Healthy Chocolate for Valentines!

One of the main reasons I don’t despise Valentines like some do is because it is an excuse to give chocolate. Chocolate is the one food that I cannot live without; come an emergency, I’ll grab chocolate. It makes sense that I’ve worked the last two summers at a high-end chocolate company in San Francisco. What I learned was that dark chocolate (above 60% cacao) actually has many health benefits when eaten in moderation. Chocolate contains flavonoids, which act as an antioxidant, which can reduce blood pressure and increase longevity. Also, students will be interested to know that dark chocolate contains a moderate amount of caffeine, serotonin and theobromine, which act as an anti-depressant, endorphin-producing and ‘happiness’ booster. Let alone how it tastes, chocolate can actually help increase your energy and mood. In terms of fat, chocolate is made up of 2/3 ‘good’ fats (oleic and stearic acid) and 1/3 ‘bad’ fat (palmitic acid). Oleic acid is a healthy monounsaturated fat that is found in olive oil and research shows it has a neutralizing effect on cholesterol.

Tips from a Chocolate lover like myself:

  1. Pick wisely: Chocolate has many complex flavors and textures according to where the cacao beans are sourced from. There are over 300 compounds and tannins, similarly to wine and cheese. To truly enjoy and appreciate chocolate, you should take time to try choose chocolates that are high quality and preferably fair-trade. I like to get together friends and have chocolate tastings and wine pairing parties.
  2. Eat in moderation: Unlike conventional sweets, I find that I only need a little square (no more than 20 grams) every day after lunch or dinner and while I’m studying to satisfy my craving for something sweet. For this reason, some people use chocolate as a tool for curving appetite while still enjoying something sweet in your day.
  3. Avoid milk chocolate and sugary confections: Dark chocolate has much more antioxidants and good stuff than milk. Confections almost always are made of mostly sugar and don’t really contain much real chocolate in them at all. Though they are pretty, if you want the full benefits and flavor of cacao, go for good quality dark chocolate (above 60% cacao)
  4. Make it social and share: Just like wine and cheese, chocolate is a precious food that is meant to be shared and appreciated collectively. I always carry a small bar of chocolate around with be during the day and find that if a friend is stressed or having a hard time, I offer some chocolate and makes their day. It’s a little reminder of the small things in life that bring happiness and people together.

Good places to find nice, high-quality chocolate are Whole Foods, AIGA, Choices, Greens and many other family-owned natural food stores. Always check the labeling and read the ingredients and origin of beans. The ingredient list shouldn’t have more than 6 items and preferably the beans are Fair Trade certified to promote ethical bean sourcing. If you have any doubts, check out the sources below to read more about sourcing.