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Healthy Highlights of Chocolate

Flip the calendar to February and just like Pavlov’s dogs, you may immediately salivate for dark chocolate, bright red roses and heart shaped everything. You may think that Valentine’s day is a romantic holiday fueled by Victoria’s Secret, florists and chocolatiers, but there is a reason for everyone to celebrate this Heart Healthy Month. For the 40 plus percent of people flying solo this season (the ones that rolled eyes at the heart encircling the 14th on the office calendar), there are reasons why you too should read on and learn of the health highlights of this ‘guilty pleasure’.

First - learning the language of chocolate and discovering the nutrients hidden in this gift from earth can empower you to look beyond the diet taboo and instead intentionally enjoy the benefits chocolate has to offer (perhaps innocently on more than one occasion per year).

Within the fruit pods of the Theobroma cacao tree lie cacao beans, the preliminary form of chocolate harboring the health benefits which transform the reputation of this guilty pleasure into an innocent delight. Cacao refers to the tropical tree (see image below) and bean, and is not to be confused with the term cocoa.

There are approximately 20-60 cacao beans per pod, which are removed from their pods, undergo fermentation and then are dried, roasted, and crushed. The resulting nibs are separated from their shells. You can purchase cacao nibs at natural foods stores (Whole Foods, PCC, Madison Market). These nibs are then ground to extract cocoa butter while producing a brown paste known as chocolate liquor during the extraction process.

When further extraction is performed, the cocoa mass that results can be ground to produce unsweetened cocoa powder. Unsweetened chocolate, the most commonly recognized form of chocolate by consumers, is made by mixing heated chocolate liquor with cocoa butter and sometimes lecithin. Bittersweet, semisweet, or simply sweet chocolate has sugar, vanilla and lecithin added.

Now that you are more fluent in the language of chocolate, you can advance to learn of the nutrients and other components in chocolate contributing to its health benefits.

Simple, heart-healthy Super Bowl recipe and advice from a cardiologist

It's heart month, and with the Super Bowl this weekend (and suggestions from the media that sporting events may trigger heart attacks), I decided to whip up my low-fat, smokey, heart-healthy three-cheese fondue, as well as ask cardiologist Mark Reisman, MD, for some tips.

Low-fat, smokey, three-cheese fondue (serves 6)

Ingredients

Top Four Innovations in Health Care Reform in 2012

What are the top four innovations in health care reform in 2012? 

1. Innovative changes in health benefit packages
2. Increased focus on primary and preventive care
3. Affiliations and data sharing between health networks
4. Personal health coaches

What exactly does this mean? Watch the video below to find out:

Zingy Roasted Vegetables

When you look in your refrigerator and see an overabundant harvest, then you know it’s the time for roasted vegetables. Use what’s on our list or invent your own. What makes this particular dish so tasty are our secret ingredients–horseradish sauce and cider vinegar. These should be staples in your kitchen because they can add a zing to almost any dish–including this one. Serves 4.

Ingredients

  • 2 large carrots
  • 1 medium parsnip
  • 1 medium turnip
  • 1 medium rutabaga
  • 1 medium yam
  • 2 small red potatoes, quartered
  • ½ large red onion, sliced into 4 wedges
  • 2 large mushrooms, quartered
  • 1 large sweet red pepper, seeded and cut in 8 equal strips
  • 1 small zucchini cut in 1" slices
  • ½ teaspoon each dried oregano, thyme, rosemary, black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon each bottled horseradish sauce and cider vinegar

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°.
  2. First five ingredients, remove skins with vegetable peeler and cut into large bite size pieces (1 inch cubes). Then place with potatoes on large cookie sheet lightly sprayed with canola oil. Roast uncovered for 20 minutes.
  3. Remove from oven. Turn with spatula. Vegetables should still be firm but beginning to color. Add onions, mushrooms, pepper and zucchini, and sprinkle with herbs and pepper. Roast 15 more minutes or until all are tender.
  4. Combine horseradish sauce and vinegar, and spoon over vegetables.
  5. Toss and serve.

