chocolateA few thousand years ago, the Mayans believed chocolate, or cocoa, had medicinal properties. Over the centuries, though, the sweet treat we’ve come to love was more often regarded as merely an indulgence. But this appraisal of the ancients’ “food of the gods” has come full circle. Scientists around the globe are investigating myriad benefits of the cacao bean and its derivatives.

The rich flavor, creamy texture, and simple deliciousness are probably enough to make you swear your devotion to chocolate, but science now provides evidence that your passion is rewarded—that your love affair with chocolate isn’t a one-way street.

Here’s a sampling of chocolate’s lesser known attributes—10 sweet ways chocolate can do your entire body good:

1 Chocolate contains plant-based chemicals called flavanols that are responsible for many of the benefits chocolate provides. Flavanols are antioxidants that protect the body from both internal and external damage caused by free radicals. External damage can come from sun exposure, pollution, cigarette smoke, and more, while internal damage results from the formation of free radicals due to essential body processes such as breathing and eating.

2 If you’re working out to look good as well as to improve your health, grab a glass of chocolate milk, which has been shown to help your body, especially your muscles, recover after a workout.

3 Chocolate has been shown to improve brain function so you can better perform various mental

4 Chocolate is one of nature’s leading sources of a substance called theobromine, which is related to caffeine. Preliminary research has shown that theobromine helps suppress coughing and may be an alternative to cough suppressants, with their side effects and generally unpleasant taste.

5 The flavanols in chocolate help make the platelets in your blood less sticky. That’s good because less sticky means less clotting, and less clotting means a lower risk of heart attack or stroke.

6 Chocolate has been shown to help lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and thereby may help protect against heart attacks.

7 Regular chocolate consumption offers another bonus for cardiovascular health: It helps reduce  blood pressure.

8 The high flavanol content in chocolate has been shown to help protect skin from harmful UV light damage. Look for the Cocoapro label on M&M/Mars, Callebaut, and CirkuHealth chocolate products for the highest concentration of flavanols.

9 You probably don’t need science to tell you that chocolate can boost your mood. It elevates your spirits thanks to a compound called phenylethylamine, which releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins throughout body. Happy people have an abundance of this compound, just as, it seems, do
people who are in love. Who doesn’t want to create some of that euphoria?

10 Chocolate has been shown to improve blood flow to the brain, a discovery that may help in the development of new treatments for dementia, vascular problems, and stroke. Even in the absence of those conditions, improving blood flow to any part of the body is usually beneficial. Before you head to the candy store and raid its supply of chocolate-covered caramel and nougat balls, there’s something you need to know. Current research suggests that most health benefits come from dark chocolate or cocoa (with the exception of chocolate milk). Ingredients such as milk and sugar used to make milk chocolate as well as other fillers such as caramel, coconut, and nougat replace some of the cocoa in certain chocolate products, so those items contain less of the beneficial components and offer fewer benefits.

The last word on chocolate is moderation. Portion control is key to enjoying the pleasure and benefits without packing on the pounds. The amount of chocolate that offers health rewards without causing your weight to creep up is about 1.5 ounces. If you enjoy that much and no more each day, you’ll reap the rewards without seeing a difference in your waistline or in the numbers on your scale.

Chocolate Chip Sconeschocolate-bouchons

I can already hear the traditionalists amongst you shouting, “Keep those pesky chocolate chips away from my beloved scones (surely pronounced skon and not skohn)!” Well, no, I won’t. Throw in a bar (chopped up) into your favorite scone mixture or use the recipe below and bake in the usual manner. I think you’ll find that they are at least as good as the non-chocolate variety and are delicious smothered with the customary home-made jelly and clotted cream.
Makes 6 to 8

13⁄4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
Pinch of salt
1⁄4 cup superfine sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
31⁄2 oz dark (70% cocoa solids) chocolate,
chopped into chocolate-chip sized pieces
1⁄2 cup 1% milk, to mix
1 free range egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 425˚F.
Sift all the dry ingredients together in a large wide bowl. Add the butter cubes, toss in the flour mix, and then rub in until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Stir in the chopped chocolate and make a well in the center. Add the milk to the dry ingredients and mix to form a soft dough. Turn onto a floured board.
Knead the dough lightly, just enough to shape into a round. Roll out to a thickness of about 1 in and cut into scones using a 21⁄2 in round cutter. Place the scones on a baking sheet—no need to grease.
Brush the tops with beaten egg and bake for 10 to 12 minutes until golden brown on top. Cool on a wire rack.

TD&N Nutrient Analysis (based on 8 servings): Calories: 235; Total Fat: 9 g; Saturated Fat: 5 g; Polyunsaturated Fat: 0 g; Monounsaturated Fat: 1 g; Cholesterol: 38 mg; Sodium: 66 mg; Carbohydrates: 36 g; Fiber: 2 g; Protein: 5 g

Chocolate Marshmallow Lollipopslollipops

Yield: 15 Lollipops
Preparation: 40 minutes
Baking: 10 minutes
Resting: 21⁄2 hours
1⁄3 ounce unflavored gelatin powder or 6 sheets
11⁄3 cups sugar
1⁄2 tablespoon honey
3 egg whites
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
7 ounces milk chocolate morsels (about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons canola or grapeseed oil

Preliminary: Dissolve the gelatin in a little cold water (if using sheet gelatin, soak in cold water until softened, then drain).
1. Over medium heat, cook 31⁄3 cups water, the sugar and the honey until it reaches 266˚F, about 8 to 10 minutes.
2. With an electric mixer, whisk the egg whites until foamy and semi-stiff.
3. Pour the syrup in a thin stream over the egg whites while continuing to whisk.
4. Add the vanilla, then the gelatin, all while continuing to whisk. Whisk for 5 minutes, until the mixture is thick and warm.
5. Pour into a pan or disk lined with parchment paper. Smooth the surface with a spatula and let set at room temperature for about 2 hours.
6. Remove the marshmallow rectangle from the disk. Using cookie cutters, cut out shapes, taking care to dip the cookie cutters in hot water between cuttings.
7. Arrange the marshmallow shapes on a piece of lightly oiled parchment paper. Insert a skewer into each marshmallow and let harden for 1 hour in the freezer.
8. Melt the chocolate and oil in a double boiler.
9. Quickly dip the marshmallows in the chocolate. Allow the excess chocolate to drip back into the bowl by turning the skewer. Place on parchment paper and refrigerate until hard.

Variation: Flavor the marshmallow using 3 tablespoons orange blossom water, 5 to 10 drops of rose water, mint, bergamot or citrus fruit zest.

TD&N Nutrient Analysis (per lollipop): Calories: 166; Total Fat: 6 g; Saturated Fat: 2 g; Polyunsaturated Fat: 1 g; Monounsaturated Fat: 3 g; Cholesterol: 3 mg; Sodium: 23 mg; Carbohydrates: 26 g; Fiber: 0 g; Protein: 2 g