The Sweeter Side of Bitter Chocolate

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“Dear Pharmacist,

My wife made a resolution this year to eat healthy, but she loves candy and chocolate. Is there any compromise because I want to surprise her with something delicious without sabotaging her diet?”

–S.H., Dallas, Texas

Answer: Ah, Valentine’s Day, when women’s fancy turns to thoughts of… chocolate! And for that matter, men also shop for those scrumptious treats. After all, once a man splurges on a big, beautiful red box of chocolates, he often gets to sample the goodies. (The ones in the box too.)

I’ll bet you think I’m going to tell you not to indulge, or to eat carob “chocolates” instead. Nope! Fact is, I love chocolate. I will work for chocolate! And your body benefits from it. This is news to many, but chocolate is seriously good for you. It’s so good for you that (provided you limit yourself to a piece or two of the healthy sort) you could definitely consider it a guilt-free indulgence.

Chocolate is made from the beans of the cacao tree which contain hefty amounts of antioxidants that protect against heart disease and cancer. Studies show compounds in chocolate can boost good cholesterol, lower blood pressure and help prevent blood clots. Theobromine, found in chocolate improves blood flow to the heart.

In 2006, Harvard University researchers reviewed a number of scientific studies and found multiple health benefits of dark chocolate giving this yummy treat a big thumbs up. I’m betting their other four fingers were wrapped around a truffle.

Why did they concentrate their queries on dark chocolate? The rule is, the darker the chocolate, the higher the percent cacao it contains. Cacao is the antioxidant-rich powdery substance that results when cacao beans are dried. I always want you to choose bars that contain 65 – 85% cacao. Milk chocolate contains fewer, if any of these powerful antioxidants. And white chocolate? Forget about it, it doesn’t even rank!

Chocolate is a love drug. It increases psychoactive feel-good compounds, the very same ones that your brain makes when you fall in love, have an orgasm or use cannabis. Chocolate really does have good chemistry going for it. Oh la la! And if you get addicted, it’s perfectly legal. Why wait for Valentine’s when you could enjoy this every night?

Candy bars merely coated with chocolate and jam-packed with sugar, artificial flavors and partially hydrogenated oils are fake to me. Avoid or minimize truffles stuffed with maple, raspberry and vanilla “cream.” Those are usually sugar-laden caloric bombs.

If you want to do your honey a real favor on Valentine’s Day, forgo the fake chocolate and instead splurge on a small box or bar of high-quality dark chocolate. It’ll cost about the same, but it will say “I love you” in a sweeter way. Another healthy alternative is to buy an edible bouquet of strawberries or make your own edible arrangement of fresh fruits, and then fondue dark chocolate for dipping.