This article originally appeared in the February 2019 edition of the Lebanon Local and the New Era Newspapers.
It is Valentine’s Day this week and tis the season for chocolate! Hailed as a “heart healthy food”, chocolate is very appropriate to discuss now as February is national heart month. So let’s take a brief peek into the health claims of chocolate and conclude with a finale of four recipes.
Down the candy aisle you will find three types of chocolate: dark, milk and white. Technically speaking, white chocolate isn’t chocolate at all as it doesn’t contain any cocoa solids. It melts like chocolate but is comprised 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 < 10% cocoa solids. Any bitter flavor present is masked with sugar and high fat milk.
The health benefits that we all love to tout as we open our foil-wrapped Dove or Hersey chocolates are actually only applicable to the dark chocolate. The benefits primarily come bioactive compounds, antioxidants and minerals it contains as well. The compounds are called Flavonoids and are a subset of a larger group called polypheonols (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 stimulates nitric oxide that stimulates your arteries to relax. This is considered “cardio-protective” since relaxed arteries decrease blood pressure, while the drop is not necessarily dramatic (or dangerous for those also taking blood pressure lowering meds), it is beneficial as we live in a world of chronic stress, inflammation and rampant cardiovascular disease. The little bursts of “vaso-relaxation ” typically effecting the two – three hours after ingesting the dark chocolate can be of long term benefit overall.
These heart healthy effects of chocolate have been witnessed in healthy individuals as well as diabetics, those at risk for cardiovascular disease, and individuals over 50. Interestingly enough, while chocolate conveyed benefits to all test groups, the group over 50 responded the best. (Guess there are some benefits to aging!). The “doses” of dark chocolate varied, but benefits were seen as low as 46 grams (which is rough equivalent to 4 squares of bakers chocolate found in grocery stores).
Chocolate’s flavonoids also conveys benefits by stimulating a beneficial anti-inflammatory cascade and by providing high amounts of magnesium, zinc and iron.
I should mention that while chocolate is “good for you,” not all people tolerate it well. Chocolate contains caffeine which some individuals are sensitive too (me personally being one of them). If you feel jittery or moody after eating dark chocolate, then this may be your problem. The amounts vary, but there is roughly 40- 50mg /serving for a chocolate bar and 8- 20 mg per Tablespoon of cocoa powder)
So if you are going to eat a chocolate bar, go for one of the percentages of dark (40% - 80%). If you like to bake with the powdered chocolate then note that the “Dutch processed” chocolate commonly gracing most baking aisle has been processed with alkali. This significantly affects the antioxidant nutrients present. Raw, unprocessed cocoa powder will have the highest value of nutrients.
Enjoy the recipes below for some healthier versions of chocolatey, household favorites: fudge sauce, chocolate chunks/chips, brownies and no-bake oatmeal cookies.
Three Ingredient Chocolate Fudge Sauce
Recipe by Izzy Hossack of the Top With Cinnamon blog
1/3 cup (50 g) pitted dates (i.e. measured once pitted)
1/2 cup (125 ml Milk (regular cow or almond /cashew milk)
Put dates and almond milk into a blender, blend together until smooth.
Pour into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer, continue to cook whilst stirring over a low flame for 5-10 minutes, until thickened.
Remove from the heat, stir in the chocolate (or cocoa powder) until melted and incorporated.
Transfer to a sterilized glass jar. Serve warm, refrigerate and eat cold, or re-warm.
Homemade Chocolate Chunks
Original recipe by Chocolate Covered Katie. Adaptations made by Dietitian Cathryn RDN
¼ cup virgin coconut oil, melted
1 Tbsp pure maple syrup or liquid sweetener of choice
¼ cup cocoa power or unsweetened coco powder (or raw cacao powder)
Extracts, essential oils, add-ins of choice, optional
In a medium bowl, combine the coconut oil and maple syrup.
Add the cocoa powder and stir until a thick sauce forms. If necessary, add more coconut oil for thinner consistency. Put in an “add-ins” now if using.
My (Cathryn) personal favorite is 2-3 drops of peppermint essential oil (therapeutic grade)!
Transfer into your container of choice…candy mold, small glass dish.
The original recipe suggested you use a resealable plastic bag and smush it into a bar shape.
Freeze until solid, at least 2 hours.
Please do eat these responsibly and save some of the pan for others!
Almond Flour Brownies
By Grain free Foodie
Ingredients 2/3 cup honey 1/2 cup melted butter or coconut oil 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract 3 eggs 1 cup almond flour 1/2 cup cocoa (I used raw cacao) 1/4 tsp. 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 foamy before adding in other wet ingredients.) Add almond flour, cocoa, baking soda and optional salt. Stir to blend. Pour into greased 8x8x2 inch pan. If using chocolate chips, sprinkle them on top.
Bake for approximately 25 minutes, until center no longer jiggles and top feels cakey.
Cool on a wire rack at least until sides pull away from the edge of the pan before cutting.
Healthy No- Bake Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies
Original source unknown
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 cacao powder (regular unsweetended cocoa powder is fine)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 Tablespoons chia seeds
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 cup gluten free old fashioned oats
1-2 drops Peppermint Extract OR Peppermint Essential Oil (This is optional. If using essential oils only use the kind that is designated as “therapeutic grade.” These are ok to take internally)
1. Bring to a boil the coconut oil, butter, hones, sugar and cacao powder.
2. Stir constantly and cook for 1.5 minutes
3. Remove from heat. Add & mix in vanilla.
4. Stir in the remaining ingredients.
5. Quickly spoon onto a baking sheet covered in wax paper (I used a silicon baking sheet)