Cocoa and Chocolate are Good for You

Happy Hearts

February is a natural time to talk about love. Isn’t it best when we start with a healthy heart? And add chocolate?


hot cocoa with hearts photo by dan taylor

There are good but preliminary scientific studies that show the cardiovascular benefits of cocoa and dark chocolate. The studies have serious sounding names.

For example, Effects of Low Habitual Cocoa Intake on Blood Pressure and Bioactive Nitric Oxide. Or Acute Dark Chocolate and Cocoa Ingestion and Endothelial Function. In everyday language, the say that a small serving of cocoa or dark chocolate lowers high blood pressure.

And there are reports of either no effect, or an improvement on total, HDL, and LDL cholesterols. (Don’t stop taking your medications though).

Nutritional Benefits

One ounce of cocoa is a very good source of fiber (yeah), iron (double yeah), magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper and manganese.

A 1-1/2 ounce serving of dark chocolate offers similar amounts of antioxidants as a serving of green tea, red wine, or blueberries.

Both cocoa and dark chocolate are very low in sodium and have no naturally occurring cholesterol. It truly is happy heart health food.

The most nutritious choice is natural cocoa powder. Nothing is added to it. Dutched cocoa is a reasonable second choice for cocoa, it has been treated with alkali. It has lighter color, milder flavor, fewer antioxidants, and mixes with liquids more easily.

When choosing chocolate, choose dark, the darker the better. Look for at least 65% cacao. The higher the percentage of cacao, the lower the amount of added sugar. Sugar reduces the cardiovascular benefits.

And white chocolate? Pfff! It lacks the nutrition and flavor of dark chocolate, so does not even count as chocolate to me.

Add five minutes of happiness to each day.

Pop a small piece of fine dark chocolate in your mouth. Close your eyes. Savor the silky texture and deep flavor as it slowly melts on your tongue. Quietly say “mmmmm.”

Or try some tasty ways to add cocoa to your day.

  • Toss gluten-free breakfast cereal with a spoonful of natural cocoa before adding the milk.
  • Make a smoothie. Cocoa with raspberries, strawberries, bananas or peanut butter are classic combinations.
  • Add a tablespoon to a recipe of chili, sloppy Joes, or BBQ.
  • Revive your afternoon with a steaming mug of hot cocoa, made from scratch. Put 1-2 tablespoons of cocoa, a tablespoon of sweetener, and a tablespoon of milk (any kind) in a mug. Stir until the cocoa dissolves. Fill the mug with milk and microwave for 1-2 minutes.
  • Add some to a gluten-free spice rub and use it on pork tenderloin or chicken with the skin. Roast meat at 400-degrees until it is tender inside with a dark, flavorful coating.

give me the chocolate and nobody gets hurt

photo by procsilas

Or make a treat.

I eat chocolate in some form everyday. Usually just as plain dark chocolate, that “mmmm” thing. But I consider cocoa and chocolate as noble ingredients. And sometimes you want something a bit more special. Here are some suggestions.

Tofu Mocha Smoothie

Cocoa Quinoa Waffles

Cocoa Cherry Muesli

Silky Tofu Chocolate Pudding aka Chocolate “Moose”

Dangerous Three Seed Brittle

Chocolate Melt Away Cookies

Chocolate Angle Food Cake with Teff Flour

Cocoa Bean Brownies

Monkey Tails

And just to be careful, how to determine if your chocolate is gluten free. Does this have gluten in it?

What is you favorite way to enjoy cocoa? Chocolate?

Hearty Beef and UnBarley Soup and Oat Groat Giveaway

Beef Un-Barley Soup

Beef and Oat Groat Soup photo by vsimon

Hum? Doesn’t barely have gluten? Yes, you are right.

But certified gluten free oat groats don’t. Please let me introduce you. Oat groats make a fantastic gluten free stand-in for glutinous barely. 

Cream Hill Estates grows and produces certified gluten free oats. They are not cross contaminated with glutinous grains during growing, milling, package, or transport. Cream Hill Estates is offering a package of their certified gluten free oat groats to one random winner who comments below. 

Oat whole grain nutrition.

Oat groats are truly whole grains. And no doubt about it, they are tasty, filling and nutritious. Two new pilot studies from Scandinavia show oats increase vitamin B1, magnesium, zinc, fiber, and antioxidants in the gluten-free diet.

Oats are a rich source of a unique fiber called beta-glucan. It lowers cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. It also enhances the immune response to bacterial infections. Beta-glucan helps stabilize blood glucose levels in people with Type 2 diabetes. And, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows a low glycemic diet, including oats, resulted in greater weight loss than a conventionally balanced diet.

Are oats right for me?

Only you will be able to decide. Please visit my Nourish column in the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness newsletter for more info. Scroll down a bit for the Oh Boy, Oats! article.

Hearty, and super simple in a slow cooker.

