February 12, 2009 in Idaho Voices

Stimulate economy – buy chocolate

Sweets good for your heart, country
By The Spokesman-Review
 

This year, giving chocolate for Valentine’s Day is not merely a gesture of love; it may extend the life of your valentine and save our country at the same time. There is growing evidence that buying (and eating) chocolate is actually the patriotic thing to do – and it’s healthy, too.

On the national scene, Valentine’s Day may provide the stimulus our economy needs to get moving. Despite recent sagging retail sales, Americans are expected to spend an estimated $345 million on chocolate this week. Add those chocolates to flowers and a valentine or two and we could really jumpstart the nation’s financial system. While recognizing sales will be down from last year due to a slowing economy, the National Retail Federation predicts Valentine’s Day sales to reach $14.7 billion.

Unlike the contentious stimulus package being dissected in the nation’s Capitol, this means those of us on Main Street can make a difference right away by putting nearly $15 billion exactly where it is needed: helping to keep more than 1,100 chocolate and cocoa-producing businesses solvent, thus ensuring the employment of more than 40,000 workers.

Buying that same chocolate, may also improve your health. Once shunned by those seeking a health conscious diet, recent studies have concluded that chocolate, especially morsels of dark chocolate, are actually beneficial to lowering your blood pressure, and keeping your blood flowing and your heart healthy.

Recent studies in both Europe and the U.S. concluded that chocolate is high in potent antioxidants. In fact, chocolate has been proven to have higher antioxidant properties (flavonols) than many other foods including blueberries, prunes, red wine, tea, cranberries, peanuts and strawberries.

These flavonoid-rich foods help the body process nitric oxide, which aids in maintaining healthy blood flow and blood pressure. In other words, instead of the pore-clogging substance we’ve always thought it to be, chocolate actually helps reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by helping prevent clogged arteries.

Chocolate may also help burn fat. One recent British study concluded that those who eat chocolate are in better health than those who don’t. Tests showed the chocolate lovers processed fatty foods better and had lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Note to all: chocolate is still high in calories and doctors aren’t saying, “Take two candy bars and call me in the morning.” They are acknowledging chocolate may have long-term heart benefits, but only when paired with a healthy diet.

Now to one of chocolate’s side effects – it just makes us feel better. That is due, say scientists, to the mood-enhancing chemicals chocolate contains that are capable of giving an energy lift, lessening anxiety, reducing pain and making us smile.

That’s important these days. Your gift of chocolate can improve flagging spirits during these tough economic times. Although not a long term fix, what the Mayans called “the food of the gods,” will help energize ebbing spirits due to the loss of a home, a job, or your entire life savings due to Wall Street shenanigans.

Recognizing these hard times, savvy retailers are offering a cornucopia of all things chocolate – some call it chocolate therapy. Whether in the kitchen, the bathroom or the boudoir, there is something chocolate to meet your every need.

Some lucky valentines may receive certificates for full body chocolate spa treatments with exquisitely concocted chocolate creams, lotions and potions. Those on tighter budgets may create a similar spa-like atmosphere at home by lighting a chocolate candle and then pampering her with chocolate soap, chocolate perfume or chocolate bubble bath.

In the kitchen, innovative retailers have moved beyond chocolate fondue pots and chocolate dipped strawberries. You may win valentine points for helping your loved one discover chocolate wine, chocolate popcorn, chocolate cheese or even chocolate pasta; while a smooth, handcrafted chocolate beer, may just clinch the deal for more than a few North Idaho paramours.

Whether your budget will allow a handful of foil-wrapped Hershey Kisses, one of those big red foil hearts full of chocolates, or that full day of chocolate therapy at a local day spa, spend that money. Get out there and buy that chocolate for the health of your valentine and your nation.

Contact correspondent Mary Jane Honegger by e-mail at Honegger2@verizon.net.

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