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Chocolate lovers unite! World Chocolate Day is here. Not that you ever need a holiday to indulge, but now that the health benefits of chocolate are even being championed by the American Heart Association, keeping chocolate in your diet is cause for guilt-free celebration.

The Health Benefits of Chocolate

There is quite a bit of evidence available that dark chocolate especially is good for you in moderation. It contains anti-oxidants, bio-active compounds called flavanols which can benefit the heart and reduce cell damage. Even the American Cancer Association cautiously cites the health benefits found in various studies.

Chocolate may also have a positive impact on cognitive function, reducing memory decline and sharpening thinking, according to one Harvard Medical School study. We already know a hit of hot cocoa or dark chocolate can help us stay alert, and that’s partly because dark chocolate may boost oxygen availability.

This is all good news for those who love their sweet fix, but not all chocolate is created equal. Poor quality milk chocolate – the kind that is found in candy bars, mass-produced pastries and cakes, and bonbons – is full of sugar and preservatives and just not very good for you. Despite it’s name, many milk chocolate products carry no milk or dairy content at all. When you’re shopping for chocolate ingredients, remember to go for quality – dark chocolate with 70% or higher cocoa content is the best choice for healthy consumption. Or look for other cacao-based products like chips, powders and nibs that can add that distinctive chocolatey flavor to cooking.

Cooking with Chocolate

Cooking with chocolate doesn’t have to be complicated. This American Heart Association recipe for Chocolate Drizzled Fruit Cups mostly involves assembling healthy ingredients like almonds and chopped fruit, then drizzling the concoction with melted chocolate. We associate chocolate with baking, but it can be enjoyed in much easier and healthier ways.

If you’re experienced in the kitchen and want to go for something a bit more ambitious, check out this recipe for Raspberry Chocolate Mini Macarons. Raspberry and dark chocolate are natural flavour allies in this classic French sweet, here made with stevia instead of sugar.

Really confident bakers will be happy to learn that not even donuts are off the table when it comes to heart-healthy chocolate recipes. When combined with avocado for these Glazed Donuts, chocolate is anything but junk food. The avocado provides density and protein and adding chopped pistachios as a topping adds crunch.

These heart healthy recipes and a number of recent studies are proof that you can cook with and keep chocolate in your diet if you remember a few simple rules. Seems that fine quality dark chocolate and cocoa are good for you in moderation, a fact you need to  take advantage of often.