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There's nothing like silky, creamy chocolate that melts in your mouth, oozes over your tongue and delights your taste buds with its rich flavor. Maybe that's why the average American consumes approximately 11.7 pounds of chocolate every year.

Not only does chocolate taste delicious, it also creates a pleasurable response in the body and emotions. Ingredients in chocolate increase the body's production of endorphins, chemicals that give that feel-good feeling. The sugar in chocolate boosts levels of the brain chemical serotonin, which leads to feelings of relaxation. Aztec Indians believed chocolate to be an aphrodisiac and it's said eating chocolate releases a chemical in your body similar to those produced when you're in love.

No wonder the chocolate plant's botanical name is Theobramba cacao, which means "Food of the Gods."

In recent years, scientific studies have suggested that eating chocolate can produce health benefits. This is good news for chocolate lovers.

Chocolate, specifically dark chocolate, is high in antioxidants. These antioxidants help remove harmful molecules that can cause cancer, heart disease and other illnesses. Chocolate contains polyphenols, the same kind of antioxidants that give red wine and green tea their healthy reputation.

The flavonoids in cocoa seem to help prevent cardiovascular disease. Flavonoids improve the function and flow of bleed vessels, help reduce clotting, help control inflammation and help prevent LDL (bad cholesterol) oxidation. Studies suggest that the cocoa phenols may even lower blood pressure.

Research published in the British Medical Journal said that eating dark chocolate (along with fish, vegetables, fruit, almonds, garlic and wine) could reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by 76 percent. Their findings showed that eating 100 grams of dark chocolate per day could reduce blood pressure several points, reducing the risk of heart attack or stroke by 21 percent.

Despite its health benefits, chocolate packs a walloping amount of fat and calories and should be eaten in moderation. One ounce of semi-sweet chocolate (about the size of a lug nut) contains 140 calories and nine grams of fat. One medium apple contains 80 calories and zero grams of fat. Though it would be nice, chocolate cannot replace fruits and vegetables for getting your daily dose of antioxidants.

When choosing your chocolate, be picky. All chocolates are not created equal. The darker the better. Usually the higher priced, higher quality dark chocolates contain greater amounts of antioxidants and flavonoids. Processing cocoa, particularly adding alkali, and adding other ingredients can reduce its potency. The more pure cocoa in a chocolate product, the higher its health benefits.

Chocolate can boost your mood. It can awaken feelings of love. It can be healthy for your heart. And there is nothing that compares to its taste. So as you celebrate Valentine's Day, enjoy chocolate. Enjoy it dark. And remember that a little goes a long way.