A Chocolate Dilemma

HOUGHTON – Many holidays lend themselves to unhealthy indulgences, and for many people this Valentine’s Day, chocolate serves that role. Chocolate in moderation, particularly dark chocolate, can actually be a healthy option, but dieticians suggest several ideas to curb the temptation to overindulge.

“It’s a holiday, get some chocolate, enjoy it, savor it. … Having it in moderation is totally fine,” said Beth Cook, nutrition and dietetics manager at Aspirus Keweenaw. “But if you’re the type that overindulges, try to stay away from a lot of it. Out of sight out of mind.”

Cook noted that holidays all run together for retailers, and Easter candy is already hitting the shelves. The constant chocolate onslaught can be a temptation to many people, especially when post-holiday sales make indulging easier on the wallet (but not the waistline). Also, many work environments make resisting the temptation a challenge by always having bowls of candy nearby.

“A lot of candy and sugary sweets are high in calories, and we know over the holidays, Christmas for example, people can put on up to 10 pounds, and sometimes it doesn’t come off,” said Cook, who knows from her experience working one on one with patients. “Those times when there are more sweets than usual, it provides a little rush of energy and euphoria, it can become addictive. It takes a while to wean off sugar.”

What better way to resist the candy cravings, Cook said, than replacing candy with healthier alternatives.

Even just switching from white chocolate, which doesn’t have any cocoa solids, to regular dark chocolate containing about 70 percent cocoa can make a difference. Milk chocolate has more saturated fat, and it’s easier to eat larger portions of it than the stronger, more bitter tasting dark chocolate.

“Dark chocolate has some antioxidants in it, and there are other healthy options,” Cook said. “Find chocolate with nuts and almonds, or bars with dried fruit. There’s some great options at the (Keweenaw Co-Op).”

Chocolate-covered strawberries or other fruit can help find a healthy balance, while still satisfying cravings. Perhaps choosing low-fat dessert options or splitting a dessert with a partner on Valentine’s Day can help establish healthy patterns. “Sharing the love” by bringing extra candy from home to work can help with the goal of moderation.

“Looking at ways to remove yourself from the tempting situation can also help, like drinking a glass of water, finding other foods that take away that urge, an apple, or chewing some gum,” Cook said.

In terms of gift giving this Valentine’s Day, while a box of chocolates may be a simple, romantic gesture, other types of gifts can be used instead of or in addition to it. Flowers are often a go-to gift for Valentine’s Day as well, but Cook suggested giving coupons for a foot massage or a back rub. It could just have the same or greater aphrodisiac effect as decadent desserts.

Perhaps for some people on this chocolate lovers holiday, it’s a bit too late to take such advice, but not all hope is lost. Healthy habits can start any time, and exercise is one way to work off a period of overindulgence. Getting outside can be a challenge during Copper Country winters, but the benefit is worth it.

“I tell people there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing,” Cook said. “Even just a 10-minute walk can really get the blood flowing.”

Bring some hot chocolate with you, if it helps get you out the door – in moderation, of course.