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As Valentine’s Day Approaches, Here’s Word On the Sweet Science Behind Dark Chocolate, a Great Recipe for Dark Chocolate Brownies with Walnuts & Two Heart-healthy Books

January 26, 2011 by  
Filed under Blog, Food & Recipes, Health & Fitness

 As Valentine’s Day Approaches, the Sweet Science Behind Dark Chocolate

Dr Janet BrillToday’s guest author is Janet Bond Brill, Ph.D., R.D., LDN, a leading diet, nutrition, and fitness expert. She frequently serves as a  nutrition and health spokesperson on national television, radio and is often quoted in print.

Brill specializes in cardiovascular disease prevention. Her first book, Cholesterol Down: Ten Simple Steps to Lower Your Cholesterol in Four Weeks–Without Prescription Drugs has been widely endorsed.

Her new book, Prevent a Second Heart Attack: 8 Foods, 8 Weeks to Reverse Heart Disease, was inspired by her father’s death at a fairly young age (69) from his second heart attack, and by her husband, whose heart attack at age 51 made her look very closely at what could be done to make a difference in his life. Dr. Brill lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and three children.

The Sweet Science Behind Dark Chocolate: What Eating Dark Chocolate Can Do for You

by Janet Bond Brill, Ph.D., R.D., LDN

Dark chocolate — with a high content of nonfat cocoa solids — is the new guilt-free super food! The scientific evidence is stacking up linking daily consumption of deep, dark chocolate with phenomenal health benefits, especially on your heart and blood vessels.

Studies show that people who eat generous amounts of superbly-heart-healthy and flavonoid-rich cocoa rarely develop high blood pressure and have a very low death rate from heart disease.

Eating dark chocolate is key to heart health because it is loaded with powerful plant antioxidants called flavonoids.

That is why is it included as a bonus in a plan I developed to reverse heart disease, and/or to build good heart health to hopefully avoid heart troubles. My full program is detailed in “Prevent a Second Heart Attack: 8 Foods, 8 Weeks to Reverse Heart Disease. Valentine Chocolate

The eight key food groups that form the core of my plan are:

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Leafy greens
  • Figs and other fruits
  • Salmon and other seafood
  • Lentils and other legumes
  • Walnuts and flaxseeds
  • Oatmeal and other whole grains
  • Red wine

Eating your daily sweet treat will make a significant contribution to the antioxidant potential of your diet, as dark chocolate has a higher antioxidant quality/quantity than most heavy hitters — red wine, black tea, and green tea.

Consumption of the dark, flavonoid-rich type of chocolate can improve your blood vessel health by increasing your endothelium’s production of that crucial blood vessel relaxation chemical nitric oxide, rendering your dysfunctional endothelium (the damaged inner arterial layer that instigates and promotes heart disease progression) healthier and more functional.
In fact, research shows that consuming a small daily dark chocolate treat reduces inflammation and promotes more relaxed and dilated blood vessels, especially if you’re diabetic.

To sum it up, consuming just one or two squares (up to one ounce) of dark chocolate (at least 70 percent cocoa) every day can help:

  • Boost your blood antioxidant level
  • Lower your blood pressure
  • Make your dysfunction endothelium more functional
  • Fight inflammation

Here are a few ideas to eat chocolate daily — for you and your heart.

  • Try a nightly cup of steaming, decadent homemade hot chocolate. Put 2 heaping spoonfuls of dark chocolate natural unsweetened cocoa powder into a mug, add a touch of sweetener (you might consider a sugar substitute), and mix together with soy milk and microwave. Top with fat-free whipped topping and you have a delicious, chocolaty, super-heart-healthy sweet treat.
  • Remember, to satisfy your chocolate craving and fortify your heart disease defense strategy simultaneously, think real cocoa. Natural unsweetened cocoa powder has the highest concentration of flavanols compared to other chocolate products (followed by unsweetened baking chocolate), plus is low in sugar, fat and calories, so favor this chocolate choice over solid bars when possible. And don’t forget that milk chocolate and chocolate syrup rank lowest on the antioxidant scale, so avoid choosing them for your heart-healthy chocolate splurge.
  • Look for dark chocolate products derived from single-origin countries or areas. Note that Madagascar and Java cacao beans have been shown to contain double the flavanols compared to beans from other areas.
  • If you prefer a small piece of chocolate, purchase one of the new high-flavonoid chocolate bars (not milk chocolate or Dutch processed) — at least 70 percent cocoa, and limit yourself to one to two small pieces a day. Be sure to check the ingredients list and choose a bar where the first ingredient is cocoa solids or chocolate (not sugar) such as Lindt® Excellence 70% Cocoa Bar.
  • Add a couple of tablespoons of dark cocoa powder to your banana and soy milk smoothie — a luscious addition to a heart-healthy drink.

Isn’t this the best nutrition news to come along in decades? Try my Quick, Healthy (and sinfully satisfying) Dark Hot Chocolate (see above) and my Flourless Dark Chocolate Brownies with Walnuts (see below).

So this Valentine’s Day or any day, enjoy your chocolate…just make sure it is dark chocolate in the appropriate quantity only. It isn’t so hard when you remember that a healthy heart is the best treat of all.

Dr. Janet’s Flourless Dark Chocolate Brownies with Walnuts

Serves 16 — A dark, moist chocolaty treat.

    One 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
    3/4 cup packed Splenda ® Brown Sugar Blend
    1/2 cup quick-cooking oats
    1/4 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder
    1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
    2 tablespoons ground flax seed
    1 tablespoon espresso powder
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 9-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Place black beans in a mixing bowl. Add the sugar, oats, cocoa powder, olive oil, espresso powder, flax seed, vanilla, and salt. With an electric mixer blend the ingredients until the black beans are mushed up and the mixture is smooth, about 2 minutes. Scrape batter into the prepared pan, top with walnuts, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes until the edges pull away from the sides of the pan and the middle of the brownies is firm. Let cool before slicing into 16 pieces.

NUTRITION PER SERVING (1 brownie):

Calories: 140
Fat: 6 g (0 g EPA, 0 g DHA, 1 g ALA)
Saturated Fat: 1 g
Cholesterol: 1 mg
Sodium: 89 mg
Carbohydrate: 16 g
Dietary Fiber: 2 g
Sugars: <1 g
Protein: 3 g

Excerpted with permission from Prevent a Second Heart Attack by Janet Bond Brill ©2/2011.

Janet Brill, Ph.D., R.D., LDN, is a leading diet, nutrition, and fitness expert. She is the author of Prevent a Second Heart Attack and Cholesterol Down: Ten Simple Steps to Lower Your Cholesterol in Four Weeks–Without Prescription Drugs. Learn more at www.drjanet.com