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NEWS | Feb. 16, 2010

Chocoholics: Take heart this Valentine's Day

By Ch. (Capt.) Gary Davidson 316th Wing Chapel

Editor's note: Information found in this article is collaborated from HealthNewsDigest.com, WebMD.com and about.com. The Air Force in no way sponsors or supports the opinions, views and positions of these organizations. The content found herein is for informational purposes only.

The military prioritizes good health - after all, we have modern fitness facilities, experts, classes, tests and medical personnel/nutritionists to advise us on weight loss and how to improve eating habits.

That being said, some of us still struggle with our fitness and eating habits. Those of us who struggle with our food intake often feel guilty when snacking on junk food or sweets.

Just in time for Valentine's Day, I have some good news about one type of sweet: chocolate. As it turns out, mounting evidence suggests that some forms of chocolate in limited quantities can actually be good for you. Now, I don't pretend to be a doctor or a dietician, but I do know that the internet is full of articles and case studies about the benefits of eating this treat.

Before I go further about this subject, however, let me give a little history about chocolate: According to HealthNewsDigest.com, chocolate is derived from the Cacao tree, which means that its unprocessed essence is natural. Chocolate contains a number of nutrients, it is high in potassium and magnesium and it also contains vitamins A, B1, C, D and E. Most importantly, though, chocolate contains flavonoids, an antioxidant that can prevent arterial damage, help with circulation and fight disease.

Despite the apparent health benefits of chocolate, its clear appeal is its delicious taste. This property was evident to ancient Aztec leader Montezuma, who introduced this sweet in liquid form (chocolate candy wasn't invented until the 1800's) to the Spanish conqueror Cortez. Cortez brought the drink back to Spain where sugar, cinnamon and vanilla were added to improve the taste. Since that time, both European and American innovations and refinements led to the invention of modern chocolate, which has since become the number two food treat for men (after pizza), and the number one favorite of women. The market for chocolate has become so large, in fact, that it is estimated that North Americans spend $8.9 billion dollars per year on the product, and we consume nearly 12 pounds per-person per-year.

That being said, chocolate has its drawbacks. Milk and white chocolate are far less healthy than dark chocolate since they contain few, if any, flavonoids. According to HealthNewsDigest.com, dietician Lona Sandon from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center said, "Chocolate by itself may provide some health benefits. It's what is added to it that's not so good for us."

So then, what's so good about chocolate, especially dark chocolate?

Doctor Mark Stibich wrote in his article "Health Benefits of Chocolate" details about health benefits of dark chocolate:

- "Studies have shown that consuming a small bar of dark chocolate every day can reduce blood pressure in individuals with high blood pressure."

- "Dark chocolate has also been shown to reduce [low-density lipoprotein] cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) by up to 10 percent."

- "It stimulates endorphin production, which gives us a feeling of pleasure."

- "It contains serotonin, which acts as an anti-depressant."

- "It contains theobromine, caffeine and other substances which are stimulants."
Still, it's nice to know (especially as Valentine's Day approaches) that an occasional treat of chocolate is not only tasty, but good for you. So as we boyfriends and girlfriends, husbands and wives share the gift of chocolate this romantic weekend ... we should enjoy it guilt-free; just remembering to do a few more sit-ups and push-ups next time we're at the gym.