14 February 12 Romance Me with Chocolate!

Move over wine and flowers, there is another aphrodisiac to compete for winning my heart this Valentine's Day – chocolate! What is it about chocolate that makes us so darn happy and perhaps, "in the mood?" It's probably a combination of factors - naturally occurring psychoactive molecules (how's that for a money word?) combined with a delightful texture and flavor. If you are looking for chocolate with the highest concentration of healthful and psychoactive molecules, then go for the darkest chocolate you can find. The cocoa mass or liquor is the source of the psychoactive, antioxidant, and nutrient content in chocolate – so chocolate with a higher percentage of cocoa will have more of these beneficial molecules. 100% unsweetened chocolate or cocoa powder will have the highest content of all.

Texture & Taste

Don't discount the sheer gustatory pleasure of consuming chocolate. It has as much to do with the enjoyment of chocolate as anything else. That luscious silky texture is partly due to its melting temperature of 95°F (35°C) – this is just under our average body temperature of 98.6°F (37°C). To get the best flavor, place chocolate in your mouth and hold it there for a few seconds. Once it starts to melt, your tongue in concert with a working nose, will allow you to perceive a range of flavors as well as experience the silky texture as you roll the chocolate around in your mouth before swallowing. Yes, heaven on earth.

Energizing

Stimulants increase alertness, excitement, locomotion, and heart rate. Whereas coffee has enough caffeine to knock your socks off, dark chocolate has just enough to gently peel them off. Dark chocolate (70-85% cocoa) has about 23 mg caffeine per 1 oz serving compared to about 100 mg per cup of drip coffee. Cocoa also has another stimulant, theobromine, which is also responsible for making dogs very sick when they eat our not-well-enough-hidden stash of chocolate.

PEA, a.k.a. "the love chemical"
For those of you who swear by chocolate's aphrodisiac properties, it could be the PEA (Phenylethylalanine) content that is revving your engine. PEA is a stimulant that can produce euphoria and satisfaction. It is chemically related to amphetamine.

Antioxidants

In addition to pleasure, chocolate is good for your heart health. Consuming cocoa flavonoids (polyphenols) helps reduce blood pressure, improve blood flow, lower LDLs, raise HDLs, and overall, lower risk of heart disease. But how much do we have to eat to see these health effects? Dr. Eric Ding posted (see MyNetDiary's blog) that we would have to eat about 400-500 mg of dark chocolate every day to get enough flavonoids to see these health effects. However, there could still be some benefit to consuming small amounts of chocolate daily, as Taubert et al. reported in "Effects of Low Habitual Cocoa Intake on Blood Pressure and Bioactive Nitric Oxide" (JAMA, 7/4/07). In their small study, they saw reduced blood pressure in folks with hypertension with only 6.3 grams (1/4 oz) of dark chocolate consumed daily for 18 weeks.

Nutrients

Surprise! Per ounce, dark chocolate is a good source of iron (3.4 mg or 19% DV), copper (0.5 mg or 25% DV), and dietary fiber (3 g). Although dark chocolate is high in saturated fat, studies have shown that it does not promote heart disease or raise LDL levels. This is in part related to the type of saturated fat in cocoa - stearic acid.

Milk vs. White vs. Dark

Milk chocolate has less cocoa and more added sugars and fats (e.g. milk fat) than dark chocolate – which is going in the wrong direction for heart health. White chocolate has no cocoa at all, only cocoa butter and added ingredients. So, for a sweet that is packed with the most healthful molecules, go with dark chocolate with the highest cocoa content you can find.

Try pairing a dark chocolate (e.g. 85% cocoa) with fruit and champagne to start your Valentine's Day evening off right – with or without your true love! Your brain and your heart will thank you for it.
Katherine Isacks, MPS, RD, CDE
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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.

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Foods & Recipes/Chocolate Holidays / Parties/Valentine's Day

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