For most of my life, chocolate was demonized. An indulgence. A guilty pleasure. So when we all found out chocolate was “good” for us, I felt vindicated. You see, I never bought into the notion that something that amazingly good could really be bad for me. I just couldn’t make myself believe it. I make no apologies for loving chocolate. I’m just lucky chocolate has these fantastic health properties. Phew! Now, I don’t have to hide my love affair.
Dark chocolate is now the darling of those of us who felt guilty for so long. An Italian study in 2005 found that those who regularly eat chocolate may end up with an increase in insulin sensitivity, which could reduce the chances of getting type 2 diabetes. Dark chocolate is filled with flavonoids. Those are antioxidants in the polyphenol category. Procyanidins and epicatechins are also found in tea, dark red wine and some vegetables and fruits. In other words, dark chocolate helps prevent cell damage and could help prevent cancer.
The key is realizing that all chocolate is not created equal. Milk chocolate is often filled with fats and sugar and has a fraction of the health benefits of dark chocolate. Chocolate itself isn’t the brightly wrapped candy bar we find at the grocery store. It’s made from a bean from the cocoa tree. The beans are dried, roasted and ground, much like coffee. We then use that in combination with sugar and fat to create the chocolate bars we’re all familiar with.
Dark chocolate is much more concentrated than milk chocolate. Dark has at least 60 percent cocoa solids and little to no added sugars. Its flavor is intense. So much so, extremely dark chocolate can be positively bitter. This is the chocolate that has the health benefits, which include a decrease in LDL (a.k.a. “bad”) cholesterol.
But wait, there’s more. A study published by the American Medical Association showed that dark chocolate had an effect on lowering blood pressure. Several studies have shown chocolate boosts serotonin and endorphin (dopamine) levels in the brain. Meaning, people are happier when they’re eating chocolate. (You knew that, didn’t you?)
And, perfect for Valentine’s Day, chocolate has phenylethylamine, or PEA—an aphrodisiac known as the “love chemical.” The Aztecs believed chocolate “invigorated men” and helped women “loosen up.” What we know is that dark chocolate increases blood flow in the arteries and the heart. Perhaps that’s why the men are invigorated and women lose their inhibitions?
If that weren’t enough, dark chocolate has blood thinning/anti-clotting properties. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition says that cocoa works in a similar way as aspirin. But there are concerns, too. Chocolate is filled with caffeine. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, you should consume chocolate in moderation.
I have a square of dark chocolate each day. I place it on my tongue, savoring the sensation as it melts. And you’ll savor a deep chocolate sensation with this recipe. This is a flourless chocolate cake that you can have with or without heat. The kind of heat you add with chili pepper, as I know this cake will produce heat for you and your loved ones this Valentine’s Day! This cake is hot stuff!
Chris Xaver, Ph.D., is a local TV and radio personality with three children and five grandchildren. Her healthy lifestyle show, The Sweet Life, is airing on public television stations nationwide.