(NEW YORK) — Thursday could be the healthiest Valentine’s Day on record, with more Americans than ever reaching for dark chocolate over milk chocolate, experts say.
Heightened public awareness about the health benefits of dark chocolate has turned what used to be seen as a guilty indulgence into a must-have staple. The dark stuff contains a higher level of cocoa flavonoids, which recent scientific studies have found combat bad cholesterol and lower blood pressure.
A devotion to dark is obvious from farmers markets to supermarkets, where shoppers are bombarded by dark chocolate bars containing 70, 80, and 90 percent cocoa solids.
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Fast-food shops are even getting in on the trend. Krispy Kreme unveiled a dark chocolate donut this month and Dunkin’ Donuts is peddling “dark hot chocolate.”
“It’s growing and it’s growing and it’s growing,” Katrina Markoff, owner of Vosges Haut Chocolate, an edgy chocolatier based in Chicago, told ABC News. The company’s dark chocolate bacon bar outsells its milk chocolate cousin by a lot, she said.
“We sell millions of those,” said Markoff.
Milk chocolate still reigns, with only 29 percent of Americans over age 45 and 15 percent of Americans age 18 to 44 preferring dark chocolate, according to a survey by the National Confectioners Association.
But the dark trend is on an undeniable upward swing, said Susan Smith, an association spokeswoman.
A nutrition researcher at Harvard’s School of Public Health said the potential of dark chocolate is exciting scientists, but some consumers are getting the wrong message.
“We’re in the middle of a scientific revolution in the understanding of cocoa flavonoids,” Eric Ding told ABC News.
So far the only proven positive effects of dark chocolate come from research that studied a daily consumption of 400-600 mg of cocoa flavonoids — about 10 chocolate bars. Scientists have extrapolated that there are some benefits, though smaller, for, say, just one bar a day, he said.
Shoppers should balance calories and sugar with dark chocolate’s benefits, he said.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio