We usually stick to fruits or veggies for our monthly Food Focus feature, but with Valentine’s Day right around the corner, we thought it might be fun to turn the lens onto the most beloved of romantic treats—chocolate. Chocolate is a well-loved sweet treat, but did you know that it’s also packed with antioxidants and actually good for you? Let’s learn some more about chocolate.
What does it look like?
Chocolate comes from the bean of the cocoa plant. In its raw form, the cocoa bean is about the size and shape of an almond. When the bean is roasted, you get the dark-brown, familiar color and flavor of chocolate. The bean is then processed into the common forms found in stores—bars, chips, powder, candies, etc.
Don’t be fooled by white chocolate! While white chocolate is technically a derivative of chocolate, it’s mostly just a hyper-processed candy made of sugar and flavoring.
What does it taste like?
Chances are, you’ve tried your fair share of chocolate, but if you’ve never tasted it, it has a smoky flavor reminiscent of strong coffee—but uniquely its own. Depending on the percentage of chocolate to other ingredients, it might have a sweeter, creamier, lighter flavor (milk chocolate) or a deeper, smokier, more bitter taste (dark chocolate).
Why is it good for me?
Chocolate is chock full of antioxidants—the same cell-protecting substances found in many fruits and vegetables that may help prevent cancers. Also, eating chocolate regularly has been shown to be beneficial to the heart by keeping blood flowing smoothly. Chocolate also has been shown to have positive effects on brain chemistry. There’s a reason chocolate is such a popular PMS craving; studies have shown that eating chocolate releases endorphins that help counteract the hormonal surges and crashes common for many women. On a related note, studies have shown that consuming chocolate can help regulate hormonal imbalances caused by pregnancy.
One thing is for sure about the health benefits of chocolate: The darker the better. Biting into a bar of milk chocolate will do little to help your health, but regularly consuming dark chocolate (look for the highest percentage you can find at the store) may help you reap these benefits and more.
When and where do I get it?
Chocolate is available in almost every convenience store, but for optimal health, your best bet is dark, organic, natural chocolate (and, if you’re concerned about human rights issues, make sure to look for fair trade chocolate). If you’re a hardcore chocaholic, you might like cacao nibs, which are the raw, unsweetened unprocessed cocoa beans. They’re intensely chocolatey! If those are a touch too bitter for your taste, look for higher percentage bars (70 percent, 80 percent, and 90 percent bars are readily available at most grocery stores).
How do I prepare chocolate?
Chocolate appears in everything from cookies to coffee drinks, but it’s best to stick to straight-up dark chocolate. Most chocolate-featuring recipes require lots of added sugar—and, with the recent recommendations from the American Heart Association to only eat between 100-150 calories of added sugar a day, your best bet is to find a dark chocolate bar you like, and enjoy a square as a treat during the day.
If you are planning on cooking with chocolate, look for recipes that specifically mention dark chocolate (they’re usually lower in sugar).
What are some good recipes?
If a square of dark chocolate is a little too raw for you, try out these healthy options using chocolate. Maybe one will end up on your Valentine’s Day menu!
- Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Banana Soft Serve
- Dark Chocolate and Almond Blueberry Clusters
- Freezer Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups
- 200 Calorie Hot Fudge Brownie Sundae
- Cornbread Chocolate Chip Pancakes
- Gingered Hot Chocolate
- Chocolate Coconut Granola Bars
- Peanut Butter Banana Pops
What’s your favorite way to eat chocolate?
Note: While dark chocolate has health benefits, we recommend consuming it in moderation.
Photo credit: Xtina L | Nomandic Lass