Today is Valentine’s Day. Sometime during the day you’ll probably be tempted with some chocolate. The dilemma: to eat or not to eat the smooth, creamy stuff. Chocolate has gotten a lot of attention in the media in recent years regarding its potential as being protective to your cardiovascular system because the cocoa bean is rich in flavonoids. Flavonoids, a class of plant nutrient, help protect us from environmental toxins and help repair damage to our systems. Flavonoids are found in many fruits and vegetables, and also have antioxidant powers.

Antioxidants help the body’s cells resist damage caused by free radicals that are formed by normal bodily processes, such as breathing, and from environmental contaminants such as cigarette smoke. If your body is low on antioxidants it can become damaged by free radicals. An increase in oxidation can cause the bad cholesterol, LDL, to form plaque on the artery walls.

The main type of flavonoid found in cocoa and chocolate is flavanols. In addition to having antioxidant qualities, flavanols have been shown to have potential influences on vascular health such as improving blood flow to the brain and heart, making blood platelets less stick and able to clot and lowering blood pressure. Other foods and beverages that contain flavanols include cranberries, apples, peanuts, onions, tea and red wine.

Not all forms of chocolate contain high levels of flavanols. Normally cocoa has a strong taste, which comes from the flavanols. When cocoa is processed into chocolate products it goes through several steps to reduce the strong taste. The more processing the more flavanols are lost.

Most commercial chocolate is highly processed. Dark chocolate was once believed to contain the highest levels of flavanols, but additional research has shown that depending on how the dark chocolate was processed is more indicative of the level of flavanols. Manufacturers are looking for ways to keep the flavanols in their processed chocolate. For now your best choice when it comes to chocolate is to choose dark chocolate over milk chocolate and choose cocoa powder that has not undergone Dutch processing (cocoa that is treated with an alkali to neutralize its natural acidity).

The fat in chocolate comes from cocoa butter and is made up of equal parts of oleic acid (a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat also found in olive oil), stearic and palmitic acids, forms of saturated fat. Saturated fats are linked to increase in that bad LDL cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. Research has shown that stearic acid appears to have a neutral effect on cholesterol, neither raising nor lowering it. Palmitic acid does affect cholesterol levels, but it is only about one-third of the fat calories in chocolate.

If you are tempted with chocolate today — treat yourself to a little, preferably of the dark stuff.

Treat your “sweet” to a special breakfast treat — Red Velvet Pancakes. Or save it for this weekend.

Red velvet pancakes

6 tablespoons whole-wheat pastry flour or white flour

7 tablespoons oat bran

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon

6 tablespoons cocoa powder

1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 cup pureed raspberries

3 tablespoon Canola oil

6 tablespoons sugar

optional: mini chocolate chips

Mix dry ingredients. Add wet and mix. Then make your pancakes. Top with a few mini chocolate chips.

Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian and adjunct nutrition instructor at Eastern Maine Community College who lives in Athens. Read more of her columns and post questions at or email her at