By Himanee Gupta-Carlson
What defines a chocoholic? Well, maybe me. I can eat chocolate every day, or drink it. I love it as a sweet, topped with fruit, and even sometimes shaved finely over a kale and walnut salad or stirred into a savory dish like chili. I have been known to sneak a couple squares of a chocolate bar into my breakfast. And, as Valentine’s Day advances, I find that the lengthening but still cold and damp days of February increase my longing for the sweet warmth of that substance even more. As a result, I can’t help but feel heartened when I read reports that indulgences in chocolate are actually good for you.
At the same time, I realize that something as sweet, as caloric, and as sugary as chocolate can’t exactly replace whole foods. So, I wonder, what is the proper way to make chocolate a part of a balanced diet? When must one put the brakes on chocolate and say, “enough”?
My Empire State College colleague, Dr. Kim Stote, a professor of health services, has some answers to my questions. For starters, she does affirm that chocolate can be good for you. She notes that its origin likes in a tree-grown fruit – the cacao pod – whose seeds (cacao beans) are then dried and roasted.
Like many researchers, however, Stote suggests that not all chocolate is created equally. She draws a distinction between dark chocolate and milk chocolate, the latter of which contains significantly less chocolate liquor (which is the result of the processing of cacao beans from which the natural product of chocolate is derived). Milk chocolate also has a slightly higher number of calories, a higher level of cholesterol, and lesser amounts of dietary fiber, caffeine, and theobromine, a compound sometimes used in the treatment of high blood pressure.
Stote cites a number of studies that have found chocolate – in small quantities, again – to be useful in reducing high blood pressure, staving off heart disease, and, if kept to 90 to 100 calories a day, in supporting weight management. She further notes that chocolate has been found to help suppress appetite and to offer temporary elevations of mood.
But she also advises that the healthful intake of chocolate is all about moderation. To improve your health, manage your weight, and perhaps maintain good spirits, the best level of chocolate consumption is 1-2 ounces of dark chocolate daily, or 1 tablespoon of cocoa.
So for chocoholics, what might that mean?
A cup of hot cocoa for breakfast? A couple squares of dark chocolate before retiring for the night? Chocolate shavings over well, whatever you wish. And perhaps this recipe from The Splendid Table, shared by another one of my Empire State College colleagues, Dr. Dana Gliserman-Kopans:
The Duke’s Hot Chocolate
from The Splendid Table
5 minutes prep time; 5 minutes stove time.
Serves 4 to 6.
Hot chocolate holds on the stove for an hour or longer, and can be stored in the refrigerator for 2 days.
* 1-1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
* 1 tablespoon vanilla extract (or the seeds scraped from the inside of a whole vanilla bean)
* Generous pinch of salt
* 1/8 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper (optional)
* 1/2 cup sugar, or to taste
* Fine-grated zest of a large orange
* 3 cups water, or half-water, half-milk, or half-water, half-cream
* 10.5 to 12 ounces bittersweet chocolate (Lindt Excellence 70%, Valrhona 71%, Scharffen Berger 70%, Guittard L’Harmonie 72%, or Ghiradelli 70% Extra Bittersweet, in our order of preference), broken up
1. In a 3-quart saucepan combine all ingredients except the chocolate. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer 2 minutes.
2. Pull the pan off the heat, let it sit a few minutes, then whisk in the chocolate until smooth. Taste the chocolate for sweetness and enough allspice. Serve hot.