Learning to Cherish Chocolate

Published on: 02/16/2023
Valentine’s Day is a day to spread some extra love and consume some extra chocolate perhaps ☺️, but there is no reason it should only be once a year. Love should be distributed every day.♥️ And chocolate has some profound nutritional benefits which can also be a part of your daily consumption as well! Of course, that does not mean diving into a box of chocolates every day, but enjoying chocolate as part of your meal, snack or treat, can be a healthy habit, even post-Valentine’s Day.

**If you are thinking, hold on a second, didn’t I just hear some news about chocolate containing heavy metals? You may be aware Consumer Reports sounded the alarm around the presence of heavy metals in chocolate this past week. No alarms are necessary, but if you want to read more, cuttothechasenutrition did a great job explaining the facts

Chocolate is the most craved food in the world, especially by women, and for good reasons:

  • Magnesium deficiency – this study reveals approximately 80% of pregnant women were deficient in magnesium; chocolate contains magnesium
  • Hormonal changes (menstruation, pregnancy, etc) – around these times, women have a natural decrease in serotonin. This may partially explain the specific craving for chocolate during these times as chocolate increases serotonin in the brain, a neurotransmitter responsible for better mood, sleep, and reduction of anxiety.
  • Chocolate’s ability to affect dopamine – and therefore a feeling of happiness. How does it really do this? The body releases dopamine during chocolate consumption due to the enjoyment factor. 

And while there are lots of glutinous varieties out there, dark chocolate 🍫 can be a healthy option when you’re craving a treat but want to keep your calories and blood sugar in check. So why dark chocolate?

Dark chocolate is the second most popular type of chocolate and is noticeably less sweet than milk chocolate. It’s made from just a few ingredients: cocoa solids, cocoa butter, and sugar. Because it has less sugar and no dairy (unlike milk or white chocolate), dark chocolate has a firmer texture and a pure, rich chocolate flavor. Those numbers on the packages of dark chocolate show how chocolaty they are (versus how sweet they are). The higher the percentage, the more intense the flavor and the less sweet they are. For example, 50% dark chocolate will be much sweeter than 70% chocolate. The 70% contains more cocoa, however, and that is important when it comes to the health benefits of dark chocolate. 

Cocoa, which is the base of dark chocolate, is rich in plant chemicals called flavanols, and dark chocolate contains up to two to three times more flavanol-rich cocoa solids than milk chocolate. Research shows that flavanols may help to protect the heart, and they’ve also been shown to increase insulin sensitivity, which makes dark chocolate a healthier treat for those managing their blood sugar. To get the most health benefits from your dark chocolate, choose a 70% or higher bar: more flavanols and minerals (iron, magnesium) and less sugar. You can go all the way up to 100%, but make sure to check the label — anything over 85% could include additional fat or sugar to mellow the intensity of the chocolate.

So there are health benefits of eating dark chocolate, but of course in moderation. Dark chocolate is still fairly high in calories = 170 calories per ounce of 70-85% cocoa; 2g protein, 12g fat, 13g carb, 7g sugar, and 3g fiber. Make sure to stick with a higher percentage of chocolate (less sugar) and eat mindfully. How exactly do I eat chocolate mindfully? 🤔 When going for a dark chocolate square or treat, enjoy it after a meal when you’ve had some protein and fiber to balance things out and slow down the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream. 

Looking for some other ways to enjoy dark chocolate? Including cocoa powder and small portions of dark chocolate within your meals works well too. Here are some recipes that focus on the deliciousness of dark chocolate as part of your balanced plate. A win for your stomach, your cravings, and your heart. ♥️♥️

MOUTHWATERING MOLE SAUCE
Raw cocoa powder is even higher in antioxidants and flavonoids than dark chocolate, providing you with the heart-healthy benefits of chocolate consumption. Mole sauce is one of my favorite ways to enjoy chocolate, without any excess fat and sugar, and with an amazing combination of spice and flavors. This sauce can be enjoyed with fish, chicken, tofu, vegetables, and any Mexican-style dish you are cookin’ up. 

INGREDIENTS
1 small Vidalia onion, finely chopped
4 clove garlic, crushed
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
2 Tablespoons chili powder (more if you like extra heat; less if you do not like much heat)
2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped into small pieces
1 teaspoon cumin 
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 1/2 cups vegetable stock, low sodium
2 tablespoons smooth peanut butter or almond butter 
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon sea salt
Nonstick cooking spray

PREPARATION
Spray a large nonstick skillet with nonstick cooking spray and place over medium heat. Add onions and sauté 4-5 minutes. Add garlic and continue cooking for another 3-4 minutes. 
Add cornstarch, chili powder, peppers, cumin, cinnamon, and oregano, and stir until everything is evenly mixed.  Continue sautéeing for 1 more minute, stirring occasionally. Remove pan from heat.

Add the cooked ingredients to a blender, along with the vegetable stock. Remove the tiny cap opening on the lid of the blender and cover it with a kitchen towel. Blend until smooth. (*Note: if using an immersion blender, prepare the recipe in a medium saucepan.) 

