Wondering how you can fit dark chocolate into your healthy lifestyle? Listen in on the science and these expert tips on how to enjoy dark chocolate the healthy way.
Remember the days when you had to hide your chocolate love affair? Those days are long past, thanks to recent research that has provided chocolate with a health halo. For better or worse, dark chocolate is now a functional food ingredient, conferring health benefits whenever it shows up, from breakfast cereal to nutrition bars. If you’re a chocoholic, you couldn’t ask for a better trend. But how strong is the science behind chocolate’s benefits?
Chocolate health origins
Chocolate originated from the Mayans, who ground the beans of the Theobroma cacao tree to concoct a bitter beverage that was used as a traditional medicine to treat ailments such as heart problems and depression. What the Mayans didn’t know was 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 antioxidants, and make up over 10 percent of the weight of cocoa powder. Chocolate also contains plant sterols, B vitamins, magnesium, copper and potassium.
A growing body of 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 September 2010 Harvard study published in Circulation: Heart Failure investigated data from a cohort of almost 32,000 women over eight years. The researchers found that moderate habitual chocolate intake was associated with a lower rate of heart failure hospitalization or death, but this protection was not seen in women who ate more than one serving per day. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) charged with reviewing the current database of nutrition science in order to come up with the Dietary Guidelines have reported that a significant amount of research supports the association of dark chocolate and cocoa consumption with heart health benefits.
Of course, the DGAC chocolate recommendation did come with a disclaimer: Since chocolate is a calorie-dense food, caution needs to be taken to balance caloric intake to avoid weight gain. 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.
Dark Chocolate Cooking
I love to cook with dark chocolate to gain it’s wonderful health and flavor benefits! Check out some of my favorite plant-based dark chocolate recipes:
Chocolate Zucchini Power Muffins
Chunky Vegan Peanut Butter Chocolate Cookies
Vegan Dark Chocolate Orange Waffles
Dark Chocolate Pistachio Biscotti
Six Layer Vegan Magic Bars
Rhubarb Strawberry Tart with Dark Chocolate
Easy Chocolate Chia Pudding with Strawberries
Learn more about dark chocolate in these blogs:
Image: Chocolate Zucchini Cake, Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN
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