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Use Fruit To Make Chocolate A Healthy Treat For Valentine’s Day

Linda Bobroff, (352) 392-1895
Elaine Turner, (352) 392-1991 ext. 223

melted chocolate on a strawberry
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GAINESVILLE — Valentine’s Day is Monday, and stores are full of enticing treats friends and lovers can use to express their undying devotion. There are the traditional boxes of chocolate, not to mention other kinds of candy, cards, flowers and fruit.

Fruit? Well, you might not want to give just a bushel of oranges or bunch of grapes to that special someone, but a University of Florida nutritionist says that combining fruit with the more traditional chocolate can allow couples to enjoy a sweet and, yes, healthy expression of their affection.

Linda Bobroff, a nutritionist with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, said fruit dipped in melted chocolate can be a tasty way of celebrating the holiday without consuming too much of a good thing.

“It might be a nice idea to spread the chocolate out and include some other foods that are lower in fat and have lots of nutrients,” said Bobroff. “Instead of getting candy bars or other candies for your valentine, you might melt some chocolate, dip fruit in the chocolate and then refrigerate those for a little while and then have those for your valentine.”

But of course like all good things, Bobroff suggests enjoying chocolate in moderation. And she points out that it’s not only the fruit that’s healthy, as chocolate actually contains some beneficial elements of its own.

“Chocolate is high in fat and calories, but recent research shows that chocolate also contains phytochemicals which may be health-promoting,” she said.

Phytochemicals are naturally occurring compounds in fruits and other foods that may have some beneficial properties. Bobroff said some of the phytochemicals found in chocolate may have antioxidant properties.

“Recent research shows chocolate contains phytochemicals in amounts that are fairly significant,” Bobroff said. “But we don’t yet know whether those are utilizable by our bodies.

“We don’t want to get all our phytochemicals from chocolate,” she said. “Fruit is a great source of phytochemicals and the combination is really excellent.”

According to Bobroff, one of the good things about dipping fruit in chocolate is that it doesn’t require any special kind of chocolate or fruit to make a delicious combination. All one needs to do is visit the local grocery store, she said.

“You can use a wide variety of fruit like strawberries, grapes, apples, kiwi and bananas,” she said. “You get a lot of vitamins like vitamin C and beta carotene, minerals and fiber, and you get your chocolate too.”

Even though most people won’t deny the simple sensual pleasure of eating chocolate, some make the claim that eating chocolate actually makes them feel good as well. And while the jury is still out on exactly how it works, Elaine Turner, another UF/IFAS nutritionist, said there is something about chocolate beyond its taste.

“There are compounds in chocolate, chemicals that may have an effect on the brain,” Turner said. “The way these compounds work tends to have an uplifting effect on mood.

“While a number of these types of chemicals have been identified in chocolate, the pleasurable aspects of eating chocolate may be the combination of these biologically-active compounds with the sensory attributes of chocolate’s fat and sugar content,” she said.

Turner said the sensory aspects that people enjoy about chocolate — such as texture, sweetness and aroma — are very strong. Studies have shown that for some people, white chocolate doesn’t provide the same level of enjoyment as the more traditional milk chocolate. Although white chocolate has the same texture and sweetness, she said it has less flavor and aroma and also lower levels of many of the pleasurable chemicals.

Potential dippers can find white chocolate, milk chocolate or bittersweet chocolate in forms ranging from blocks to easy-to-melt chips. Bobroff said chocolate available in the baking section in most grocery stores can be easily melted in a microwave oven, a fondu pot or a double boiler.

“You are diluting the chocolate, spreading it out and spreading it over fruits that are great tasting and have a lot of variety,” Bobroff said. “So you do get the delicious sweet taste of the chocolate.

“And for some people it’s just not Valentine’s Day without chocolate, but then you’re also getting a wide variety of fruits which we know are very important for good health,” she said.