over quantity here! Dark chocolate also packs more favonols than its milk chocolate counterpart. You would need to eat 1,500 calories of milk chocolate to get the same amount of flavonols as 300 calories of the dark variety.( i.e. more bang for your caloric buck!) You have got to be careful when reaching for chocolate labeled “dark”, though. The key is to look for at least 70% cocoa. Some chocolates labeled “dark” have only a mere 40% cocoa *Cough, M&M’s, cough* Also, take a look at the ingredients. Is cocoa the first ingredient or is sugar? We want cocoa to be #1.

Now, chocolate is pretty calorie dense and has lots of sugar, so you have to be careful about adding it into your diet. Cacao nibs, an unsweetened chocolate bar or unsweetened cocoa powder are your best bets. Try adding it to your smoothies, oatmeal or even cookies (Maybe I will try a chocolate version of my infamous breakfast cookies, sounds yummy, right?). Chocolate covered strawberries are also pretty popular around V-day. You can kill two birds with one stone here, flavonols AND fruit, score. I love adding a tablespoon or two of unsweetened cocoa powder to my protein shakes (I usually use Trader Joe’s Soy Protein Powder, the two really complement each other). Give one of these a try and tell me what you think!

Remember, one ounce of dark chocolate contains about 160 calories, so be sure to keep your serving sizes in check!

So, valentine or not, treat yourself to a little high-quality chocolate and feel good about doing it!