Chocolate is good for the heart and soul

By Marcia Kyle | Feb 26, 2009

With Valentine's Day as an excuse to indulge our loved ones with sweet treats my guess is that the American passion for chocolate goes beyond a once-a-year box of chocolates. Now that I have proof, provided by researchers at the University of California at Davis, that chocolate is good for my heart, I plan on cultivating my taste buds like a wine connoisseur savors a glass of fine wine.

It is not surprising that the cocoa plant has many of the same nutrients, minerals and specific antioxidants found in other plant foods. Specifically, researchers have pinpointed the flavanols in cocoa associated with a decreased risk of heart disease. Oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat found in olive oil, makes up one-third of the fat content in chocolate, further supporting the natural health benefits. The healing powers of chocolate have been written about since the 17th century; it was once believed to comfort the liver, aid in digestion, stimulate the kidneys, and treat anemia, tuberculosis, fever and gout.

A good thing is only ruined if one overindulges. So instead of gobbling down a candy bar daily, how about occasionally buying premium chocolate and savoring the moment? Here are a few tips to get maximum enjoyment out of a few delicious bites.

Let the chocolate sit in your mouth for a few seconds to release the primary aromas and flavor. The secondary aromas are released during the chewing phase. Let it rest on the roof of the mouth to get the fullest range of flavors. The "mouth feel" is just as important as the taste. Also, it is best tasted on an empty stomach. And to prevent those unwanted pounds, remember to limit yourself to small portions. Three Hershey Kisses have five grams of fat (1 teaspoon of cocoa butter) and 75 calories.

Never refrigerate chocolate. The cocoa will separate and form a white coating called the "bloom." The best temperature to store chocolate is between 66 and 77 degrees.

If you are trying several different chocolates, start with the ones with the least cocoa, like a milk chocolate, and save the dark chocolate for last. The higher the cocoa content (the darker the chocolate), the more health benefit. I have also found that the darker the chocolate, the less is eaten.

Now try this recipe for an extra special gift.

Dark Chocolate-Covered Strawberries

6 ounces dark chocolate
3 tablespoons half and half
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 excess to drip into bowl. If needed, add additional cream to keep coating consistency. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with foil or wax paper. Allow chocolate to cool until chocolate is set.

Per strawberry: 57 calories, 3 grams fat, 1.9 grams saturated fat, 2 milligrams cholesterol, 15 milligrams vitamin C.

There are no forbidden foods. Moderation is the key. The heart health benefit is definitely a bonus to this much loved taste treat. Don't forget to include a wide variety of fruits and vegetables daily and allow a little room in your diet for a few bites of chocolate.
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