Is Chocolate a health food?

One of my new mantras is,

“A piece of dark chocolate a day keeps the doctor away!”

Dark chocolate is rich in flavanols (an antioxidant) that has a blood-thinning effect, which can benefit cardiovascular health, and it may also boost the immune system by reducing inflammation. There is some research that suggests cocoa may help lower blood pressure. It appears that a compound in cocoa, called epicatechin, boosts nitric oxide, a substance that has been shown to be crucial to healthy blood vessels. Nitric oxide dilates blood vessels to improve blood flow (to certain areas important to Valentine’s Day – hint, hint!).  Be sure to choose dark chocolate, ideally one that’s 70 percent cocoa solids; milk chocolate lacks significant levels of epicatechin.

The simplest way to incorporate chocolate into your diet is to buy chocolate that has more than 60% cocoa. The darker the chocolate, the less sugar it contains and more antioxidants. Quantity also matters – about 1 oz. a day is good for your heart without wrecking your waist.

For the cooks out there, here are some chocolate recipes that will make your heart sing!

CHOCOLATE CHERRY CHUNK MERINGUES

  •  4 large egg whites
  • ¼ tsp. cream of tartar
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup powdered sugar
  • ½  tsp. almond extract
  • ½ cup dried cherries, chopped
  • 3 oz. dark chocolate, chopped
  1. Preheat oven to 200 F.
  2. Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Place egg whites and cream of tartar in a large glass mixing bowl or in the bowl of an electric stand mixer. Beat with a mixer at medium speed until soft peaks form. Increase speed to high, and gradually add granulated sugar and then add powdered sugar, 1 tbs. at a time, beating until stiff peaks form. Add extract, beat until blended. Add cherries and chocolate and fold gently until combined.
  4. Use a tablespoon to drop mounds of meringue onto parchment paper. Place in oven and bake at 200 F for 2 hours. Turn off oven and cool meringues in closed oven at least 2 more hours (best to leave them overnight) to dry out. Carefully remove from parchment paper.

 Makes 35 cookies: 45 calories each

 FALLEN CHOCOLATE ALMOND SOUFFLE CAKE

  • 1/3 c. whole raw, unsalted almonds
  • 3 tbs. whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 2 ½ oz. dark chocolate, chopped fine
  • 1/3 c. unsweetened Dutch process cocoa
  • 1 cup turbinado sugar
  • 1/3 c boiling water
  • 1 egg yolk
  • ¼ tsp. almond extract
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • 4 egg whites
  • ¼ tsp. cream of tartar
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Position rack in lower third of oven. Spray an 8-inch round springform pan with cooking spray.
  2. Process almonds with flour until fine. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, combine chocolate, cocoa, and ¾ cup sugar. Add boiling water and whisk until smooth. Add egg yolk and extracts. Set aside.
  4. In a medium bowl, beat whites with cream of tartar at medium speed to form soft peaks. Sprinkle in remaining ¼ cup sugar and beat on high until stiff peaks form. Quickly whisk almond mixture into chocolate. Fold in ¼ of whites to lighten the chocolate mixture. The fold in remaining whites. Scrape into pan and smooth the surface. Bake 25-30 minutes until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Cool in pan on a rack. Cake will sink and crack as it cools.
  5. Release springform pan and transfer to serving platter.

Makes 10 servings: 165 calories, 5.3 g fat, 3.8 g protein, 28 g carb

THICK HOT CHOCOLATE

  • 2 1/4 cups nonfat milk
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
  1. Combine milk, cocoa, sugar and cornstarch in a large saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking often, until steaming. Continue to cook, whisking constantly, until it comes to a boil, then remove from the heat.

Per serving: 98 calories; 2 g fat; 19 g carbohydrates; 5 g protein 

DOUBLE CHOCOLATE SOUFFLES

  •  ½ cup plus 2 tbs. sugar
  • 3 tbs. whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 3 tbs. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 ¼ cup nonfat milk
  • 3 oz. dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 6 large egg whites
  1.  Position rack to the lowest setting and remove middle rack. Preheat oven to 425 F.
  2. Lightly coat 6 (8 oz.) soufflé dishes with cooking spray. Sprinkle evenly with 2 tbs. sugar. Set aside.
  3. Combine ½ cup sugar, flour, cocoa, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring with whisk. Gradually add milk, stirring constantly with a whisk; bring to a boil. Cook 2 minutes or until slightly thick, stirring constantly with whisk. Remove from heat. Add chocolate and stir until smooth. Transfer mixture to a large bowl; cool to room temperature. Stir in vanilla extract and egg yolk.
  4. Place egg whites in a large mixing bowl. Beat at high-speed with electric mixer until stiff peaks form (do not overbeat). Gently fold in ¼ of egg whites into chocolate mixture, to lighten the mixture. Gently fold in remaining egg whites. Spoon into prepared soufflé dishes. Sharply tap dishes 2 or 3 times on counter to level them. Place dished on baking sheet and place into oven on bottom rack. Bake 40 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted into the center comes out clean.
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