Remember the days when you had to hide your love affair with dark chocolate? Those days are long past, thanks to a growing body of research that points out health benefits of one of our most favorite foods. Recognizing chocolate as a healthful food is nothing new. The ancient Mayans considered this plant food as medicine for numerous ailments; they ground the beans (cacao beans pictured above) of the Theobroma cacao tree to concoct a bitter beverage.
What the Mayans didn’t know is that chocolate and cocoa products contain polyphenols, beneficial compounds found in fruit, vegetables, tea, and wine. Flavonoids, the types of polyphenols found in cocoa products, are particularly potent antioxidant compounds, and make up over 10 percent of the weight of cocoa powder. It also contains plant sterols, B vitamins, magnesium, copper and potassium.
More and more research supports eating small portions of dark chocolate or cocoa products for heart health benefits. Studies have linked it with preventing blood clots, improving insulin resistance, supporting healthy blood vessel function, and lowering blood pressure, inflammation and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. A Harvard study investigated data from a cohort of almost 32,000 women over eight years, finding that moderate habitual chocolate intake was associated men’s health with a lower rate of heart failure hospitalization or death.
Of course, it’s important to remember that chocolate is a calorie-dense food and should be enjoyed in moderation. Today’s standard chocolate confections are typically a processed mix of chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, cocoa powder, sugar, emulsifiers, and milk that may minimize its potential health benefits. Learn more about how to enjoy the health benefits of dark chocolate here.
Today I’m sharing with you my top 5 tips to enjoy dark chocolate in healthy and delicious ways that will allow you to reap the benefits of this delectable ingredient.
Top 5 Ways to Include Dark Chocolate in the Kitchen
1. Stir Dark Chocolate Chips into Your Waffles. Who says you can’t have chocolate for breakfast? A handful of chocolate chips gives crunchy whole grain waffles, such as these Coconut Cherry Dark Chocolate Waffles, a sweet twist and boosts the antioxidant power of your morning meal.
2. Bake Up Some Healthy Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies. A childhood favorite made even better! Bake up some cookies that are lower in sugar, like these delicious Indio Date, Walnut, and Dark Chocolate Cookies. The natural sweetness of dates pairs amazingly with the slightly bitter dark chocolate, making these cookies the perfect afternoon pick-me up.
3. Whip up an Energizing Trail Mix. Combining the health benefits of dark chocolate with other fabulous nuts, seeds, and fruits makes for the ideal on-the-go snack.
4. Make Veggie-Packed Dark Chocolate Muffins. Who knew chocolate and zucchini could be a match made in heaven? Stir dark chocolate into a variety of muffin mixes, starting with my favorite Chocolate Zucchini Power Muffins. These delectable muffins are full of healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant compounds, making them a perfect post-workout snack or anytime treat.
5. Utilize Cocoa Powder in your Baked Goods. Cocoa powder is a rich source of dark chocolate polyphenols that can help boost your heart health. Try incorporating it into your next baking endeavor, like this Dark Chocolate Pistachio Biscotti.
For some of my other favorite plant-based recipes featuring dark chocolate, check out the following: