Valentine’s Day brightens up the otherwise dreary month of February, don’t you think? And of course, it’s just not Valentine’s Day without chocolate. As a child, my parents occasionally let me have U.S. made chocolates as a reward. That made it all the more exciting! Later, for Valentine’s my husband wooed me with roses and chocolates on this romantic holiday. Is it any wonder we associate chocolate with love?
The great news is that chocolate is an honest-to-goodness FoodTrient! Dark chocolate is loaded with vitamins, antioxidants and even some fiber. Sugar, butter, milk and admittedly other delicious additives decrease cocoa’s positive effects.
A 100 gram bar of dark chocolate with 70-85% cocoa contains:
Dark chocolate has many other properties that are beneficial to your body and soul:
A powerful source of antioxidants – It’s loaded with organic compounds that are biologically active and function as antioxidants. When tested against other high-antioxidant fruits like blueberries and acai berries, one study showed that cocoa and dark chocolate contained more antioxidant activity, polyphenols and flavanols.
Lowers blood pressure and improves blood flow – The flavanols in dark chocolate encourage artery walls to relax, which lowers resistance to blood flow and reduces blood pressure.
Raises good cholesterol (HDL) and protects bad cholesterol (LDL) against oxidation – Oxidized LDL means that it has reacted with free radicals, making the LDL particle damaging to tissues, such as the lining of arteries and the heart. Besides helping to protect against heart disease, dark chocolate can reduce resistance to insulin, a factor in developing diabetes.
Protects skin from the sun – High levels of flavanols in chocolate have been shown to protect from the sun, according to a London study. Researchers found that after subjects ate chocolate with high levels of flavanols for three months, the participants’ skin took twice as long to develop sun burn as those subjects who did not consume chocolate.
Sharpens the mind – A Harvard study of older adults revealed that those with hypertension and compromised blood flow to the brain improved cognition when they drank two cups of cocoa per day for 30 days. 89% had improved blood flow during tests for memory and thinking skills, while some had reversals of some of the cognitive loss that can accompany age and vascular disease. Cocoa also contains caffeine, which can boost brain activity short term.
Stress control – According to a recent Swiss study, an ounce a day of dark chocolate may suppress stress hormones secreted by the adrenal glands and minimize the effects of cortisol on the body. So keep some dark chocolate on hand for every day emergencies.
Weight loss aid – Dark chocolate is more filling and satisfying that white or milk chocolate. It can lessen cravings for other sweet, salty or fatty foods. A little bit of dark chocolate can help you stick to a healthy eating plan and keep you from feeling deprived.
Here’s an irresistible recipe starring dark chocolate from my upcoming cookbook, Age Beautifully (out this fall). It’s hard to imagine, but this tofu version of a chocolate mousse offers the same satisfaction as its richer, less healthy sibling. It has the same creaminess, the satiny, melt-in-your-mouth pleasure and the full, no-holds-barred taste you expect from a dense and rich chocolate mousse. Enjoy!
Dark Chocolate Mousse
8 oz. high-quality dark chocolate, broken into pieces
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 Tbs. soy or almond milk
¼ cup water
⅛ tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbs. Grand Marnier liqueur
¼ cup Xylitol or sugar
¼ cup honey
1 package (9–10 oz.) or 1¼ cups silken tofu, well drained
½ cup sliced kumquats, as garnish
1. In the top of a double boiler, melt the chocolate, cocoa powder, milk, water, vanilla, liqueur, and Xylitol or sugar, stirring constantly until the chocolate is fully melted.
2. Remove from the heat and stir in the honey. Set aside.
3. Blend the tofu in a food processor for 2–3 minutes or until very smooth.
4. Fold the tofu into the chocolate mixture.
5. Spoon the pudding into serving bowls and chill in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours.
6. Garnish with the sliced kumquat