Valentine’s Day Indulgence That Benefits Your Heart & Mood!

in Nutrition Recipes Wellness

Do you have a LOVE AFFAIR with chocolate….did you wake up this Valentine’s Day morning with IT on your mind…knowing TODAY is your day to indulge?  You are not alone…the world’s love affair with chocolate has grown over the years. Americans consume around 18 billion dollars worth of chocolate every year, with dark chocolate being the greatest trend due to its rich and intense alternative.  This has certainly peeked the creativity of culinary artists experimenting with new ways to include dark chocolate in almost any form of food.

So the real question…..are there really benefits of dark chocolate…and what type and how much?

REJOICE dark chocolate lovers…the answer is YES!  But only with awareness and mindfulness may you truly reap the health benefit.  It is important to consider the source, type, and how it is made since dark chocolate can be high in unhealthy fat, sugar, pesticides, preservatives, and food coloring/dyes.

Fortunately...savoring small amounts of quality (preferably organic) dark chocolate (~1.5-2oz)  that is minimally processed and contains 75-95% of cacao will deliver health benefits!

The Benefits of Dark Chocolate:

  1. Improve your MOOD:  The high amount of polyphenols found in chocolate are phytochemicals shown to improve depression, anxiety, and other symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome.  A recent study showed that performance on cognitive test significally improved in elderly individuals with mild cognitive impairment if they consumed a cacao drink continuing high levels of flavonols for 8 weeks, compared to those who consumed a drink low in flavonols.  (Flavonols are a member of the polyphenol family found in natural plant food sources.)
  2. Acts like a probiotic in your GUT: Your healthy bacteria in your gut loves to eat chocolate too! Nutrients found in chocolate, such as the polyphenols, antioxidants, and fiber are not easily digestible.  However, when good bacteria feeds on the fiber, compounds that are smaller, better absorbed,  and non-inflammatory are released.  This can impact the inflammation that occurs in cardiovascular tissue and why is is thought to help the heart.
  3. Can help your HEART health: The heart is really where it’s at when it comes to benefit.  Research shows that the flavoinds in chocolate can help lower levels of bad LDL cholesterol.  Flavonoids can also significantly decrease systolic blood pressure in healthy older adults.  It may also help improve insulin resistance and endothelial dysfunction, both of which have a positive effect on the heart.  A study published in JAMA found that those who ate chocolate twice a week who previously suffered a heart attack, compared to those who never ate chocolate, had a 66% lower risk of death from heart disease!  (Remember folks…moderation! Chocolate alone won’t save your heart!)
  4. May stimulate your BRAIN to help you be more alert and attentive:  Did you know that a good afternoon “pick me up” just may be the dark chocolate you are avoiding?  A square or two of dark chocolate (remember, the darker the better) can have a significant stimulatory effect on the brain, which can make you more alert and attentive.  Although researchers are not quite sure why, cocoa has this type of effect on the brain that researchers do know increases the occipital beta EEG readings, which corresponds directly with attention and alertness.  (See below Cacao vs. Cocoa.) One of my favorite afternoon pick-me ups: Mix of raw almond, pumpkin seeds, goji berries, and cocoa nips!

So we know the ganache and fruit filled truffles and organic dark chocolate bars peppered with candies and sweetened dried fruit is not your ticket to good health! But instead a good quality dark chocolate will literally have an impact from head to toe.

(Check out the AMAZING truffle recipe below full of benefit this Valentine’s Day and beyond!)  


CACAO VS. COCOA

What’s the difference between cacao and cocoa?

In a nutshell, cacao is the purest form of chocolate we can consume (and the best). It’s derived from the Theobroma Cacao, which translates to “Food of the Gods.”  The cocoa bean is the basis of all chocolate and cocoa products, including cacao nibs.  Every chocolate maker has a secret roasting formula of time and temperature to bring out a unique set of flavors from the bean. When the bean is cracked open and the papery husk is removed, the cacao nib comes into being.

Cacao contains more than 300 compounds, including protein, fat, carbohydrates, fiber, iron, zinc, copper, calcium and magnesium.  Cacao is also high in sulfur, which helps form strong nails and hair.

Cocoa powder is basically finely ground cacao nibs, making them another minimally processed alternative to dark chocolate bars. You can sprinkle cocoa powder on foods, add it to smoothies, or use it to make hot chocolate or brain-healthy dark chocolate snacks and desserts. Avoid cocoa powder that is labeled “Dutch” chocolate or lists alkali in its ingredients. The alkalization process destroys cocoa’s flavonoids — antioxidant, anti-inflammatory compounds that provide many of cocoa’s health benefits.

My 2 favorite brands for organic cacao nips and cocoa powder is Natives Naturals and Sunfoods Superfoods!


VALENTINE’S DAY TREAT (with Benefits)

Self-love starts with taking care of our body…even during the holiday season;). BUT make sure that food is still delicious and indulgent.  I have been looking for an inspirational treat to share with you to keep you eating healthy, but loving every minute of it.  Known as Canada’s Spice Queen, organic spice purveyor, and founder of Spice Sanctuary, Trusha Patel shared one amazing recipe (I am actually making it RIGHT NOW) and I wanted to share it with you!

High in protein from cashew butter and almond flour, sweetened with B6 and iron-rich blackstrap molasses (although I prefer using 100% maple syrup), covered in heart-healthy and antioxidant-rich dark chocolate and infused with a super balanced spice blend traditionally used to make golden milk or a turmeric latte, these Golden Milk Dark Chocolate Truffles will definitely do the trick.

Turmeric is always a key ingredient in making Golden Milk and revered for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and liver cleansing properties and definitely a spice we should all be consuming more of. (We sure do in my 10-Day Detox program!).However, turmeric does need to be used in a specific way for it to be properly absorbed and utilized by the body. Use with black pepper (but not if you have an ulcer or gastritis) and a good fat such as coconut oil.  I love this recipe for Valentine’s Day since she has added both anti-inflammatory AND aphrodisiac spices into the recipe ….cardamom and ginger! …Oh my!

GOLDEN DARK CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES

(Recipe from Trusha Patel, founder of the Spice Sanctuary)

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup cashew butter
  • ¼ cup almond flour
  • 2 tsp. blackstrap molasses (or substitute maple syrup)
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup (optional but makes the truffles sweeter)
  • 2 teaspoons coconut oil, melted
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder*
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger powder*
  • pinch of black pepper*
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 40 grams good-quality organic dark chocolate, melted

Directions:

1. To make the truffle filling, mix cashew butter, almond flour, and molasses in a bowl using a fork or electric whisk.

2. In another bowl, combine the coconut oil and spices and mix well before adding into the cashew butter mixture and folding it in thoroughly.

3. Take a small spoonful into your hand and roll the mixture into a round ball, approximately half an inch in diameter, and place on baking parchment on a tray. Repeat until all the mixture has been rolled. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

4. Melt the chocolate in a bowl. Using a spoon, dip the truffles into the melted chocolate before returning to the tray again. Repeat until all the truffles have been covered in chocolate. Refrigerate for another 30 minutes and serve.

The chocolates are best stored in the fridge in an airtight container and best eaten within a few days…which shouldn’t be a problem at all.

Happy Valentine’s Day & Heart Month!  

Cheers to Indulgent Healthful Bliss,

Julie xo

ps. drop me a line and share YOUR favorite dark chocolate recipe or treat!

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