Posts Tagged ‘Chocolate’

What is more appealing as a token of love on Valentine’s Day than a heart-shaped box of chocolate candies? How did this custom begin?chocolate candy: Illustration of a Partially Open Gift Filled with Chocolates

As with many traditions, St. Valentine’s Day evolved from a mixture of Christian commemoration and mythological folklore. The most popular version of this day’s origin relates to St. Valentine, a priest during the reign of the Roman Emperor, Claudius II in 270 A. D. The Emperor believed single men made better soldiers and therefore forbade them to marry. St. Valentine secretly performed wedding ceremonies for many young soldiers and was, therefore, jailed. While imprisoned, he healed the jailer’s daughter, and before execution wrote her a note signed “Your Valentine.”

Others believe customs of Saint Valentine’s Day originated centuries before from the pagan Feast of Lupercalia celebrated between February 13 and 15. The occasion, one of the most ancient Roman festivals, celebrated Lupercus, the god of fertility. For years the Christian church tried to suppress the festival. By the fifth century, Rome began to move away from paganism towards Christianity. The Feast of Lupercalia became relegated to the lower classes and eventually ceased. Pope Gelasius abolished Lupercalia and later established the celebration named after St. Valentine.

In 1537, King Henry VII of England officially declared February 14 as St. Valentine’s Day. The holiday of feast and romance mimics portions of the pagan festivities. In the years to follow, participants celebrated with poems and later valentine cards, roses, and eventually candy.

Chocolate had a history as a love food. The Mayan and Aztec elites prized chocolate as a luxury item. By the 1600s, this decadent treat in the form of a drink had spread through Europe with the advent of chocolate houses. Even Marie Antoinette had her own chocolate maker.

In an effort to find use for pure cocoa butter and to make a more palatable chocolate drink, Richard Cadbury in 1861 originated the idea of “eating chocolates.” He filled heart-shaped boxes decorated with cupids and rosebuds with these new confections. Thus he spawned an industry of heart-shaped boxes for sale on Valentine’s that now has projected sales of more than 35 million at a value of over $1 billion. Chocolate became the choice sweet for Valentine’s Day.

By the late 1800s, Milton Hershey, successful in caramel making, began covering those caramels with sweet chocolate. After the turn of the century, he sold foil-wrapped chocolate kisses which today we enjoy year round. Hershey advertised them as a nourishing food.

Then there was Russell Stover whose wife began wrapping candies in her kitchen in 1923. They moved from Denver to Kansas City and opened several factories. The Stover’s sold Valentine chocolates in heart-shaped boxes to department stores and eventually bought out Whitman’s, expanding their focus to big-box retailers like Target and Walmart.

All those famous brands remain today to entice us throughout the year, but especially on February 14. Few now think of St. Valentine’s Day as a religious celebration. The traditions of love and chocolate, however, seem to last forever. After all, Hershey was right. Chocolate is nutritious unless you indulge too much. May your admirer gift you on this special day with a box of chocolates. Enjoy!

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Valentine’s Day is the occasion when we celebrate love. It isn’t exclusive to lovers. We honor family and friends with gifts. Given the choice of flowers or candy, most choose chocolate, and 83 percent of Americans will make their gifting of love some type of candy or chocolate.

While candy can contribute to overweight, it isn’t usually the culprit. Candy was around long before the modern-day problem of obesity. Research indicates that those who eat candy may weigh less, not because candy doesn’t have calories (we wish), but because normal weight people incorporate it as part of a healthy diet. Interestingly, one study of 1,000 U. S. children and teens found that those who ate candy were less likely to be overweight than those who did not. I can attest to that. As a child, my parents allowed me to eat way too much candy, and yet I remained very thin.

According to the National Confectioners Association, depriving oneself of candy to lose weight may backfire. More than 70 percent of adults quit trying to eat healthy because they associate a healthy diet with giving up favorite foods. Not so.

If you receive sweets this Valentine’s Day, keep moderation in mind and ration to less than 100 calories per day. Select small, individual portions of chocolates and candies. If you choose candies other than chocolate, “Treat Right” lists the number of pieces equal to 50 to 100 calories. It isn’t uncommon for me to keep boxed chocolates a year or longer in my freezer. When the urge for chocolate strikes me, I retrieve one piece and leave the rest frozen. If the temptation to consume the entire box overwhelms you, take a piece or two, share with others, and freeze immediately. Take pleasure in allowing each piece to melt in your mouth and last for a long time. Enjoy your Valentine’s Day guilt-free with candy.

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It’s rare to find anyone who doesn’t like chocolate. Most people love that smooth velvety texture and unique taste. The three main choices are dark, milk, or white chocolate. Several other available varieties include baking, bittersweet, cocoa, semi-sweet chocolate and more.

Chocolate comes from seeds inside the fruit, called a pod, of the cacao tree. The football shaped pods vary in color; green, yellow, orange, red, purple, or maroon. Trees grow mostly on small cocoa farms tended by family members. Farmers clip pods by hand, split them open, and pull fifty to sixty deep purple seeds from the sweet white pulp and juice. After harvest, farmers send beans to factories worldwide for roasting, grinding, and pressing.

