Having a healthy heart-to-heart with chocolate
On Tuesday, Valentine's Day, make a date with - what else? - chocolate.
During Valentine's week, Americans are expected to buy more than 58 million pounds of chocolate candy. And more than 36 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate will be sold, according to the National Confectioners Association.
If chocolate, indeed, is the way to your sweetie's heart, it may be truer than ever. Ongoing research supports the health benefits of chocolate, particularly the dark variety.
Cocoa beans contain flavanoids that have antioxidant qualities. Antioxidants combat free radicals that damage cells. They also help reduce cholesterol, lower blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health. The higher the cocoa content of the chocolate, the better.
"I knew if I was in business long enough they'd say chocolate is good for you," says Gayle Harte, owner of Gayle's Chocolates in Royal Oak, Mich.
"More and more people are trying dark chocolate now, and they are finding out dark chocolate is good tasting."
Harte started her chocolate business more than 33 years ago, making hand-rolled and -dipped truffles. They're still being made that way at her flagship store in Royal Oak and two outlets at Detroit Metro Airport.
"I think Valentine's is a truffle holiday," Harte says. "It's a special piece of candy, and I haven't seen them go in or out of fashion."
Homemade truffles can be a relatively effortless gift from the heart.
You can do as we did with our chocolate ganache truffles and cover them in a thin layer of chocolate to protect their melt-in-your-mouth center. Or take the simpler approach and merely dust them with cocoa powder. Looking for something even easier? Just roll them in chopped nuts for another little antioxidant hit.
For cupcake lovers, the dried cherries in our chocolate cupcakes also add some antioxidant power to the bittersweet chocolate. And there's more chocolate ganache in our tarts, an easy dessert for two that pairs the rich chocolate with caramel and a sprinkling of sea salt.
Despite all the good health news about chocolate, that shouldn't be a license to overindulge. (OK, it's Valentine's Day.) Chocolate still has calories, fat and saturated fat. There are no hard-and-fast guidelines, but a moderate portion of chocolate - 1 ounce - a few times a week is fine.
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