Valentine’s Day has finally arrived, and we find ourselves being inundated with the expression of love. Heart shaped candies abound, red roses are brimming and eloquently written expressions of love find their way into the hands of many.
But as you wade through the overly jolly, somewhat cliché gifts and treats this holiday, consider experiencing a darker side of Valentine’s day and buy dark chocolate for yourself or the one you love.
As you may have heard, dark chocolate, in contrast to its counterparts, milk and white chocolate, contains high levels of heart-healthy nutrients. These nutrients are called flavonoids.
Flavonoids are compounds that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects on your cells and blood vessels, respectively. Antioxidants help protect our cells from damage and, subsequently, a variety of chronic diseases. Anti-inflammatories help remove cholesterol from our blood vessels, increasing blood flow, an important aspect of maintaining a strong, healthy heart.
Research shows that these heart-healthy nutrients are found in the cocoa content of chocolate, and dark chocolate contains the highest amount of cocoa when compared to other forms. The higher the cocoa content, the more flavonoids it contains. In light of this research, chocolate companies have revved up their dark chocolate manufacturing processes to now maintain up to 95 percent of the flavonoid content. In grocery stores, you will find dark chocolate in a variety of cocoa concentrations. Choosing a variety with at least 70 percent cocoa will provide the highest dose of flavonoids.
Now remember, just because dark chocolate packs a powerful nutrient punch, it does not mean that you should eat it in mass proportions. Chocolate still contains a lot of calories and fat, but the heart-healthy benefits deem it reasonable to consume a moderate amount, about 1.6 ounces every day.
Also, for you milk lovers out there, certain components of milk prevent the absorption of these heart-healthy nutrients, so hold the milk when enjoying this treat to maximize your body’s nutrient absorption.
Whether you have a significant other on this special day or not, everyone can and should take the opportunity to step out of their comfort zone and step into the dark side of deliciousness. To help with this, two heart-healthy recipe ideas are listed below:
Dark chocolate brownies: (Recipe created by Ellie Krieger, Registered Dietitian/Chef for The Food Network)
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup whole grain pastry flour
1/4 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
4 large eggs
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt
1/4 cup canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with cooking spray.
Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler or heatproof bowl set over a pot of barely simmering water, stirring occasionally.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, salt and baking soda.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar until smooth. Add the yogurt, oil and vanilla and whisk to combine. Add the chocolate-butter mixture and whisk until blended. Add the flour mixture and mix until just moistened.
Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan and sprinkle with nuts if desired. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Cut into 24 squares.
Nutrition Facts: serving size 1 square
Calories 150; Total Fat 8g; Carb 18 g; Fiber 1g; Cholesterol 40mg; Sodium 55mg
Per Serving with walnuts: Calories 170; Total Fat 10g; Carb 19g; Fiber 2g; Cholesterol 40mg; Sodium 55mg
Dark Chocolate Covered Strawberries:
6 ounces (175 grams) of dark chocolate
12 long-stemmed strawberries
To make tempered chocolate, chop the chocolate into pieces and place 3/4 of it in a small glass bowl in a microwave for 20 seconds exactly. Stir the chocolate, and continue to microwave for 20 seconds at a time, stirring in between, until the chocolate is smooth and shiny. Add the remaining 1/4 of the chocolate, and stir until smooth. Dip each strawberry into the tempered chocolate, and place on a sheet pan covered with parchment paper. Refrigerate for 2 minutes to set.
Nutrition Facts: serving size 1 medium-sized strawberry
Calories: 60-100 calories; Total Fat: 4g; Saturated Fat: 2g; Cholesterol 0g