Thursday, February 11, 2010

Chocolate – Eat Up, for Health Benefits, Of Course

Chocolate, we love it. And now, it’s good for you! We love it and it’s healthy, too. I never thought those two statements would ever be seen together. Before you rush out to empty the stores of chocolate, let’s take a deeper look.

Theobroma cacao, the botanical name for chocolate means “food of the gods”. We enjoy chocolate in many forms, hot chocolate, chocolate chip cookies, cakes, candies and everything in between. Chocolate can be used in savory and sweet foods. The web is brimming with chocolate recipes to delight the tastebuds. Cook books have been devoted entirely to the subject of chocolate.

Although Americans love chocolate, we are not the number one consumer – that title belongs to Belgium, consuming about 10.74 kg per person. Americans consume about 5.58 kg of chocolate per person, ranking 10th in consumption.

If you consume chocolate for the health benefits and that is why we choose it, right? Here are a few things you may want to know. The health benefits of chocolate come from a group of compounds referred to as flavonoids. These compounds act as antioxidants and may help lower LDL cholesterol, blood pressure and increase blood flow to the brain. To get the maximum health benefits, eat dark chocolate. It contains a higher level of cocoa and therefore a higher level of antioxidants.

Before overindulging, chocolate does contain fat and sugar. A one ounce portion should provide the health benefits without increasing the waistline. If you want to indulge in chocolate on Valentine’s Day or any day, give the recipe for chocolate fondue a try. It makes two servings – one for you and maybe one to share.

Chocolate Fondue

Serves 2.

3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 Tablespoons heavy cream or half-and-half
Pinch of salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Assorted fruit (strawberries, fresh pineapple, pears, apricots, banana)

1. Place chocolate, cream and salt in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on medium. Stirring every 20 seconds, until melted. Add vanilla and stir.

2. To serve, use skewers to dip fruit into warm chocolate.

Note: If desired, substitute 1 tablespoon of coffee for 1 tablespoon of cream. Chocolate will harden upon cooling. If you have leftover chocolate, add dried cranberries and almonds. Drop on wax paper and allow to harden.

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