Oh, happy day! Research done by the Cleveland Clinic tells a pretty cool story (and a very happy one for chocolate lovers everywhere). Plant nutrients known as flavonoids, help protect plants and help repair cell damage. When we eat foods rich in these nutrients (fruits and veggies, specifically), we benefit from this ‘antioxidant’ power just like the plants.
Cocoa is a rich source of flavenols, which benefit our hearts in even more ways than as antioxidants, like helping to lower blood pressure, improving blood flow to the brain and heart and making blood platelets less sticky and able to clot.
But before you grab the closest candy bar, consider this. Flavenols are the reason cocoa has such a strong pungent flavor. When we process cocoa, often steps are taken to rid it of this strong flavor and turn it into a sweet, creamy treat. The good news is some manufacturers are working to keep more of the flavenols in chocolate products. You can be proactive as well by buying cocoa that is not Dutch processed (a way to treat cocoa with an alkali to neutralize its natural acidity) and eating darker chocolate (70% or higher) and skipping milk chocolate all together.
And don’t worry so much about the fat in chocolate either. In dark chocolate, it’s derived from cocoa butter, a healthy monounsaturated fat that is good for cardiovascular health. And while there are small concentrations of saturated fats in chocolate as well, they seem to have a neutral effect on heart health.
Still, it’s not open-season on chocolate eating. If you go for the daily dose of dark chocolate bar with gooey caramel, your waistline will suffer and as a result, so will your heart. A few times a week, this splendidly rich treat can be enjoyed with little guilt.
And since tomorrow is a day dedicated to love and chocolate, try this delicious treat to celebrate.
Remember crisp rice cereal treats? Well, they got nothin’ on these babies!
MAKES ABOUT 2 DOZEN
1 cup brown rice syrup
1 cup almond butter
1 cup non-dairy, dark chocolate chips (try to go for organic and fair trade when you can)
3 cups crispy brown rice cereal
In a large saucepan, heat rice syrup and almond butter over low heat until creamy. Stir in chocolate chips until they melt. Remove from heat and stir in rice cereal until coated. Press into a shallow, square casserole dish. Allow to set until firm. Cut into squares and serve.
COOK’S TIP: Any nut butter is fabulous in this treat: peanut butter, cashew or hazelnut butter--yummy. Omit chocolate and create a decadent nutty-flavored rice treat.