Surprising health benefits of Valentine’s Day traditions

WASHINGTON — They’re familiar sights this time of year: A box of chocolates and a dozen roses. But it turns out there may be some surprising health benefits to these Valentine’s Day staples.

People have been trumpeting chocolate’s miracle properties for thousands of years, said Sally Squires, who writes the Lean Plate Club™ blog.

“It goes way back to an Aztec emperor who thought it made him more virile for his harem,” she said. In the 1800s, some doctors even prescribed chocolate to help lovelorn people mend their broken hearts.

But what does more modern-day research say about the health benefits of chocolate?

First, the bad news. That box of chocolate isn’t exactly low-calorie. There are typically between 155 and 175 calories per ounce.

“But the good news is there actually is a lot of really great stuff in chocolate,” Squires said. “And we’re really coming to appreciate the nutritional benefits of it.”

For one thing, chocolate contains stearic acid, a type of saturated fat.

“Now most of us would say, ‘Uh-oh, saturated fat, better stay away from that.’ But the fact is that stearic acid is one of those healthy saturated fats,” Squires said. It’s also found in beef.

Plus, chocolate contains other nutrients that are considered heart-healthy, because they dilate blood vessels and make the arteries more elastic, she said.

“We’re just finding that there are a lot of great benefits to eating chocolate,” Squires said.

It also turns out that that dozen roses from your sweetheart may not only warm your heart — it could also lower your blood pressure.

A study published in December in the Journal of Complementary Therapies in Medicine found that simply looking at fresh roses for a few minutes relaxed the study participants both physiologically and psychologically. Squires said a similar study was conducted in Japan among office workers.

“They actually start to relax. They feel kind of more mellow. And all the indicators of things like blood pressure … kind of eased and they go down,” she said. “Maybe it gives even more meaning to stop and smell the roses.”

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