Growing up the middle child in a family of four kids had its challenges. It seemed that I was always sharing everything except on Valentine’s Day. Every year, my dad brought home four heart-shaped boxes filled with decadent chocolate truffles, caramels and nougat. I coveted my box, plastering my name all over it and securing a secret hiding place. Despite all of my efforts, tragedy always ensued - from my hungry baby brother scarfing every last morsel until his cheeks looked like they were going to explode, to an equally ravenous Siberian husky bent on devouring chocolate, liner and cardboard box. Thankfully, as a grownup, I can fully enjoy what’s mine without sharing and knowing the health benefits of chocolate I can do it guilt-free.
Not So Sinful
Much like spices, chocolate has a rich and ancient history. During Pre-Columbian Mexico it’s believed that the Mayans and Aztecs enjoyed the very first chocolate drink made from the beans of cocoa trees (Source: csis.pace.edu). Later Europeans added sugar and milk to counter the bitter taste and texture of the cocoa bean. Today, chocolate can be found in bars, beverages, and even breakfast cereals. Chocolate is often maligned as an indulgent treat and certainly not a mainstay of a healthy diet. In celebration of sweets and sweethearts, it’s time to turn this delectable devil into angelic ambrosia.
Your Beating Heart
In addition to celebrating Valentine’s Day, February is also designated as heart health month with a great deal of attention placed on preventing heart disease. Chocolate can play a pivotal role in heart health and beyond. Here are some other reasons to celebrate with chocolate (source: mnn.com):
- Antioxidants — according to a Cornell University study, hot cocoa has twice as many antioxidants as red wine. It also contains other minerals and fiber. Other research indicates that the antioxidant content may help lower blood sugar levels by using insulin more efficiently
- Flavonoids — improves blood flow and lowers blood pressure. Both are important for healthy brain function and heart health.
- Theobromine — a naturally occurring bitter alkaloid shown to have heart health benefits. It helps to dilate blood vessels and reduce blood pressure. This is the ingredient in chocolate that may be harmful to dogs and other pets as they can’t metabolize it efficiently so be sure to limit chocolate consumption to humans only!
- Stearic Acid — although it is a saturated fat, it actually may help reduce cholesterol levels.
Content is King
Chocolate comes in basically three varieties: dark, milk, and white chocolate. One swirls to the top as a clear winner in the health category: Dark. White chocolate doesn’t have any of the heart healthy benefits of the cocoa bean so it is technically not chocolate and studies have shown that it has no benefits and more detriments as it may reduce blood flow. Milk chocolate contains higher levels of milk, sugar and butter which accounts for its creamier and sweeter quality. Unfortunately, those ingredients also increase calories and unhealthy fats which is why chocolate is maligned more often than not. Dark chocolate is the clear winner. Here are some guidelines for getting the most for your chocolate fix:
- Look for a 65–85% cocoa content — it may taste more bittersweet at first but worth the taste bud adjustment
- Buy dark cocoa powder instead of regular — I love a satisfying cup of homemade hot chocolate by adding 1 Tbsp of dark cocoa powder to a 2–1 mix of hot water and light cream (use milk if you prefer) with add a dash of natural sweetener.
- Enjoy 1–1.5 ounces per day — if you are maintaining a healthy diet, adding a square of dark chocolate a day adds an extra boost of nutrients and satisfies your sweet-tooth. Dark chocolate may also reduce cravings so you’ll be satiated sooner.
- Experiment with flavors — European chocolate is much different from American versions so try out different brands to find your favorite. There are also fun Central and South American brands that infuse chilies and other spices into their dark chocolates for a treat with a kick.
Love You too!
Hopefully you’ll enjoy a dark chocolate treat or two from your Valentine today without the guilt. Just remember to store your sweet stash somewhere safe. And remember that if you show up at my house with chocolate, you’d better bring an extra box for yourself — it’s all mine!
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“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth.”
Copyright © 2013 by Christine A.Toriello, all rights reserved.