What sweet treat is loaded with heart protective antioxidants as well as female friendly calcium and magnesium? LUSCIOUS. DECADENT. SCRUMPTIOUS. SENSUOUS. CHOCOLATE!! Enjoyed in moderation as part of a healthy eating plan (I know, there’s always a catch!), dark chocolate, containing 70% or higher in cocoa count, may help improve circulation, lower blood pressure, boost good cholesterol (HDL), take the bite out of bad cholesterol (LDL), and improve mood! Just how powerful is this nutritional warrior? A cup of high quality dark hot cocoa contains nearly twice the antioxidant load as a glass of red wine! How’s that for the perfect Valentine treat?!
The key to making chocolate part of a healthy diet? MODERATION! No matter how you slice, chop, crush, melt, or nibble it, one ounce of dark chocolate weighs in at 150-180 calories and approximately 10 grams of fat (depending on brand and cocoa content). The good news? Although cocoa butter, the main ingredient in chocolate, is 59% SATURATED FAT, the particular satfat in chocolate, stearic acid, does not appear to increase bad cholesterol (LDL) or lower good cholesterol (HDL) like other satfats. In fact, stearic acid appears to make blood platelets less sticky, thereby decreasing the risk of blood clots. Â Aside from the pure decadent luxury of the taste, an ounce of dark chocolate packs in about 12% of your daily iron, 33% of your daily magnesium, 8% of your daily calcium, and a potent dose of heart protective polyphenol antioxidants that help relax arteries and prevent oxidation of bad cholesterol (LDL). In addition, dark chocolate is loaded with phytosterols, plant steroids that help remove cholesterol from the digestive system before it has a chance to muck up the works in your bloodstream, and (-)epicatechin, a compound that appears to relax blood vessels and improve circulation. As if that wasn’t enough to create the perfect pleasure package, dark chocolate is thought to be a powerful mood food thanks to caffeine (mood elevator and central nervous system stimulant), theobromine (muscle stimulant), phenylethylamine (mood elevator), and anandamide( a chemical that stimulates the same brain receptors as marijuana!). And you wonder why chocolate is your go to indulgence before your period or when life just makes you cranky!
So go ahead and enjoy up to an ounce of good quality dark chocolate daily…less if you are trying to lose weight or if you are highly sensitive to caffeine. Confused by the vast and steadily growing array of gourmet and artisanal chocolates? Think of chocolate like fine wine…you have to taste a broad variety to understand your personal preferences. Just as each wine has its unique bouquet, mouth-feel, nose, etc, each chocolate has a unique mouth-feel, flavor, and aftertaste. Artisinal chocolatiers are endlessly creative, adding spices, fruits and nuts, natural extracts, and even ramen noodles and tortilla chips to their chocolate blends. Don’t be afraid to give them a try…some of the oddest sounding combinations turn out to be pure unadulterated heaven! A chocolate novice (Yea, right!)? Some excellent brands to try are Green &Black’s, Valrhona, and Maglio. Quality counts with chocolate, so don’t be afraid to splurge. But remember…choose dark chocolate to reap the health benefits of this tasty treat and eat sparingly!
For extra help learning about how to choose great chocolates, see Zingerman’s Guide to Good Eating or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for a chocolate consultation!
Interested in cooking or baking with chocolate? Go to Cooking with Chocolate for tips and recipes.