The month of April has a bit of a bad reputation. After all, you can get pranked on April 1st, and have to pay your taxes on April 15!
Turns out there are a lot of things to celebrate in April. For instance, did you know April 29th is National Garlic Day? What are you doing to celebrate?
If you are not sure why stinky garlic should be something to celebrate about, you are not alone. Maybe you would prefer to celebrate National Chocolate Covered Cashew Day on April 21 instead? Did you miss National Chocolate Mousse Day on April 3?
Although garlic and chocolate don’t usually come up in the same sentence, they both have a lot of health benefits that we really should be celebrating.
Let’s take a look at what these two foods have to offer. And, if you are looking for ways to help celebrate National Garlic, Chocolate Covered Cashews, or Chocolate Mousse Days, I have some recipes to help you do that too.
I often talk about the importance of color when eating vegetables. Color in vegetables and fruits indicates that nutritious phytonutrients are present. Phytonutrients are chemicals that help keep our immune systems strong.
But sometimes, the absence of color isn’t a bad thing.
That is the case with garlic. It lacks color, but contains a very powerful phytonutrient called allicin. Allicin gives this root vegetable its distinctive strong scent and sharp flavor (i.e. makes it stinky!) The garlic plant makes this compound to ward off pests and disease, but it also helps our bodies fight off viral attacks and bacterial infections when we eat it. It is that strong smell that lets you know garlic is doing its job.
In addition to allicin, garlic also contains sulfur compounds that help detoxify cells and fight against inflammation in our body. Acute inflammation is the body’s natural defense against damage and is usually the result of an injury, such as a swollen ankle. But there is another type of inflammation called chronic inflammation that can affect us in less obvious ways but can have long term consequences. This type of inflammation can effect every organ of our body, even our blood vessels; and lead to chronic illness such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Garlic’s anti-inflammatory properties help prevent chronic inflammation. It helps keep our blood vessels clear and may also help prevent blood clots from forming. While still in early stages, research suggests that including garlic in our diets may actually help to regulate the number of fat cells formed in our body. 1
Not bad for a stinky food!
If you are looking to add more garlic to your foods, make sure to mince or crush the cloves when you are cooking because garlic cells must be crushed for allicin to be converted into its useful form. If you are sautéing garlic, it is best to add it to the pan towards the end, to retain the most flavor and nutrition as less cooked garlic provides the most health benefits.
One way to enjoy garlic is to mix it in to recipes where the flavor won’t be too overwhelming. Hummus is a great simple recipe that I make all the time that uses 1 or 2 cloves of raw garlic. I like to top my hummus with roasted tomatoes and garlic for even more garlicky goodness.
To make roasted tomato and garlic topping: cut one tomato into 1 inch cubes (or use grape tomatoes cut in half), mince 1 clove of garlic. Heat a small sauce pan on the stove, add olive oil. When oil is hot, add tomatoes and garlic, turn heat to medium low and allow to slowly saute. This will take a few minutes, but be patient. When the tomatoes and garlic are nice and soft, add a handful of chopped fresh basil (or 1 tsp of dried) to the pan. Stir. Allow to cook a few minutes longer. Remove from stove. Allow to cool a bit, then top your hummus by making a small indentation in the top of the dip and filling it with your tomato and garlic mix.
Another recipe I love is mashed cauliflower with roasted garlic.
Mashed Cauliflower with Roasted Garlic
Ah, chocolate. Just the word can make your mouth water.
Over the last few years you may have heard a lot about the benefits of this delicious bean. In fact, it has a long history of being used as a medicinal drink.
The ancient Incas, Mayans, and Aztecs believed it was a source of power and used it as both food and medicine. Rulers, like Montezuma, drank cacao in small amounts up to fifty times a day for increased virility. When Cortez discovered the drink, he made it the mainstay of his soldiers' diet. History reports that those who drank it felt increased energy, focus, stamina, happiness, and virility. 2
But before you start stocking up your pantry with milk chocolate treats like Snickers and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, or even brownies, let’s take a look at what is really healthy in chocolate.
