When people find out what I do, they automatically assume that I eat fruits and vegetables all day. While I am a big fan of produce, my favorite food group is chocolate (followed by Greek yogurt as a close second). My friends and family would attest to this fact, having observed me many a time with my eyes closed, happily indulging in a decadent chocolate dessert.
While chocolate has many healthy benefits, unfortunately, most of the chocolate we see in stores and restaurants is loaded with a hefty dose of sugar and fat. So what benefits does chocolate give us? And what is the best way to enjoy chocolate? Read on to find out more, and try one our favorite guilt-free chocolate recipes below.
With all the ways to enjoy chocolate, many people don’t realize that chocolate comes from a plant. That’s right, a plant! Now no, this does not mean that chocolate is equivalent to salad (as much as we may wish).
Chocolate comes from the bitter seeds of the cacao tree. The seeds are fermented, dried and roasted, helping to make their flavor more pronounced. The shell is removed and then the cacao nibs inside are ground into cocoa powder. Since cocoa by itself is pretty bitter, it is usually mixed with different ingredients (i.e. butter, milk, and sugar) to make the chocolate you buy from the store.
Some common types of chocolate:
- Unsweetened baking chocolate – cocoa solids and cocoa butter
- Dark chocolate – cocoa solids, butter, sugar
- Milk chocolate – cocoa solids (but a lower percentage than dark), butter, sugar, milk
- White chocolate – cocoa butter, sugar, milk
Why You Should Eat Chocolate
Cacao is a source of potent antioxidants including flavonoids and polyphenols. Chocolate consumption has been linked to cardiovascular benefits including better blood pressure control, decreased LDL (or ‘bad’) cholesterol, and a lower risk of heart disease and stroke. Plus, some studies show that eating chocolate can help you feel more relaxed and less stressed, possibly due to its magnesium content.
But Is Chocolate Really Healthy?
As long as you stick to chocolate that is at least 70 percent cocoa, you can reap the benefits by eating just small amounts. Choose chocolate between 70 to 85 percent cocoa with a short ingredient list. A good portion is one or two squares of dark chocolate a few times per week.
How Nutritionists Enjoy Chocolate
That’s right, registered dietitians and nutritionists love chocolate too! My favorite chocolate indulgence is a warm, gooey brownie topped with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream. It reminds me of my childhood, and is a decadent treat that I have every few months.
I reached out to some of my colleagues and asked them to share their favorite, portion controlled way that they indulge in the sweet stuff.
For a regular fix, I might go with a square of dark chocolate. I love the 100-calorie dark chocolate bars at Trader Joe’s, and I break them into three or four squares since I really savor the flavor and don’t need the full bar. But I’m also all about balance so there are times—a birthday, a special night out, a holiday party—when I’ll treat myself to something really indulgent. If I’m really going for it, a chocolate donut or cupcake (with buttercream frosting) are a couple of my favorites.
– Samantha Cassetty, RDN, Nutrition Consultant, Media Spokesperson, Columnist & Blogger.
I adore using dark chocolate chips in my baked goods. (I can’t remember the last time I went to a bakery!) I have lots of recipes — but since it’s the fall, my current favorite is my Pumpkin Dark Chocolate Almond Bread.
– Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA,RDN,CDN. Nutrition Consultant, Media Spokesperson, Columnist & Blogger.
I enjoy a few squares of organic 70% sea salt dark chocolate every day, without distraction (no TV, phone, laptop, etc.) as part of daily “me time,” kind of like a chocolate meditation. Research shows, and I personally find, that this daily treat curbs cravings for both sweet and salty foods. I also love to add organic non-dutched cocoa powder to smoothies. One of my favorites is my cherry chocolate green goddess smoothie, which can be enjoyed as a breakfast, or post-workout recovery drink.
– Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, author of Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches With Pulses – The New Superfood
My favorite way to enjoy chocolate when it’s slathered over strawberries. That way I’m getting my chocolate fix and my fruits for the day. It’s a win-win for me!