You can dump everything raw into the slow cooker. But you’ll get better brown color and flavor if you brown the beef in a separate pan first. This extra step isn’t difficult and immediately fills the house with beefy aroma.

Round steak is a flavorful, inexpensive cut of meat. And tough if cooked quick. Cooking low and slow magically makes it tooth tender.

Oat groats take a long time to cook too. Perfect for a slow cooker. They ooze body into the soup broth. And also add tender, not too chewy, not mushy texture to the chunks. I think even fans of beef barely soup wouldn’t recognize these are oats, not barely.

Of course, the onions are optional if you don’t tolerant them.

Beef and UnBarley Soup

serves 6-8 metric measures
1 ½ pound beef round steak .7 kg
1 cup oat groats 100 gm
1 cup diced onion 130 gm
1 cup diced celery 130 gm
1 cup diced carrot 130 gm
8 cups gluten free beef broth
(or 8 cups water and 2 tablespoons Better than Bouillon Beef base)
2 liters

Cube beef into small pieces. Brown in a large sauté pan.

Put browned beef and everything else into a 12 cup crock-pot.

Cover and cook on high for 8 hours.

Enjoy your day, and your dinner. 🙂

Extras freeze well, so make a lot and save some for next month.

How to enter to win Cream Hill Certified Gluten Free Oat Groats.

1. Visit Cream Hill Estates recipe page and decide which recipe you would like to try first.

2. Tell us which recipe you chose in the comments below by February 10, 2010.

A winner will be selected by random number generator and notified by email February 11, 2010.

Full disclosure- Cream Hill Estates provided me with free oat products for recipe development. And I am happy to share simply, healthy dishes made with oats.

Update 2-11-10. The winner of the certified gluten free ot groats is Debora.

Simple and Quick Wild Rice Chicken Soup


wild rice chicken soup photo by vsimon

A client requested Wild Rice Soup, please. I responded “sure”. Then I searched some of my favorite online recipe sites. had a likely candidate, Wild Rice Soup III, submitted by Diane.

It is quick

I adapted it for a pressure cooker, as I often do. Why take an hour to cook something delicious and healthful, when it can be done in 15 minutes?

That is all the time it takes to produce tender wild rice, and really tender chicken breast. To finish the soup, cube the chicken and add more liquid.

It is inexpensive

Bone-in chicken is very budget friendly, as is cooking quickly in a pressure cooker. This is a very useful skill to know. For other recipes, you can shred it (enchiladas), or dice it (salad or casseroles). I am sure you have many other ideas for cooked chicken.

I remove the skin before cooking so the finished dish is less oily. And I still enjoy a few yellow globules of rich chicken fat, just enough for my tastes.

It is simple

Cooking a whole grain and veggies with the chicken streamlines your efforts.

And I often use a frozen blend of onion, celery, and pepper. It goes straight into the pot frozen, no dicing required. You still have to dice the carrots though.

Or you can use any combo of these veggies fresh, to total 4 cups.

Dairy free if need be

This can make a fine broth based soup. Omit the milk and add more water and gluten free flavoring base, or packaged broth. Be sure to read the labels.

Un-pressured soup

Of course, this soup is successful from scratch on the stove top. Those notes are below.

And it is also a good way to use up leftover chicken or wild rice. *chuckle* Most people probably do not have extra cooked wild rice in the fridge. But if you do, you are half way to a steaming bowl of soup.

Cook it once, serve twice, or more

This soup freezes well. So make a big batch, to enjoy now and later.

Wild Rice Chicken Soup in a Pressure Cooker

serves 6 metric measures
1 1/4 pound bone in chicken about .5 kg
10 ounces frozen onion, celery, and pepper blend 280 gm
3/4 cup raw wild rice 135 gm
1 cup diced carrots 130 gm
3 cups water 720 ml
3 cups milk, or more water 720 ml
chicken base, such as Better than Bouillon, optional  

salt and pepper to taste

Remove skin from chicken and discard. Place chicken in the pressure cooker. Add onion blend, raw wild rice, carrots, and 3 cups water.

Lock the top on the pressure cooker and bring to pressure. Cook for 15 minutes.

Cool the cooker by slow release, or under running water to quickly release the pressure if you are in a hurry to eat.

Remove chicken from the cooker. Allow to cool enough to handle. Remove bones and dice chicken.

Add diced chicken back into the cooker. Add milk or water to desired consistency.

Add some chicken base if you want more chicken flavor. I usually add about a tablespoon.

Serve. 🙂

Stovetop directions

Simply put all the ingredients, except the milk in a stock-pot and simmer for about an hour. You will have to babysit it a bit, and add more water. When the chicken and rice are tender, proceed as above.

Please help me choose a pressure cooker

See Make Friends with a Pressure Cooker. Don’t you want a pressure cooker now?

1-5-10 This recipe was submitted to Amy Green’s Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays. This recipe roundup celebrates fabulous healthy food with many tempting entry’s.