I’m a huge fan of dark chocolate, not only on a personal level (it’s one of my fave treats!), but also as a health professional. In fact, in my last book, I devoted an entire chapter to its benefits, which include reducing blood pressure, protecting the heart and brain, and curbing cravings for both sweet and salty foods (for more, check out my top 10 list on reasons to eat dark chocolate). I even built a “daily dark chocolate escape” into the book’s weight-loss plan. But many people I talk to have a tough time not overdoing it.
If you find that a treat of one or two individually wrapped squares quickly turns into a handful, try incorporating small amounts of dark chocolate into meals and snacks instead. Here are five delectable ways to do just that, so you can satisfy your choc-o-tooth without derailing your healthy efforts.
Blend it into a smoothie
In addition to adding dark chocolate chips or few squares of chopped dark chocolate to smoothies, you can also get your fix (and the health benefits) by whipping in unsweetened cocoa powder, like I did in this chocolate cherry kale smoothie. The chocolaty flavor and sweetness of the cherries mask the bitterness of greens like kale, so you can sneak in an extra serving. Look for raw or pure non-Dutched cocoa powder. Dutching or alkalizing is a chemical process that lowers acidity, which has also been shown to markedly reduce the cocoa’s antioxidant content. It’s often done to reduce bitterness, but I find that quality brands taste wonderful in their natural, non-alkalized state.
Add it to cereal
Add some healthy decadence to the most important meal of the day by chopping a square or two of dark chocolate and swirling it into hot oatmeal, or sprinkling chocolate shavings onto cold cereal, along with sliced strawberries or a chopped mini banana. Research shows that having “dessert at breakfast” helped weight-loss seekers prevent rebound weight gain by reducing hunger and keeping cravings under control. Scientists even found that this strategy helped reduce blood levels of ghrelin, the so-called “hunger hormone.” Chocolate for weight loss? Yes, indeed!
Melt a bit of dark chocolate by adding hot (but not boiling) water a little bit at a time as you continually stir, then drizzle it onto anything from fresh fruit to popped popcorn, along with a sweet spice like cinnamon. But don’t stop there: A hot culinary trend is to pair dark chocolate with other unexpected foods, like chocolate-dipped asparagus, roasted cauliflower drizzled with dark chocolate, or chocolate-covered olives, sundried tomatoes, and cloves of black garlic. Hey, you never know until you try it!
Fold it into nut butter
I’m kind of obsessed with nut and seed butters. I currently have jars of every kind I could find, including pecan, walnut, macadamia nut, cashew, almond, sunflower seed, pumpkin seed, hemp seed, and coconut butter. I use them in lots of ways, but one of my favorite tricks is to add things to them, including minced, unsweetened preservative-free dried fruit, spices like fresh grated ginger, rolled whole oats, and chopped dark chocolate. Smear the combo onto fresh fruit, like sliced figs or wedges of apples and pears, or use it as a filling for celery stalks or a dip for baby carrots.
Add it to savory dishes
Chocolate-dipped veggies may sound adventurous, but incorporating chocolate into savory dishes isn’t all that unusual. Think: mole, the traditional Mexican sauce made with chocolate, chilis, and other spices. Other delicious ways to incorporate dark chocolate at lunch or dinner include adding it to vegetarian chili, eggplant caponata, or even hummus. Bon appetit!
Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health‘s contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a private practice performance nutritionist who has consulted for five professional sports teams.
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