Dessert can be ‘healthy’ and still taste good — try this dark chocolate bark
Take a minute to reimagine dessert. What if you could make dessert better for you without sacrificing flavor? It would be like having your cake and eating it, too.
A few years ago, renowned Harvard nutrition scientist Walter Willett challenged chefs to create desserts utilizing the “three pleasures” — dark chocolate, fruit and nuts — which are some of the healthiest foods on the planet.
Fruit is refreshing and naturally sweet. It brings a burst of color to the plate and vitamins and minerals that help protect against heart disease and diabetes. Dried fruit works well when fresh is out of season.
Nuts provide a satisfying crunch and richness. They are a great source of healthy fat, protein and fiber. Just a handful of nuts a day has been associated with a decrease in all-cause mortality — that’s science speak for a handful of nuts a day keeps disease away.
Dark chocolate offers a wide range of flavors. Remember that the higher the cocoa percentage, the less sweet it will be, so 60-70 percent or higher is a nice complement to the sweetness of fruit.
Seventy-percent chocolate is 70 percent cocoa butter and cocoa solids (by weight) and about 30 percent sugar. The chocolate is the favorable content, while the sugar is not so favorable; but in dark chocolate, the ratio is good.
Dark chocolate is a cardiovascular health food, according to David Katz, a physician well-known for his expertise in nutrition. It’s a high-calorie food, so the dose makes the poison. We don’t know what the optimal “dose” is, but 60 percent cocoa or higher is recommended.
For our health, it does not seem to matter if chocolate has been “Dutched” (alkalinized). Some cocoa powder is alkalized to give it a more mellow, smooth flavor, and making it easier to mix with other ingredients.
Dark chocolate has a high concentration of arginine, an amino acid that is a precursor to nitric oxide, which make blood vessels dilate. Its effects improve blood flow and make platelets less sticky.
Dark chocolate can also lower blood pressure. It doesn’t have the attribute of stimulating appetite, like milk chocolate does, because of the bitter properties. Sweetness stimulates appetite, while bitterness tends to blunt appetite, so it’s kind of self-regulating. It’s a healthy indulgence. According to Dr. Katz, it is an example of a healthy food that loves us back.
Aggressively pursue flavor. Create your own favorite “perfecta trifecta.” Think beyond the dessert menu — hold the white flour, unhealthy fats and added sugar and rehab your taste buds to begin to enjoy these three pleasures.
Here are some ideas:
- Dip apple wedges or whole strawberries in melted dark chocolate. Add a dusting of crushed nuts.
- Prepare a bowl of fruit with a sprinkle of nuts served alongside dark chocolate squares.
- Plate dark chocolate, fresh or dried fruit and nuts. Add a splash of port wine, an optional fourth “pleasure.”
- Make chocolate almond bark with spice-flavored almonds and juicy blueberries.
Recipe: Nut, dried fruit and dark chocolate bark
Modified from Leyla Shamayeva, MS, RD
Aim for five toppings: three different nuts/seeds, one type of no-sugar-added dried fruit and one additional topping, such as coconut flakes.
6 ounces dark, bittersweet, or semi-sweet chocolate chips
3–4 tablespoons nuts/seeds (see below for ideas)
1 tablespoon no-sugar-added dried fruit, such as dried apricots
1 tablespoon additional topping, such as unsweetened coconut flakes
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
1 tablespoon chopped almonds
1 tablespoon raw pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon chopped dried apricots
1 tablespoon unsweetened coconut flakes
Line a square cake pan with parchment paper, lightly coat with cooking spray and set aside.
Combine all toppings in a small bowl and set aside.
Fill a pot with two inches of water; bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Place heat-proof bowl over pot, then place chocolate in bowl. Stir constantly to prevent chocolate from burning.
Once chocolate is fully melted, remove from heat and let cool for a minute. Pour onto parchment paper inside pan, then smooth with spatula.
Sprinkle toppings over chocolate, then place in refrigerator to set for an hour. Break into pieces and enjoy.
About The Author
Bev Utt, MS, MPH, RD, is a wellness nutritionist and health educator with MultiCare's Center for Healthy Living. More stories by this author