Chocolate is probably the number-one most craved food in North America today. Interestingly, it originated in Mexico. Chocolate is made using cocoa beans – they’re not actually beans, but seeds from the fruit of the cacao tree – which are used to make cocoa and chocolate. The cocoa tree was cultivated by the Mayans, Incas and Aztecs. It was treated as a magical food, a “gift from the Gods” and an aphrodisiac. Chocolate is still used as a gift or symbol of love – one of the most popular gifts given on Valentine’s Day.
In addition to containing fat and sugar, chocolate contains flavonoids, which act as antioxidants, protecting cells from damage. A correlation has been found between chocolate‘s flavonoid content and its antioxidant activity. Flavonoids are found in several other plant foods, including apples, berries, beans, nuts, purple grapes, red wine and teas. Natural cocoa powder and most chocolate retain flavonoids at different levels.
Generally, the more natural cocoa in the product, the higher the flavonoids. Cocoa bean handling and processing can affect the amount of flavanoids in cocoa and chocolate products. If you are going to eat chocolate this Valentine’s Day:
- Choose dark chocolate, because it has a higher percentage of cocoa.
- Choose darker chocolates, made with at least 40% cocoa bean content, or “cacao.”
- Choose plain dark chocolate versus the kind with extra ingredients, such as caramel, marshmallow or nuts.
Dark chocolate also contains a number of vitamins and minerals that can support your health.
If you are buying cocoa powder, look for non-alkalized or lightly alkalized cocoas. This is the cocoa powder that has not undergone Dutch processing (cocoa that is treated with alkylation to neutralize its acidity).
As a plant-based food and ingredient, chocolate can be part of a healthy diet when used in moderation. Recent research suggests that the flavonoids found in cocoa and dark chocolate can impact cardiovascular and brain health, the immune system, diabetes and blood pressure. For example, a small amount of chocolate two or three times a week may help lower your blood pressure and prevent the formation of blood clots. However, keep in mind that chocolate contains fat and added sugar, which is why the portion size should be small.
Happy Valentine’s Day! Enjoy!
Microwave chocolate in a glass bowl, stopping after 30 seconds, then every 10 seconds until almost melted.
Remove the container from the microwave and stir the chocolate until completely melted (smooth and glossy). Baking chips and baking chocolate may appear formed and unmelted after heating, but will become fluid after stirring.
Wash strawberries and pat them dry (any moisture from the fruit will spoil the texture of the melted chocolate).
Dip each strawberry into the melted chocolate, covering the lower half of the strawberry. Place on a baking sheet lined with wax paper. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Per Strawberry: Total Calories 48, Calories from Fat 18, Fat grams: 2g (sat 1.1g), Cholesterol 0mg, Sodium 0mg. Carbohydrate 6.8g, Fiber 1.1g, Protein 0.5
About Alice Pereira, RD CDE
Alice Pereira is a registered and licensed nutritionist with 17 years of experience in clinical nutrition and outpatient counseling. She graduated with a bachelor’s in dietetics and nutrition from Florida International University in 1995. In 1998, she began working for Baptist Health. In 1999, she became certified in diabetes education and helped numerous patients with their weight management goals. In the past 7 years, she has been working at the radiation rherapy department at South Miami Hospital. There, she has counseled many women with breast cancer and guided them in improving their nutritional status during treatment. Most recently, Alice began working at the Baptist Health Breast Center. There she counsels women regarding lifestyle dietary interventions and works closely with the survivorship team initiative towards implementing dietary resources for breast cancer survivors in the community. She is also currently working towards her board certification in oncology nutrition.
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