It’s that time of year when heart-shaped boxes of chocolates dominate grocery store aisles and conversation hearts circle the office. If love isn’t in the air, sugar certainly is—prompting people around the country to dip into treats they might otherwise evade.
But with the surge of “clean” chocolates now on the market—non-GMO, fair trade organic dark chocolates—there’s no reason to shun the sweet stuff your valentine gave you. Indeed, dark chocolate containing 70% cacao content or more is a boon for your brain, body and complexion.
Derived from the cacao tree—a small evergreen native to Central and South America—dark chocolate boasts a number of health benefits, from improving your cognition to helping shield your skin from photoaging. This is due to the presence of flavonoids, which operate as antioxidants—protective agents that protect cells from free radical damage. Happily indulge—and reap chocolate’s many rewards—by reaching for these 3 different types:
1. Cacao Nibs
Cacao nibs are an intensely-flavored, nutrient-dense superfood created by peeling and crumbling whole cacao beans. Brimming with fiber, iron, magnesium and more, these crunchy bits add a boost of nutrition to recipes ranging from smoothies to cereal. Found everywhere from health food stores to organic cafés, they’re an excellent addition to freshly sliced fruit or a bowl of homemade granola.
2. Cocoa Powder
Cocoa—which is ground and roasted (and undergoes higher temps than cacao during its refinement process)—supports lower cholesterol levels and enhances proper blood flow. The pantry staple has also been shown to provide antidepressant benefits and release endorphins.
Look for an unsweetened, certified organic product, and use it in everything from protein shakes to muffins. One recipe to try on a wintry night? A mug of hot chocolate made with rice milk, vanilla, cinnamon and raw sugar.
3. Dark Chocolate Bars
Gone are the days when your only quick-fix chocolate choices were Snickers bars and Hershey kisses. Now, both large manufacturers and niche brands are churning out chocolate bars that go light on unwholesome additives and big on health benefits.
A minimum of 70% cacao content per bar supplies antioxidant value and tastes wonderfully decadent. Purists will find much to love in simple dark chocolate bars, while those searching for an extra kick of flavor will adore flourishes like ginger, chili peppers and maca (a Peruvian root, rich in calcium, potassium and copper, that improves skin tone and bolsters energy). Keep your daily dose of chocolate to an ounce or less and you can profit immensely from this popular aphrodisiac—on Valentine’s Day, of course, and always.