The case for chocolate

Chocolate! We know how much we love it -- but, do you know how good it is for you? I joke about it: another study coming out about chocolate! As if we need a reason.

For the record -- may I share HOW good it is for you?

Dark chocolate enhances mood, memory, cognitive and vascular functioning.

Pretty handy!

Chocolate increases the endorphins throughout the brain that give us those luxurious pleasurable feelings and a sense of wellbeing. It also contains phenylethylamine (PEA), which enhances mood, alertness and the delightful, dizzy feeling of falling in love. Chocolate has a long history of being known as an aphrodisiac, from the Aztecs to the Romans. It’s anti-inflammatory, reduces blood pressure and increases heart health and longevity.

Academy Award-winning actress Katherine Hepburn, who lived to be 96, credited her longevity — along with her effervescence and beauty — to a lifetime of eating chocolate.

The cocoa that gives dark chocolate that haunting, addictive flavor is loaded with the memory-boosting antioxidant power of flavonoids. In recent studies, cocoa consumption has been linked to higher scores on cognitive tests. Dark chocolate is also a boon to the cardiovascular system, and a healthy heart helps keep the brain sharp.

One caveat: milk interferes with the body’s ability to access the power of flavonoids, so these benefits don’t really apply to milk chocolate. You gotta learn how to eat it dark!

For extra credit: what’s a flavonoid?

Flavonoids, the largest nutrient family known to scientists, are endowed with uber antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and antiviral properties, and also help maintain the health of small blood vessels and connective tissue. Examples of foods that are rich in flavonoids include onions, parsley, blueberries, bananas, red wine and, to our point here, dark chocolate. And from my point of view, the most powerful aspect of flavonoids, which not many people talk about, is that this group pushes the yum further.

Go, flavonoids!

Enough of the science! Let’s get to the recipes.

My 3 favorite chocolate-including, swoon-inducing recipes for the holiday season (or any season):

Grown-Up Chocolate Pudding with Raspberries

I wanted something that would take me back to that comforting feeling pudding gave me as a kid, yet be a little more sophisticated for an adult palate. What we ended up with was a cross between pudding, custard, and pot de crème. If that sounds a bit decadent, well, guilty as charged. Coconut milk, dark chocolate (mood enhancer!!), cinnamon, cardamom . . . yup, this one will get your motor purring.

Unusual ingredient alert: you’ll need kudzu root. I like Eden Organic’s product, and if your local store doesn’t stock it, you can snap it up on Amazon.

Read about kudzu’s healing properties and try my Mellow Kudzu Elixir, culinary Rx for stress, digestive and sleep relief. *And you didn’t hear it from me, but this elixir makes a heck of a hangover remedy.

Lola’s Favorite Almond Chocolate Chip Cookies

I left a batch of these on the kitchen table, wrapped in layers of parchment and foil. My dog Lola didn’t care. Her doggy delight senses shorted out her inhibition system (such as it is), and when we returned to the kitchen, she had jumped up on the table like a mountain goat and absconded with eight cookies. Fortunately, the chocolate content was low enough, and Lola big enough, that the vet said she’d be fine; she was, but there was no dinner for her that night. These are flourless, a blend of almond butter, egg, vanilla, cocoa nibs, and chocolate chips. The chocolate is guaranteed to elevate your mood. It sure elevated Lola’s!

Chocolate Cherry Walnut Truffles

These easy to make truffles contain other smart, brain boosting ingredients including dates, cherries, and walnuts, toasted coconut and curry.  The dates act as the sweeteners, but they’re not only sweet, they’re loaded with fiber. Whenever you’ve got fiber with sweet you’re lowering the blood sugar rush. You’ve got somebody at the wheel -- a responsible parent! Otherwise, you can go off the rails. Think kids having a sugar meltdown, just come from a birthday party. With these delectable morsels you are in good hands. In fact, one bite of this dessert and you’d be hard-pressed to feel any stress. They’re rolled in coconut with a little curry (grown UP treats).

Ps-- they make lovely gifts!

Chocolate buying guide

Go for 70% cacao content or higher, which will tend to be more expensive, but it’s worth it to get the higher quality. You won’t need much. In fact, you won’t be able to eat as much! It’s really intense. Eat it S-L-O-W-L-Y to give your body a chance to pick up all those nutrients, to give your brain a chance to register that you are eating a food that it loves -- to ENJOY!