Love, no matter what age you are, is one of the strongest, most beneficial emotions you can have. Love comes in many forms. Love for your pet Yorkie. Love of playing bridge with your friends. Love for your new grand baby. Love of your new partner, or a spouse of 40 plus years. Love produces positive emotions, helps you fight disease and live longer.
With Valentine’s Day now in the rearview mirror, I reflect on the ways people around me tell each other “I love you.” The sweet little peck on the check. Holding hands in public. Hugs. Lots of hugs. In fact, hugging and touching produce a chemical in the brain called oxytocin. According to multiple studies, hugs are a natural stress reliever and can help lower blood pressure.
Last week, while opening the traditional red, heart shape box of chocolate from my mom, I couldn’t help but wonder why this sweet treat is synonymous with love. It’s filled with sugar and nougat. I don’t even know what nougat is made from so it can’t possibly be good for me. Plus, I never eat more than one or two pieces after breaking them all open just to find the ones filled with caramel and nuts. I was shocked recently to find out this box of chocolate is more than a token of love. It has history and health benefits.
King Henry VII of England officially declared February 14 Valentine’s Day in 1537, but it wasn’t until the late 1800s that Cadbury produced the first box of chocolate. Coincidentally, physicians in the 1800s would recommend eating chocolate to make their patients feel better after losing a lover. This year 36 million heart shape boxes of chocolates worth over a billion dollars were sold (according to eater.com).
If you have not thrown your uneaten box away yet, here are some reasons to reconsider:
- Lowers risk of heart disease - Health benefits from regularly eating chocolate include lower blood pressure, lower "bad" LDL cholesterol and a lower risk of heart disease. One of the reasons dark chocolate is especially heart-healthy is its inflammation-fighting properties, which reduce cardiovascular risk. John Hopkins University School of Medicine research found that blood platelets clotted more slowly in people who had eaten chocolate than in those who had not.
- Reduces risk of stroke – In one Swedish study, women who ate more than 45 grams of chocolate a week had a 20 percent lower risk of stroke than women who ate less than 9 grams. Another Swedish study showed for every 63 grams of chocolate consumed per week by men, there was a fall in stroke risk of about 17%. Cocoa contains flavonoids which appears to be an antioxidant with anti-clotting and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Reduces risk of diabetes - Regularly eating dark chocolate increases insulin sensitivity, thereby reducing risk for diabetes. An Italian study in 2005 compared those who eat dark chocolate with those who eat white chocolate and found a significant benefit to people eating dark.
- Helps chronic fatigue – Participants who were given 1 1/2 ounces of 85% cocoa dark chocolate daily for eight weeks reported feeling less fatigued with no weight gain. (UK, 2010)
- Increases blood flow for brain health - Cocoa has anti-clotting, blood-thinning properties that work in a similar way to aspirin, which can improve blood flow and circulation. That boost of blood flow to the brain created by cocoa's flavanols makes people feel more alert and perform better math according to a British study. Scientists are also linking flavanol as a potential preventative for cognitive decline. A Harvard researcher fed flavanol-rich cocoa to people over 50 years old and observed an increase in blood flow stimulating the brain.
It’s okay to enjoy a treat. Just know which ones are good for you. A bite of dark chocolate and a hug might be the perfect combination to boost your immune system and make you feel better.