Chocolate-loving runners have had a lot to celebrate of late. In 2011, the
University of Cambridge reported that eating dark chocolate can lower rates of stroke, high blood pressure and heart disease, thanks to antioxidants called flavonols. The same year, a study published in The Journal of Physiology found that moderate chocolate consumption may cause muscle changes that improve athletic endurance. And a study published in 2012 discovered that people who eat chocolate a few times per week weigh less than those who rarely indulge.
Of course, reaping these health benefits hinges on eating the right type and amount of chocolate. ‘I recommend up to 30g of dark chocolate per day or roughly one tablespoon of cocoa a day,’ says Dr David Katz, director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center and a noted chocolate researcher. Stick with dark chocolate that’s at least 60 per cent cocoa, to get the highest concentration of antioxidants, fibre and magnesium. Unfortunately for fans of milk chocolate, its added fat and sugar content dilute the beneficial effects, says Katz
It’s also key to stick with that 30g serving – it contains around 160 calories and 10 grams of fat; eating any more can lead to unwanted weight gain. To stretch your chocolate allowance, we’ve created four delicious desserts that offer the benefits of dark chocolate while keeping calories and fat in check, so you stay fit, run your best and still satisfy that chocolate craving.
You crave: A bar of chocolate
If you love nutty chocolate bars, try homemade dark chocolate bark (yep, bark). Mix chopped dried fruit (like cranberries) and nuts (such as walnuts) into melted dark chocolate and pour into a baking tray lined with wax paper. Once cool, break the bark into pieces. Or dip a banana in melted dark chocolate and roll it in chopped nuts. ‘Dark chocolate and nuts are great partners,’ says Monica Bearden, co-author of Chocolate: A Healthy Passion (Prometheus Books). ‘Together they provide vitamins, minerals, protein, healthy fats and arginine, an amino acid that works with the flavonols in chocolate to aid in muscle growth and repair.’
Boost it: Add dried tart cherries to the bark to provide your body with antioxidants. Research also suggests tart cherries can reduce post-run muscle and joint pain.
You crave: Brownies
It’s not hard to make a brownie from scratch that’s more satisfying and nutritionally sound than your usual supermarket choice. The secret ingredient? Black beans. Typical brownies contain too much saturated fat, says dietitian Claudia Wilson, but by substituting puréed black beans for half the butter in a recipe, you can create a dessert that’s moist but higher in fi bre and lower in fat. ’With the rich flavour of the cocoa powder, you can’t taste the beans at all,’ she says. ‘Blend them in a food processor until they’re smooth.’ Don’t like black beans? Use puréed prunes.
Boost it: Try culinary nutritionist Sue Ann Gleason’s recommendation: use a mix of flours that includes buckwheat; the gluten-free grain adds an earthy, nutty flavour, and diets that contain buckwheat are linked to a lowered risk of high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
You crave: Pudding
Single-pot chocolate puddings are a relatively healthy snack. But by making your own with one or two unexpected ingredients, you can create a more nutrient-dense alternative. Wilson makes a high-protein chocolate pudding by blending 350g firm tofu, 250ml soya milk, 200g sugar,up to 60g cocoa powder, one teaspoon of vanilla extract and a quarter of a teaspoon of salt. Gleason’s version ups the healthy fat and fibre with avocado. She blends two large peeled and pitted avocados with 30g cocoa powder, 80g maple syrup and 1.5 teaspoons of orange zest. Avocados also provide vitamins B, E and K.
Boost it: Add spices like cinnamon to build flavour. ‘Anytime you are able to use spices, you are getting more antioxidants and potent phytochemicals,’ says Bearden.
You crave: Milkshake
Milkshakes are high in saturated fat. But you can use fat-free milk or low-fat frozen yoghurt in place of full-fat dairy. Bearden makes a protein-packed shake using fresh fruit, skimmed milk, vanilla-flavoured whey protein, Greek yoghurt and antioxidant-rich cocoa powder. Gleason blends frozen bananas, raspberries, ripe pear, cocoa powder, Swiss chard and coconut milk. Swiss chard and coconut milk are rich in magnesium, a mineral that may help relieve muscle cramps.
Boost it: Add a tablespoon of nut butter for healthy fats and protein. Or try a tablespoon of omega-3-rich seeds such as ground flaxseeds or chia seeds. ‘Chia seeds contain protein, antioxidants and minerals like magnesium, potassium, calcium and iron, speeding recovery and replenishing minerals lost during strenuous exercise,’ says Gleason.
Photography by Grant Cornett/Getty Images.