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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Chocolate Forever

I’m not a big fan of Valentine’s Day. I think it’s a made-up commercial holiday that only serves to line the pockets of Hallmark, Whitman Chocolates and the florists of America (Bah! Valen-bug!)  But it will always hold a place in my heart.  When we were kids, my mother would buy us each a card and a little mini box of chocolate and place it on our place at the kitchen table Valentine’s morning.  It was so nice to be remembered like that, really nice.

I would imagine there isn’t a person alive that doesn’t have some sort of happy memory associated with chocolate. “…Come with me and you'll be, in a world of pure imagination…” Willy Wonka sang.  But as we got older, chocolate was demonized wasn’t it?  But it needn’t be. 

I feature a chocolate page on my website that delves into the wonderful world of chocolate and why it’s good for you.  Here is an excerpt from that page (credit must be given to the man who did most of the research on this for me-his name and info appears there.)

A 2006 John Hopkins study showed that eating a little bit of chocolate every day is good for your health. Cacao helps the body process nitric oxide, a compound for healthy blood flow and blood pressure. It contains antibacterial agents that fight tooth decay. The cocoa butter in chocolate contains oleic acid, a mono-unsaturated fat that raises good cholesterol. Chocolate also contains phenylethylamine (a mild mood elevator) and flavonoids that keep blood vessels elastic. 

Studies show that eating a little bit of chocolate once a week can reduce your risk of stroke by 25 to 45 percent.

Milk chocolate, however, is high in calories, saturated fat and sugar. If you're eating it solely for health reasons - and whom are you kidding? - stick with dark chocolate. It contains more cacao (AKA chocolate liquor-a non-alcoholic ingredient) and less sugar. How dark? Look for chocolate with a chocolate liquor content of 70% or above.

Cacao is a storehouse of natural minerals. It's a source of copper in our diet and an antioxidant on the order of green tea, protecting against heart disease and helping alleviate stress. Dark chocolate is rich in polyphenols, as is red wine. Chocolate can provide an energy boost, too. It is an easy way to fuel up before and during, intense activity.

Plus, there are psychological benefits. Chocolate increases serotonin production and releases endorphins. It contains phenylethylamine, the same chemical that is released in the brain when we fall in love. Eating chocolate gives many, women especially, a natural "high," a feeling of ecstasy.

Some researchers even believe chocolate slows the aging process. (It probably doesn't but what have you got to lose?)

We shouldn't take these health claims too far, of course. Physicians rarely say "take a candy bar and call me in the morning." There is no such thing as prescription-strength chocolate.

But perceptions are changing. When I was a kid, conventional wisdom was that chocolate made you fat, gave you pimples and ruined your teeth. Modern science is tempering this view.

And the rewards aren't just physical. There's also the aesthetic. Chocolate is the final touch of elegance at the end of a good meal - or a special treat to be savored. 

Even in tough times like these, chocolate is a luxury you can afford. Pastry chef Norman Love points out that "You can buy two bars of the best chocolate in the world for $5. The Queen of England can't buy any better chocolate than you can."

So go ahead, indulge (in the dark kind.)  But keep it to a square or two.

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Fitness expert and integrative performance coach Jini Cicero, CSCS, teaches intermediate exercisers how to blast through plateaus to create incredible transformations. Are you ready to take your fitness to a whole new level?  Find out now!  Take Jini's "Are you Ready?" Quiz at © 2011 Jinifit, Inc.

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