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Make hearts happy this Valentine's Day -- Enjoy the healthy passion of chocolate

Prometheus Books

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IMAGE: This is the cover of "Chocolate- A Healthy Passion. " view more

Credit: Prometheus Books

Nothing says Valentine's Day like a big chocolate heart. While overindulging leads to calorie concerns, the right amounts of the right kinds of chocolate can actually make your valentine feel and even look better. Science has proved what ancient civilizations believed so long ago: chocolate has healing powers. CHOCOLATE--A HEALTHY PASSION (Prometheus Books, $19.98) explains chocolate's role in health and wellness, explores its history, culture, and sensory pleasures, and offers inspiring ways to incorporate chocolate indulgence into everyday life.

The authors, registered dietitians Shara Aaron and Monica Bearden, reveal how to truly savor chocolate. Even the most avid chocoholics will pick up tips on how to intensify the full chocolate flavor and expand their sensual experience. Debra Miller, PhD, Director of Nutrition for The Hershey Company, says CHOCOLATE--A HEALTHY PASSION is "a must read for any true chocolate aficionado... the authors relate the compelling story of chocolate--its allure to its analysis--from their unique perspective."

Aaron and Bearden were pioneers in helping communicate the news that dark chocolate may enhance health, helping to launch the first "heart healthy" chocolate brand for a global chocolate company in the late 1990s. In this book, they share their wide-ranging knowledge of chocolate. They explain how across the globe, chocolate is part of people's lifestyles, holding a special place in holidays like Valentine's Day and other celebrations. They journey to the rainforest to explore the origins of chocolate, tracing its history through the centuries, from the Maya and Aztec cultures, where the chocolate phenomenon began. Over the ages, this dark, delectable food has been viewed as a gift from the gods, as valuable as gold, a medical treatment for illness, a social indulgence for the elite, and finally a treat to be enjoyed by everyone.

Research shows that eating chocolate and natural cocoa may improve vascular health, blood pressure, cognitive health, blood flow, and skin health. According to studies by the USDA, just two tablespoons of natural cocoa have more antioxidant power than 4 cups of green tea, one cup of blueberries or one and a half glasses of red wine.

Flavanols--the compounds in chocolate found in the cocoa bean--increase blood flow, providing a protective effect against inflammation and subsequent cardiovascular disease, helping to reduce blood pressure, and even making skin look more hydrated. There are also cognitive benefits to increased circulation.

Eating chocolate products with just 60% cocoa is sufficient for enjoying a smooth, not too bitter taste while still getting health benefits. Buying such chocolate in portion-controlled formats, such as tasting squares, allows one to enjoy the health benefits without overindulging in calories.

There are psychological and sensory benefits to pampering your body's outside with chocolate too. That's why CHOCOLATE--A HEALTHY PASSION not only contains recipes for using chocolate in foods but also in bath gels, lip balms, facial masks and soaps. Perhaps you and your Valentine can indulge in the pleasure of chocolate both inside and out!

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About the Authors:

Shara Aaron, MS, RD (Yardley, PA), has contributed many health-related articles to Family Circle, Parents, American Baby, and Fitness, among other publications. She is the co-owner of NutCom Nutrition Communications, an advisory board member of American Baby, and the communications chair and editor of the New Jersey Dietetic Association Newsletter. She has acted as a corporate spokesperson to discuss the health benefits of cocoa.

Monica Bearden, RD (Tomball, TX), has published frequently on the cardiovascular health benefits of chocolate. She is the co-owner of NutCom Nutrition Communications and a nutrition consultant for the YMCA. She has worked as a nutrition scientist for a major chocolate manufacturer. Bearden ran the early research at UC Davis that showed cocoa to have health benefits and was a company spokesperson to discuss the health benefits of cocoa with media. She has published numerous papers and has given numerous presentations on the subject of cocoa and health.

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