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Health benefits of chocolate and how we choose our favorites

A bitten sample of chocolate.Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe/Globe Freelance

Life is like a box of chocolates -- or not. But on Valentine’s Day we never know what we’re going to get, or if we’ll get any.

Chocolate has been on my brain for the past week, possibly because it’s been on my desk in the form of freebie samples sent to me by companies pitching their new products. I nibbled on WineTime bars, which claim to contain more resveratrol -- a purported anti-aging compound found in red grape skins -- than 50 glasses of red wine. They’re vegan, high in fiber, and have no trans fats or hydrogenated oils, but they tasted too medicinal, in my expert opinion, like cough syrup.


I also took a shot of Le Whif, the “inhalable” chocolate created by Cambridge-based Breathable Foods. While Harvard University professor David Edwards told me in a previous interview that the chocolate-flavored spray calms his kids on cranky car rides, I didn’t find that it satisfied my chocolate cravings.

Besides, the real thing has a host of health benefits such as improving insulin, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels, according to a February review of 42 randomized clinical trials published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Those studies, though, didn’t look at Hershey bars or Godiva truffles but rather the ultra-dark, bitter chocolates that you use to make brownies or that you find in the health food section of the pharmacy with their cacao contents printed on the front.

And on Valentine’s Day of all days, I want to really savor the mouth-feel of creamy milk chocolate and the sinfulness of something that’s truly decadent.

Since I usually buy a box of Godivas for my husband and kids -- that I happily dip into -- I’m at a loss this year for which ones to buy.

Thankfully, I have another recent study published in the journal Psychological Science to turn to on that front: A University of Michigan psychologist fed different flavors of Hershey Kisses to 52 college students and found that most of the time the chocolate that they were told was the “last” one they were going to receive was the most enjoyable -- regardless of whether it was plain milk, dark, crème, caramel or almond.


The designated “last” chocolate was the favorite 64 percent of the time, no matter which flavor it was, compared with 22 percent for that final chocolate that the volunteers were told was the “next” one; they only found out after they rated the flavor that they weren’t getting any more.

How to explain the findings? The researcher had a few theories. Among them: “It’s something motivational,” says University of Michigan psychologist Ed O’Brien. “You think: ‘I might as well reap the benefits of this experience even though it’s going to end,’ or ‘I want to get something good out of this while I still can.’ ” Another, says O’Brien: “Many experiences have happy endings -- from the movies and shows we watch to dessert at the end of a meal -- and so people may have a general expectation that things end well, which could bleed over into these insignificant or unrelated judgments.”

So if you know you’re in the final hours of celebrating Valentine’s Day, grab that last chocolate or whiff of a rose -- or swig of beer if you’re at an anti-Valentine’s bash -- and let me know whether the experience was more pleasurable than earlier in the day.


Deborah Kotz can be reached at dkotz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @debkotz2.