You could practically hear women cheering in the streets when recent studies linked compounds in chocolate to heart health. But before you raid the candy aisle in the name of wellness, be aware that not all chocolate is rich in flavonols, the antioxidantlike superstars that earn the treat its good-for-you reputation. All chocolate foods, including cocoa powder and bars, are made from cacao beans. (Yes, cacao is spelled correctly.) However, "the way the beans in a product are processed makes or breaks its flavonol content," says Robyn Flipse, R.D., of Bradley Beach, New Jersey. Beans can lose flavonols when exposed to the extreme heat of production methods often used to render chocolate less bitter. Manufacturers aren't required to list flavonol content on their labels, so there's no easy way of knowing how much a nibble might contain. Follow these guidelines to up the odds that your next chocolate fix is beneficial for your ticker:
Scan for key words. Choose chocolate snacks that don't list alkali or Dutch-processed cocoa among the ingredients. These terms are signs the beans were prepared using a process known as Dutching, which reduces the flavonols, Flipse says.
Keep your taste buds and your ticker happy: Try these recipes for a wealth of chocolate treats.
Opt for dark chocolate over milk. "Milk chocolate is more diluted with milk and sugar than dark, which, in many cases, can mean fewer flavonols per ounce," says Gaile Moe, Ph.D., professor of dietetics at Seattle Pacific University.
Buy flavonol-friendly brands. The Mars corporation, for example, patented a process that it claims protects flavonoids. (Flavonoids include flavonols and other compounds.) Products made through this process are stamped with a "Cocoapro" seal. (The government doesn't regulate the seal.) That's not to say other brands don't have flavonols. "You just don't know either way," Flipse says.
Make real hot cocoa. Because cocoa is likely more concentrated than dark or milk chocolate, a cup of cocoa made from natural, unsweetened cocoa is probably higher in flavonols than bars.
Go to the source. Work cacao beans, the root of all chocolate, into your diet for a flavonol dose. The beans are often sold as "nibs," the shelled form. Try this Cacao Bean Smoothie from chef David Wolfe of San Diego: Grind a handful of cacao nibs in a coffee grinder. In a blender, mix 1 tbsp ground nibs, 1 cup vanilla frozen yogurt, 1/2 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 cup skim milk.
By Sarah Jio
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