Did Cupid leave a heart-shaped box of chocolates for you recently? This month of dark days and Valentine’s Day may have you bingeing on chocolate more than usual. If you are a fan, then you will be pleased to know that chocolate has enjoyed some time in the nutrition spotlight. However, you may want to think twice before reaching for that candy bar. Despite its health benefits, chocolate is high in calories. Continue reading to find out how your body and health can gain the benefits without the pounds!
What Is Chocolate?
Do you ever wonder where chocolate comes from? The seeds of the cacao tree have provided ancient cultures like the Aztecs with delicious cacao, which they used to make beverages. Cacao beans are first fermented, dried and then roasted. Inside the bean you will find cacoa nibs, which produce cacao butter and a dark cocoa mass. Cocoa butter doesn’t contain any cacao solids, and is what we know to be white chocolate. Cocoa, however, is used in most of the chocolate we consume today. Unsweetened chocolate contains both cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Milk chocolate contains cocoa powder, cocoa butter, sugar and milk powder or condensed milk.
Until recently, chocolate has mostly been considered to be unhealthy. However, recent research has demonstrated that cacao is rich in antioxidants and minerals such as magnesium. Theobromine and phenethylamine are two compounds in chocolate that are associated with serotonin, the “happy” chemical. In addition, the Journal of the American Medical Association cites that dark chocolate lowers blood pressure. The flavanols in chocolate may also reduce LDL oxidation, inflammation and improve arterial blood flow. In another study, a group of adults with chronic fatigue syndrome were given 1.5 ounces of 85% cocoa dark chocolate daily for eight weeks. After eight weeks, the individuals reported less fatigue and no weight gain was reported.
Choose Chocolate Wisely
Does this mean that you can eat as much chocolate as your heart and taste buds desire? Well, not exactly, because not all chocolate is created equal.
To reap the full health benefits, you need to choose dark chocolate over milk chocolate, as the milk may prevent the body from absorbing the antioxidants. Go for chocolate with at least 72% cocoa, and make sure that it doesn’t contain any partially hydrogenated fat. Remember, an entire bar of chocolate is not a single serving size! About one ounce a day is all you need.
Also, keep in mind that chocolate with the greatest amount of nonfat cocoa solids will provide the most antioxidants, while milk chocolate, chocolate syrup and white chocolate rank the lowest in flavanoids. If your chocolate bar develops a white coating on the surface, this indicates fat and sugar changes. This “bloom” effect may change the flavor and texture, but it is still considered safe to consume. The lowest calorie and lowest-fat form of chocolate is unsweetened cocoa. Just three tablespoons contain 60 calories, 1.5 grams of fat and 3 grams of fiber.
Hot Chocolate Recipe
When it’s cold out and you crave a warm, chocolate drink, why not make your own hot chocolate as a rare treat? Sip slowly and enjoy!
1 cup unsweetened almond milk (or milk of your choice)
1.5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon agave nectar or ¼ packet stevia (adjust amount to your preference)
1 ounce chopped dark chocolate 72-85% cacao
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Simmer the milk until it begins to boil. Lower heat to a simmer and add cocoa powder, chopped chocolate and sweetener. Remove from heat and sprinkle with cinnamon if desired.