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Chocolate Does More Than Say I Love You

With Valentine's Day right around the corner, the media has started touting the health benefits of chocolate. According to the ads, chocolate is "good for you," "heart-healthy," and able to "sharpen seniors' brains." But does this treat live up to its hype?

The answer is yes—and no.

The higher the concentration of cacao, the more benefits from the chocolate. Dark chocolate with a cacao content of 70% or more is best.

Dark chocolate is superior to milk chocolate because it has more healthy monounsaturated fatty acids, fewer carbs, less sugar, more fiber, higher levels of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. Dark chocolate also has more flavonoids—nutrients found in plants that reduce inflammation and boost immunity.

Milk chocolate has only about 25% of the magnesium that dark chocolate does. (Magnesium is the number one mineral supplement recommended for fibromyalgia.)

Chocolate increases the production of endorphins, the body's natural opiates. As a result, it decreases pain and lifts mood. It's also said to be the only known good source of anandamide—a natural cannabinoid that attaches to the body's cannabis receptors, just like marijuana, which has pain-relieving effects. Chocolate also helps release the body's natural amphetamines and phenylethylamine, which increases energy.

Chocolate boosts serotonin, a neurotransmitter that acts as an antidepressant, which is why many of us reach for chocolate when they need a mood boost.

These benefits seem to be too good to be true, but dark chocolate has gained acceptance in the medical community. Here's one example of many.

Jean Mayer, of the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (J.B.B.), Tufts University, Boston, Mass., said, "Consumption of flavanol-rich dark chocolate (DC) has been shown to decrease blood pressure (BP) and insulin resistance in healthy subjects."


The question then is: Should we indulge in daily chocolate binges?

Well, maybe that's not such a good idea.

Here's the bad news (you knew there was a catch, right?)

While chocolate with a high concentration of cacao has several health benefits, most chocolates contain a lot of other stuff that is not so healthy. Calories for one. Sugar for another. And the sugar will screw up your insulin levels and increase inflammatory conditions.

So, if you want something that's not only sweet and fun but also healthier, make sure your chocolates have 70% or higher high cocoa content. (Mixed with almonds it's even healthier.)

While there's nothing wrong with enjoying the benefits of chocolate as a dessert or snack, chocolate does have a lot of calories—about 150 per ounce—so moderation is key.

Happy Valentine's Day!