Remember the days when you had to hide your love affair with chocolate? Those days are long past, thanks to a growing body of research that points out health benefits of one of our most favorite foods. Recognizing chocolate as a healthful food is nothing new. The ancient Mayans considered this plant food as medicine for numerous ailments; they ground the beans (cacao beans pictured above) of the Theobroma cacao tree to concoct a bitter beverage.
What the Mayans didn’t know is that chocolate and cocoa products contain polyphenols, beneficial compounds found in fruit, vegetables, tea, and wine. Flavonoids, the types of polyphenols found in cocoa products, are particularly potent antioxidant compounds, and make up over 10 percent of the weight of cocoa powder. Chocolate also contains plant sterols, B vitamins, magnesium, copper and potassium.
More and more research supports eating small portions of dark chocolate or cocoa products for heart health benefits. Studies have linked chocolate with preventing blood clots, improving insulin resistance, supporting healthy blood vessel function, and lowering blood pressure, inflammation and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. A Harvard study investigated data from a cohort of almost 32,000 women over eight years, finding that moderate habitual chocolate intake was associated with a lower rate of heart failure hospitalization or death.
Of course, it’s important to remember that since chocolate is a calorie-dense food, caution needs to be taken to balance caloric intake to avoid weight gain. And remember, today’s standard chocolate confections are typically a processed mix of chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, cocoa powder, sugar, emulsifiers, and milk that may minimize its potential polyphenol content. In finished products, the amount of cocoa can vary from 7-35 percent in milk chocolate to 30-80 percent in dark chocolate.
Here’s how you should do chocolate: Enjoy an ounce of dark chocolate with at least 70 percent cocoa content a few times a week as a treat you can feel good about.
Here are some of my favorite recipes featuring dark chocolate:
And for my December dirt report this month, I want to share this special recipe with you from Plant-Powered for Life, as it is the perfect gift of love! You can make up this easy recipe and package it in mason jars, decorate it with some twine, and give it as a wonderful, handmade gift during the holiday season. Check out my video on how to make this easy recipe here.
Serves ½ cup each
- ½ cup walnuts halves
- ½ cup pecans halves
- 1 cup shelled pumpkin seeds
- 1 cup unsweetened dried coconut
- 1 cup unsweetened dried blueberries
- 1 cup unsweetened dried cherries
- 1 cup dairy free dark chocolate chips
- ¼ cup chia seeds
- Mix all the ingredients together in a large airtight container and store for up to 3 weeks in a cool, dark place. You may also freeze it for up to six months.
*Variations: Substitute peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts, and/or macadamia nuts for the pecans; sunflower seeds for the pumpkin seeds; and/or raisins for the blueberries.
*Per serving: 312 calories, 3 g protein, 35 g carbohydrate, 19 g fat, 8.5 g saturated fat, 8 g fiber, 15 g sugar, 14 mg sodium. Star nutrients: Copper (13% DV), Magnesium (11% DV), Manganese (34% DV)