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February 1, 2011

For the Love of Chocolate

The Hood Answer Mom, Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D.

According to the National Confectioners Association, Americans will buy more than 36 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate this year for Valentine's Day.

I'm hoping for a box. A giant one. Yes, you read that right.

I love chocolate, and I eat it every day. I've tried to stop craving chocolate, but I can't give it up, and I can't think of a reason why I should.  More than ever, research  suggests that if you like chocolate, it's OK to include it in a balanced diet. 

Great Taste, With Benefits

Powerful antioxidants called flavonoids - also found in tea, grapes, and wine -  are behind chocolate's ability to help your body protect against cell damage that's been linked to heart disease and cancer.  Flavonoids promote lower blood pressure and improve blood flow, which is also good for your heart.

The darker the chocolate, the better it is for you. Unsweetened baking chocolate, and cocoa powder, an ingredient in Hood chocolate milk  and Simply Smart Chocolate Fat Free Milk , contain the most antioxidants. Dark chocolate is second, then milk chocolate.  Generally speaking, the more sugar and fat in chocolate, the less cocoa powder, which makes for lower antioxidant levels.

Truth be told, I don't eat chocolate for my health, although that's a nice perk. I enjoy chocolate because it's delicious, and it's a mood-booster. Cocoa beans contain phenylethamine, a feel-good chemical that triggers the release of endorphins in the brain, which results in a spike in the level of dopamine, a brain chemical associated with pleasure.

Good for You, But Caloric, Too

When I get my huge heart-shaped box of chocolates this year (hint, hint), I won't devour it all at once. I'll make it last by limiting myself to one (OK, more like two) pieces each day.

The trick to indulging cravings on a regular basis is to devote some of your daily calorie allowance to your favorite foods. Cocoa powder is relatively low-calorie (1 tablespoon contains 12 calories), but chocolate treats, like truffles and full-size candy bars, contain calories that can bust your daily budget. 

Here's an array of ways to enjoy chocolate, no matter how many calories you have to "spend."

Drinks: This Simply Smart Chocolate Banana Cooler  includes a serving of fruit, too. 

Cinnamon Hot Cocoa for Two: In a medium pan over medium-high heat, whisk together 2 cups Hood Fat Free Milk , ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, 1/4 cup sugar (or use artificial sweetener and sweeten to desired level) and 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for five minutes.  Pour into two mugs, and top with Hood Instant Whipped Cream .

Dinner: Add 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder to your favorite chili recipe.

Desserts: Whip up this delectable Chocolate Mousse  for a loved one, and serve yourself some , too!

Indulge chocolate cravings with a 70-calorie Hood Fudge Stix   

Nibbles with fruits and nuts:

Chocolate Nut Clusters: Melt 1 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips in a double boiler. When the chocolate has melted, add 1 cup chopped nuts and toss to coat the nuts completely. Using a tablespoon, drop in clusters onto waxed paper and allow to set.

Chocolate-Kissed Dried Apricots: Follow directions, above, for melting chocolate. Working with 1/2 cup dried apricots, carefully dip half of each piece of fruit into the chocolate and allow to set on waxed paper.

Elizabeth M. Ward

Elizabeth M. Ward

Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D., is a writer, nutrition consultant, and mother of three. She is the author of several books, including MyPlate for Moms, How to Feed Yourself & Your Family Better and Expect the Best, Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During, & After Pregnancy . Ward is also a contributing writer for Muscle & Fitness Hers and Men's Fitness magazines.

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