In my blogs, I write a lot about antioxidants, those compounds found in plant foods that “POW” out, or neutralize, the bad guys—the free radicals—and prevent oxidative stress. Free radicals are unstable oxygen molecules that have only one electron instead of two. They scavenge around looking for electrons to steal, damaging cells along the way (including skin cells!). Foods that are rich in antioxidants are those that provide the needed oxygen molecule and squelch the free radicals.

All fruits and vegetables are good for us, however, certain plant foods pack a stronger antioxidant punch than others. Scientists at the USDA developed a scale for measuring an antioxidant foods ability to neutralize free radicals, called the ORAC score, short for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity. Guess what food is at the top of the list? Chocolate! They theorize that the higher a food’s ORAC score, the more powerful it is in combating age-related degeneration and disease. Foods with the highest ORAC scores include spices, cocoa powder (unsweetened) and richly colored fruits and vegetables.

Now don’t get too carried away here and think that I am suggesting that you eat Snickers bars every day to help reach your heath goals. When you add milk, fat and sugar to the chocolate, you neutralize the benefits. The antioxidants in chocolate come from regular (not Dutch-processed) cocoa. Cocoa contains flavonoids, which are increased even more when heated. An occasional cup of “real” hot cocoa is a good thing. Dark chocolate is also great (70% or higher).

There are many ways to incorporate some dark chocolate or cocoa powder in your diet. Some healthy ideas I like are…

  • Add some to your favorite chia pudding recipe.
  • Mix a tablespoon of raw cocoa powder into your morning smoothie, Greek yogurt, or oatmeal.
  • Stir into your natural almond or peanut butter and dip apple slices in it for a healthy and delicious snack. Exact proportions are really a taste issue. Start with 1 teaspoon cocoa powder to 1 tablespoon nut butter.
  • My current favorite dessert recipe: Combine 1 cup of blueberries, 1 cup of raspberries, 1 cup of blackberries, 1 cup of strawberries. Add the juice of one orange and 1 tablespoon orange zest. Stir gently. Sprinkle ½ cup of chopped pecans and some dark chocolate curls over the top and enjoy! For an extra bonus, add a dollop of homemade whipped cream. (I personally skip the sugar when I make whipped cream, but always use vanilla.). This dessert packs an antioxidant punch and pleases the crowds too.

Eating healthfully doesn’t necessarily mean giving up delicious foods! Chocolate is one of those foods that is surprisingly good for you. It’s just a matter of making the right choices when eating chocolate.

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