As Valentine’s Day approaches, many of us may be hoping for a lovely box of fancy chocolate from our loved one. So it is very timely to see new research published this week in the Chemistry Central Journal, suggesting that cacao (or cocoa) beans are a ‘super fruit’, with more antioxidant capacity than blueberries, cranberries and pomegranate powder on a gram per gram basis.
So what does this mean for us on Valentine’s Day, as we are faced with that fancy box of chocs? Can we devour them with a sense of superiority and feel good about ourselves for eating such a healthy treat — or is there more to this story than meets the eye?
It’s long been known that chocolate (particularly dark chocolate) has antioxidant properties and the conclusions of this latest research are really no surprise — with natural cocoa powder and dark chocolate having a significantly higher total flavanol content than the fruit powders and juices tested. However, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that chocolate also contains fats, saturated fatty acids and refined sugars (unlike fruits) and we should certainly not be rushing out to regularly eat ‘five plus’ portions of chocolate a day. Also, whether the benefits of the antioxidants in cocoa translate into actual health benefits is currently unproven.
In order to optimise our intake of antioxidants, my advice is to stick with a rainbow of different-coloured vegetables and fruit. By doing so, we can benefit from all the wonderful tastes and textures that these lovely foods have to offer, in addition to the fantastic package of important nutrients they provide. Fruits and vegetables supply a variety of vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre, and a range of antioxidants such as lycopene (in tomatoes) and beta-carotene (in carrots). Such foods also have a low energy density and can be a great help in managing your weight, ensuring your calorie intake is not too excessive.
Enjoy the odd bit of chocolate as a treat every now and again, if you really like it, but don’t kid yourself that you are eating a ‘super-fruit’ or that it is particularly healthy in large amounts. Keep your focus on the healthier fruits, vegetables and salads — along with lean meat (or alternatives), dairy products, and wholegrain cereals.
A nice light salad or a platter of fresh fruit shared with your loved one on Valentine’s Day is likely to leave you feeling healthy and invigorated — surely a better option in advance of a night of passion than having a large lump of chocolate sitting in your stomach!