By Charlyn Fargo
Is it really true? Chocolate is good for your heart? Yep, and it’s just in time for a guilt-free Valentine’s Day. Here’s the real deal about dark chocolate, according to the latest issue of Environmental Nutrition.
Chocolate is made from beans harvested from the cocoa tree. Chocolate manufacturers remove cocoa beans from their pod, and ferment, dry, roast and grind then into cocoa liquor. The beans may be further processed into cocoa butter and cocoa powder. Cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, sugar and vanilla are then combined to make chocolate. Dark chocolate contains higher amounts of cocoa solids and smaller amounts of sugar compared to milk chocolate, thus it has a richer, deeper flavor.
Dark chocolate also has high levels of flavonols, antioxidants (from flavonoids) found in cocoa and chocolate. Those flavonols are what gives it its health-protective antioxidant qualities, which are thought to help fend off heart disease, diabetes, dementia and stroke. Dark chocolate helps your heart by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol and may protect the heart by improving endothelium function (the cells that line the heart and blood vessels) and insulin resistance, a predictor of diabetes, according to a November 2013 study in the journal Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition Metabolic Care.
As to brain help, a study in a 2013 Neuroscience and Biobehavior Reviews Journal found that long-term flavonol consumption may have protective effects against cognitive decline. And in addition, the study in a 2013 Journal of Psychopharmacolgy found a square of dark chocolate may improve mood.
When shopping for dark chocolate, choose 70 percent or higher cocoa content. Ingredients should include cocoa butter (but not other fats such as palm or coconut oil), sugar and vanilla. An ounce of 70 to 85 percent dark chocolate has 168 calories and 12 grams of fat — so it’s best not to eat too much. Pair it with heart-healthy almonds or red wine (in moderation) to boost those flavonols even more.
Q and A
Q: Is magnesium as important as I have been hearing lately? If so, what foods are the best sources?
A: Magnesium is a mineral involved in DNA repair, control of cell growth, blood sugar metabolism and insulin signaling, among other roles. The good news is that we don’t need huge amounts of magnesium to lower our risk of diabetes and heart disease (including high blood pressure). The Recommended Dietary Allowance is 320 mg for most women and 420 mg for most men.
In one study, researchers looked at magnesium intake of obese people with metabolic syndrome (a group of risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure and high triglycerides), which means they were also at increased risk of developing diabetes. Those who met recommended amounts of magnesium were 63 percent less likely than those who didn’t meet the RDA to develop insulin resistance, the starting point of Type 2 diabetes. An analysis of eight population studies shows that people consuming the most magnesium were nearly 20 percent less likely to develop colon cancer than those with lowest intake.
Page 2 of 2 - Unfortunately, Americans are eating more refined, processed foods, which are low in magnesium. Foods like dark green leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts and dried beans are rich in this mineral.
The average American gets about 50-70 mg less than recommended amounts, a gap easily remedied with a few adjustments in food choices. For example, you can replace some of the refined grains you usually eat with whole grains or include a dark green vegetable on your plate. Work dried beans, seeds and nuts (especially almonds and cashews) into salads, stews or snacks regularly.
Learn to include plenty of fruits and vegetables throughout the day. These foods all contain fiber and other nutrients and plant compounds that appear protective against the health problems linked to low magnesium intake, so focusing on making a few small swaps in your current diet is likely to be better for your health than a magnesium supplement.
— Information courtesy of the American Institute for Cancer Research
Nutrient-packed quinoa is all the rage these days. But just what to do with it? Eating Well magazine offers a recipe for Apple-Cheddar Quinoa Muffins. They freeze well — to reheat just wrap in a paper towel and microwave on high for 30 to 60 seconds.
APPLE-CHEDDAR QUINOA MUFFINS
• 1 cup quinoa flour
• 1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
• 4 t baking powder
• 1 T sugar
• 1/4 t salt
• 2 large eggs
• 1 cup buttermilk
• 1 cup grated peeled apple
• 2 T extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 T minced fresh chives or scallion greens
• 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided
Preheat oven to 375 F. Coat a 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray or line with paper liners and spray the liners. Whisk quinoa flour, whole wheat flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Whisk eggs, buttermilk, apple, oil and chives (or scallions) in a medium bowl. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Add half the cheese and stir just until the dry ingredients are moistened; do not overmix.
Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tin. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Bake the muffins until the golden brown and a toothpick inserted comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes before serving. Makes 12 muffins.
Per muffin: 169 calories, 6 g protein, 19 g carbohydrate, 7 g fat, 42 mg cholesterol, 3 g fiber, 306 mg sodium.
Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian from Springfield, Ill. For comments or questions, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ NutritionRD.