Chocolate and Valentine’s Day – a match made in heaven? – information

Chocolate and Valentine's Day - a match made in heaven? - information

Chocolate and Valentine’s Day – a match made in heaven? – information


In the United States, each person consumes more than 12 pounds of chocolate per year.

valentine streamIn the United States, each person consumes more than 12 pounds of chocolate per year. Are you going to give your other half a box of chocolates this Valentine’s Day? If so, a nutrition expert at the University of Alabama at Birmingham is offering information on some of the health benefits of this decadent dessert, as well as insights into why it’s so popular for the holidays.

Chocolate can be synonymous with Valentine’s Day because cocoa beans contain tryptophan and phenethylamine — chemicals linked to improved mood and well-being, making you feel energized, said Dr. Lizzy Davis, assistant professor in UAB’s Department of Nutritional Sciences.

“In fact, these are even called ‘love drugs’ because they mimic the emotions a person feels when experiencing love,” Davis said.

Where does chocolate come from?

“A lot of people may not realize it, but chocolate is a plant-based food,” Davis said, “at least, in its raw state.”

Chocolate comes from the cacao tree. Cocoa pods are harvested from trees, and each cocoa pod contains cocoa beans. The beans then undergo a fermentation process; however, the beans themselves are not fermented, but the external fermentation of the beans, which in turn has an effect on the flavor of the beans.

This is what gives chocolate its signature chocolate taste. Finally, the beans are dried, roasted and hulled. Cocoa nibs are taken from the cocoa beans and ground into something called chocolate liquor.

“Chocolate liquor is non-alcoholic, not to be confused with chocolate liqueur, which you may like to sip with chocolate,” says Davis. “Chocolate liquor is the purest or most concentrated form of chocolate as we know it. It’s a mixture of cocoa powder and cocoa butter.”

Do we eat this chocolate liquor?

No, but Davis says it’s important to understand that it’s the ratio of chocolate liquor and other additives that make up the different types of chocolate.

“For example, dark chocolate has the most chocolate liquor and has some added sugar,” Davis said. “Milk chocolate contains some chocolate liquor that contains sugar and milk. On some of the fancier chocolate packaging you will see a percentage that represents the percentage of chocolate liquor to these ‘other’ ingredients. Interestingly, white chocolate only contains Cocoa butter with added milk and sugar without the other ingredients of chocolate liquor and cocoa powder.”

Inside EKDr Liz Davis,
Photography: Lexie RaccoonIs dark chocolate healthier?

Davis said health is a subjective term.

“What is healthy for one person may not be healthy for another,” she said. “However, remember that the purest chocolate comes from a single tree. For this reason, chocolate is good for health/nutrition. There are some benefits.”

But Davis does agree that dark chocolate is the healthiest chocolate because it contains a higher percentage of chocolate liquor than milk or white chocolate without adding too much sugar or any milk.

“For this reason, dark chocolate may be lower in sugar and contain more of the nutritional benefits associated with cacao,” she said. “Some of the health benefits are that it contains antioxidants (specifically flavanols), which have been shown to be associated with lower risk of blood pressure, stroke and coronary heart disease.”

She added that some research suggests that magnesium in chocolate may explain premenstrual cravings, while pregnant women may crave the iron in chocolate. However, it’s important to note that you shouldn’t use these foods to get your daily intake.

taste, enjoy

Whatever you like, enjoy your chocolate this Valentine’s Day, Davis says.

“Be aware that no matter which type you choose, there are still some additional health benefits,” she says. “If you want some health benefits from chocolate, choose a higher percentage of dark chocolate. To get more of these health benefits, choose a chocolate with a higher percentage on the packaging.”

At UAB, Davis is the program director for the Dietetic Education Program.

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