What’s all the fuss about antioxidants? Well, every single one of the trillion or so cells making up your body is under constant attack by “free radicals”. Antioxidants are like molecular superheroes; they scavenge and clear our cells of free radicals, which are potentially harmful byproducts of cellular metabolism and the root cause of physical aging. Holistically, antioxidants promote increased longevity of the body and brain, and reduce the risk of developing age-related maladies like cataracts, bone loss, and heart disease .
While a love for chocolate is often associated with “guilty pleasure” there are some responsible choices we can make to get the most from this rich and satisfying treat. Choosing dark chocolate over other varieties, and a higher percentage of cocoa when possible, means you will get maximum intensity of flavor as well as maximum benefits from the powerful antioxidants that chocolate contains, while minimizing the dairy, fat, and other additives that take away from its nutritional value.
In a study conducted in 2010, Norwegian scientists analyzed over 3100 common food products for their antioxidant content . They found that dark chocolate contains up to 15 mmol antioxidants per 100 g, which is very dense in comparison to white chocolate or milk chocolate with 0.23 mmol or 1.8 mmol, respectively . In addition to the health benefits of antioxidants, cocoa consumption has been associated with anti-inflammatory effects and healthy blood pressure .
Walnuts and pecans are also excellent sources of antioxidants. Pecans are a variety of nut local to Mexico and South America, while walnuts originated in the Mediterranean and Central Asia. In the Norwegian study, walnuts were found to have the highest antioxidant content in the “nuts and seeds” category of food, with 22 mmol/100 g and pecans had the second highest in the category at 8.5 mmol/100 g . Nuts are high in protein and healthy fats, but along with those fats come a high calorie content, so it is important to be mindful about the quantity of nuts we consume.
Walnuts, in particular, are the only nut that contain a significant source of omega-3 fatty acid, alpha linoleic acid (ALA) . ALA is a precursor for the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, and has been linked to numerous health benefits including heart health, reduced inflammation, and balanced levels of blood lipids [4,5]. Walnuts are an excellent source of other nutrients such as vitamins (including folate), minerals, and heart healthy compounds like melatonin .
Pecans have been shown to not only increase circulating levels of antioxidants in the blood, but also help to balance cholesterol .
Berries. What’s not to love? They’re beautiful to look at, sweet, but low in sugar compared to most fruits, and they pack a serious punch when it comes to health benefits. In the Norwegian antioxidant study, blueberries were found to be one of the best fruit sources of antioxidants (9 mmol/100 g), surpassed only by much harder to find varieties like indian gooseberry and bilberry . Strawberries and raspberries follow close behind with about 5 and 4 mmol/100g, respectively . Additionally, berries are a source of dietary fiber, which is important for digestion and may help to satisfy your hunger and curb your appetite .
Because of all these factors, here we have for you a decadent recipe you need not feel guilty taking pleasure in. It is egg, soy, gluten, and dairy free, while staying rich in flavor, luscious in texture, and powerful in its antioxidant content.
Chocolate Ganache and Berry Tart with Walnut-Pecan Crust
(for the crust)
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
- 1 cup chopped pecans
- 1 cup pitted dates (about 8 large medjool dates)
- 1 tbsp coconut oil at room temp
(for the filling)
- 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (or 8 oz. bar chocolate, broken into pieces)
- ½ cup coconut cream
- ⅓ cup raspberry preserves (100% fruit; no sugar added)
- Fresh berries to top (you choose! blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, or even pomegranate would be a great match)
(Note: Baking this crust is optional, but will help it hold the shape of your pan, gives the tart a firmer texture and brings out different flavors in the nuts. With that said, the antioxidant content of nuts may be diminished by baking. It will also add at least 45 minutes to prep time between pre-heat, baking, and cooling.)
- If you choose to bake your crust, preheat the oven to 350 F.
- Add walnuts and pecans to a food processor and blend until nuts make a rough flour, each piece the size of quinoa or smaller.
- Add dates and coconut oil and continue blending until dates are evenly distributed and the “dough” sticks together in clumps.
- Move dough to a tart pan and press it evenly to cover the bottom and sides. We recommend a round or rectangular tart pan with a scalloped edge, but a spring-form pan or a pie pan would also work. If using a scalloped edge pan, be sure to press dough tightly into scallops so that it will hold its shape after baking.
- Bake the crust for about 15 minutes at 350 F. Crust should start to smell toasty, but do not wait for it to brown, as nuts can become bitter if over-toasted.
- Let the crust cool completely before adding filling.
- Start filling by melting chocolate and coconut cream together. This can be done using a double boiler or in the microwave, stirring between short bursts of heating to prevent boiling or burning.
- Stir raspberry preserves into the chocolate and coconut mixture.
- Pour ganache into the cooled tart shell and use a spatula to spread the filling evenly into the edges.
- Let the ganache cool to room temperature before pressing fresh berries into the top. Then, place tart into the fridge to chill until serving.
- Remove tart from pan before serving, and consider plating with extra berries, nuts, or whipped coconut cream.
- National Institutes of Health. “Antioxidants”. Medline Plus. Accessed January 13, 2019. https://medlineplus.gov/antioxidants.html
- Carlsen, Monica H., et al. “The total antioxidant content of more than 3100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs and supplements used worldwide.” Nutrition journal 9.1 (2010): 3.
- Desch, Steffen, et al. “Effect of cocoa products on blood pressure: systematic review and meta-analysis.” American journal of hypertension 23.1 (2010): 97-103.
- Zhao, Guixiang, et al. “Dietary α-linolenic acid reduces inflammatory and lipid cardiovascular risk factors in hypercholesterolemic men and women.” The Journal of nutrition 134.11 (2004): 2991-2997.
- Feldman, Elaine B. “The scientific evidence for a beneficial health relationship between walnuts and coronary heart disease.” The Journal of nutrition 132.5 (2002): 1062S-1101S.
- Reiter, Russel J., L. C. Manchester, and Dun-xian Tan. “Melatonin in walnuts: influence on levels of melatonin and total antioxidant capacity of blood.” Nutrition 21.9 (2005): 920-924.
- Haddad, Ella, et al. “A pecan-enriched diet increases γ-tocopherol/cholesterol and decreases thiobarbituric acid reactive substances in plasma of adults.” Nutrition research 26.8 (2006): 397-402.
- Baer, David J., et al. “Dietary fiber decreases the metabolizable energy content and nutrient digestibility of mixed diets fed to humans.” The Journal of nutrition 127.4 (1997): 579-586.