The name “Valentine” comes from the Latin name Valentinus, which means “strong and healthy”. Apparently it was a common family name in the third century. And there were a few saints with the name, so we only have legend to link the name to romance.
The legend includes a priest named Valentinus who performed marriage ceremonies for soldiers and their beloveds after the Emperor of Rome declared that unwed soldiers were more likely to keep their attention on their duties, and not pine for home and family.
The priest lived up to his brave name and died for the sake of his belief that marriage was sacred, and that God’s Law was above Rome’s.
In the Sixth Century the Pope named a day in February as a celebration or Feast Day for the priest, and February became the month that symbolized love and romance. Another St. Valentinus who was persecuted for his faith was renowned for sending a young girl a letter signed “Your Valentine”, and it is in his honor that hearts and sweet words are exchanged on Valentines Day.
Where does chocolate fit in? Apparently, chocolate was considered an aphrodisiac by the Aztecs, who first cultivated it. One Aztec King is reputed to have imbibed 60 cups of chocolate a day to keep his harem happy. There is little science to back up the aphrodisiac effects, but one study does suggest that sugar heightens interest in the opposite sex. https://mic.com/articles/105736/science-reveals-surprising-connection-between-chocolate-and-love#.WC9FIIZfe
There is plenty of science to support the fact that chocolate does stimulate certain brain chemicals, Serotonin and Dopamine, that induce a feeling of wellbeing. Serotonin and Dopamine are natural chemicals, produced by the brain, that are vital for brain health and mood. They are manufactured, utilized by cells, and removed again in a continuous creative cycle, so stimulating more of them can improve mood and lower stress levels. https://www.netdoctor.co.uk/healthy-eating/a10855/chocolate-guide/
Serendipitously, eating the right chocolate is a boon to heart health. Yale researchers found that dark chocolate lowered blood pressure. https://www.aarp.org/health/medical-research/info-03-2011/dark-chocolate-can-help-lower-your-blood-pressure.html
A study by Swedish researchers found that patients who ate dark chocolate cut their risk of dying from heart disease dramatically. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100817161110.htm
Note that the chocolate used in these positive studies is dark chocolate, with minimal sugar. Sugar may have the opposite effect. In fact, sugar is a far greater risk than salt, and may be equal to trans-fats, which are fats altered by high heat or chemical additives like margarine and shortening. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2797556/
Cacao, the source of chocolate, could be considered a plant-based medicine. Like all natural foods, enjoying it closest to its original form has the most benefits. So the darker the chocolate the better. There are chocolates available sweetened with Stevia, a plant-based sweetener, that does not contain sugar, but is naturally sweet.
Cacao contains bioflavonoids and polyphenols, which strengthen blood vessels, and antioxidants, which neutralize harmful compounds in the body called free-radicals. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/7-health-benefits-dark-chocolate#section2
Polyphenols have recently been touted for their health benefits by Dr. Stephen Gundry, author of The Plant Paradox. Dr. Gundry is a Cardiologist who changed his practice from a drug-based approach to a wellness and nutritional medicine approach.
One way to enjoy chocolate is to make your own bars. See 3-ingredient recipe here https://chocolatecoveredkatie.com/2012/01/15/three-ingredient-chocolate-bars-1/
At our house I use organic unsweetened Cacao powder to add to our morning power shakes. With some cinnamon and/or vanilla added, with Stevia as a sweeterner, it makes a delicious chocolate smoothie that will please the chocaholic in your life.
St. Valentine stood up for the right of individuals to seek their own happiness in relationships and marriage. Happy long-term relationships have their own health benefits. And, as I recently discovered, marriage lowers your car insurance! What better proof could there be!
I hope this helps you to choose your indulgences wisely and I wish you all a strong, healthy, happy, and romantic, Valentines Day.
For the full low-down on how to choose your chocolate:
How much cocoa should it have to be healthy?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration defines the categories of chocolate based on their content of cacao, or cocoa solids. The higher the percentage of cocoa solids, the more heart-healthy flavonoids the chocolate contains. To choose the healthiest dark chocolate, check the label: It should say the chocolate contains 60 to 70 percent cacao. These chocolates are often called bittersweet or extra bittersweet; they contain a small amount of sugar for flavor and a healthy amount of flavonoids. Here, then, is dark truth about chocolate:
Unsweetened chocolate: 100 percent cacao.
Bittersweet chocolate: 35 to 99 percent cacao; must contain at least 35 percent unsweetened chocolate and less than 12 percent milk solids; the broadest category, it can include products called bittersweet, semisweet, dark, extra dark or extra bittersweet.
Sweet chocolate: 15 to 34 percent cacao; must contain at least 15 percent unsweetened chocolate and less than 12 percent milk solids; sometimes also called dark chocolate, although it has a lower percentage of cocoa solids than bittersweet.
Milk chocolate: Contains at least 10 percent unsweetened chocolate, 12 percent milk solids, 3.39 percent milk fat.