Dipping into the health benefits of chocolate

Cathryn Arndt

Mother’s Day just slipped by, and it’s likely that many of you indulged in a food hailed as a “heart healthy food”: chocolate. Let’s talk about it and take a brief peek into its health claims and conclude with a finale of four recipes.

You’ll find three types of chocolate down the candy aisle: dark, milk and white. Technically speaking, white chocolate isn’t chocolate at all, as it doesn’t contain any cocoa solids. It melts like chocolate but consists of cocoa butter (the fat from the cocoa bean) milk and sugar. Dark chocolate is cocoa butter and cocoa solids (up to 80% of its weight) and is rather bitter. Milk chocolate contains greater than 10% cocoa solids. Sugar and high-fat milk masks any bitter flavor.

The health benefits we love to tout as we open our foil-wrapped Dove or Hershey chocolates are actually only applicable to the dark chocolate. The benefits primarily come from bioactive compounds, antioxidants and minerals it contains as well. The compounds are called flavonoids, and they’re a subset of a larger group called polypheonols (I know; too many terms!). The deep, bitter flavor of dark chocolate actually comes from the flavonoids (which is why dark chocolate is better for you because it contains more of them.)

What makes these flavonoids so healthy is their effect on the cardiovascular system. Simply put, chocolate stimulates nitric oxide that stimulates your arteries to relax. This is considered “cardio-protective” since relaxed arteries decrease blood pressure, while the drop is not necessarily dramatic (or dangerous for those also taking blood pressure lowering meds), it is beneficial as we live in a world of chronic stress, inflammation and rampant cardiovascular disease. The little bursts of “vaso-relaxation” typically affecting the two or three hours after ingesting the dark chocolate can be of long-term benefit overall.

These heart healthy effects of chocolate have been witnessed in healthy individuals as well as diabetics, those at risk for cardiovascular disease and individuals over 50. Interestingly enough, while chocolate conveyed benefits to all test groups, the group over 50 responded best. (Guess there are some benefits to aging!) The “doses” of dark chocolate varied, but benefits were seen as low as 46 grams (which is roughly equivalent to four squares of bakers’ chocolate found in grocery stores).

Chocolate’s flavonoids also convey benefits by stimulating a beneficial anti-inflammatory cascade and by providing high amounts of magnesium, zinc and iron.

I should mention that while chocolate is “good for you,” not all people tolerate it well. Chocolate contains caffeine, to which some individuals are sensitive. If you feel jittery or moody after eating dark chocolate, then this may be your problem. The amounts vary, but there are roughly 40 to 50 milligrams per serving for a chocolate bar and 8 to 20 milligrams per tablespoon of cocoa powder.

So if you are going to eat a chocolate bar, go for one of the percentages of dark (40 to 80%). If you like to bake with the powdered chocolate, then note that the “Dutch-processed” chocolate commonly gracing most baking aisles has been processed with alkali. This significantly affects the antioxidant nutrients present. Raw, unprocessed cocoa powder will have the highest value of nutrients.

So there you have it: a few thoughts to consider as you savor the goodness of chocolate! Enjoy the recipes below for some healthier versions of chocolatey, household rites: easy homemade truffles (if you try NO other recipes try this one!), fudge sauce, brownies and no-bake oatmeal cookies.

Easy Homemade Truffles–Dark Chocolate Covered Stuffed Dates


12 pitted dates

2 tablespoons of nut or seed butter (more as needed).

1 bar of dark chocolate or 12 ounces of chocolate chips (vegan options available as needed)

1/2 teaspoon of coconut oil

1/2 teaspoon of salt


1. Pit dates if they are not already pitted by slicing them open carefully lenth-wise and extracting the pits.

2. Take chocolate chips or break dark chocolate bar apart into pieces in a small stainless steel or glass bowl.

3. Melt chocolate: In 60/30 second increments, heat the chocolate in the microwave in a microwave safe bowl until completely smooth.