Return the mixture back to the skillet and place over medium-high heat. Add the nut butter, tomato paste, cocoa powder, and sea salt to the skillet. Stir with a whisk until well-combined and heated through. Taste and add more seasonings if desired. Serve over chicken, fish, veggies, etc. Any amount you are not using should be cooled to room temperature and refrigerated in a sealed container for up to 3 days, or frozen for up to 3 months. Makes about 3 cups of sauce.

CHOCOLATE CHIPOTLE CHICKEN
Smokey heat and chocolate apparently go very well together! To keep this heart healthy, I used chicken here, though a lean flank steak or even tofu could also be used. If it is warm enough to get outside, the grill is the best way to go. However, if it is too chilly, a grill pan will also work. About a 10-minute prep, but try to give it at least 1-2 hours for the flavors to marinate.

INGREDIENTS
12 chicken thighs, skinless, boneless, trimmed
3 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, stems removed
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons light brown sugar
2 Tablespoons chicken or vegetable broth, low sodium
¼ teaspoon salt

PREPARATION
Place cocoa powder, chipotle peppers, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, and salt in a blender and blend until smooth, about 1 minute. Rub over prepared chicken (yes, it will look like tasty mud 🙂). Cover and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.

Preheat grill. Grill chicken over medium heat for about 5-6 minutes on each side or until chicken is cooked through. Makes 6 servings.

QUICK CHICKEN AND SAUSAGE JAMBALAYA
With the start of Mardi Gras later this month, I wanted to include at least one New Orleans dish! I have made some long-winded jambalayas :), but during the week a speedy recipe is much desired. Cajun food can be rich at times, but this recipe uses fresh and tasty ingredients that are lower in calories, fat, and sodium – but never flavor! Though there is no chocolate in here 😉, there is a nice spicy kick of heat. Tip: This is a great recipe to use leftover chicken. If you do, just add it for the last 5 minutes to heat it up. 

INGREDIENTS
1 pound chicken breasts, skinless, boneless, cut into bite-size pieces
1 pound chicken sausage, low sodium, cut into bite-size pieces
1 15-oz can chopped tomatoes, no sodium, drained
1 small onion, chopped (about a cup)
½ cup green pepper, finely chopped
2 ½ cup chicken stock or vegetable stock, low sodium
¼ teaspoon ground thyme
¼ teaspoon ground oregano
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 cups brown rice, cooked
2 Tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped 
Nonstick cooking spray

PREPARATION 
Spray the inside of a large cast-iron skillet with nonstick cooking spray and place over high heat. Heat the skillet for 2-3 minutes and add the chicken and sausage. Cook for 7-8 minutes, stirring constantly, until lightly browned. Add the tomatoes, onions, and green pepper and continue cooking for 10-12 minutes, or until the onions are slightly browned. 

Stir in the stock, thyme, oregano, and red pepper. Reduce heat to a simmer. Place lid on top of the skillet and continue to simmer for 8-10 minutes, stirring every few minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the rice. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Remove the lid, stir, and garnish with parsley. Makes 6 servings.


BLUEBERRY, CHERRY, AND CHOCOLATE MUFFINS

These moist and tasty muffins provide sweetness, but not too much, along with fiber and nutrients from the three different types of fruit, plus some dark chocolate, of course. I use a mallet to both crush and chop the chocolate inside a sealed sandwich bag, using less pressure when going for the chopped, larger chunks of chocolate. 

INGREDIENTS
2 overripe bananas, mashed with a fork
½ cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt
1 large egg
½ cup whole wheat flour
½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar or a sugar substitute equivalent
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
¼ cup dried cherries
1 ½ ounces dark chocolate, crushed
½ ounce dark chocolate, chopped
Nonstick cooking spray 

PREPARATION 
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray 9 muffin cups with nonstick cooking spray.

In a small bowl, whisk together the bananas, yogurt, and egg. In a medium bowl, combine the flours, sweetener, baking powder, and baking soda. Add the blueberry and cherries and toss well. Add the yogurt mixture and stir just until the ingredients are well-blended. 

Using a ¼ cup measuring cup, fill each prepared muffin cup about ⅔ full. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until the tops a lightly browned and a toothpick comes out clean from the center of a muffin. Cool in the muffin tin for 5 minutes. Remove and finish cooling on a wire rack. Makes 9 muffins.

Other easy ways to add some dark chocolate to your daily healthy eating:
🍫Crush and sprinkle on top of your oatmeal
🍫Drizzle 1-2 tablespoons of melted dark chocolate on top of your yogurt 
🍫Dip a few strawberries or banana pieces in melted dark chocolate
🍫Blend into your protein shake or smoothie

You either win or you learn.

~Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback, Super Bowl LVII

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With a longstanding dedication to healthy cooking and eating, I promote nutrition with a rebellious twist: the belief that perfection is not required for success on your wellness journey. 

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