It’s Valentine’s Day, so Eat Chocolate!

Much to my delight, I unexpectedly discovered a chocolate cooking course when I was in Peru. We made chocolate from scratch, as the ancient Incans would have done.
First step: Roast the cocoa beans.

If you really love your Valentine, you’ll skip the candy hearts and go straight for the chocolate: Dark chocolate, that is. I’m not sure why scientists decided to research potential health benefits of chocolate, but I’m sure glad they did! Lots of studies have found that the flavonoids in cocoa beans do all sorts of amazing things.

Step 2: Shell the outer layer from the cocoa nib.

Dark chocolate’s properties promote heart health by increasing oxidation to stop plaque from lining artery walls and also lower blood pressure. They help to repair damaged cell membranes and aid in fighting off free radicals that damage cell tissue. And if you’re worried about the fat in cocoa butter, it’s been found to have a neutral effect on bad v. good cholesterol levels.

Step 3: Ground the cocoa beans by hand in a metate until a paste forms. Okay, this was virtually impossible for a person with a cushy job, so we ended up cheating and using a hand grinder (which was also quite grueling, but at least a bit easier).

Even more encouraging, the British Journal of Medicine recently published a study that tracked almost 21,000 people over 11 years, comparing their chocolate intake. They found that people who had more chocolate in their diets–and not even just dark chocolate, but any chocolate– were healthier overall in comparison to those who didn’t eat dark chocolate. In particular, they had fewer cardiovascular problems.

Step 4: We cheated, but only because we wouldn’t have had enough time to temper the chocolate by hand. (Good thing, because it’s a skill that takes a lot of practice to develop.)

All around, chocolate is a great food choice, but more research supports choosing dark chocolate because the flavonoids are more concentrated. In fact, the darker the better! And working cacao nib into your diet is like mainlining the benefits since it’s 100% unprocessed raw cocoa beans.

Step 5: Making the chocolates. One of the unique ingredients we had to choose from was puffed quinoa which, incidentally, is an excellent addition to chocolates.

Instead of feeling like chocolate is a special treat to be eaten only every once in a while, or feeling guilty for craving a square or two (or three or four…) of chocolate each day, now you know you’re actually doing your body a favor by eating chocolate for your health.

Step 6: Eating any unused melted chocolate. (My favorite part!)

So do your body a favor and eat more chocolate! Daily moderate treats are a big key to long-term success in maintaining a healthy weight and body, since deprivation only leads to hard feelings and bingeing. And if you make it to Cuzco, Peru, be sure to stop by ChocoMuseum where you can learn about chocolate, make some to take with you, and eat the leftovers.

While the chocolate course was definitely a highlight of my trip, Machu Picchu ranked at bit higher…

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