If your New Year's resolution was to resolve your chocoholism, not so fast. In case you haven't heard, chocolate fills one's heart, literally, with love.
Chocolate manufacturers are warm and fizzy these days about ongoing research that centers around chocolate's health benefits. Aside from being a respectable source of magnesium and other vitamins and minerals, chocolate contains a toothsome array of plant chemicals or phytonutrients.
According to a study from the School of Pharmacy (conducted on the world's happiest lab rats) in Granada, Spain, "the habitual use of cocoa" helped correct "the negative effects of long-term feeding with a diet moderately deficient in magnesium."
In humans, a diet deficient in magnesium poses serious cardiovascular risk, which leads to the question: How do we habitually eat chocolate without getting fat?
Answer: Look for the dark stuff, showing greater than 70 percent cacao on the label. Though dark chocolate is certainly caloric, it has less sugar and should be free of milk. Eat one or two rows, say a third of a small bar, rather than looking at a bar as a single serving. Alternatively, try eating raw cacao nibs, unsweetened bits of the cacao seed. When cooked, the nibs tend to be more bitter. You can buy the raw ones in bulk at the Ashland Food Co-op and add them to trail mixes. Try pressing the nibs into halved, pitted dates, topping them with an almond — a nutty, sweet, heart-healthy treat.
Dark-chocolate foods produced by appropriate methods contribute significant amounts of beneficial flavonoids to the diet. These compounds may enhance cardiovascular health by delaying blood clotting (having "aspirin-like" effects) and helping to reduce inflammation. Dark chocolate has more antioxidants than tea or wine, on a per-serving basis, providing broad protection against chronic disease.
Though chocolate alone won't save you from a heart attack, it's getting lots of attention, especially in the Rogue Valley, where it's becoming a food group all its own.
Michael Altman is a nutritionist at Ventana Wellness in Medford and the Centre for Natural Healing in Ashland. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org