Chocolate!

3 May

I was really craving something chocolate the other day, but was not in the mood to bake anything. I started experimenting with those no-bake cookies that are made with oats and cocoa powder. I came up with a vegan version that really hit the spot (recipe below).

After I ate two (ok, maybe it was three) cookies, I decided to do a little online research on cocoa to see if it has any affect on blood pressure. I am pleased to report that it happens to be very good for your blood pressure! 
I'm sure you've probably heard the word antioxidants. Antioxidants help your body fight off the damage caused by free radicals. Some of the foods high in antioxidants are blueberries, blackberries, green and black tea, red wine and chocolate. Specifically, dark chocolate and unsweetened cocoa powder. As a matter of fact, scientists at Cornell University found that cocoa powder has almost twice the antioxidants found in red wine and nearly three times the antioxidants in green tea.
Two recent studies tested cocoa and dark chocolate consumption in people with hypertension. After just two weeks, both studies found similar results: both systolic and diastolic blood pressure were reduced! 
How does it work? The antioxidants in cocoa "protect the heart and circulatory system," reports the Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Apparently, eating a few squares of dark chocolate a day will increase your blood vessels' ability to dilate. This is called vasodilation, which I discussed in an earlier blog post. Vasodilation relaxes your blood vessels which eases blood pressure.
Another study shows that the antioxidants in cocoa (flavonoids) help the body produce more nitric oxide which relaxes the blood vessels, thus lowering blood pressure.
But, wait! There's more. Cocoa is a good source of magnesium, calcium, potassium and manganese, which are vital minerals in lowering blood pressure.
If all that's not enough to convince you, make note of this: cocoa also may have anti-aging and anti-inflammatory properties. And, it's been reported that the antioxidants in cocoa can lower LDL cholesterol.
So, eat your chocolate!
By the way, I'm not talking about candy bars and chocolate ice cream. Sorry! Unsweetened cocoa and dark chocolate bars are the specific items. And check the ingredients when purchasing dark chocolate, if you're vegan. Many contain dairy products. Unsweetened cocoa powder is vegan and is often used in baked goods. You can also make hot chocolate with it. The directions are on the back of the box of cocoa powder.
In the meantime, whip up a batch of these yummy vegan no-bake cookies. They aren't the most photogenic cookies in the world but, man, they are tasty!
VEGAN NO-BAKE COOKIES
makes about 18 cookies
1/4 cup vegan butter
1/4 cup vanilla coconut milk (or other non-dairy milk)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1-1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder
pinch of salt
1/4 cup peanut butter
1-1/4 cups quick cook oats
1/4 cup shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened, whichever you prefer)
Lay a large sheet of wax paper on a large cookie sheet.
In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Stir in coconut milk. Then add sugars, cocoa powder and salt. Whisk together. Bring to a rolling boil. As soon as it comes to a rolling boil, watch the clock and allow it to boil for 1 to 1-1/2 minutes. Stir in the peanut butter. Remove from heat and add oats and coconut. Stir well. Quickly drop by tablespoons onto wax paper-lined cookie sheet. Slide into refrigerator to chill. Enjoy!
Note: Pay attention to how long you boil the cocoa mixture. I boiled for just one minute and my cookies are still a little bit sticky. But if you boil for too long, they will be really crumbly when chilled. I think next time I'll try a minute and a half.
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