Researchers at the University of California at Davis reviewed a number of recent studies on chocolate - particularly dark chocolate - and its health benefits. They found that flavan-3-ols, the main flavonoids found in cocoa, are associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease.
"Cocoa contains the same nutrients found in other plant foods, including minerals and specific antioxidants that help ward off diseases such as heart disease," says registered dietitian and ADA spokesperson Althea Zanecosky. "In addition, oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat also found in olive oil, makes up one-third of the fat in chocolate and has been shown to be beneficial for heart health.
"What's more, researchers reported that Europeans living in the 17th century praised chocolate for its healing powers. They believed that chocolate 'comforted the liver, aided in digestion and made one happy and strong,'" Zanecosky says.
"Chocolate was also used for stimulating the kidneys and treating anemia, tuberculosis, fever and gout," Zanecosky says. "It was also viewed as a way to strengthen the heart and relieve heart pain."
While many of us would love to stand in the shoes of Lucille Ball working the assembly line at the chocolate factory, nutrition experts advise consuming chocolate in moderate amounts and incorporating a wide range of phytochemical-rich foods including fruits and vegetables, teas and red wines.
Zanecosky offers some tips on how to appreciate fine chocolate:
- "Chocolate is best tasted on an empty stomach. The proper temperature of the chocolate should be between 66 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit. Never put your chocolate in the refrigerator - it will cause the cocoa to separate and form a white 'bloom.'"
- "If you are trying several different chocolates, always start with the one that has the least cocoa, most likely a milk chocolate - unless it's white chocolate, which has cacao butter, and no cocoa at all."
- "When tasting dark chocolate, let the chocolate sit in your mouth for a few seconds to release its primary flavors and aromas. Then chew it a few times to release the secondary aromas. Let it rest lightly against the roof of your mouth so you experience the full range of flavors. Finally, enjoy the lingering taste in your mouth."
For those who want to give their sweetie something from the heart this Valentine's Day, look no further than Zanecosky's flavonoid-filled recipe below.
Dark Chocolate-Covered Strawberries
6 ounces dark chocolate
3 tablespoons half and half cream
½ tablespoon unsalted butter
20 large strawberries
In a one-quart glass bowl combine chocolate and cream. Heat in microwave oven on high 1 ½ to 2 minutes, stirring occasionally, until smooth. Add butter and stir until melted. Dip each strawberry into the chocolate mixture allowing the excess chocolate to drip back into the bowl. If necessary, add additional cream to the chocolate to achieve desired coating consistency. Transfer the coated strawberry to a baking sheet lined with foil or waxed paper and repeat process. Allow the chocolate to cool and then chill the strawberries until chocolate is set, about 20 to 30 minutes.
Per strawberry: calories 57; fat 3 grams; saturated fat 1.9 grams; cholesterol 2 milligrams; Vitamin C 15 milligrams
The Journal of the American Dietetic Association is the official research publication of the American Dietetic Association and is the premier peer-reviewed journal in the field of dietetics and nutrition. With nearly 70,000 members, the American Dietetic Association is the world's largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. Based in Chicago, ADA serves the public by promoting optimal nutrition, health and well-being. Visit ADA at www.eatright.org.