Method No. 2: In a small pot (same size or slightly smaller than the bowl) boil water then add the bowl with broken chocolate in the pot without letting water get in the bowl. Heat over very low heat. And stir chocolate until pieces melted.

4. Stuff each date with 1/3 to 1/2 teaspoon of nut or seed butter of choice.

5. Once chocolate is melted, remove from heat and add 2 or 3 stuffed dates to the pot at a time to coat in chocolate. ( I use two forks).

6. Place chocolate-covered stuffed dates on a piece of parchment paper on a plate.

8. Once all dates are covered in chocolate, sprinkle each with a tiny pinch of salt and place in freezer to harden.

9. Once hardened, remove from parchment and store in container (although I dare you to make them last more than a day or two!)

10. You can use any leftover chocolate to top other fruits, such as bananas, apples, grapes, oranges, etc.

They were so good. Even if you don’t’ like dates, you won’t be able to tell.

– @marriedtohealth and @thebakermama

Three-Ingredient Chocolate Fudge Sauce


1/3 cup (50 grams) pitted dates (i.e., measured once pitted)

1/2 cup (125 milliliters of milk (regular cow or almond /cashew milk)

1 ounce (15 grams) of unsweetened baking chocolate (or 1 1/2 tablespoon on cocoa powder)


Put dates and almond milk into a blender, then blend together until smooth.

Pour into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, continue to cook while stirring over a low flame for 5 to 10 minutes, until thickened.

Remove from heat and stir in the chocolate (or cocoa powder) until melted and incorporated.

Transfer to a sterilized glass jar. Serve warm, refrigerate and eat cold, or re-warm.

– Izzy Hossack, Top With Cinnamon blog

Almond Flour Brownies


2/3 cup of honey

1/2 cup of melted butter or coconut oil

1 tablespoon of vanilla extract

3 eggs

1 cup of almond flour

1/2 cup of cocoa (I used raw cacao)

1/4 teaspoon of baking soda (this can be omitted)

1/4 teaspoon of sea salt (omit if using salted butter)

Optional: semi sweet chocolate chips for top


Heat oven to 350F degrees. Mix honey, butter, vanilla and eggs until smooth. (If omitting baking soda, beat eggs until foamy before adding other wet ingredients.) Add almond flour, cocoa, baking soda and optional salt. Stir to blend. Pour into a greased 8-by-8-by-2-inch pan. If using chocolate chips, sprinkle them on top. Bake for approximately 25 minutes, until the center no longer jiggles and top feels cakey.

Cool on a wire rack at least until sides pull away from the edge of the pan before cutting.

– Grain-Free Foodie (grainfreefoodie.blogspot.com/2012/01/almond-flour-brownies.html)

Healthy No-Bake Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies


1/4 cup of coconut oil

1/4 cup of butter

1/3 cup of unsweetened almond butter (or peanut butter)

1/3 cup of honey

1/3 cup of coconut sugar

3 tablespoons of raw cacao powder (regular unsweetended cocoa powder is fine)

1 teaspoon of vanilla

2 tablespoons of chia seeds

1/2 cup of unsweetened shredded coconut

1 cup of gluten-free old fashioned oats

1-2 drops of peppermint extract or peppermint essential oil (This is optional. If using essential oils only use the kind designated as “therapeutic grade.” These are OK to take internally.)


1. Bring to a boil the coconut oil, butter, honey, sugar and cacao powder.

2. Stir constantly and cook for 1.5 minutes

3. Remove from heat. Add and mix in vanilla.

4. Stir in the remaining ingredients.

5. Quickly spoon onto a baking sheet covered in wax paper (I used a silicon baking sheet)

6. Place in freezer until hardened.

7. Store in fridge.

8. Try not to eat them all at once!

– Original source unknown

– Cathryn Arndt is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN). She and her husband and daughters live in the McDowell Creek area.