By Jenna Smith
Halloween is this Saturday, which means sugar-laden children dressed up as princesses and monsters running through the neighborhood. If you’re strong willed, you’ve been able to resist opening and biting into the candy early, but if you bought the good stuff, like chocolate, you may have had a harder time backing off.
Chocolate is derived from the seed of the cacao tree (also known as the cocoa tree). By itself, chocolate has a bitter taste, but with the addition of sugar, it’s a sweet treat that’s hard to turn down. Nutritionally speaking, chocolate is high in calories and fat. So why have we heard that chocolate is good for you? Chocolate contains a category called polyphenols (specifically flavonoids), which studies have shown possible heart healthy benefits by lowering blood pressure and inhibiting the oxidation of bad (LDL) cholesterol. However, this is only true for cocoa. And because dark chocolate is more concentrated in cocoa content, it is higher in flavonoids than milk chocolate. White chocolate has no cocoa at all and isn’t even considered to be chocolate.
Before you decide to start sipping more hot cocoa this fall, be aware that many of the instant hot chocolate mixes use Dutch cocoa, which goes through a process that produces a darker, richer taste, but drastically less flavonoid content. Dutch cocoa powder or alkalized unsweetened cocoa powder must be used in recipes that call for baking powder, unless there are other acidic ingredients in sufficient quantities. Natural unsweetened cocoa is used in recipes calling for baking soda. Its intense flavor is ideal for making brownies or chocolate cakes.
While dark chocolate and natural cocoa does have some nutritional value, it’s no longer a healthy treat when other high calorie ingredients are added and portion sizes are not controlled. A small piece of dark chocolate has only 50 calories, but most candy bars contain at least 200. The bottom line is that while a piece of dark chocolate can be a healthy addition to one’s diet, it shouldn’t crowd out more nutritious foods. After all, fruits and vegetables are also a good source of flavonoids, but they also provide a variety of vitamins and minerals with very few calories. So enjoy the bite size chocolate candy bars you have lying around your house for Halloween, but be mindful of how many of those you are consuming!
Toasted Coconut & Dark Chocolate Cookies
1 cup flaked sweetened coconut
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
⅛ teaspoon salt
¾ cup brown sugar, packed
¼ cup trans-fat free margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
2 oz. dark chocolate, chopped
Preheat oven to 350ᵒF. Place coconut in a small baking pan, in a single layer. Bake until lightly toasted, stirring once. Set aside to cool. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl; stir with a whisk until blended. Place brown sugar and margarine in a large bowl; beat with a mixer until well blended. Beat in vanilla and egg. Add flour mixture, beating at low speed until combined. Stir in toasted coconut and chocolate. Drop by tablespoons 2 inches apart onto greased baking sheets. Bake for 10 minutes or until bottoms of cookies begin to brown. Remove from pan, and cool on wire racks.
Yield: about 20 cookies