I eat chocolate every day—and I'm proud. OK, before you picture me buried under a pile of Snickers wrappers, let me clarify. In the evening, after the dinner dishes are done and my daughter is tucked in, my husband and I sit together on the couch and enjoy a few small pieces of high-quality dark chocolate. Usually he savors them more slowly than I do, so he has a piece left when I'm done that he shares with me. (I know: He's a good one.) It's one of my favorite parts of the day.
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Though it began as a treat, it turns out that this little indulgence is healthy in many ways (yay!)—even more than experts previously suspected. For one, dark chocolate is rich in antioxidant flavonols, which improve blood flow to the heart and lower blood pressure. Research from the Netherlands revealed that this superfood may help prevent clogged arteries. Meanwhile, the good bacteria in your stomach ferment chocolate, found a study from Louisiana State University, creating compounds that stave off inflammation of cardiovascular tissue—and reduce the risk of stroke. If all that weren't enough, research from the University of California, San Diego, suggested that healthy adults who eat chocolate more frequently tend to have lower BMIs than those who snack on it less often.
Of course, some of these benefits aren't unique to chocolate; kale has flavonols. But where's the fun in that?
Another healthy thing that has come out of my nightly ritual: I'm less tempted to eat sweets during the daytime. Sure, I'll have a slice of cake at a co-worker's birthday party or dessert if I go out to a restaurant. But mostly I turn to fruit during the day for a sweet fix; otherwise, I don't get my chocolate treat at night.
Since I eat it while I'm relaxed, I really relish the taste. It's much more satisfying than scarfing down vending-machine cookies in front of my computer.
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Adding unsweetened cocoa powder and cacao nibs to meals and snacks is a great way to get the perks of chocolate, and the flavor, without added sugar. I'll toss a bit of cocoa powder into a smoothie or sprinkle cacao nibs on a cup of plain yogurt.
The fact is, I have a sweet tooth and I always will. Instead of beating myself up over it or trying to stifle it, I've found a healthier, more pleasurable solution that works for me. Now pass the chocolate!
Shaving a bit of dark chocolate on top of a dessert (or your morning oatmeal—I wouldn't judge you) makes the dish extra special. The Microplane Artisan Series Coarse Grater ($10; amazon.com) has stainless-steel blades that do the job quickly, and also work well with hard cheese, ginger and carrots. When you're done, just toss it in the dishwasher.
Take your pick from these two all-time favorites:
Ghiradelli Dark Chocolate Minis ($4, target.com)
Hu Almond Butter & Puffed Quinoa Bar ($7, farmtopeople.com)
BETH LIPTON is Health's food director. Keep up with her inspiring food and fitness images at instagram.com/healthmagazine.