Is the prospect of Valentine’s Day two weeks hence filling you with anxiety? Then don’t wait for the big day to break out the chocolate. Chocoholics have long sworn that chocolate makes them feel better — and now science seems to back them up. A very recent study by the Swiss (who else?) found that highly anxious individuals given 40 grams of dark chocolate (about the amount in a quarter cup of chocolate chips) every day for two weeks experienced a dramatic drop in their blood stress markers — bringing them into the range of those who reported little to no stress.

Chocolate’s chill-out effects are among several other possible benefits of this treat. Preliminary research suggests dark chocolate can help reduce blood pressure, limit blood clotting, improve arterial flexibility, and lower oxidation of LDL “bad” cholesterol while raising HDL “good” cholesterol. Obviously, all of these improvements may boost heart health, making dark chocolate an apt Valentine’s Day gift indeed. But don’t go overboard: Even dark chocolate is relatively high in calories and saturated fat, so make sure it’s part of a balanced diet.

Published February 1, 2010