Nothing says I love you like chocolate – dark chocolate, that is. With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, why not buy your special someone something that not only promotes love but longevity as well. There are now more reasons than ever to give the gift of chocolate. Sure, it tastes good, and is great for a quick boost of energy during the mid-afternoon slump, but recent studies have shown that eating dark chocolate can have valuable health benefits. Believe it or not, that heart-shaped box of chocolates may actually be good for the very organ it resembles. That’s news everyone will love.

Dark chocolate contains a high amount of flavonoids, antioxidant rich compounds commonly found in fruits, vegetables and plants. The primary sources of flavonoids are teas, wine, berries and chocolate. These flavonoids play a vital role in cardiovascular health, and may even help fight heart disease and lower blood pressure. Keep in mind that these flavonoids are specific to dark chocolate, as milk chocolate does not contain nearly the same levels of antioxidants, while white chocolate has none at all. According to Mauro Serafini, PhD, of Italy’s National Institute for Food and Nutrition Research, the reason dark chocolate has proven healthier than milk chocolate is because the milk in milk chocolate may actually interfere with the absorption of antioxidants, canceling out its positive benefits.

According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a study was done where participants were given 3.5 ounces of dark chocolate every day for two weeks, then went seven days without consuming any chocolate, followed by another two weeks of eating 3.2 ounces of white chocolate each day. The results showed that after the two-week period of consuming dark chocolate, blood sugar metabolism and insulin resistance were significantly improved. None of the same results were evident following the white chocolate period, demonstrating that flavonoids specific to dark chocolate provide a considerable benefit to fighting heart disease and diabetes.

Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD, a senior scientist at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, conducted another chocolate study reported on by the American Heart Association. Results of this study proved that eating dark chocolate helps to substantially lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. In fact, Blumberg claims “three ounces of dark chocolate per day over several weeks reduced blood pressure in patients with essential hypertension and also seemed to provide a benefit on their insulin sensitivity.” While these results may indicate chocolate as being healthy, Blumberg says, “The findings do not suggest that people with high blood pressure should eat lots of chocolate in lieu of other important blood pressure-reduction methods, such as medication and exercise.” Even though dark chocolate appears to be cardiovascular-friendly, it should not be considered a substitute for a healthy, balanced diet.

While the findings of these studies are exciting, they are not a prescription for over-indulging in your favorite chocolatey snack. Chocolate is widely known to be high in calories and fat, and as with most sweets, should be consumed in moderation. A small piece of dark chocolate each day seems appropriate.

Now that you know about chocolate’s potential health bonuses, you can enjoy your chocolate fix without guilt. With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, show those you care about how much you really love them by giving them a tasty treat that’s also advantageous to their health. Or, if you find yourself on the receiving end of this wonderful dark-chocolatey snack, say thank you – from the very bottom of your heart.

References, Reinberg, Steven, HealthDay News, Dark Chocolate May Sweeten the Way to Health, July 18, 2005., DeNoon, Daniel, WedMD Medical News, Dark Chocolate Has Health Benefits Not Seen in Other Varieties, August 27, 2003., Warner, Jennifer, WedMD Medical News, Eating Dark Chocolate May Also Fight Heart Disease and Diabetes, March 11, 2005.