Over 100 years ago, Richard Cadbury made the first box of Valentine’s chocolates. Since then, the sweet treats have grown into a big holiday business with over $1 billion worth of chocolate purchased for Valentine’s Day celebrations. That’s a lot of chocolate! So, chances are that you’ll enjoy a morsel or two on February 14th.
The good news is that dark chocolate promises health benefits not seen in white or milk chocolate. According to WebMD, studies have shown that it promotes lower blood pressure (thanks to plant phenols!) and it’s full of powerhouse antioxidants that fight free radicals linked to inflammation, heart disease, and other health issues. A Swiss study also found dark chocolate to reduce stress and a Finnish one reports that it leaves people including kids feeling happier, although we could’ve told you this from personal experience.
Of course, it’s best to enjoy dark chocolate in moderation. As much as we’d like to pretend, a dark chocolate bar (approximately 500 calories) is not a replacement for healthy snacks like apples. Thankfully, though, one bite can satisfy your sweet tooth and leave you feeling fuller—just opt to nibble dark chocolate that is 60% cacao or higher for more fiber and a rich, decadent flavor. In fact, one study has found that all you need and should eat is one small square two to three times per week. And skip washing it down with a glass of milk, which has been found to interfere with the absorption of the healthful antioxidants.
Also, consider buying organic and fair trade chocolate when possible. Organic chocolate is free of the pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and fumigants often used to harvest and preserve conventional cacao beans and cocoa. While most organic chocolate is also fair trade, keep an eye out for brands that are certified and support sustainable harvesting and ethical labor practices. Or try many locally made artisanal brands that partner with small farmers to produce their chocolate ingredients—we love Mast Brothers and John and Kira’s. What are your favorites?