Chocolate! On Valentine’s Day there is lots of it. An estimated 58 million pounds of chocolate will be bought in the week before Valentine’s Day. This year if you are planning to get that special someone this delicious “food of the gods”, consider buying dark chocolate. It will not only make him or her happy but healthy as well. Dark chocolate is known not only as an aphrodisiac, but improves heart health, lowers blood pressure and helps with memory.
Chocolate was originally cultivated in Mexico and Central America by the Aztec and Mayan civilizations from the cacao bean. The Aztecs associated chocolate with the goddess of fertility and the famed King Montezuma used it as an aphrodisiac. The sweetened milk chocolate candy version as we know it did not become coupled with Valentine’s Day until the mid 19th century, when Cadbury figured out how to extract it from the cacao bean and mix it with milk and sugar. He later started selling them in the heart shaped box, and voila! a tradition was born!
Today, the Kuna Indians of Panama continue to serve as a living example of the health effects of chocolate. They have very low blood pressure, even as they age, and some of the lowest rates of heart disease in the world. It turns out they drink very large amounts of raw chocolate. The Kuna drink over 5 cups of cocoa a day and also use it extensively in their diet.
Chocolate, especially in its raw unprocessed form, has a high amount of flavanols, which is an anti-oxidant with many health benefits. Flavanols are highest in products that contain the most cacao content, i.e. dark chocolate.
Here are some of the great health benefits of dark chocolate:
- It lowers the risk heart disease and high blood pressure. In one study, eating just one square of chocolate a day (about a fifth of an ounce) significantly lowered the risk of heart attack.
- Chocolate lowers the risk of stroke. In studies by Swedish researchers, women who ate 1.8 ounces of chocolate a week and men who ate 2.2 ounces of chocolate a week had lower risks of stroke as compared to those who ate little or no chocolate.
- Chocolate may have some effect on lowering risk of diabetes through making people more responsive to insulin.
- It is considered an aphrodisiac, because of its ability to increase the endorphins associated with arousal.
- Chocolate may also make us think more clearly. In one study, countries that had higher chocolate consumption had more Nobel Laureates. It has also been shown to improve memory.
Most health benefits were seen in dark chocolate with at least 60-70% cacoa content. The amount of chocolate thought to be healthy varies but about 1-2 ounces a day is optimal. Eating much more can increase the risk of getting too many calories and sugar. (In the average one-ounce chocolate bar with 70% cacoa, there are about 155 calories, plus 12 grams of sugar.) Pure raw cacao is best, but if choosing sweetened chocolate, try to avoid artificial sweeteners. Honey and other natural sweeteners such as stevia are better.
So when you go to buy chocolate for Valentine’s Day this year-think about buying dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate. It may literally help your love endure even longer!
Fun Facts About Chocolate
- The cacao bean was valued so much by the Maya and Aztec civilizations, they used it as a form of currency.
- In Montezuma’s court drank an estimated 2000 cups of a rich chocolate drink mixed with vanilla and spices per day
- Cadbury helped create the tradition of giving chocolate on Valentine’s Day by boxing chocolates in a heart shaped box.
- In the week before Valentine’s day, over 1.1 billion boxes of chocolate will be sold
- Chocolate has been shown to lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke.
- The number of Nobel Laureates per country has been correlated with the amount of per capita chocolate consumption.
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