What's your favorite healthy snack? What's your favorite secret indulgence? Are they one and the same? I love a handful of nuts as a mid-day snack. I also some fresh fruit or even a handful of dried fruit as a snack. And a square or two dark chocolate snapped from the bar or a rich, fudgy brownie are definitely ranked among my favorite secret (okay, not so secret) indulgences. The thing is, I don't often crave a candy bar or even anything sweet when I'm hungry in the middle of the day. Unless it's balanced with a bit of salty. How about my handful of nuts...dipped in a thin coating of dark chocolate. Please sir, can I have another? For dessert, why not some fruit dipped in dark chocolate. Deceptively healthy...as long as you don't over do it. What's my point? Sometimes our secret indulgences can actually be beneficial.
Let's talk dark chocolate and its health benefits. There's actually a reason behind that mood-lift you feel after you've eaten that dark chocolate. I'm sure the joy of eating it lends to that feeling of higher spirits, but there's more. Dark chocolate actually releases seratonin, which is an anti-depressant. It also stimulates your endorphins. The release of endorphins lifts your spirits. Not to mention the little boost of energy you feel from the caffeine. But it's not just your overall sense of well-being that benefits. Dark chocolate contains antioxidants (disease-fighting compounds) that help fight against aging and disease by reducing ongoing cellular and arterial damage and polyphenols (or flavonoids) that help inhibit oxidation of LDL cholesterol, which can make your heart healthier. Dark chocolate has also been shown to be an ACE (angiotensin converting enzyme) inhibitor. What does this mean? Well, less ACE means lower blood pressure. More benefits of antioxidants and polyphenols: reduce risk of clot formation, lowering inflammatory response, help arteries function properly by increasing nitric oxide. The magnesium, potassium, and calcium in dark chocolate help muscles to relax and contract. All of these factors decrease your risk of developing heart disease by contributing to better blood flow.
For the highest health benefits, you want to choose dark chocolate that is at least 70% cocoa. And I've also read that eating your dark chocolate with milk actually decreases its effectiveness...which is a total bummer, because I love washing down a brownie or a slice of cake or a simple square of chocolate with a cold glass of milk. I don't think I can completely give up the dark chocolate-milk combo, though. And as with all things, moderation is key. Chocolate still has calories...so eat slowly and let the feeling of "secret indulgence" linger on your tongue. Don't ignore that craving. Satisfy it with a square of dark chocolate...or some fruit dipped in dark chocolate...or a piece of dark chocolate cake or a brownie. Why not start the day off with a hit of dark cocoa stirred into your oatmeal or a square broken up and baked in a blanket of puff pastry? Or maybe stir some minimally processed chocolate into your molé for dinner? How will you choose to work that dark chocolate into your life?
*I'm not a doctor (just a dark chocolate aficionado). Everything stated in this post I have learned, read, or heard over the years. Please consult your physician with any questions or health concerns or before you start any diet regimen.references:
Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate
The Doctor's Chocolate (dark chocolate)