Minty Chocolate Trail Mix Bark with coconut

As a dietitian, there are many food and lifestyle related topics to discuss when it comes to heart health. Last year, when I was asked by News4Jax to talk about the health benefits of chocolate and wine, I thought to myself, "this will be one yummy segment!" 

You can watch the segment HERE: EAT DRINK AND BE MERRY

As we all know from the media and research, dark chocolate packs a great heart-healthy punch. Although bitter to many, up to 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate a day (I recommend >60% cacao) alongside a balanced heart healthy diet is the way to go. Whether it is due to the nutrient compound found in chocolate or just the way it makes most people feel inside after taking one bite, chocolate alone has been shown to improve cardiovascular health (lowering LDL cholesterol and blood pressure), reduce inflammation, control appetite (ex. overeating/excessive snacking), increase insulin sensitivity, reduce blood clot risk by improving blood flow and improve stress and mood. 

Now that's a great list of reasons for dark chocolate lovers! But even if you don't like chocolate, you don't have to start eating chocolate. There are many real-food options that have been shown to produce similar results for your overall health. 

A few ways to enjoy chocolate:
*Add 1 tbsp bittersweet cacao powder to smoothie, oatmeal or pancake/waffle batters
*Enjoy an individually wrapped piece of dark chocolate after two meals a day (most packages are ~.37-4 ounces) for dessert
*Enjoy an ounce of dark chocolate with an orange for a snack in the afternoon
*Add a little shaved chocolate to your coffee instead of creamers, sugar sweeteners or whipped cream (you can still splash with milk)
*If your body is OK with caffeine (and OK'd by your primary physician), choose 1/2 ounce dark chocolate with your pre-workout snack in place of the fat option that you would normally have (ex. instead of 1 tbsp peanut butter, have 1/2 ounce dark chocolate for the same amount of fat, ~4 grams)
*Savor your chocolate, don't devour it. Suck on a small bite of chocolate at a time and make it last instead of chewing it.
*Add chocolate to stews for a little extra hint of flavor

Remember that dark chocolate does have calories and fat but they appear to be heart healthy, so with these suggestions above, if you are seeking body composition changes, make some heart healthy swaps in the diet if you are wanting to add in chocolate to your daily diet. In working with many athletes and fitness enthusiasts, I find that individuals who like chocolate and make room for it in the diet, they end up having less cravings later in the day and overeating in the eating because they feel more satisfied with their diet. 
Karel and I always have a bar of dark chocolate in our refrigerator - always. It is a staple daily food in our diet and a necessary part in us having a healthy relationship with food. 

Minty Chocolate Trail Mix Bark with Coconut

2 cups (1 bag) semisweet chocolate chips
1 x 6 ounce bag trail mix of your liking (or make your own trail mix, ex. cashews, peanuts, banana chips, raisins, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds)
5 Andes Mints
Pinch of ground/powder ginger 
Unsweetened coconut shreds
Parchment paper
Large cookie sheet (be sure there is room in the refrigerator for this to cool for 2 hours)
1. Spray a non stick cookie sheet (large) with cooking spray and then line with parchment paper. 
2. Melt chocolate in a medium-large stainless steel bowl placed over simmering water in a pot (about half pot filled). 
3. Use heat resistance spatula to stir chocolate together (you may need a towel to hold the stainless steel bowl for it will get hot if touching the pot of water). 
4. As you are stirring the chocolate, add in 5 Andes Mints (chopped) - you could also use peppermint extract
5. When chocolate is less chunky, add a tiny pinch of ground ginger for a little kick and stir in most of the chopped trail mix (lightly chop large pieces like banana chips and cashews with a knife or chop coarsely in a chopper for a few seconds). 
6. When nuts are combined, spread chocolate and nut mix on paper (be sure paper does not move on pan, you may need to secure or have someone help you) and you can add in a little of the trail mix to pop out from the chocolate.
7. After chocolate is spread on paper (it doesn't have to be an even square or rectangle) and there are no open spots to see the paper, sprinkle with a little coconut to dust the chocolate. 
8. Refrigerate for 2 hours and then break into pieces. 
9. Place a small portion into individual baggies and keep refrigerated (or in freezer) for a delicious snack, once a day or keep in a container if using for a (holiday) party. 

(This also makes a delicious holiday gift or dessert at a party or in the office - keep refrigerated as long as possible or place plate of chocolate over ice to keep cool)