Valentine’s Day is quickly approaching, which can only mean one thing: It’s chocolate season. Now, many people would argue chocolate is great year-round, and they would be correct. But come February, chocolate flies off shelves at a rapid rate. So, if you find yourself face-to-face with a hundred different options this year, you might as well choose something that tastes great and provides a few health benefits.
When deciding between chocolate bars and other treats, the darker the better. Dark chocolate contains antioxidant-rich polyphenols that can benefit the heart by lowering blood pressure. Research also suggests cocoa powder may lower (bad) LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol (the good kind). Look for products that are minimally processed to ensure you’re getting natural ingredients rather than unhealthy fillers. When in doubt, try these seven sweet treats, from packaged chocolate bars to sorbet and spreads.
JUSTIN’S DARK PEANUT BUTTER CUPS
“Peanuts provide heart-healthy fats and can also help to control blood glucose, and dark chocolate can be cardioprotective,” says nutrition expert Leslie Bonci, RD, MPH. Those are great reasons to pick up some Justin’s Dark Peanut Butter Cups on Valentine’s Day. But most importantly, the all-organic treats are just plain tasty.
TALENTI DARK CHOCOLATE SORBETTO
“Gelato takes longer to eat than a piece of candy, so you get the gift that keeps on giving,” says Bonci. She suggests Talenti’s dark chocolate sorbetto, which is made with real cocoa. It’s dairy-free, so even your lactose-intolerant friends can enjoy it. If you want to add a topping, try nuts or sliced berries for extra flavor and nutrients.
PEANUT BUTTER & COMPANY DARK CHOCOLATEY DREAMS
Think outside the box a little, and you can add this spread to your Valentine’s Day celebrations. Give a jar to a friend or loved one, or incorporate it into your homemade treats. The sweet and nutty spread is made with peanuts, cocoa, cocoa butter, cane sugar and a pinch of salt. Bonci says it’s delicious on a slice of nut bread or on fruits, like a juicy apple or pear, a banana or strawberries.
Theo sources high-quality cocoa beans from 10 different countries across Central America, South America and Africa. Its chocolates are certified organic, non-GMO, fair trade and kosher. The brand adds minimal ingredients, using cocoa butter while avoiding soy and sunflower lecithin. Theo’s chocolates are available in a variety of flavors, but stick to the dark chocolate options, like Dark Chocolate Sea Salt, for its heart-healthy benefits and lower sugar content.
ALTER ECO CHOCOLATES
The chocolate that goes into Alter Eco products is sourced from small-scale, fair trade farmers and features organic ingredients with “no weird stuff,” per the brand. Alter sells milk chocolate and dark chocolate bars, truffles and more. Dark chocolate fiends will like the 100% cacao Total Blackout bar or the 90% cacao Super Blackout bar, while those who prefer a sweeter option will likely prefer the 70% options studded with sea salt, almonds or caramel.
You can mix a packet with water to save calories, but Bonci says you get more taste and nutrition with milk, which contains protein and 12 other essential nutrients. Make a batch to enjoy in front of the fire on a cold night, or while watching a movie with your valentine.
DARK CHOCOLATE RIGHT BITES
If you want to make your own dessert, Bonci suggests these easy-to-make bites for a chocolaty treat that won’t weigh you down. They feature mini dark chocolate chips, slivered almonds, prunes, dry oats, crispy rice cereal, almond butter, honey, cinnamon and grated orange peel.
THE BOTTOM LINE
For those who choose to celebrate, Valentine’s Day is a fun occasion filled with chocolates and other delicious treats. In moderation, sweets can be part of a healthy diet, so don’t deprive yourself of chocolate. If you want to indulge, these healthier options provide greater nutritional punch than the more processed alternatives.
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