Giving the person you love chocolates for Valentine’s Day can be more than just a romantic gesture showing someone how much you care. It’s also a great way to let them know how much you care about their health.
Studies have shown that eating chocolate can blunt the effects of pain, making it the ultimate comfort food. But that powerful painkilling effect takes place even in the absence of an appetite, often making it hard for people to know when to stop.
“It’s a strong, strong effect, but it’s not about hunger or appetite,” Peggy Mason, PhD, professor of neurobiology at the University of Chicago told Science Daily. “If you have all this food in front of you that’s easily available to reach out and get, you’re not going to stop eating, for basically almost any reason.”
That’s why moderation is essential. Whatever benefits can be had by eating chocolate are quickly negated by the weight gain caused from eating too much. So before you give your sweetheart those chocolates, make sure you both don’t eat the whole box by the end of the night. A little bit of self-control can go a long way.
And here’s why.
According to researchers at the American Chemical Society, chocolate contains hundreds of compounds with beneficial properties that may reduce the risk of deadly disease. Among those compounds are a group of anti-oxidants known as polyphenols.
Naturally occurring in cocoa, the compound has been shown to boost levels of the good HDL cholesterol, while reducing levels of the unwanted bad LDL cholesterol. The polyphenols also act as anti-oxidants, reducing the risks of disease, including Alzheimer’s and cancer.
Polyphenols called catechins act as anti-clotting and anti-inflammatory agents that could be helpful in preventing certain kinds of strokes.
Chocolate also contains a number of chemicals that inhibit the breakdown of the neurotransmitter anandamide - sometimes called “the molecule of bliss” - which can block feelings of pain and depression.
The American Chemical Society produced this video highlighting five ways that chocolate, in moderation, may be good for you.
For fans of dark chocolate, one study found that a daily one and a half ounce of the bittersweet confection reduced stress hormones in anxious people. Dark chocolate also contains flavanols, which have been shown to boost blood flow to specific areas of the brain, increasing one’s performance levels and general alertness over a short period of time.
And the stimulants caffeine and theobromine, which are found in all chocolates, provide a burst of energy when the sugar rush starts wearing off.
But what makes chocolate have such an immediate impact on the mind and body are the release of endorphins and serotonin that it triggers. While endorphins are known to lessen pain and decrease stress, serotonin works as an anti-depressant.
Researchers at the University of Chicago learned in 2009 that eating chocolate or drinking water will blunt pain in laboratory rats. The theorize that this natural form of pain relief may help animals in the wild avoid distraction while eating scarce food.
Now that may be acceptable for rats, but when it comes to humans, nothing will make your significant other feel better than flowers, and a nice box of assorted chocolates. Just don’t eat them all at once.