By May “Mosaic” Advincula, Editor-in-chief

Chocolate is a common staple during the month of February, and store shelves are often stocked with an assortment of these sweet indulgences. It is estimated that US chocolate and cocoa companies ship approximately $14 billion worth of products a year for Valentine’s Day.
One of the most common myths about chocolate is that it lacks any nutritional value. However, when consumed in small quantities, there are a few proven health benefits. For example, dark chocolate contains flavanoids that come from cocoa bean extracts. Flavanoids have been known to have antioxidant effects that can reduce cell damage. In addition, they have also been linked to heart, brain, skin and teeth benefits while also reducing stress and improving your mood.

Dark chocolate that contains about 65% or higher cocoa content have the most beneficial compounds, but these benefits decrease when pure chocolate is mixed with sugar, milk, butter and other ingredients that are often found in most Valentine treats. This is why the term “milk chocolate” might be a bit misleading, as it does not make a huge calcium contribution for your bones.

For a healthier alternative to milk chocolate that can quell your cravings and is good for your bones, try this following recipe from Best Bones Forever:

Chocolate Pudding Pie with Strawberry Cream
Ingredients:

Crust
2 cups or 1 (6.5-ounce) package crushed chocolate sugarfree sandwich cookies
1 tablespoon light margarine, melted
1 egg white

Filling
1 (1.4ounce) package sugarfree, fat-free pudding mix (chocolate or white chocolate mousse flavor)
1¾ cups fat-free milk

Topping
1¾ cups fatfree whipped topping
¾ cup frozen no-sugar-added strawberries, thawed and mashed
Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
2. Combine all ingredients for the crust in a medium bowl and stir well using a fork to combine. Press crust mixture in an 8inch pie plate coated with cooking spray. (It may help to press crust with the back of a spoon coated with cooking spray.)
3. Bake the crust for 10 minutes, then remove from oven and cool completely on a wire rack.
4. Once the crust is cool, prepare pudding with milk according to package directions for making pie filling. Pour pudding into crust and cover with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic wrap onto the surface of the pudding to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
5. In a medium bowl, fold mashed strawberries into the whipped topping. Remove plastic wrap from surface of the pudding and spread strawberry topping on top of the pie. Chill for at least 1 hour. Garnish with slices of thawed strawberries before serving.
*Note: You can also use 1 cup of frozen, mashed raspberries in place of the strawberries.

Sources:
http://crofton.patch.com/articles/love-and-chocolate
http://www.modbee.com/2011/02/13/1552941/casting-lighton-benefits-of-dark.html
http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=1019

Photo Credit:

http://www.sxc.hu/