Many chocoholics follow the well-known mantra: There's nothing wrong with me that a little chocolate won't fix.
So who among us didn't stand up and cheer when health professionals announced that chocolate is actually good for us? Of course, it's the darkest, most bitter of all chocolates that is the best. But let's not discount lighter versions. While they may not be as strong in antioxidants as their dark counterpart, there are still good things to be found in all chocolates.
Since the announcement was made a decade or so ago, health experts continue to tout the benefits of chocolate since it, along with cocoa, contain compounds called flavonols that may reduce dangerous inflammation in the arteries.
"The flavonoids are special in that their profile is very unique compared with other plants," says local registered dietitian and food coach Pamela Kelle. "These compounds linked together are rarely found in our food supply, which is why chocolate continues to raise such interest."
Chocolate flavonoids can actually decrease LDL (bad) cholesterol, Kelle continues. And who ever thought you'd hear a dietitian saying that chocolate should be a part of a healthy eating plan? Kelle does. Again, however, there's a flavor downside to all this good news. It's the darker, bitter chocolate that's the best for you.
Unfortunately, milk chocolate has a much-lower antioxidant potential than dark chocolate, Kelle notes. But, she adds, it still has some healthful benefits.
"Dark chocolate is a potent antioxidant that can neutralize free radicals that damage blood vessels and build plaque as well as help decrease inflammation, which is part of the arthroscopic plaque," Kelle says.
From a historical perspective, she says, medicinal uses of cocoa go back to the Olmec civilization in southern Mexico, which lasted from 1200 BCE to about 400 BCE. After Europeans came to the New World and discovered chocolate, it "was used throughout Europe as a specialty drink for the wealthy," she says.
As with all tempting foods, moderation is the key to chocolate consumption, and we should limit our daily consumption to no more than 1 1/2 ounces per day. That translates to about 3 1/2 tablespoons of chocolate chips. Granted, that's not a lot, but it may be just enough to get your daily chocolate craving under control.
Kelle offers some tips on adjusting your taste buds to the flavors of dark chocolate:
• Seventy percent cocoa or more is best and is best-tasted on an empty stomach.
• Let it sit on the tongue and as it begins to warm and melt, press it toward the roof of the mouth to release all the flavors.
• Swallow slowly, allowing the taste to linger in your mouth.
• Start with the least cocoa first, such as milk chocolate, then build up to the stronger taste of dark chocolate.
"I often tell my clients to take a 'chocolate moment,' allowing the pure, delicious taste to provide not only the health benefits but the pure enjoyment, as well," she says.
And an even nicer way to enjoy it, she adds, is with a glass of red wine, which has a number of health benefits itself. So the two together provide a certain synergistic advantage.
Here's a recipe from Hershey's that will make an impressive conclusion to your Valentine dinner. Think of it as health food - it's got lots of dark chocolate.
1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) butter (no substitutions)
3/4 cup dark cocoa
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar, divided
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 eggs, separated
1 cup mini chocolate kisses
2 teaspoons dark cocoa
8 ounces frozen whipped topping, thawed
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Grease bottom of 9-inch springform pan.
Melt butter in medium microwave-safe bowl; add 3/4 cup cocoa and 1 cup sugar, stirring until well blended. Cool 5 minutes.
Stir in flour and vanilla; add egg yolks, beating well after each addition. Beat egg whites with remaining 1 tablespoon sugar in medium bowl until soft peaks form; gradually fold into chocolate mixture. Add chocolates. Spoon batter into prepared pan.
Bake 15 to 18 minutes or just until edges are firm (1-inch circle in center will be soft). With spatula, loosen cake from side of pan. Cool completely on wire rack; remove side of pan.
Cover; refrigerate at least 6 hours. Before serving, sift 2 teaspoons cocoa over the whipped topping, stirring until well blended; use it to garnish the cake. Cut cake while cold; garnish with additional chocolates, if desired. Makes 10 servings.
It's been years since I've dined at Outback Steakhouse, primarily because the Bloomin' Onion is so blooming fattening and hard to resist. But resist I did when we ate there a few weeks ago. So, while on today's subject of healthful eating, you might want to give the new Sesame Salad with ahi tuna a try. Served with sesame vinaigrette, it's a large, main-dish salad that comes in under 600 calories. The ahi tuna is plentiful, tender and absolutely delicious when dipped in the vinaigrette. It can also be served with grilled chicken if you're not a fan of fish. The only thing I would have preferred is a mix of greens rather than a plateful of iceberg lettuce. Nonetheless, it was an excellent choice and nice to see that Outback has put healthful, lower-calorie dishes on its menu.
Contact Anne Braly at firstname.lastname@example.org.