You probably guessed Valentine’s Day, and science supports your choice. If you gift your significant other or your mother roses and chocolate, you’ll love to know that they are likely to be evaluated more positively during this mid-February holiday compared with other times of the year.
In fact, people spend about $1.7 billion on chocolates and $2.1 billion on flowers around Valentine’s Day, which also ranks highest among North American holidays for flower purchases.
But amidst the lavish gift-giving, don’t forget to also give your heart a little extra loving! While a heart characterizes Valentine’s Day and romanticism, this time of year becomes ideal to optimize heart health.
After all, heart disease is the leading cause of death for North American men and women. Researchers predict by 2020, heart disease could create 25 million deaths worldwide, making this a global epidemic.
What’s equally tragic (or promising, depending on your perspective): Heart disease is mostly preventable.  And a good place to start is something you might give someone else and probably even yourself on Valentine’s Day: Chocolate.Is chocolate, healthy? Yes: Cocoa and dark chocolate contain polyphenols – micronutrients in plant foods that support heart health – that provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. To be fair, polyphenols come in plenty of foods. Berries have them. So do green or black teas, nuts, seasonings like cloves, certain vegetables, and red wine. But let’s be honest: Chocolate tastes so good, and Valentine’s Day becomes synonymous with it.Cocoa polyphenols also help release nitric oxide, a compound that helps your blood vessels dilate so that blood can flow to vital organs like your heart, brain, and down there.Those and other nutrients (including heart-healthy minerals such as magnesium, copper, potassium, and iron as well as mood-boosting theobromine) can help improve your lipid profile and blood pressure, supporting heart health.
Chocolate can also support gut health (by reducing intestinal inflammation) and protect your brain.
Eating a few pieces – emphasis on moderation! – can even help you lose weight: Chocolate can curb your appetite, satisfy your sweet tooth, lower stress levels, and reduce the inflammation that contributes to weight gain.
If you’re thinking chocolate might be your new favourite health food, keep in mind one big caveat: Most chocolate varieties you find on drugstore or supermarket shelves don’t make the heart-healthy grade.
“If you want the benefits of these flavonols in your diet, you’ve got to get the real deal chocolate—high-cocoa-content dark chocolate,” says Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., in The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth.
Bowden recommends looking for chocolate with a 60 or even higher percentage of cacao. “The more chocolate is processed, the more the beneficial flavonoids are lost,” says Dr. Bowden.
Find a minimally processed bar (preferably raw) with very few ingredients and that contains around five grams of sugar per serving. Moderation becomes key here: Most bars contain more than one serving! And enjoy. Pleasure is a nutrient for your mood and mindset!