Top Dietitian-Approved Valentine's Day Treats

Best Picks for Taste and Health

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It's hard to find a balance of great taste and good nutrition, especially when it comes to sweet treats. Valentine's day is symbolic of oversized chocolates, sweet-hearts and all different kinds of goodies. It's OK to indulge in a sweet treat from time to time, but overdoing it can be detrimental to blood sugars and weight. Swapping your indulges for sugar-free options may not be the answer either.

The truth is that sugar-free does not always mean carbohydrate-free, and carbohydrates are the nutrients that raise blood sugars the most. Instead, opt to eat a small amount of the real thing - you'll feel satisfied and happy. In fact, some treats can be nutritious and delicious too. I asked some of my favorite Registered Dietitians to chime in on their favorite indulgent treats. Their response: "Anything with dark chocolate."

Dark Chocolate:

Studies have shown that eating a small amount of cacoa found in dark chocolate, may have a beneficial effect on blood pressure, insulin resistance, and vascular and platelet function. The reason for this is likely due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory affects. Cacoa comes from the fruit or seeds of the cacoa tree, a small tropical American evergreen tree. The many of the benefits of cacoa may not be applicable to the processed milk chocolate that we often consume in chocolate products.

Commercial chocolate is a combination of cocoa, sugar, milk and other ingredients. The higher percentage of cacoa in dark chocolate, the lower the sugar content too. When choosing a source of dark chocolate aim to choose one with at least 70% or more of cacoa to maximize antioxidant effect and reduce sugar content.

Here's What They Recommend:

Kristy Del Coro, Senior Culinary Nutritionist SPE® Certified, www.specertified.com, says her go-to sweet treat is, frozen (no sugar added), thawed cherries with plain non-fat Greek yogurt and shaved dark chocolate or cacoa nibs. "Substitute ground cinnamon instead if you'd like to save on calories and fat," she says. If you have diabetes, limit your portion of cherries to about 15, as 1 cherry is about 1 gram of carbohydrate. 

Del Coro also gives her best picks for dark chocolate brands: 

Mast brothers dark chocolate: http://mastbrothers.com/​ranges from 70-75% cacao

Jelina chocolate: http://2beans.com/35_jelina-chocolatier ranges about 70-72% cacoa

Another great dark chocolate treat is to melt 1 oz of 70-90% dark chocolate and dip fresh strawberries (or another fruit of your choice) for added fiber benefit.

  • 1 oz of dark chocolate contains about: 155 calories, 13 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 13 g carbohydrate, 7 g sugar, 2.5 g protein
  • 1 cup of strawberries is about: ~50 calories, 0.5 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 12 g carbohydrate, 3 g fiber, 1 g protein 

    *Add a few chopped walnuts for added crunch, fiber and Omega 3 fatty acids. Share this treat with someone you love. 

    You can also try: Dark Chocolate Covered Figs Recipe 

    What Else Can you Do with Dark Chocolate? 

    Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, Founder of realnutritionnyc.com, suggests baking with dark chocolate in single serving portions for a nutrient and flavorful treat. And when she can't bake, she grabs a small piece of one of these bars:

    Hu Kitchen Salty Bar: 72% cacoa http://www.farmtopeople.com/products/salty-chocolate-bar​

    Raaka: varieties range from 60-82% cacoa: http://www.raakachocolate.com/collections/bars

    Nib Mor: varieties range from 72-82% cacoa: http://www.nibmor.com/

    Amy shared her recipe for Chocolate Almond Butter Cups:

    Serving size: 1 cup 

    Servings: 15 

    2 – 4 oz dark chocolate baking bars (70% cocao by Ghiardelli: http://www.ghirardelli.com/shop-1/products/baking-products/70-cacao-extra-bittersweet-chocolate-baking-bar.html)
    1/2 cup  almond butter (all natural)
    2 TBSP powdered sugar
    1 TBSP Flaked sea salt or Fluer de Sel

    Directions:
    1. Break up chocolate bars into small pieces and place chocolate in a double broiler to melt ( a metal bowl over a pot filled with boiling water works well too). Stir until melted and creamy.

    2.  Line a mini muffin tin with wrappers and place 1 tsp melted chocolate at the bottom of each one. Place in the fridge to cool for at least 10 minutes. 

    3.  In a bowl mix the almond butter and powdered sugar until combined.

    4.  While the chocolate cools, take 1 tsp of almond butter mixture and roll into a small ball, then flatten into a disc. Repeat to form 15 discs.

    5.  Place a almond butter discs on top of the hardened chocolates and then cover with the rest of the melted chocolate.  Sprinkle the tops with a touch of salt and return to the fridge to set.

    6.  EAT!
    Nutrition facts: per 1 mini chocolate (serves 15): ~137 calories, 12 g fat, 4.5 g saturated fat, 10 g carbohydrate, 5 g sugar, 2 g fiber, 400mg sodium, 2 g protein 

    What if You Don't Like Chocolate? 

    Perhaps you are not into chocolate and typically go with a sweet heart candies, jellies or other types of sugar candy on this holiday. If you have diabetes, these are probably some of the worst things to be eating. Loaded with sugar, artificial coloring and really nothing else, these types of candies will cause blood sugars to rise rapidly. Instead of snacking on these, perhaps you can make yourself and your loved one a special dessert. 

    For more ideas: 

    Valentines Day/Date-Night Dessert You'd Never Guess are Guilt-Free

    And for More Tips on How to Make Your Desserts Healthier:

    • Add ground flaxseed meal, chia, hemp, sunflower, walnuts, almonds or other nuts to boost fiber, protein, and Omega 3 fatty acid content
    • Look for recipes using whole wheat flour or almond meal flour for added fiber, antioxidant and healthy fat 
    • Opt for fresh fruit instead of jelly or other syrups to sweeten treats

    Resources: 

    Corti R, Flammer AJ, Hollenberg NK, Norman HK, Thomas LF. Cocoa and cardiovascular health. Cirucation. 2009; 119: 1433-1441. Accessed on-line. February 10, 2014: http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/119/10/1433.full 

    Blatner DJ. Dark chocolate covered figs recip. Accessed on-line. February 10, http://www.eatright.org/resource/food/planning-and-prep/recipes/dark-chocolate-covered-figs-recipe

    Caloricecount. Strawberries. Accessed on-line. February 10, 2015: http://www.caloriecount.com/calories-strawberries-i9316

    Caloriecount. Dark chocolate. Accessed on-line. February 10, 2015: http://www.caloriecount.com/calories-ghirardelli-chocolate-intense-dark-twilight-i129064

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