Valentine’s Day is in less than two weeks. Although I am not a big fan of the holiday, any excuse to indulge is always a good thing. I like to remind myself of the many health benefits of chocolate every time I dig into a piece. Occasionally, I splurge on a bar of Green & Blacks Dark 85% Cocoa. Not too bitter, decadent and delicious.
Chocolate contains flavonoids – pigments found in plants that act as antioxidants that help reduce damage to our bodies. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals which clog arteries, damage cells and contribute to chronic illness and ageing. Dark chocolate contains a large number of antioxidants. (Apparently nearly 8 times the number found in strawberries?) Milk chocolate has fewer flavonoids, more added sugar and added milk fat. White chocolate fans might be disappointed to learn it contains no flavonoids and is the least healthy of the three.
There is a dark side to chocolate that I wish I knew a long time ago. Most chocolate comes from cocoa farms where farmers work in unsafe conditions and receive below poverty wages. In recent years, the media has exposed the common practice of forced labour on cocoa plantations in West Africa where 70% of the world’s chocolate comes from. Save the Children estimates that 200,000 of the 600,000 children on the Ivory Coast are working on cocoa plantations. An estimated 12,000 work without family or relatives and that suggests human trafficking and slave labour. Big chocolate manufacturers (Hershey, Mars, Cadbury, Kraft) acknowledge that conditions must improve. They joined government and non-profit initiatives with the promise to change children’s working conditions, reduce pesticide use, improve farming practices and wages. Unfortunately, activists say there has been little progress over the years.
Chocoholics do not despair. Knowing where your chocolate comes from makes it easier to swallow. There are labels to help consumers with shopping decisions.
Certified Fair-Trade – Farmers and workers are paid a fair price. No child, slave or forced labour practiced.
Rainforest Alliance-Certified – Chemical pesticides are limited using conservation measures. Workers are paid the legal minimum wage or higher and have good working conditions.
Certified Organic – Grown without chemical pesticides or synthetic fertilizers using soil and water conservation.
This Valentines might be a good time to reconsider the heart shaped box of assorted centers and buy chocolate that is better for your health, the workers, and the planet. Oh, and the extra thought could win you big points with your sweetheart too.