By: Jodie Shield, RD As if anybody needs a reason to eat chocolate!  But if you do, here’s the bittersweet truth about everybody’s favorite sweet stuff – – just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Chocolate is . . . heart-healthy.  It takes approximately 400 cocoa beans to make 1 pound of chocolate.  Cocoa beans are a rich source of  flavonoids – – powerful antioxidants that seem to play a role in lowering blood pressure and preventing heart attacks.  According to research conducted at John Hopkins University School of Medicine, eating just a few squares of dark chocolate daily reduced the risk of death from heart attack by almost 50% in some people.  And several studies have found that when adults with mild hypertension eat about 3 oz of dark chocolate a day, they are able to significantly lower their blood pressure.  They key is dark chocolate: it has twice as many flavonoids as other types of chocolate; white chocolate has none (see my previous blog Coming to Terms with Chocolate).  Tip: Three ounces of chocolate provides about 450 calories, so make sure you balance your food choices accordingly and/or increase your exercise.

Chocolate is  . . . caffeine light.  If you need a caffeine boost, you’re better off grabbing a cup of coffee.  An 8-ounce cup of brewed coffee has between 100 and 150 milligrams of caffeine, but an 8-ounce cup of hot cocoa usually has about 15.  Here’s the caffeine content on other types of chocolate (per 1-ounce): dark chocolate <5 mg,  milk chocolate 5 mg, and semi-sweet chocolate between 5 and 10 mg.  Tip: If you eat too much chocolate, the caffeine quantities (and calories) will add up – – so share your box of chocolates with your Valentine.

Chocolate is  . . . a source of happiness.  If you want to get in a good mood, then chocolate is your food.  Chocolate contains tryptophan, which prompts the brain to make serotonin, a chemical linked to feelings of happiness, joy and well-being. In addition, sweet chocolate stimulates the release of endorphins, natural brain chemicals which generate feelings of pleasure.  But to feel the benefical effects, you’d have to eat a LOT of chocolate.  Tip: Nibble on a small amount of chocolate.  Also, be sure to hit the gym, go for a walk, ride a bike –  – exercise stimulates endorphins too!

So, what type of chocolate are you going to get your Valentine this year?

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