I am hoping that you all learned a few new tricks to support your cardiovascular health from my last columns. Please share these tips with your family members. There are a lot of members of my family who suffer from heart disease, and my goal each year is to not join that club - I don't want to learn that club's secret handshake.
In all seriousness, if I can find foods and beverages that are treats and support optimal health than I'm in! I would be remiss not to share a few of my favorite heart healthy chocolate (high in Magnesium) recipes as we prepare in the next few weeks to celebrate Valentine's Day!
One of my favorite episodes of the PBS program, Globe Trekker was a whole hour that was devoted to the history and some of the health benefits of chocolate: And there is much to celebrate.
Many modern historians have estimated that chocolate has been around for about 2000 years, but recent research suggests that it may be even older. Historians trace the origin of the word ”chocolate” to the Aztec word ”xocoatl,” which referred to a bitter drink brewed from cacao beans. The Latin name for the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, means ”food of the gods.”
Of course, the cacao as it was originally enjoyed is much different than the processed chocolate now generally available. Many of the chocolate products we consume, such as the many artificially flavored and sweetened products are missing the mark when it comes to being a healthy treat. These products are missing the healthy components of dark chocolate, are loaded with sugar and have been proven to contribute to ill health and disease.
Research has shown that there are important health supportive nutrients in good quality chocolate, including resveratrol, which is also found in berries and grapes. Studies show that resveratrol can increase the health and lifespan of human cells, which could have a positive effect on our longevity.
Only purchase dark chocolate that does not contain any milk, because the milk diminishes the health supportive benefits. Many dark chocolate bars include artificial ingredients such as vanillin, which studies show to be a toxic ingredient to be avoided.
Please choose chocolate products that are certified organic and sourced using ”Fair Trade” methods. ”Organic” chocolate's benefits are obvious – it does not contain herbicide or pesticide residues. The Fair Trade or Fair for Life (look for the stamp) certification lets you know that the farmer was fairly compensated for the cacao beans they grew and harvested, and there was no slave labor involved in the growing and harvesting, which is the case for the common brands.
How much certified organic fair trade chocolate can be a healthy treat? Too much, and the sugar will negate any benefits.
Researchers in Italy found that a small amount of dark chocolate (6.7 grams) caused a decrease in inflammation, along with a reduction of 17 percent of C-reactive protein (CRP), a measure of arterial inflammation.
Based on their study, a healthy serving would be just one square of 73 percent Organic Dark Chocolate. Dark chocolate containing less than 70% cocoa typically has enough added sugar to negate many of the health benefits, so choose carefully. The better quality dark chocolates taste great and include minimal added sugar. Check out the many choices labeled 85 percent cacao, and since there is less sugar you can enjoy larger servings and still reap the benefits!
So with the recipes below, you can share healthy, chocolatey treats with your sweetheart(s). Savor your dark chocolate treats in moderation and remember that Organic Fair Trade dark chocolate can be a great Heart Healthy choice as long as you do not overdo it. Here are a couple of my favorite recipes, courtesy of Natural Grocers, enjoy:
Paleo Nutella
Ingredients: 2 cups hazelnuts, 11-12 oz. Dark (74%) chocolate, 2 Tbsp coconut manna/butter.
Instructions: Toast hazelnuts at 375° for 8-10 minutes. Transfer to a dish towel and rub vigorously to remove most the skins. Pour hazelnuts (skins removed) into a food processor and blend (about 5-7 minutes). Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Once melted, add the coconut manna, stir well. Pour the melted chocolate/coconut mixture into the hazelnut butter and blend until well combined. Pour into a bowl and refrigerate.

Choco-Doodle-Doos
(A staff favorite at my store) These tasty no-bake cookies are especially fun to make with kids!
Ingredients: 1/3 cup coconut oil, 4 ounces of 100 percent cacao unsweetened chocolate, 3 tablespoons maple syrup, 1 tsp vanilla, 1 1⁄2 cups of your favorite nut butter, 1⁄4 cup flax meal or chia seeds, 1⁄2 cup dried sweetened cherries, 4 cups of mix-ins (coconut flakes, almond slices, sesame seeds or combination)
Instructions: In a pan over low heat (or in double boiler), melt coconut oil and chocolate. Add maple syrup and vanilla and mix well. In a medium bowl, stir chocolate mixture into nut butter. Stir in cranberries or cherries and flax meal or chia seeds, then gently mix in ”mixer” of choice until completely coated. Drop spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, and chill in refrigerator until firm, about 40 minutes. It is best to store these in the refrigerator. You may need to practice making these ahead of time....just for fun! Salud!
For more information on this and other health related topics come in to see me at the Eugene Natural Grocers store. We offer free classes and free one-on-one health coaching sessions (541) 345-3300. Here is the link to our store's class schedule: http://www.naturalgrocers.com/store-locations/eugene/OR/events . On Wednesday, March 21 at 2 p.m., I will be presenting a chocolate themed class: Got Chocolate!