Healthful Chocolate Treats

Healthful Chocolate Treats
By Johnathan Zamora

With Valentine’s Day coming up in a few days, you’ve no doubt seen the heart shaped boxes of chocolates almost everywhere you look.  Staring at you from store shelves…almost daring you to pick them up – these boxes filled with chocolate morsels can, if over eaten can lead to extra bulk around your waist….you’ve heard of “love handles” right?  Read on for healthy Valentine’s Day recipes.

This article will focus on the heart healthy compounds found in chocolate and includes a recipe for chocolate “truffles”.

For Valentine’s Day alone, Americans will spend between $400 and $500 million dollars on this creamy, complex-tasting confection that apparently acts as a mood enhancer, while at the same time relaxing the lucky indulger.

The story of chocolate starts in South America, where the cocoa bean has grown for centuries and was carried north to Mexico by the Mayans before the seventh century A.D.  Drinks of chocolate and water flavored with vanilla and various chiles and were consumed by the Aztec, Mayan and Toltec tribes.  These civilizations valued chocolate so much that it was used as a form of currency.

A food item valued for its rich taste, chocolate is also the focus of numerous health benefits. Below, some nutritional highlights are explored:

What are flavonoids and what do they do?
Flavonoids are the naturally occurring compounds found in plant-based foods that have certain health benefits.  Current research indicates these benefits include lowering blood pressure and improving blood flow to the brain and heart, making blood platelets less sticky and able to clot.  There are over 3,000 flavonoid compounds that are found in a variety of foods, most commonly in cranberries, apples, peanuts, chocolate, onions, tea, red wine.  Flavonols are a type of flavonoid specifically found in cocoa and chocolate.

Not all chocolate is created equal.
The more chocolate is processed – through fermentation methods, alkalizing, roasting, etc. – the more flavonols are lost.  Flavonols have a naturally bitter taste – so manufacturers are experimenting with ways to produce chocolate that is high in flavonols while still tasting good.
For now, your best bet is to buy dark chocolate as opposed to milk chocolate – which can be loaded with extra fat and sugar.  Also, choose cocoa powder that has not undergone Dutch processing – a process by which the cocoa is treated with alkali to neutralize the natural acidity.

Doesn’t chocolate have a lot of fat?
The fat predominately found in chocolate comes in the form of cocoa butter, the natural fat found in cocoa beans.  Approximately 30% of the fat found in cocoa butter is either mono or polyunsaturated fat, of which oleic acid (the same fat found in olive oil) makes up the largest proportion.  Also, 50% of the saturated fat found in chocolate comes from stearic acid, which is considered a neutral fat in terms of cholesterol.
Fit Chef’s Tip:  While dark chocolate is good – a lot is not better.  Still high in calories, should you choose to eat chocolate on a regular basis, be sure to cut back somewhere else.  The key is to have a balance of nutrients to reap the most health benefits

*The following are fantastic recipes from the cookbook Conscious Cuisine, by Cary Neff *

A Healthful Chocolate Truffle

Yield: 50 truffles


1 ea.   Espresso cake (recipe follows)
¼ c  Ricotta cheese, part skim or nonfat plain yogurt

Coatings: Unsweetened cocoa powder
Finely chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, pistachios)
Finely chopped toasted coconut

Method of Preparation:

1.  Allow the cake to cool to room temperature.  Cut the cake into small cubes and place in a mixer bowl.  Add the ricotta cheese and blend to a smooth consistency (use paddle attachment, if possible)  Chill the mixture before shaping into balls.
2. Scoop out 1 Tbs. at a time and roll into balls.  Roll in cocoa powder, finely chopped nuts, or toasted coconut.

Nutritional Information:

Per truffle rolled in ½ tsp. chopped nuts: 35 Calories; 1g protein; 6g Carbohydrates; 1
1g Fat

Per truffle rolled in ½ tsp. chopped coconut: 30 Calories; 1g Protein; 5g Carbohydrates;
1g Fat

Click here for the recipe page:

Espresso Cake

Makes: 14 Servings


2/3 cup  Whole wheat pastry flour
¼ cup  Unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup  Raw cane sugar (Turbinado)
2/3 cup  Unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ½ tsp. Baking powder
¼ tsp.  Baking Soda
¼ tsp.  Salt
½ cup  Pureed prunes or unsweetened apple sauce
3   Large egg whites
1 tsp.  Pure vanilla extract
1 cup  Coffee

Method of Preparation

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9-inch cake pan with cooking spray and dust with additional cocoa powder; set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, combine the flours, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.  In another bowl, combine the prune puree, egg whites, vanilla, and coffee.  Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and pour into the prepared cake pan.
3. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.  Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes.  Run a knife around the edge of the cake and invert onto a wire rack to cool completely.  Cut into 14 wedges to serve.

Nutritional Information:
80 Calories; 3g Protein, 0g Fat, 18g Carbohydrates, 2g Fiber

Click here for the recipe page:

Resources: Culinary Fundamentals, Kendall/Hunt   Publishing Company
Cleveland Clinic – Office of Heart and Vascular Health & Prevention – Healthy Eating & Diet

Johnathan Zamora
The Fit Chef

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