February is National Chocolate Lovers Month as well as American Heart Month, a time when everyone needs to focus on their cardiovascular health, the leading cause of death in both men and women. Isn’t it incredible news that everyone’s favorite indulgent treat can help improve our heart health? All chocolate is not created equally, though, and some types are better than others. Here are key concepts that you should know:
Choose dark. Dark chocolate has a much higher percentage of cocoa than milk chocolate, and it’s the cocoa that contains most of the flavonoids—plant substances that provide your body with a host of health benefits. Flavonoids work as potent antioxidants to protect us from free-radical damage, the process that accelerates aging and promotes chronic illnesses, such as heart disease and cancer. The darker the chocolate, the higher the percentage of cocoa, and the more flavonoids it will contain. A large amount of cocoa can make the food taste bitter, so try different products to see what appeals to you.
Dark chocolate, while very good for health, is not a low-calorie diet food. Chocolate products are often loaded with calories, fat, and sugar, which is why if you choose to eat a chocolate confection, I suggest you make it no more than 1 ounce of at least 70 percent dark chocolate per day. The American Heart Association includes sugar on its blacklist of ingredients—joining the ranks of saturated fat, trans fat, dietary cholesterol, and sodium—foods that consumers need to limit for better heart health. Also watch out for imposters like white chocolate, which has no antioxidants, and hot chocolate mixes, which have negligible antioxidants. Instead, make your own sinfully delicious hot chocolate with dark cocoa powder, low-fat milk or light soy milk, and a touch of sweetener and keep your heart and your soul healthy and happy.
Dr. Janet’s Decadent European Hot Chocolate
- 1½ cups 1% milk
- ½ cup soy creamer
- 1 packet Splenda, stevia, or the sweetener of your choice
- 1 teaspoon instant coffee
- 4 oz. 72% chocolate. (I use ½ bar of Trader Joe’s Pound Plus 72% chocolate bar)
- Fat-free whipped cream
In a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat, whisk together milk, creamer, sweetener, and instant coffee until small bubbles form around the edges. Do not boil. Chop the chocolate bar into small pieces and add to saucepan. Stir the mixture for about five minutes to melt or until desired consistency is reached. Serve in an espresso cup and top with fat-free whipped cream.
Tip: Serve in espresso cups for a one-quarter cup serving size. This recipe is very rich and satisfying even at a small serving size.
Yield: 8 servings (3.2 ounces, ¼ cup serving size)
Nutrition per serving: Calories 230; Total fat: 15g; Saturated fat: 1g; Cholesterol: 1mg; Sodium: 35mg; Carbohydrates: 18g; Fiber: 0g; Sugar: <1g; Protein: 4g.