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Happiness is Chocolate

Did you know that more than half of U.S. adults prefer chocolate to other flavors? The estimated consumption is about 3.3 billion pounds annually. That’s a lot of chocolate!

Xocolatl was the Aztecs’ word for chocolate, which they called “bitter water” and considered a gift from the gods. Cultivated for 1,000 years, the cacao tree is prolific once it reaches maturity, producing cocoa pods every six months for about 20 years. The beans must be fermented before they begin to taste like the chocolate we know and love. Cocoa was first introduced to Europe when explorer Hernán Cortés brought the beans from Mexico to Spain in the early 1500s. The Spaniards kept their discovery a secret for almost a century, until it was smuggled by monks into France. By the 1650s, cocoa had crossed the channel to England and the North American colonies of the English and Dutch; 1831 heralded the invention of the first chocolate bar in the United States.

It’s widely known that dark chocolate is good for our emotional and physical health. The only debate that remains is what quantity is the most advantageous to include in our daily or weekly diet.

Researchers have learned that eating dark chocolate makes people happy because it contains phenylethylamine, the same nurturing hormone triggered by our brain when we fall in love. And according to the California Academy of Sciences, the theobromine in chocolate acts as a myocardial stimulant, dilator of coronary arteries and smooth muscle relaxant, all inducing good feelings.

Researchers at the Harvard Medical School and Boston University School of Medicine reported that subjects who consistently consumed dark chocolate showed a 40% lower risk of myocardial infarction and stroke than those who did not. A study published in the European Heart Journal tracked almost 20,000 people over 10 years and found that people who ate about 7 grams of dark chocolate per day had lower blood pressure and 39% less risk of experiencing a stroke or heart attack, compared to those who ate an average of 1.7 grams daily.

Cocoa powder and chocolate contain rich sources of polyphenol antioxidants, the same beneficial compounds found in red wine and many fruits and vegetables that help to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Chocolate lovers will be glad to know that dark chocolate contains more antioxidants per 3.5 ounces than prunes, raisins, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, plums, oranges, red grapes, red bell peppers, cherries or eggplant. This doesn’t mean you give up your fruits and veggies – just relax and enjoy that special dark treat, knowing it does a body good. All things in moderation – and Happy Valentines Day!

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