What makes cocoa recipes so healthy? Cocoa beans are a particularly potent source of antioxidants, substances that mop up free radicals. Free radicals can damage blood vessels, leading to heart problems. The damage they cause can also lead to cancer-triggering mutations. Studies have also shown that flavonols, antioxidants found in chocolate, help lower your levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol and boost "good" HDL cholesterol. They ease inflammation and help prevent clotting and arterial plaque formation. Also, chocolate can reduce blood pressure, and may help prevent type 2 diabetes by encouraging hormones to transport sugar from the blood into cells for fuel. In addition, a Georgetown University study found that when human breast cancer cells were treated with pentamer, another antioxidant that’s found in cocoa, the rapid growth that can lead to tumors was interrupted. If pentamer is found to perform the same way in the body, it might have potential as a cancer treatment.
Natural unsweetened cocoa powder has the highest level of cocoa flavonols and is the healthiest form of chocolate. And as we were reminded last month—October being Fair Trade Month—your chocolate purchases can help improve the lives of small farmers if you buy organic, Fair Trade–certified cocoa powder. Fair Trade certification aims to protect farmers in developing countries from exploitation by large corporations or from price fluctuations for commodity crops. In order to be Fair Trade–certified, companies are required to pay farmers a fair price for crops, enabling farmers to pay their workers a living wage, avoid using child labor and practice environmentally friendly farming methods.
Adding cocoa to savory dishes is a great way to get the benefits of chocolate without all the fat and sugar usually found in sweet chocolate-based treats.
#1: Black Bean Cocoa Soup with Lime Zest. You’ll want to double this delicious recipe featuring protein-packed, fiber-rich black beans; keep the leftovers on hand to reheat as needed (freeze it if you won't be using it in a week or so).
#2: Spicy Chicken Stew. This nourishing stew uses ingredients you’re likely to have on hand, and is ready in less than 30 minutes.
#3: Spinach Salad with Maple-Mustard Dressing. This highly nutritious salad gets its crunch from cocoa nibs—roasted cocoa beans separated from their husks and broken into bits. Other ideas for using cocoa nibs: Try them in your favorite cookie recipe, or on top of ice cream.
#4: Beef Burgundy. This classic dish is elegant enough for an autumn dinner party and hearty enough for the coldest winter night. Round out the meal with crusty bread and a green salad.
#5: Slow Cooker Black Bean Chili. Cocoa powder is a great addition to any chili recipe. More ideas: Sprinkle cocoa powder into yogurt or cereal, or stir it into banana or zucchini bread batter.