On Valentine’s Day, chocolates are often exchanged as gifts of the heart. From a health perspective, however, chocolates may truly be regarded gifts for the heart. Cocoa beans, from which chocolate is made, are rich in nutrients known as flavonoids. These natural chemicals””found in many other plant foods, from fruits and vegetables to nuts and seeds””function as antioxidants, or protective agents that work to defend the body’s cells from free radical damage.
This is good news for health-conscious consumers who love ingesting their chocolate on a regular ““ even daily! ““ basis. But not all commercially available chocolate treats are created equal. A close look at candy-bar labels often reveals that the product contains excess sugar and fat. If you have food sensitivities, you’ll find many products contain gluten or nuts, too.
For enterprising and creative chocoholics with a supply of cocoa powder, DIY chocolate-bar recipes are extensively available online. One can add spices ““ cinnamon, peppermint and even curry powder ““ and superfoods, such as maca, to the mix, as well as a small amount of natural sweetener, such as coconut sugar or stevia. Be fearless about substituting ingredients according to whim! The result can be a homemade product satisfying to taste buds, while keeping the health benefits of these treats at an optimal level. Here are three starter suggestions.
1. Cocoa powder. Having a supply of cocoa powder in your pantry as a base for your recipe means you can build your chocolate treat however you’d like. The flavonoid-containing powder is made from cocoa solids, which is one of the components of chocolate liquor. In addition to candy bars, cocoa powder can be used for baking or as a smoothie ingredient.
2. Cacao nibs. Want some crunch in your treats? Try cacao nibs, crumbled bits of cacao beans from the Theobroma cacao tree, and which are rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, especially magnesium and iron. In addition to giving your candy bar texture, try tossing some into a dish of freshly sliced fruit or over a fruit compote.
3. Dark chocolate bars. When time and portability are of the essence, sometimes a store-bought candy bar is the best option. Here’s a solution: keep a supply of treats containing the highest amount of chocolate you can find. Because consumers have become increasingly aware of the benefits of dark chocolate, it’s relatively easy to find products touting 88% levels.
Do you have a favorite recipe for your chocolate treats? Share it with us in the comments below.
Laurie Steelsmith, ND, LAc, is a naturopathic physician and licensed acupuncturist who specializes in women’s health. She is the co-author of Great Sex, Naturally: Every Woman’s Guide to Enhancing Her Sexuality Through the Secrets of Natural Medicine and co-author of Natural Choices for Women’s Health: How the Secrets of Natural and Chinese Medicine Can Create a Lifetime of Wellness.