Mother’s Day has just passed and it’s likely that many of you have indulged in a food called “heart healthy food”: chocolate. Let’s talk about it and take a quick look at its health claims and conclude with a final four recipes.
You will find three types of chocolate in the candy aisle: dark, milk and white. Technically speaking, white chocolate is not chocolate at all, as it contains no cocoa solids. It melts like chocolate but consists of cocoa butter (the fat from the cocoa bean), milk and sugar. Dark chocolate is cocoa butter and cocoa solids (up to 80% of its weight) and is rather bitter. Milk chocolate contains more than 10% cocoa solids. Sugar and high fat milk mask any bitter flavor.
The health benefits we like to tout when we open our foil-wrapped Dove or Hershey chocolates really only apply to dark chocolate. The benefits mainly come from the bioactive compounds, antioxidants and minerals it also contains. The compounds are called flavonoids, and they’re a subset of a larger group called polyphenols (I know, too many terms!). The deep, bitter flavor of dark chocolate actually comes from the flavonoids (which is why dark chocolate is better for you because it contains more of them.)
What makes these flavonoids so healthy is their effect on the cardiovascular system. Simply put, chocolate boosts nitric oxide which stimulates your arteries to relax. This is considered “cardio-protective” since relaxed arteries lower blood pressure, while the drop is not necessarily dramatic (or dangerous for those who are also taking blood pressure lowering medications), it is beneficial because we live in a world of chronic stress, inflammation and rampant cardiovascular disease. Small puffs of “vaso-relaxation” usually affecting the two or three hours following the ingestion of dark chocolate can be generally beneficial in the long term.
These effects of chocolate on heart health have been seen in healthy people as well as people with diabetes, people at risk for cardiovascular disease, and people over the age of 50. Interestingly, while chocolate provided benefits to all test groups, the over 50 group responded the best. (I guess there are benefits to aging!) The “doses” of dark chocolate varied, but the benefits were as low as 46 grams (which is roughly equal to four squares of bakery chocolate found in grocery stores ).
Chocolate flavonoids also provide benefits by stimulating a beneficial anti-inflammatory cascade and providing high amounts of magnesium, zinc and iron.
I should mention that while chocolate is “good for you”, not everyone tolerates it well. Chocolate contains caffeine, to which some people are sensitive. If you feel nervous or in a bad mood after eating dark chocolate, this may be your problem. Amounts vary, but there are about 40 to 50 milligrams per serving for a chocolate bar and 8 to 20 milligrams per tablespoon of cocoa powder.
So if you are going to eat a chocolate bar, opt for one of the percentages of black (40 to 80%). If you like baking with powdered chocolate, note that the “Dutch” chocolate that usually adorns most baking aisles has been treated with alkali. This significantly affects the antioxidant nutrients present. Raw, unprocessed cocoa powder will have the highest nutrient value.
So there you have it: some thoughts to consider when enjoying the goodness of chocolate! Enjoy the recipes below for healthier versions of chocolate household rites: easy homemade truffles (if you’re not trying ANY other recipe, try this one!), fudge sauce, brownies, and no-bake oatmeal cookies.
Easy Homemade Truffles – Dark Chocolate Covered Stuffed Dates
12 pitted dates
2 tablespoons nut or seed butter (more if needed).
1 dark chocolate bar or 12 oz chocolate chips (vegan options available as needed)
1/2 teaspoon coconut oil
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1. Pit the dates if they are not already pitted by carefully cutting them lengthwise and extracting the pits.
2. Take chocolate chips or break a dark chocolate bar into pieces in a small stainless steel or glass bowl.
3. Melt Chocolate: Method #1: In 60-30 second increments, microwave chocolate in microwaveable bowl until completely smooth.
Method 2: In a small saucepan (same size or slightly smaller than the bowl) boil some water then add the bowl with the broken chocolate to the saucepan without letting any water enter the bowl. Heat over very low heat. Stir the chocolate until the pieces are melted.
4. Stuff each date with 1/3 to 1/2 teaspoon nut or seed butter of your choice.
5. Once the chocolate has melted, remove from the heat and add 2 or 3 stuffed dates to the pan at a time to coat them in the chocolate. (I use two forks).
6. Place the stuffed dates coated with chocolate on a sheet of parchment paper placed on a plate.
8. Once all the dates are covered in chocolate, sprinkle each with a small pinch of salt and place in the freezer to harden.
9. Once hardened, remove from the parchment and store in a container (although I defy you to make them last longer than a day or two!)
10. You can use any leftover chocolate to top other fruits, such as bananas, apples, grapes, oranges, etc.
They were so good. Even if you don’t like the dates, you won’t be able to tell.
– @marriedtohealth and @thebakermama
Three-Ingredient Chocolate Fudge Sauce
1/3 cup (50 grams) pitted dates (i.e. measured after pitting)
1/2 cup (125 milliliters milk (regular cow or almond/cashew milk)
1 ounce (15 grams) unsweetened baking chocolate (or 1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder)
Put the dates and almond milk in a blender, then blend until smooth.
Pour into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, continue cooking, stirring, over low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until thickened.
Remove from heat and stir in chocolate (or cocoa powder) until melted and incorporated.
Transfer to a sterilized glass jar. Serve hot, refrigerate and eat cold or reheat.
–Izzy Hossack, Top With Cinnamon blog
Almond Flour Brownies
2/3 cup honey
1/2 cup melted butter or coconut oil
1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
1 cup almond flour
1/2 cup cocoa (I used raw cocoa)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda (this can be omitted)
1/4 tsp sea salt (omit if using salted butter)
Optional: semi-sweet chocolate chips for top
Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix honey, butter, vanilla and eggs until smooth. (If omitting baking soda, beat eggs until frothy before adding other wet ingredients.) Add almond flour, cocoa, baking soda and optional salt . Stir to mix. Pour into a greased 8 x 8 x 2 inch pan. If you’re using chocolate chips, sprinkle them on top. Bake for about 25 minutes, until the center is no longer jiggly and the top is doughy.
Cool on a wire rack at least until the sides pull away from the edge of the pan before cutting.
– Grain Free Foodie (http://grainfreefoodie.blogspot.com/2012/01/almond-flour-brownies.html)
Healthy No-Bake Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup butter
1/3 cup unsweetened almond butter (or peanut butter)
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup coconut sugar
3 tablespoons raw cocoa powder (regular unsweetened cocoa powder is fine)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons of chia seeds
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 cup gluten-free old-fashioned oats
1-2 drops peppermint extract or spearmint essential oil (this is optional. If using essential oils, use only the type designated as “therapeutic grade”. These are okay to take internally .)
1. Bring the coconut oil, butter, honey, sugar and cocoa powder to a boil.
2. Stir constantly and cook for 1.5 minutes
3. Remove from heat. Add and mix with vanilla.
4. Stir in remaining ingredients.
5. Quickly pour onto a baking sheet lined with waxed paper (I used a silicone baking sheet)
6. Place in the freezer until hardened.
7. Store in the refrigerator.
8. Try not to eat them all at once!
– Original source unknown
– Cathryn Arndt is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN). She and her husband and daughters live in the region of Lebanon.