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Healthy Valentine Treats
Chocolate is the ultimate taste of love. In addition to its incomparable flavor, chocolate delivers a delicious boost to our health. And what better way to say "I love you" than with a mouth-watering gift that just happens to be healthy too? Here's how chocolate and a few other star ingredients make for doubly scrumptious treats:
Chocolate: In addition to great pleasure, one of our favorite flavors also helps protects us from heart disease and some cancers while boosting our immune system too. This is due to a widely studied plant chemical called flavonoids.
Of course pouring sugar and heavy cream into a gooey chocolate batter negates a lot of these healthy benefits. But knowing the right kind and proportions of other ingredients to add makes chocolate shine with luscious flavor plus the added dose of great health.
Ounce for ounce, cocoa powder also contains the highest concentration of antioxidants compared to other foods. This vitamin-type substance helps slow the aging process. Be sure to reach for natural or non-alkalized when buying cocoa powder. That's because the alkali added to Dutch-style powders neutralizes or inactivates many of the antioxidants that make cocoa so healthy in the first place.
Nuts: Here's a crunchy favorite that's gotten a bad rap over the years. When cutting back on calories, nuts have often been first to go, as they are a concentrated source of calories. (Gram for gram, fat contains more than twice as many calories as protein or carbohydrate). But in addition to protein, the fats that nuts contain also provide protection from heart disease and a potential reduction in blood pressure.
Many nuts, such as walnuts, contain Vitamin E and essential fats like omega-3s. Working in concert, these healthy fats promote decreased levels of harmful cholesterol. Again, a balance is always key, but when choosing fats, pick healthy ones--go nuts!
Agave nectar and other sweeteners: It's easy to make mouth-watering desserts with no limitations on ingredient choice or amount. But for those of us with a mean sweet tooth, it's a real challenge to find healthy dessert options. Molasses, maple syrup, agave nectar and honey are sweetening options that contain calories on par with those of sugar. What sets them apart is that they also contain micronutrients and B vitamins as well as antioxidants. Darker shades of honey (such as buckwheat) and molasses (such as blackstrap), possess greater antioxidant reserves than their lighter-colored counterparts.
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