Valentine Vitamins

by Christine Haran

Valentine candySome argue that Valentine's Day is nothing more than a conspiracy among greeting card companies, florists, and chocolatiers. Nevertheless, many people welcome any excuse to indulge in chocolate, and these chocolate lovers may be heartened to learn that more and more studies suggest that chocolate is good for you.

"Chocolate is a natural food product, so the idea that this plant-based product contains good nutrients shouldn't be surprising," says Carl L. Keen, PhD, the chair of the department of nutrition at the University of California, Davis.

Chocolate and cocoa are made with beans from the cocoa plant, which grows in South American, African and Asian rain forests. Although high-fat chocolate has a bad rap today, in previous centuries, chocolate was viewed as magical and medicinal. In 17th century France, for example, it was used to treat poor digestion, as well as lung and heart conditions and infectious diseases.

Contemporary research shows that, once again, the French were onto something. Like red wine, chocolate contains vitamins, minerals and flavonoids, which are compounds that protect against heart disease. These compounds are also found in green tea and fruits and vegetables. Studies demonstrate that cocoa flavonoids help prevent blood clots and that chocolate acts as an antioxidant, meaning it protects cells from damage. This antioxidant activity may also reduce risk of certain cancers. Also, when consumed in modest amounts, chocolate and cocoa don't raise cholesterol levels.

Dr. Keen warns that not all chocolate and cocoa is rich in flavonoids. While dark chocolate is more likely to contain a lot of flavonoids, they are also present in milk chocolate. The amount depends on how many of these compounds are lost during the processing of the chocolate. At this time, there's no easy way for a consumer to figure out if their favorite chocolate bar has high concentrations of flavonoids. And, sadly, chocoholics shouldn't interpret all this delectable data as a license to replace a meal with a plateful of chocolate. This is especially true for people with heartburn or diabetes and those for whom chocolate triggers migraines.

"Moderation is required for every single nutrient, so chocolate shouldn't be consumed in excess," Dr. Keen says. "But the data from studies conducted globally show that flavonoid-rich chocolate can be part of a healthy diet."

Copyright © Christine Haran. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.