Food for Thought: The better side of chocolate

For any avid chocolate lover, this time of year can be excruciatingly tempting. Chocolate seems to be absolutely everywhere leading up to Valentine's Day, and gets drastically marked down in price after the 14th, creating all the more reason to indulge. Well, Chocoholics, I've got some good news: you don't need to feel so guilty when you finally you cave in to your chocolatey desires. Besides the high caloric value and magnitude of fat, chocolate has been found to have health benefits that almost even out the negative effects with the good.

I don't suggest that this means you can go out and gorge yourself with Oh Henrys and Mr Bigs, but if you do fancy a bit of cocoa once in a while, you can do so knowing there are positive aspects of chocolate that can aid your body.

chocolateFirst of all, the chocolate I am talking about is of the darker variety. Standard milk chocolate bars don't tend to have the same qualities that dark chocolate has that makes it “healthy.” This is because dark chocolate contains more cocoa than milk chocolate and cocoa is the source of many wonderful things called flavonoids.

Flavonoids are a type of antioxidant; immune boosters which help to attack and destroy the harmful free radicals in our bodies that can cause ailments including the all-too-common heart disease. These antioxidants are most present in chocolates that have a cocoa value of 65 per cent or more. There has also been studies that show a significant decrease in absorption of these antioxidants when consumed with milk; so don't go chugging any milk with your dark chocolate or the healthy attributes will be no good.

Chocolate also helps to increase the production of endorphins in your body. Endorphins are chemicals that your body naturally makes to act as pain relievers and create a pleasurable feeling. To increase the “good feeling” in your body even more, chocolate also contains serotonin which elevates mood, and caffeine which stimulates energy.

You must be mindful of the quantity of chocolate you are eating, however, as the higher the percentage of cocoa; the higher the fat quantity. The fats are primarily “good fats” in chocolate but can contain some cholesterol as well. Fortunately, dark chocolate is extremely rich in flavour and a small morsel can be quite satisfying.

Darker chocolate can get quite bitter as the cocoa mass increases, and not many people I know besides my boyfriend's father can handle anything over 85 per cent. I suggest you stick to a 70 to 75 per cent chocolate bar to start, and work your way up from there.

Darker chocolates, like wine, can have hidden undertones and high notes of flavours that vary from nutty to fruity, so it's fun to try a few different kinds and compare them. You could even have a chocolate tasting party with some friends and find out what kind you like best. It's always good to try and buy fair trade and organic chocolate, as it guarantees that the cocoa farmer has been fairly treated and the chocolate is a high quality.

So, when the chocolates go on sale on Februrary 15 and you wonder if you should buy one, go ahead and treat yourself to some dark chocolate! You'll be doing your body and your mood some good.