As April showers give way to May flowers, for many thoughts turn toward Mother's Day. This special day is celebrated in various ways. However, flowers and a special treat are often part of the day. If you are considering a chocolate treat, it comes with history as rich as the flavor. Over its 4,000-year history, chocolate has predominantly been consumed as a beverage, but usually in its bitter, unsweetened form. For both the Mayans and Aztecs, money really did grow on trees -- both civilizations used cocoa beans to barter as a form of currency! It wasn't until the 1500s that the Europeans began combining chocolate with sugar, spices and other flavorings.
To be labeled chocolate, it must contain at least 35 percent cocoa solids. Only dark chocolate containing 50-90 percent cocoa solids is considered to have potential medicinal benefits. Other forms of chocolate include:
• Baking chocolate known as "bitter" or "unsweetened" chocolate. It looks and smells like chocolate but is extremely bitter without any sweeteners.
• Sweet dark chocolate is technically classified as "dark chocolate" because it does not contain milk solids, but it does have a higher percentage of sugar and in some cases only 20-40 percent cocoa solids.
• Bittersweet chocolate typically contains 50-80 percent chocolate liquor. It typically has a more intense bitter flavor and is less sweet than sweet dark or semi-sweet.
• Milk chocolate is separated from other types due to its dairy content. Milk chocolates are often much sweeter than dark chocolate, lighter in color and have a milder chocolate flavor.
Just as there are multiple forms of chocolate, multiple health benefits are also associated with chocolate. No, this doesn't include highly processed chocolate found in candy bars. However, dark chocolate has shown to be loaded with heart-healthy antioxidants. Clinical studies suggest chocolate has protective properties against oxidative stress and inflammation, can support blood vessel health, and may prevent the development of plaque in the arteries. In addition to cardiovascular benefits, chocolate may improve insulin sensitivity, increase cerebral blood flow and reduce stroke risk. Moderation is needed when consuming chocolate -- less than six servings weekly (1 ounce).
Chocolate can be enjoyed by most everyone. The exceptions being an outright allergy or being the family pet. Chocolate contains a compound called theobromine that is highly toxic to dogs, cats and many other animals. Animals do not have the mechanisms for breaking down this compound.
So, skip the family pet when sharing a bite of chocolate. Remember Mom this May, and consider giving the sweet treat of chocolate.
Dr. Dianna Richardson has been serving Jefferson City and the surrounding communities for more than 22 years. She has worked in the field of health and nutrition as a wellness practitioner for over 30 years. Core to her practice remains use of nutrition to improve health, vitality and quality of life. Richardson holds a doctorate in naturopathy, along with degrees in nutrition and a master's degree in public health education. She may be found at the Health, Wellness & Nutrition Center, LLC on Dix Road in Jefferson City.
DOUBLE CHOCOLATE AVOCADO COOKIES
1 ripe avocado
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup sugar (or sugar equivalent)
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ cup flour
½ cup cocoa powder
¼ cup mini dark chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350.
In a food processor or blender, combine the avocado, egg, vanilla, and sugar. Blend until the avocado chunks are smooth.
Stir in the salt, baking soda, flour, and cocoa.
Add in the mini chocolate chips.
Lightly grease a cookie sheet and drop rounded tablespoons of cookie dough onto the sheet. They won't spread much so you don't need much room in between.
Bake for 8-10 minutes.
Remove from the oven and let them cool for a few minutes before removing from the pan.