What way do I NOT love chocolate?!? But if I have to choose — it’s a piece of 80% dark chocolate with a glass of red wine to top off the day and wind up the evening. I consider the combo heart health and tasty relaxation all rolled into one perfect package.
My favorite way to enjoy chocolate is by adding a teaspoon of unsweetened cocoa to a mug of hot coffee with a dash of sugar and milk for a homemade mocha. I love it because it’s a fairly low cal way to get my chocolate fix (a teaspoon of unsweetened cocoa only has 4 calories!), but feels super indulgent.
– Karen Ansel, MS, RDN the co-author of Healthy in a Hurry: Easy, Good-For-You Recipes for Every Meal of the Day
I don’t think I’ve ever met a way in which I don’t love chocolate! But if I have to pick one wearing my dietitian “hat,” I especially enjoy it when it’s married with other nutritional benefits, like in my Vegan Dark Chocolate-Pumpkin Bread. It’s deliciously chocolatey while getting nuts, seeds, veggies, and whole grain goodness!
I really like using mini semi sweet chocolate chips in recipes for baked goods. They allow you to get a small amount of chocolate in most bites and reduces the need for a lot of other added sugar. I like using them in things like muffins and baked oatmeal.
– Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD founder of Real Mom Nutrition
My favorite way to enjoy chocolate is in baked goods like babka, although this Chocolate Pear Bread is definitely a better-for-you choice!
– Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN, Culinary nutrition expert and healthy lifestyle blogger at Nutritioulicious
I like to have 75% cocoa chocolate, which for me is not too bitter and not too sweet. I like to take a small square and let it melt in my mouth, enjoying both taste and health benefit! Or I’ll melt a 1-inch square in hot low-fat milk to make my version of hot chocolate.
– Barbara R Baron, MS, RDN, CDN
I love adding unsweetened cocoa powder to my smoothies, such as this Berry Almond Cocoa Smoothie. It adds a delicious chocolate-y flavor for very few calories! I’ll make this as part of my breakfast, or I’ll freeze half a portion and spoon into it for dessert.
– Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in Jersey City, NJ
I’m not head over heels in love with chocolate like some people, but I do occasionally get the craving. When I do, these GF Sweet Potato Brownies are definitely a favorite, with these Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups a close second.
– Lindsay Livingston, RD
My number one way to enjoy chocolate is simply to savor one small square of dark chocolate after lunch or dinner. I swear it does the trick for my craving. However, I rarely say no to a bite or two of a dark chocolate layer cake. My personal favorite is served at The Palm Restaurant.
– Keri Gans, MS, RDN. Author of The Small Change Diet
I love adding dark chocolate chips to peanut butter and using it as a dip for apples or other fruit. It’s a slightly indulgent spin on the regular peanut butter and apple combo, but still a healthier version than using traditional chocolate spreads.
– Abigail Kinnear, RDN
I love to eat chocolate the old fashioned way—straight from the wrapper! I keep it in my pantry, which can get a bit warm, and by the time I unwrap my hershey kisses or mini bars, they’re melt-in-your-mouth delicious. When I eat it slowly and really savor it, it’s so satisfying and I can be happy with just a piece or two.
– Elisa Zied, MS, RDN, CDN, author of Younger Next Week
My favorite way to enjoy chocolate is to drink chocolate milk after a long run. The combo of chocolate and milk is the perfect ratio of carbs to protein to refuel me for tomorrow’s workout. Plus, it’s got 9 essential vitamins and minerals to help keep me strong during intense exercise sessions.
– Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD
I love chocolate and enjoy eating two squares per night. That way you know how many calories it is and you can easily practice portion control. I often recommend pre-portioning it out into small ziploc bags, making it easier to stick to one serving.
– Wesley Delbridge RD, Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
I love making this simple Dark Chocolate Pistachio Bark with Sea Salt. It’s the perfect combination of salty and sweet.
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