In the past few decades, chocolate has been recognized not only for its flavor but also as a contributor to a healthy diet. Chocolate is abundant in flavonoids, thereby rendering the same health benefits. Some claims include:

  • improved blood flow
  • reduced risk for heart disease
  • lowered blood pressure
  • decreased mortality
  • lowered risk of stroke

Additionally, chocolate may improve mood, which most any woman knows without reading the research. However, a study published in 2012 found that subjects given chocolate candy reported higher levels of agreeableness. A 2013 study found that cocoa flavonoids increased positive moods and reduced anxiety in healthy middle-aged adults. Likewise, it may improve memory.

Before you gorge on Valentine chocolates, remember they have sugar added for taste and are calorie laden. Healthy diets advise eating in moderation and include chocolates as part of the discretionary calories for the day. Most women of normal weight can choose up to 300 discretionary calories daily from sources of extra fat or sugar. Of that amount, limit chocolate candies to 50-100 calories which is equivalent to about two or three small pieces. Let it melt in your mouth to savor the pleasure. Enjoy!

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English: Cacao (Theobroma cacao) Español: Plan...

English: Cacao (Theobroma cacao) Español: Planta de Cacao (Theobroma cacao) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s exciting news for chocolate lovers. New studies have found more health benefits from chocolate.

This decadent food comes from cacao (or cocoa) beans. Actually, they aren’t beans but seeds from the theobroma cacao tree. The name Theobroma originated from the Greek “food of the gods”—theos meaning “god” and broma meaning “food.” Few would disagree that tasty chocolate morsels fit that definition. Unlike many fruits and seeds, cacao grows along the tree trunk. Once harvested, seeds are fermented, dried, roasted, and milled to produce chocolate liquor.

Health benefits of chocolate come from flavanols, one of several well-known antioxidants. Chocolate, like other foods with high flavanol levels, seems to lessen risks of cardiovascular (heart) disease. Likewise, it lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol and increases HDL (good) cholesterol. Chocolate influences other health conditions which may or may not relate to heart disease.

  • Cognitive function: By the age of seventy, 6% of older adults have developed mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Those with MCI who are otherwise in good health may benefit from chocolate. Three groups of elderly participants consumed drinks with 990 milligrams (mg), 520 mg, and 45 mg of cocoa flavanols daily for eight weeks. The two groups who consumed drinks with more antioxidants seemed to think faster, respond more rapidly to questions, and demonstrate better verbal fluency. Additionally, they showed improvement in insulin resistance and blood pressure.  Results could be directly from flavanols in cocoa or as a secondary effect related to better cardiovascular function.
  • Blood Pressure: Healthy people who used approximately 100 grams daily of chocolate or cocoa experienced a drop in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Flavanol promoted vasodilation and thus reduced blood pressure.
  • Stroke: In a ten-year study, men who ate high levels of chocolate had a lower risk of stroke. Typically, the subjects ate the equivalent of one-third cup of chocolate chips each week. Those who ate chocolate had a 17% lower risk of stroke than those who avoided it.

Is chocolate a panacea? Chocolate can be part of a healthy diet for those of appropriate weight. For the overweight and obese, increased amounts of chocolate may aggravate weight problems since foods with chocolate tend to be higher in fat, sugar, and calories. Other foods with high flavanol content may be better choices for the weight conscious, but who wants to choose broccoli over chocolate? Indulge your taste buds occasionally with chocolate but stay mindful of the calories.

Additional information on these studies can be found at:




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Chocolate is a mainstay of many holiday treats. While two boxes of heart-shaped delicacies linger on my table, Easter approaches for another round of tasty morsels. Is there any good news for chocolate lovers? Yes. Chocolate may have some health benefits.

In forty-two clinical studies, people who consumed chocolate or cocoa for a few weeks to months had slightly decreased blood pressure and improved blood vessel function. The British Medical Journal reported that those who regularly consumed more chocolate (forty-five grams per week) compared to those who ate smaller amounts (less than nine grams per week) were nearly 30% less likely to experience stroke. Eating chocolate also decreased insulin levels and reduced diabetes risk. Researchers, however, did not support chocolate as a healthful indulgence and recommended moderation.

In another study, two groups of overweight and obese pre-menopausal women were given either a daily dark-chocolate snack or a non-chocolate snack. Both groups showed decreases in body weight. Thus, eaten sparingly, dark chocolate did not hamper weight loss.

From a health perspective, is chocolate good? Although flavanoids in chocolate, specifically flavanol, may be responsible for healthful benefits, researchers doubt one could eat enough to improve health without creating weight problems. The downside of this decadent treat is the high calorie, fat, and sugar content. Dark chocolate has more cocoa (60%) and less sugar than milk chocolate.

We don’t need an excuse or reason to eat chocolate, but we must be wary of too much of a good thing. A feasting frenzy isn’t a good idea. Although small amounts may help, too much may result in excessive weight gain, a known contributor to several health problems. Like most foods, moderation is key. Indulge your sweet tooth with a bit of dark chocolate now and then. Just settle for a small piece, not an entire box.

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