With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, everyone’s chocolate cravings are suddenly hitting an all-time high. Heart-shaped boxes with bite-sized morsels of sweet gooey goodness make love birds swoon and diets crash. Choosing the right kind of chocolate, though, can actually be good for a healthy diet, and you don’t need to hold off on indulging until a special occasion like Valentine’s Day.

We all know that chocolate has properties that trigger the release of endorphins that make us feel good and happy. Dark chocolate, in particular, has higher concentrations of flavonoids, which are potent plant antioxidants found in cocoa beans.

Antioxidants are known to neutralize damaging free radicals, which are believed to advance aging and promote cancer and heart disease. Dark chocolate with higher concentrations of cocoa and lower fat content has even been found to reduce blood pressure.

To get the maximum health benefit, choose “functional” chocolates that have a cocoa content of around 70 percent. Lower concentrations usually mean more calories, fat and cholesterol, while cocoa concentrations above 80 percent will likely just give you a mouthful of bitter chalk. Don’t binge on dark chocolate just because of its healthful properties; an ounce (best at room temperature) is more than enough to kick-start the antioxidant power while satisfying your sweet tooth and keeping your waistline in check. Have a glass of red wine with your chocolate (not just because it’s Valentine’s Day) to heighten the flavor profile and further boost the antioxidant benefit.

Other ways to get your chocolate fix while being good to your body include chocolaty products that have been supplemented with essential vitamins and minerals. One such product that has been great for women at risk for bone density loss is the VIACTIV line of chocolate chews. Two chews provide 100 percent of the daily value of calcium, while flavors like chocolate mint and milk chocolate offer a tasty alternative to choking down a pill. GNC offers a chocolate product with omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower blood pressure and enhance heart health. Maramor omega-3 Dark Chocolate Squares are 70 percent cocoa and offer a sweet substitute for fish oil without the scales.

Where to find:
A gorgeous selection of luscious dark chocolate abounds at Trader Joe’s in Ventura, Rainbow Bridge in Ojai or Whole Foods in Thousand Oaks. I am partial to the Endangered Species line of chocolate bars, which are fair trade, mostly organic, and 10 percent of the net profits help support species, habitat and humanity. Try the organic smooth dark chocolate with the Karner blue butterfly on the outside of the wrapper, which is 70 percent cocoa, vegan and kosher. VIACTIV chocolate chews can be found at most drugstores, and visit any of our local GNC stores, including the one at Pacific View Mall, to pick up the Maramor squares.   

Lisa Snider is a local freelance writer.  For more, go to  www.LisaSnider.com.