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Good news for chocolate lovers: It’s good for you

Mike Cross listens while his daughter, Natalie, 7, points out different varieties of chocolates at Sweet Mimi’s in Andover.

Photos by Mark Lorenz for the Boston Globe

Mike Cross listens while his daughter, Natalie, 7, points out different varieties of chocolates at Sweet Mimi’s in Andover.

If anyone knows the connection between romance and chocolate, it’s Mike Cross.

“Chocolate contains a chemical called phenylethylamine,” says Cross. “It’s the same chemical your brain pumps out when you first start to feel attracted to someone — that jittery, excited, can’t-wait-to-see-them feeling.”

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Cross, 33, of Atkinson, N.H., who has a doctorate in chemistry and teaches the subject at Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill, has chocolate down to a science.

He shares the hard facts — and as a chocolate lover himself, much more — in “Chocolate: The Perfect Drug,” which he presents around the region through the college’s speakers bureau.

February is his busiest month for appearances, so as Valentine’s Day approached, we sat down with Cross as he explained everything chocolate.

Q: What other brain-affecting chemicals are in chocolate?

A: Tryptophan, which is what your body uses to make serotonin, which makes you feel good. It helps you kind of feel like you’re in love.

And anandamide, which is one of the active ingredients in cannabis.

Q: Where do the health benefits come from?

Mark Lorenz for the Boston Globe

Chocolates at Sweet Mimim's in Andover.

‘In a group of about 30 or 40 people, I’ll typically have one who just hates chocolate.’

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A: Flavanols, which are potent antioxidants. Not only can flavanols prevent cancer, but they can help dilate blood vessels and lower the risk of strokes. And lower blood pressure.

Q: What type of chocolate is best for health?

A: The darker the better.

Q:Does price matter?

A: Usually the cheaper brands will skimp on the cocoa, because it’s expensive, so they will start to add in fillers and sugar.

Q: How much cocoa should there be?

A: Typically, most [quality] dark chocolate bars will be 40 to 50 percent cocoa. [It should be on the label.]

Q: What are your favorites?

A: Lindt (a Swiss chocolate with a factory outlet in Stratham, N.H.) and Ghirardelli (American chocolate, based in San Francisco).

Q: When and how much chocolate should people eat?

A. Every night, two squares (about one-third of a Lindt bar or about 30 grams; a full bar is about 100 grams).

Mark Lorenz for the Boston Globe

Cross, looked over a variety of candy and chocolates at Sweet Mimi’s with his children.

Q: What do you consume?

A: Every night, two squares.

Q: What about your family?

A: My wife likes chocolate even more than I do. For the kids it’s a treat. But they don’t like dark chocolate.

Q: Everyone says women like chocolate more than men. Is that true?

A: It seems that way but we would have to do a scientific poll. There seems to be some reasoning. Chocolate contains a lot of magnesium and, typically, certain times of the month women need more magnesium.

Q: People also say everyone likes chocolate. Is that true?

A: In a group of about 30 or 40 people, I’ll typically have one who just hates chocolate. It’s all or nothing. There are very few people who are like ‘Ah, it’s OK.’

Q: Is it dangerous for pets to ingest chocolate?

A: Humans are the only species on the planet that can metabolize chocolate. There is a chemical in it called theobromine which is something dogs, cats, and horses can’t metabolize. It gets in their liver and builds up and can kill them. It’s toxic for any animal, but dogs are pretty much the only animal that won’t stop eating it.

Q: What’s the best time and way to eat chocolate?

A: Any time you are not rushed. I try to eat it when I am not watching television or in the car or something because you just scarf it down without thinking about it. I tell myself this is a treat. I am going to eat two pieces of it and really stop and enjoy it. I try to eat it slow, let it melt in my mouth, and enjoy the experience just for a few minutes.

For more on Mike Cross’s presentation, visit necc.mass.edu/community-engagement/speakers-bureau.
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