The Health Benefits Of Chocolate

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Chocolate is one of the world's favorite foods. While eating a decadent dessert or buying a bar of chocolate at the market is enjoyable, there's nothing like strolling through the streets of Europe, dipping into shops designed entirely around chocolate. The senses are awakened. The mouth waters. The eyes widen. Display cases drip with the possibilities of dark, light, white, caramel, or fudge. Chocolate fountains pool the creamy concoction into basins, swirling thickly.
I had just this sort of experience when I stepped into a little shop in Switzerland and took my first creamy bite of a small, nameless morsel. I moaned - loudly - and the shopkeeper smiled at me and suggested I try another. I left with my white waxy bag full of small, perfect chocolates, just beginning to melt as my fingers plucked at them. I wandered the cobblestone streets, breathing in the September air and wondered if there'd ever be a more perfect moment. Later, I grabbed bars of chocolate in a gas station to take back with me. Not surprisingly, they were better than any chocolate I've had here. Chocolate is not just a food; it is an experience to be shared and enjoyed, and surprisingly, it can be sneaked into your dishes throughout the day for an extra dose of antioxidants.
Since chocolate is made from plants, it offers some of the health benefits of dark vegetables. Chocolate contains flavonoids, which act as antioxidants. Antioxidants prevent aging, help lower blood pressure and can even balance certain hormones in the body. When picking chocolate, dark is best. Look for 65%-85% dark chocolate when baking or eating. Do you crave chocolate on an ongoing basis? A little goes a long way. Here are some clever ways to incorporate chocolate at every meal.
1. SPRINKLE COCOA INTO YOUR BREAKFAST FOODS - Purchase some organic cocoa powder and add it to your savory breakfast items. Blend it with your peanut butter and spread it on an English muffin, sprinkle some in your oatmeal or oatmeal pancakes for a sweet, indulgent start to your day.
2. DRINK CHOCOLATE MILK AFTER A WORKOUT - Chocolate milk is one of the most perfect post-workout foods. It has double the carbohydrate and protein content of milk or sports drinks, and is perfect for replenishing tired muscles. Its high water content replaces lost fluids, and it also has calcium, sodium and sugar - additives that help recovering athletes hydrate and regain energy. Look for healthier, organic options at the grocery store.
3. CHOCOLATE IN CHILI - One of my favorite chili recipes has a secret ingredient: two squares of dark chocolate. The next time you are making homemade chili, add a few bars to bring out the spice and the sweetness in your chili dish.
4. MEXICAN HOT CHOCOLATE - The perfect antidote to a sweet craving after dinner, make a cup of this thick hot chocolate to stave off any sweet craving. Below are two recipes: traditional and a healthier version. 
Traditional Mexican Hot Chocolate
6 cups milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 ounces unsweetened Mexican Chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
In a large saucepan, combine milk, sugar, chocolate and ground cinnamon. Heat, stirring constantly, until the chocolate has melted and the milk is very hot. (Don't let the milk come to a boil.)
Beat 2 eggs in a mixing bowl. Stir in one cup of the hot mixture into the eggs, then return this mixture to the saucepan. Cook 2 to 3 minutes more over low heat, stirring. Remove from heat. Add vanilla. Beat with a rotary beater until it is very frothy. Pour into mugs.
Organic Vegan Mexican Hot Chocolate
1 cup organic dark or semi-sweet chocolate (or use sweetened cocoa powder)
4 cups organic soymilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon organic cinnamon
Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Heat milk on medium-low heat and add chocolate to warm milk and whisk. Add in the spices and serve! Add a dash of cayenne for a little kick.
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