The Heart Health Potential of Valentine's Day Chocolates
By Anne-Marie Chalmers, MD
The final countdown is here. With just a few days left, I bet many of you share my quandary about what to do or get your beloved for Valentine’s Day. Yes, I should have been out there a few weeks ago when the sweaters and boxer shorts were still on sale and I could still get a reservation for Thursday-night dinner. I wish I were one of those women who always plans ahead for the holidays.
My husband grew up in Norway and never experienced the usual flurry of greeting cards exchanged between children in grade school. The commercial push to give your sweetheart a declaration of love, flowers and a box of chocolates didn’t really catch on in Norway until the late 90s. He has since decided to remain somewhat clueless when it comes to Valentine’s Day, claiming cultural reasons.
I, on the other hand, grew up in the U.S. and wanted to keep this custom alive and meaningful from my side of our relationship.
But what do you get for a man who has everything - especially if you want to give him something that is simultaneously meaningful and good for him?
It might sound cliche, but I've come to believe that a box of high quality dark chocolate can be a meaningful, heart-healthy gift. Before you think "fattening" and run in the other direction, hear me out.
Many studies indicate that cocoa has significant health benefits, particularly for the heart. A few examples:
- The Zutphen Elderly Study from the Netherlands conducted on elderly men found that the men who consumed the highest amount of daily cocoa had a 50 percent reduction in risk from cardiovascular death as compared to the men who consumed the least amount of cocoa.
- Another study conducted on 34,489 postmenopausal women similarly found that the women who ate more foods rich in flavanoids - the most potent antioxidant in cocoa - had a significantly reduced risk of dying from coronary heart disease.
Historically speaking, chocolate also has a good reputation for its health benefits. Up until the 19th Century, people used chocolate to treat everything from mental fatigue to gout, fever, and poor sexual appetite (hint Valentine's Day).
Most of us tend to think of chocolate as an sinful indulgence, rather than a healthy treat. And for good reason. Milk chocolate contains high doses of milk and sugar, in addition to the cocoa. The added milk and sugar reduce the potency of the antioxidants, and increase the amount of unbeneficial fats in the chocolate. Furthermore, most chocolate, even of the dark variety, has been alkalized - a heavy heating process that destroys much of the antioxidant propoerties of the cocoa. A non-alkalized dark chocolate, on the other hand, has been processed more gently and contains rich amounts of the heart-healthy antioxidants.
In my Valentine's Day gift search, I googled the question, “What to get my lover for Valentine’s Day?” and got the following suggestions:
1. A personalized, made-in-Texas steak branding iron.
2. A cell phone holder.
3. 12 bottles of beer.
4. A “Let’s Get Naked” book
5. A Pantygram.
Not exactly the meaningful gifts I'd been hoping for inspiration...
So this Valentine's Day, I'm going to take the old-fashioned route - a quiet, romantic dinner at home. And then, we can have an Omega Passion™ chocolate truffle for dessert. It's a recipe I'm hoping will keep us around together for many, many more years to come.
1. Circulation: “Cocoa and cardiovascular Health.” 2009; 119: 1433-1441.