Let’s face it. Life would not be worth living if there were no chocolate involved. Close your eyes and imagine a fine piece of quality dark chocolate on your tongue. Feel the smooth sides. Trace the outline with your tongue. Gently bite it. Imagine the warmth of your mouth slowly melting it … slowly … slowly …
Oh. Sorry. I’m back.
I love chocolate and am delighted to know it’s one of the healthiest treats that can pass your lips. But stop right here and make sure you understand that not all chocolate is created equal. I am talking about quality dark chocolate with AT LEAST 60% cacao (and higher percentages are better, but a bit harder to find).
Blood pressure, heart health, and insulin sensitivity are all helped by the flavonoids in the cacao bean. Chocolate flavonoids reduce bad cholesterol and thin the blood like aspirin does. British researchers report that cocoa flavonols increase blood flow, which decreases mental fatigue. Chocolate reduces stress and makes us feel better — just ask any chocoholic. Chocolate is packed with antioxidants which clean your cells of harmful toxins. Cacao trees are plants – like fruits and veggies – and like fruits and veggies, they are full of nutrients.
And if you, unlike me, care about the difference between flavonoids and flavonols, here’s what Wikipedia says: Flavonoids (specifically flavanoids such as the catechins) are the most common group of polyphenolic compounds in the human diet and are found ubiquitously in plants. Flavonols, the original bioflavonoids such as quercetin, are also found ubiquitously, but in lesser quantities.
There. Now you know.
Cacao trees grow about 30 feet tall and produce pods shaped like footballs. Each pod has around 50 seeds which would make about seven candy bars.
Don’t bother with semi-sweet, milk chocolate or white chocolate, because they have few, if any, health benefits. Stay away from the candy bars at the check-out line at the grocery store completely and watch the amount of sugar in any chocolate you eat. You’ll find, though, that the higher the amount of cacao, the fewer grams of sugar it has.
Stick to about an ounce per day because in addition to health benefits, chocolate has calories as well. That’s the only thing standing in the way of chocolate’s status as The Perfect Food. Okay, maybe there are others, but I can’t be bothered with them right now.
My favorite ways to enjoy chocolate when I’m not mainlining it:
• Slowly melt some dark chocolate then stir in some dried cherries (or blueberries or cranberries or whatever you like) and chopped nuts or sunflower seeds. Drop by small spoonfuls on waxed paper. Pop into the fridge until they solidify.
• Bake brownies with unsweetened cocoa powder and replace the sugar with unsweetened applesauce.
• Cheesecake Brownies (93 calories), Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies (45 calories), and Secret Ingredient Brownies (80 calories) from my Lazy Low Cal Lifestyle Complete Cookbook
If you find yourself without a special someone on Valentine’s Day, have some chocolate. Brain science shows that chemicals released when falling in love are the same as when eating chocolate. Plus, you don’t have to buy it a present.
What’s your favorite chocolate treat?