Many people in the United States and around the world like to share special gifts and cards with their loved ones every year on February 14, Valentine's Day. Originally a day to honor a Christian saint, it is no longer associated with any particular faith. It has become synonymous with expressions of love - and most of all, gifts of chocolate. These days, some might feel guilty about sharing such high-fat, high-calorie confections. But nutritionists say a little bit of chocolate can be very good for your health.
In the days leading up to Valentine's Day, Americans buy some $700 million worth of chocolate treats... luscious, creamy and loaded with fat. But recent studies show that dark chocolate can also be good for your heart.
Researchers find that dark chocolate and aspirin have similar effects on the blood. They thin out the blood so it flows more easily, even through partially-blocked arteries, and that could reduce the possibility of a heart attack.
But for chocolate lovers everywhere, the health benefits are even better than that.
"Research shows that we get flavinoids in dark chocolate," said nutritionist Tammy Roberts.
Flavinoids are nutrients found in many different kinds of plants. They help protect plants against disease and insects. When we eat food with high levels of flavinoids, these nutrients trigger our immune systems to produce enzymes - proteins - that reduce the risk of some kinds of cancer, heart disease and some other diseases that come with age.
In fact, 21 scientific studies involving more than 2,600 participants examined the effects of dark chocolate on the heart. The studies showed that eating dark chocolate lowered blood pressure and improved the ability of insulin to regulate blood sugar.
Tammy Roberts says flavinoids are also found in something that tastes great when covered with dark chocolate, strawberries.
"The health benefits of chocolate-covered strawberries are that both chocolate and strawberries contain antioxidants, and antioxidants are important for immune function and preventing infection," Roberts added.
Roberts says the best Valentine's Day gift combines fruit and chocolate.
"When you give your Valentine a basket full of fruit that has just a little bit of chocolate, then you're really showing them the very best kind of love, because you're giving them a lot of antioxidants and vitamin C with just enough chocolate to make it exciting," Roberts explained.
Just remember to make it dark chocolate.