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Valentines Day and chocolate are two things that are high on many peoples list of favorite things. Although Valentines Day comes but once a year, we can celebrate almost any occasion with chocolate. Birthdays, Fridays, Mondays, a night out or a night in are all appropriate reasons to indulge in enjoying a little chocolate.
I know what you must be thinking: How can a dietician endorse eating chocolate? Many people still believe that a healthy diet and chocolate do not go together.
If you are one of those people, I have good news for you. Chocolate, when eaten in moderation, has many wonderful health benefits. Chocolate is a plant-based food (except for white chocolate, which is not really chocolate at all) and contains minerals such as copper, magnesium, iron and zinc. Obviously, people who must restrict their intake of sugar need to know how much chocolate they can safely eat. But for most people, chocolate can be a small part of a healthy diet.
Dark chocolate containing 70 percent cocoa, which is found in gourmet quality chocolate bars, has the highest concentration of antioxidants of any chocolate product. Dark chocolate is rich in polyphenols, which is an antioxidant. Studies indicate polyphenols may lower the risk of heart disease by preventing the bad cholesterol (LDL) from sticking to artery walls. Polyphenols are also found in red wines and certain types of tea. Chocolate also contains cocoa butter, which contains oleic acid (a monounsaturated fat). Studies have shown that monounsaturated fats have positive effects on cardiovascular disease.
Your mother probably never told you chocolate is a brain food. But, then again, she didnt know that chocolate contains a neurotransmitter, serotonin, which acts like an anti-depressant. In addition, chocolate contains a chemical, phenylethlamine, which works in the brain to produce a sense of well-being and calm. Not that you need all this scientific evidence to know that chocolate is a natural happy food. Its obvious to anyone who enjoys chocolate.
A few things you may not know about chocolate include that its scientific name, theobroma cacao, is literally translated as food of the gods; the average American eats 12 pounds of chocolate per year; and the key to eating chocolate is to let it sit in your mouth and soften before chewing. It is a happy coincidence that the melting point of chocolate just happens to be the same as our body temperature.
So go ahead and indulge in a little chocolate on Valentines Day, or any day. You can always tell people that its good for you.
Dorothy Ferguson is a registered dietitian at OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center in Rockford.