The health benefits from chocolate come from the ingredient raw cacao (that is, unprocessed cocoa). Health problems stem from the ingredients that are added to cacao or cocoa to make the chocolaty foods we like to eat. These additives, such as unhealthy fats and processed sugars, make chocolate treats creamy and super sweet.
So what does pure cacao have to offer? More important is what it doesn’t have!A 1-tablespoon serving of powdered cacao has only 10 calories; no artificial ingredients or trans fats. It is packed with 2 grams of fiber, a rich supply of antioxidants (15 times more than blueberries and 30 times more than red wine) that are good for our heart and health. The fiber it contains helps with digestion and, by regulating our blood sugar levels, it helps combat weight gain and chronic disease such as diabetes.
Cacao is one of the highest dietary sources of magnesium, an important mineral that many of us are lacking in our diet due to the depletion of the soil in which our food is grown. Magnesium is necessary for more than 300 chemical reactions in the body. It is needed for muscle function, protects our blood vessels, can soothe our mood, help us reduce stress and sleep better.
But just like garlic, one of the most important health benefits of chocolate comes from the phytonutrients it contains, in this case in the form of flavanols. Flavanols have been shown to help regulate blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels and improve memory.
A recent review by Consumer Labs analyzed the levels of active flavanols found in different cocoa products. They identified CocoaVia cocoa powder and Nativas Natural Cacao Nibs as two products that contained the greatest amount of flavanols with minimum to no cadmium contamination. (A problem that was found in many of the cocoa powders tested.)
The dark chocolate bars that they rated well were Baker’s Unsweetened Baking Chocolate (see recipe below!), Endangered Species Chocolate with 88% cocoa, and Ghirardelli Chocolate Intense Dark Twilight Delight 72% cocoa. Baker’s was rated the most cost effective source of flavanols.
In general when buying a chocolate bar, you want it to contain 70% or more cocoa or cacao in order to obtain the most health benefits. These bars tend to have a more bitter, intense chocolate flavor. A high quality bar should only have about 5 ingredients in it. To the right are the ingredients listed on the Endangered Species brand chocolate bar. It lists 4 ingredients. The Ghirardelli is also a good option, but there are many options that can be found at your local health food store. Just be sure to read the labels before you buy and know what you are getting!
According to David Wolfe, a pioneer in raw superfoods, raw chocolate improves cardiovascular health, builds strong bones, is a natural aphrodisiac, elevates your mood and energy, and increases longevity. David Wolf also states that when cacao is combined with berries they have a synergistic effect, doubling the amount of antioxidants that enter the blood stream.
Here is a great dark chocolate treat that uses both raisins and goji berries. I like to use the Bakers Baking Chocolate to maximize the flavanols and minimize added sugars. You could also use a regular dark chocolate bar such as the Endangered Species brand and eliminate the coconut sugar in the recipe.
Dark Chocolate Drops
makes 18 drops
1 oz. (4 squares) Bakers Baking chocolate
1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp raw cashews
2 tbsp raisins
1 tbsp goji berries
1/4 tsp coconut sugar (or to taste. I like mine bitter but you may want to add a bit more sweetness.)
1 tbsp unsweetened coconut flakes
pinch of salt
1. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
2. Place chocolate squares into a glass bowl, and microwave on high for 30
seconds or until chocolate has melted.
3. Add remaining ingredients to bowl. Mix together until well blended.
4. Using a measuring spoon, place 1/2 tsp drops of batter onto parchment paper.
5. When all of the batter is used up, place tray in refrigerator for 30 minutes to allow candy to harden.
6. Remove candy drops from paper and store in air-tight container in refrigerator.
If you are still curious, there are recipes that use both garlic and chocolate. Here are a couple for you to try!
Chicken Mole from Paleo Foodie
Cocoa Toasted Cauliflower
I hope you enjoy these easy recipes. Your body will thank you too! Let me know if you make them and what you think.
Yours in Health,
BTW, looking for more National Days? Check out the (long) list here!