Per serving of vegetables: 192 calories, 5 gm protein, 44 gm carbohydrate, 1 gm fat, 0 gm sat fat, 0 gm mono fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 9 gm fiber, 71 mg sodium

THE SEASONED COOK This dish is very versatile and can be served alone or with many kinds of meat, chicken, or fish. Try low-fat chicken sausage as pictured (3 ounces per serving). Cook according to directions on package. And remember that you can substitute any of your favorite vegetables for the ones here. Just think colorful!

Click here to see more recipes from this collection, or on the 'recipes' tag below.

Wraps To Go with Chutney and Curry

Wraps are a fun and fast way to dine— perfect for today’s busy families. This simple and savory recipe is inspired by East Indian flavors. Serves 4.

Ingredients

Spread

  • 4 ounces fat-free cream cheese, softened
  • 1 tablespoon mango chutney
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder or to taste

Wraps

  • 4 8-inch whole wheat tortillas
  • ¼ pound cooked protein, such as shrimp, sliced turkey, or sliced chicken
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro
  • 4 teaspoons chopped peanuts
  • 2 cups baby spinach leaves
  • 1 cup thinly sliced cucumber

Directions

  1. Mix together the cream cheese, chutney, and curry powder.
  2. Place tortillas on a work surface and spread ¼ of the cream cheese mixture on each.
  3. Divide the wrap fillings equally among the tortillas.
  4. Roll and eat with gusto!

Per serving spread on tortilla with chicken: 131 calories, 12g protein, 24g carbohydrate, 1g fat, 0g sat fat, 0g mono fat, 12mg cholesterol, 2g fiber, 644mg sodium.

THE SEASONED COOK The suggested amount of meat invites portion control—a little bit goes a long way. Presented buffet style, everyone can build their own wraps.

Wild Mushroom Pasta

If you don’t have a mycologist in the family, rely on your local grocer to explain the varieties of mushrooms. Asian grocery stores are often a source for exotic dried mushrooms, often more affordable price than fresh; simply reconstitute them in water. Serves 4.

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces spiral pasta
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound assorted mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ lemon
  • 2 small zucchini, chopped
  • 1 cup carrots, peeled and sliced
  • ½ cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • ½ cup parsley, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

  1. Bring water to boil for pasta. Cook until al dente and strain.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a skillet. Add the mushrooms, onions, and garlic. Cook until softened and lightly browned. Squeeze the lemon over them.
  3. Add the zucchini and carrots. Cook, stirring until tender crisp, about 2 minutes.
  4. When the pan becomes dry, add the broth. Lower heat and cook 4 minutes longer, stirring occasionally.
  5. Add the cooked pasta and parsley until combined. Garnish with Parmesan cheese.

Per serving: 482 calories, 20 gm protein, 75 gm carbohydrate, 12 gm fat, 3 gm sat fat, 7 gm mono fat, 85 mg cholesterol, 6 gm fiber, 145 mg sodium

THE SEASONED COOK Use a variety of fresh and dried mushrooms. To reconstitute dried mushrooms, cover with hot tap water and let soak for 10-15 minutes. Feel free to use spiral pasta that has vegetable flavors, too.

Whipped Winter Squash

One ingredient, one wholesomely good—and delicious—food. And it’s a snap to prepare. Best purchased at harvest time, squash can be stored for months in a cool, dry place. Serves 4.

Try this with: Pork Dijon with Chutney and Sauteed Swiss Chard

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds seasonal squash such as Hubbard or Butternut, skin peeled away and remaining squash cut into chunks

Directions

  1. In medium saucepan boil one inch of water.
  2. Place squash in steamer basket above water, cover, and simmer 15-20 minutes until tender.
  3. Drain and puree or mash.

Per serving: 102 calories, 2gm protein, 27 gm carbohydrate, 0 gm fat, 0 gm sat fat, 0 gm mono fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 5 gm fiber, 9 mg sodium

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