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Healthiest Valentine’s Chocolate

Tuesday, 08 February 2011 09:52 AM

Chocolate, one of the most popular Valentine’s Day gifts, can be both delicious and healthy, depending on how it’s made. If you prefer romantic treats that are good for the one you love, these are some things to keep in mind.

In its natural state, chocolate can help to lower blood pressure, improve mood, lower stress hormones, calm the nervous system, improve digestion, and increase mental alertness. However, various additives and processing methods can turn this charming indulgence into yet another high-fat, high-sugar, artery-clogging, diabetes-promoting hazard.

If you generally follow a healthy diet and eat only a little of the not-so-natural version, it isn’t likely to do any significant damage, so it doesn’t make sense to let guilt interfere with a little enjoyment (and cause more stress — the last thing you want). But there is another equally important consideration: Healthier chocolate can be more delicious.

Fat Quality

The natural fat in cocoa beans — cocoa butter — has a wonderful chocolate aroma and a low melting point, creating that velvety-mouth feel we all love. As a low-cost substitute, vegetable oils can be processed to lower the cocoa beans' melting point, but they can’t compete in flavor.

Unlike its imitators, cocoa butter is rich in antioxidants and contains a healthy type of fat also found in olive oil. Although it also contains saturated fat, because of its beneficial components, cocoa butter doesn’t raise cholesterol.

In white chocolate, cocoa butter is the only ingredient that comes from the cocoa bean, so if a white “chocolate” doesn’t contain cocoa butter, it’s a combination of other fats and flavoring — not chocolate at all.

Unfortunately, other types of fats in chocolate include trans fats that damage the heart and brain, in the form of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. They’re a bargain in terms of price, but you do get what you pay for.

Raw, Organic, and Regular

Antioxidants are also found in the non-fat portion of cocoa beans, along with minerals and other beneficial ingredients, and as with many nutrients, they are spoiled by heat. Raw chocolate is never exposed to damaging heat, so it’s the most beneficial option but it does have a somewhat different taste.

Organic chocolate is next best in terms of maintaining cocoa’s natural benefits. And because lack of quality isn’t masked by artificial additives, the natural flavors are delicious. The higher the cocoa content, the more health benefits it delivers.

Any health-oriented supermarket or health food store will have a variety of organic chocolate bars. Some stores will also carry chocolate nibs, cocoa powders, and bars. Green & Black’s and Dagoba are popular organic brands that aren’t too difficult to find in a variety of flavors.

For gift boxes, Theo Chocolate offers various fillings or collections of bars, including one designed to complement wine.

If you want to try raw chocolate, one fun way is to make your own with a kit or buy some cocoa powder and cocoa butter. Ingredients and recipes can be found at Sunfood or a local health food store. And Sacred Chocolate makes raw chocolate Valentine’s Day gift boxes, including truffles and heart shapes.

Chocolate aside, the most important thing about Valentine’s Day is to let your special someone know you care. Expressing that sentiment is one of the best things you can do for your own, and your loved one’s health.

© HealthDay

Tuesday, 08 February 2011 09:52 AM
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