Mmmmm… most of us love chocolate, and here are 6 more healthy reasons for you from my guest author, Diane Welland, M.S., R.D. - Enjoy!
Chocolate is one of my favorite foods and the darker the better and since this is February, a month of Valentine’s and romance what better topic to talk about? Rich, creamy and silky sweet, chocolate flavor characteristics can run the gamut from fruity and citrus-like to smoky and woodsy tasting with plenty of flavors in between and we love them all. Although we aren’t the top chocolate eating country in the world (Switzerland takes that title) we do rank up there, consuming about 11 pounds of chocolate per person every year.
But, chocolate, particularly dark chocolate isn’t as frivolous a food as you think – nutritionally it provides a wealth of beneficial plant compounds that can offer several health benefits – and that’s good news for chocoholics like me. Below are six more reasons to love chocolate.
CHOCOLATE IS HEART HEALTHY
Chocolate is loaded with flavonoids, potent antioxidants that can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke (particularly in women). But not all chocolate is created equal or good for you. The best ones are high in cocoa (about 70 percent or more) and low in sugar and fat. Plus you can still get too much of a good thing, even chocolate. Eat your dark chocolate in small quantities about 2 to 3 ounces a week (that’s about 2 chocolate bars a week).
CHOCOLATE LOWERS BLOOD PRESSURE
A new 2011 Harvard study found flavonoids in dark chocolate (containing 50 to 70 percent cocoa) dialates blood vessels and decreases blood pressure, lowering the risk of stroke. This affect was seen in both healthy people and in those with hypertension. In this same study chocolate improved cholesterol levels and insulin sensitivity (See: dark chocolate can help lower blood-pressure.)
CHOCOLATE BOOSTS BRAIN FUNCTION
Like tea and wine, chocolate contains compounds that improve blood flow to the brain and have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties (re: www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/63368.php). In this Norwegian 2009 study each of these foods (tea, wine and chocolate) were found to improve cognitive test scores in the elderly. Those who ate all three performed the best (had the highest scores). See: JN Nutrition.
CHOCOLATE HELPS YOU SEE BETTER
Compared to people who were given white chocolate, people who ate small amounts of dark chocolate did better on visual motion sensitivity tests, chocolate may improve vision memory.
in hard-to-see situations such as night driving (think trying to pick out a pedestrian clad in black head-to-toe at night or driving in poor weather). Yes, chocolate improves vision too.
CHOCOLATE MAKES YOU FEEL BETTER
Anyone who likes chocolate will tell you it makes them feel better after eating it, and although there is little scientific evidence that chocolate improves mood there is enough anecdotal studies to make it stick. So, if it makes you feel better, eat it, but just remember to not over do it. See: ScienceBlogs.com.
CHOCOLATE CHIP BANANA CRUNCH CAKE
If you love chocolate as much as I do this recipe is for you. It combines the sweetness of bananas with the goodness of whole grains (courtesy of King Arthur Flour) and the the creaminess of chocolate. Plus you can vary the chocolate to suit your taste from sweet milk chocolate to dark bittersweet. This cake was so popular in my house it disappeared in a day!
To make it heart healthy next time I would substitute out the butter with ¼ cup canola oil and 1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce, plus 1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional).
1 cup oat flour**
1 cup whole wheat flour, traditional or white whole wheat
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup lightly packed light or dark brown sugar
1 cup mashed bananas (about 3 medium bananas)
1/2 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup semi-sweet dark chocolate chips
½ cup chopped pecans (or any nut), finely chopped
3/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/3 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup pecans, chopped
Grease and flour an 8-inch square pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
To make the cake batter:
Whisk together the flours, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl.
Cream together the butter (or oil and applesauce if using) and sugar in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, stopping to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl between additions. Mix in half the dry ingredients until moistened, then mix in the bananas, yogurt and vanilla. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, then add the remaining dry ingredients and chocolate chips, mixing until evenly moistened. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan.
To make the topping:
Combine the oats, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt in a small mixing bowl until well blended. Stir in the melted butter until the moisture forms large crumbs. Sprinkle the topping over the batter in the pan.
Bake until the edges pull away from the pan and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 40-45 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven and place on a rack to cool for 20 minutes before serving warm. Or cool completely for later use.
**NOTE: You don’t have to go out and buy oat flour, simply process quick cooking (or old-fashion – but it will take longer) in a food processor for a minute or more until fine (it will still feel coarse). Process about 1 ¼ cup oatmeal to get 1 cup oat flour.
About Diane: Diane Welland, M.S., R.D., is a registered dietitian, freelance food and nutrition writer based in Springfield Virginia . You can reach her at www.eatwelleatclean.com, www.DFoodie.com or @eatcleanguru on Twitter.