Dear Eating Right: I don't eat much candy, but I love chocolate desserts. Recently I've begun to feel guilty about eating them because chocolate has a lot of saturated fat, which can increase blood cholesterol. Should I be worried?
Dear Lillian: No need for guilt. Even though chocolate in bar form packs a saturated fat wallop (there are about nine grams of fat in just one ounce), a small amount of cholesterol, sodium and some caffeine, scientists have discovered that it doesn't raise blood cholesterol levels the way other saturated fats do. It's not the chocolate but the other ingredients in chocolate desserts--butter and high-fat dairy products--that you have to worry about.
In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1988, researchers discovered that the amount of fat the body stores when you eat a chocolate bar may be less than the amount of fat listed on the package. They theorize that stearic acid, a major component of saturated fat in chocolate (and beef), is converted by the body to oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid, which tends to move cholesterol away from the blood.
Drs. Andrea Bonanome and Scott M. Grundy conducted an experiment with 11 males in the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Dallas. The volunteers randomly consumed a liquid diet high in either palmitic acid (a saturated fatty acid found in palm oil), stearic acid or oleic acid. The result: Stearic acid did not raise the total blood cholesterol level nor did it effect low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the so-called "bad" cholesterol that is responsible for depositing cholesterol on artery walls. In some cases, it actually lowered the participants' blood cholesterol levels.
Compared to the high-palmitic diet phase, the total blood cholesterol dropped an average of 14% and LDL fell 21% when participants followed the high-stearic acid diet. During the high-oleic phase, total blood cholesterol decreased by 10% and LDL by 15%.
This doesn't mean you should start adding chunks of chocolate to your diet. It does mean that you don't have to totally eliminate chocolate--especially if you bake with cocoa powder, which contains just two grams of fat per ounce.
In place of baking chocolate, try using a mixture of cocoa powder and canola oil. Three tablespoons of cocoa powder combined with one tablespoon oil is equivalent to a one-ounce square of baking chocolate, and is an excellent low-fat alternative to bar chocolate.
This Chocolate Raspberry Meringue is a perfect example of the low-fat versatility of cocoa. It features a delicate chocolate meringue, crowned by a dome of melt-in-your-mouth raspberry mousse, which gets its smooth texture from nonfat yogurt and gelatin. The recipe was developed by chef Nicholas Malgieri.
NICHOLAS MALGIERI'S CHOCOLATE RASPBERRY MERINGUE
1 (10-ounce) package frozen raspberries, in light syrup, thawed
1 cup nonfat plain yogurt
1/3 cup water
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
3 egg whites
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Unsweetened cocoa powder
Line 1-quart round bowl with plastic and set aside. Puree thawed raspberries in food processor or blender. Strain to remove seeds. Stir in yogurt, then set aside.
Place water in small bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over water and let stand 5 minutes to soften. Place bowl over small pan in simmering water to melt gelatin. Cool slightly.
Combine egg whites and granulated sugar in small bowl of electric mixer. Place over hot water, then whisk until whites are hot and sugar dissolves. Remove from heat.
Beat egg white mixture with electric mixer on medium-high speed until cool and soft peaks form. Combine gelatin and raspberry mixture, then gently fold into egg whites. Pour into prepared bowl and cover with plastic. Chill about 4 hours or until set.
Trim Chocolate Meringue to fit top of mousse in bowl. Remove plastic and place meringue on mousse. Place serving platter on meringue layer, then invert so mousse is on meringue layer on platter. Remove bowl and plastic from mousse. Run metal spatula under hot water and smooth mousse surface to a sticky, thin layer. Chill for 2 hours. Just before serving, dust with powdered sugar and cocoa powder. Makes 10 servings.
4 egg whites
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Combine egg whites and salt in large mixer bowl. Beat on medium speed until white and opaque, about 3 to 4 minutes. Increase speed to high and gradually add sugar, beating until stiff peaks form. Sift together powdered sugar and cocoa several times. Sift mixture over stiff egg whites, then carefully fold in. Spoon meringue mixture into pastry bag fitted with plain tip, 3/8-inch opening.
Pipe mixture on 1 baking sheet into 8-inch disk. Pipe remaining mixture into about 50 or 60 chocolate candy kisses shapes, about 1-inch apart, on sheet with disk and remaining baking sheet. Bake at 275 degrees 25 to 30 minutes until firm outside and almost baked through. Cool on baking sheets, cover loosely with plastic until ready to use. May be kept at room temperature up to 1 week.