7 Facts About Valentine's Day Chocolates
Valentine’s Day is the perfect excuse to enjoy one of the most universally beloved sweets: chocolate.
Overdoing it can have consequences for your diet — but you don’t have to abstain completely, either. Before you open that box, here are seven facts you should know about Valentine’s Day chocolates.
1. The serving size for a box of chocolates is typically about two pieces.
Yes, that’s right, the standard serving size for a Valentine’s chocolate box is less than you might think: just two pieces.
“You should limit your intake of added sugars to no more than 10 percent of your total calories, per the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” says Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, and owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area. (Keep in mind we’re talking about added sugars here, not naturally occurring sugars found in, say, an apple.)
For example, if you eat a 2,000-calorie diet, she says, you should aim to consume no more than 200 calories of added sugar a day. That’s the equivalent of 50 grams.
However, “The American Heart Association has stricter guidelines,” says Jennifer Glockner, RDN and creator of Smartee Plate.
The AHA says that added sugars should make up no more than half of your discretionary calories, which are the calories left over after you meet your daily nutrient requirements.
For most American women, that equals about 100 calories a day from added sugars, respectively, or about one ounce (or 28 grams) of chocolate a day.
2. Chocolate has antioxidant-like compounds.
If you’ve heard chocolate is healthy, you’re not totally wrong. Chocolate — more specifically cocoa — contains antioxidant-like compounds that can help mitigate the damage to cells caused by free radicals in the body.
That said, eating dark chocolate doesn’t automatically improve your health. “In order to get the full benefits of flavanols,” Glockner says, “you may need to consume a large quantity of chocolate, which means also increasing your sugar and calorie intake.”
3. Milk chocolate and dark chocolate have different amounts of sugar.
“Chocolate is composed of cocoa beans, cocoa butter, and additives like sugar,” says Glockner, but “dark chocolate contains more cocoa beans and usually less sugar.”
What’s more, “Cocoa beans also have protein, fiber, and minerals such as iron and magnesium,” Glockner says. “So the darker the chocolate,” she adds, “the more health benefits you get.”
So if you want minimal additives and less sugar in your treats, look for chocolate that contains at least 70 percent cacao, Glockner says.
4. Most boxes of Valentine’s Day chocolates have lots of additives.
Valentine’s Day chocolates, like most sweet treats, contain ingredients like added sugars and additives. Some added sugars are obvious, but others have more confusing names you could overlook in the ingredient list. According to the CDC, added sugars can include the following:
- Brown sugar
- Corn sweetener
- Corn syrup
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Malt syrup
- Raw sugar
Other types of added sugars include sugar alcohols like sorbitol and maltitol, as well as artificial sweeteners like saccharine and aspartame.
5. Overdoing it on chocolate can make you feel bad.
Eating chocolate can trigger the pleasure and reward centers in your brain, making you feel good, but it’s a slippery slope.
When your blood sugar level increases, your body releases insulin, Glockner says, which can then cause your blood sugar levels to dip within a few hours. That dip is what’s known as an energy crash.
When that happens, “Low blood sugar levels may cause you to feel very hungry, shaky, jittery, fatigued, and sleepy, with a lack of concentration,” she says.
Over time, Gorin says eating too much sugar can also increase your risk of weight gain, cavities, and other health issues. “Also, consuming calories from added sugars takes away space in your diet for nutrient-dense foods,” she says.
To help maintain stable blood sugar levels and prevent crashes, Glockner recommends eating sugar at the end of your meal, along with some protein and fiber. This slows down the rate of sugar absorption, she says.
6. Chocolates with almonds or coconut flakes can offer some added benefits.
There’s no one type of chocolate that’s best for Valentine’s Day — what you indulge in depends on your preferences and dietary needs.
However, a quick rule of thumb is to look for dark chocolate that lists cocoa as the first ingredient, rather than sugar, Glockner says.
Consider other types of chocolate treats, too, like dark chocolate bark with almonds or coconut flakes. Nuts in chocolate offer a bit of protein, fiber, and healthy fats, says Gorin.
Strawberries dipped in dark chocolate are also a good choice, she adds, since “you’re getting fiber and antioxidants from the strawberry, and also the health benefits of dark chocolate.”
7. An evening indulgence doesn’t have to derail your diet.
The general takeaway: Yes, you can incorporate some Valentine’s Day chocolate into your diet without sending you off the rails, but you want to avoid plowing through half a box in a sitting.
“Try to make a box of chocolates last — and really enjoy the chocolate when you eat it,” says Gorin. That means savoring the candy, paying attention to its taste and texture, and not multitasking as you eat, she says.
And try not to feel guilty for indulging, Glockner says. “It’s more important to maintain a healthy eating pattern overall than focus on [the effect of] one snack or one day,” she says.