Go ahead. Give your love some chocolates on Valentine’s Day. It turns out that some
chocolate has plenty of attributes that make it a heart-healthy treat.
The darker the better. Jenifer Bowman, a registered dietitian who works with cardiac patients at UCHealth, said dark chocolate can help lower blood pressure, improve blood flow, reduce inflammation and improve immune function. For the most health benefits, she advises you purchase dark chocolate that contains 70 percent or more cocoa and few if any other additives. Healthy dark chocolate should only contain the following ingredients: chocolate, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin and vanilla. You should steer clear of the chocolate candies that also contain caramel, marshmallows and other sweet delights because those extra ingredients just add more calories and dilute the health benefit of the dark chocolate.
Dark chocolate is very concentrated in a type of antioxidant called flavanols, which provides most of the health benefits. Dark chocolate features more flavanols than milk chocolate, since milk chocolate is “diluted” with milk, so there isn’t as much health benefit in milk chocolate. And there’s no cocoa in white chocolate. It’s important to remember that while chocolate can produce health benefits, it’s not low in calories or fat, so moderation is the key. Luckily, dark chocolate is very concentrated in flavanols, so you don’t need a lot to get the health benefits. “You don’t have to eat buckets of chocolate,” Bowman said, adding that just an ounce can pack a lot of heart-healthy benefits.
- Cocoa powder is high in several minerals: calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, and potassium. These minerals in particular are beneficial for preventing and controlling high blood pressure. Dark chocolate also contains fiber, which can help lower cholesterol, and is more concentrated in the above minerals and fiber than milk chocolate.
- Hot cocoa contains more antioxidants per cup than a similar serving of red wine or tea. Hot cocoa also releases more antioxidants than what is found in cold chocolate milk.
- Ideally, chocolate should be wrapped first in foil, then in airtight plastic and stored in a cool, dark room with good air circulation. Refrigeration is not recommended unless you live in a hot, humid climate. Stored under perfect conditions, unsweetened and dark chocolate will last for 10 years, and up to a year in good home kitchen conditions, milk and white chocolate for 7 to 8 months.
Dark Chocolate Cherry Almond Clusters
This treat is fast, easy, delicious, and best of all loaded with heart-healthy nutrients. Dark chocolate along with the dried cherries are full of healthy antioxidants. The almonds provide heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, cholesterol-lowering plant sterols and a crunchy texture. Fresh berries such as blueberries or chopped strawberries would also work in place of the dried fruit.
RECIPE: 4 oz dark or semisweet chocolate (chocolate chips or bar) 1 cup roughly chopped dried cherries or other dried fruit 1/4 cup slivered almonds. Melt chocolate in a large microwave-safe dish (about 2 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds) or in a double boiler. Add dried cherries to the chocolate and stir gently to coat. Cover a baking sheet with wax paper. Mound 4-5 almond slivers into 20 little piles on the baking sheet 2 inches apart from each other. Spoon cherries and chocolate on top of the almonds (about 1 tablespoon); evenly distributing the cherries. Using two spoons shape into a cluster. Chill for 45 minutes or until firm in the refrigerator. Store in the refrigerator in a wax paper-lined container. Makes about 20 clusters (serving size: 1 cluster).
Nutrition Facts per cluster:
65 calories, 3gm fat, 1.4gm saturated fat, 0.5gm protein, 10.5gm carbohydrate, 3mg
sodium, 1.2gm fiber, 109mg potassium