Chocolate and Valentine’s Day go together like pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving or champagne on New Year’s. It’s a celebration treat doled out with love, affection – and sweetness.
The latest research suggests dark chocolate is the most beneficial. The magic ingredient in dark chocolate is flavanols — a naturally occurring substance found in plants that boost chocolate’s antioxidant action. These antioxidants help defend our body’s cells against damage caused by free radicals formed through normal body processes, like breathing, or they protect cells from environmental contaminants like cigarette smoke.
Antioxidant-rich flavanols are concentrated in raw cacao beans – the basis for all things chocolate. Some studies suggest chocolate may lower blood pressure, improve blood flow, lower cholesterol and help with insulin regulation.
“Go ahead, indulge in a few ounces a week, but just remember to focus on the dark stuff,” said Memorial Medical Center registered dietitianChristina Rollins, MS, RD, LDN, CNSC.
Rollins cautioned, however, that not all forms of chocolate contain high levels of flavanols.
“The more cocoa is processed, the more flavanols are lost,” she said. “You end up getting very little cocoa content and loads of sugar.”
As the cacao percentage goes up, the amount of sugar goes down. Cacao percentage is the percentage of the components of the cacao bean that are in chocolate. The higher percentages have a more intense chocolate flavor. Dark milk chocolate, which is milk chocolate with a higher than normal cacao percentage, usually ranges between 38 percent and 42 percent. When selecting dark chocolate, you want that number to be 65 percent to 70 percent or higher, Rollins said. Cacao percentage can usually be found on the front of the package.
Chocolate comes with calories, in addition to those antioxidants. Rollins’ tip: “In small amounts, chocolate can be part of a heart-healthy lifestyle, but don’t forget about the calories.”
Check labels for calorie counts and serving sizes. A typical chocolate bar contains 200 to 300 calories. While dark chocolate offers a way to satisfy your sweet craving with fewer calories, one piece of premium chocolate in that Valentine’s Day heart-shaped box can still haveup to 70 calories.
“Go ahead, indulge in a dark chocolate treat and savor its sweetness – in small amounts,” Rollins said.
Try this decadent chocolate dessert from EatingWell.com and share it with your Valentine:
Dark Chocolate Meringue Drops
- 5 ounces bittersweet chocolate (60-75% cacao), divided
- 2 T unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process), sifted after measuring if lumpy
- 3 T cocoa nibs, (see Shopping Tip), optional
- 1/3 cups egg whites (about 3 large), at room temperature
- 1/2 t cream of tartar
- 1/2 cups sugar, divided (use 1 1/2 teaspoons less if cocoa nibs are omitted)
- 1/2 t vanilla extract
- Position racks in upper and lower thirds of oven; preheat to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and coat the paper with cooking spray.
- Coarsely chop 3 ounces of chocolate and place it in a small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on Medium for 1 minute. Stir, then continue microwaving on Medium, stirring every 20 seconds, until mostly melted. Stir until the remaining chocolate melts completely.
- Chop the remaining 2 ounces chocolate into pieces the size of mini chocolate chips. Combine in a small bowl with cocoa and cocoa nibs (if using).
- Combine egg whites and cream of tartar in a clean medium mixing bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on low for 30 seconds, then at medium speed until soft peaks start to form. Immediately add about 2 tablespoons sugar; beat for 1 minute. Slowly, about a tablespoon at a time, add the remaining sugar, then vanilla, continuing to beat on medium speed until the mixture is smooth, opaque, glossy and thickened, about 2 minutes longer. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, raise the speed to high, and beat for 30 seconds more. Lightly fold in the chocolate-cocoa mixture and the melted chocolate just until evenly incorporated and no streaks remain; do not overmix. Immediately drop the batter by rounded teaspoonfuls about 1 inch apart onto the prepared baking sheets.
- Bake the cookies, switching the pans back to front and top to bottom halfway through, until just firm when gently pressed on top but still soft inside, 8 to 12 minutes. Transfer the pans to wire racks and let stand for 1 to 2 minutes. Then slide the paper from the pans to a flat surface and let the cookies cool completely, about 15 minutes. Gently lift the cookies from the parchment paper using a wide-bladed spatula.
Tips & Notes
- Make Ahead Tip: These are best enjoyed fresh, but can be stored flat with wax paper between layers in an airtight container for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 3 weeks. Thaw before serving.
- Tip: If you add the optional cocoa nibs to the batter, the flavor-texture combination will be even more interesting and complex. Nibs, which are bits of roasted and hulled cocoa beans, are crunchy and have a pure (unsweetened) chocolate taste. Some brands of nibs are coarser than others. For these cookies, the nibs should be the size of finely chopped nuts. If necessary, simply chop them to obtain the right consistency.
Per cookie: 28 calories; 1 g fat ( 1 g sat , 0 g mono ); 0 mg cholesterol; 5 g carbohydrates; 0 g protein; 0 g fiber; 4 mg sodium; 10 mg potassium.