Thinking about a rich chocolate cake for Valentine’s Day? How about something a little lighter and healthier? These antioxidant-rich pears are drizzled in dark chocolate—and make the perfect heart-healthy treat for you and your loved ones.
But first, let’s talk about the latest research around nutrition and heart health.
Not all fats are equal
You may know that replacing the saturated fats found in meats and dairy with unsaturated fats can help reduce heart disease risk. Unsaturated fats, especially the polyunsaturated fatty acids help lower our bad cholesterol (LDL) and raise our good type (HDL).
That being said, saturated fats are not always the enemy (they can even help raise HDL cholesterol). That’s why the American Heart Association recommends not avoiding these fats altogether, but limiting their intake to 10% or less of total calories. (Based on a 2,000-calorie diet, that’s 200 calories or 20 g of saturated fat daily.)
Taste the rainbow
As the USDA recommends, fill half your plate with these crunchy and luscious plants to feel more satiated and dramatically reduce excess calories at meals. Extra bonus? Fruits and vegetables are bursting with antioxidants that fight excessive free radicals that can potentially lead to chronic illnesses, such as cancer, diabetes, and you guessed it, heart disease.
Chocolate lovers unite!
Speaking of antioxidants, the flavonoids found in dark chocolate have been shown to reduce blood pressure and improve the blood flow to the heart—which in turn can help reduce risk of heart disease or even stroke. Now that doesn’t mean we need an entire bar of chocolate or huge slice of chocolate cake. Just aim for a small square each day (easier said than done!).
In this recipe…
These Hazelnut Oatmeal Baked Pears include a variety of heart-healthy foods in just one recipe! Nuts, check. Fruit, check. Dark chocolate, check. And finally, oats, which are naturally high in soluble fiber, can be a big help for cholesterol levels. For the topping, I use a small amount of butter (only 3-4 tablespoons for the entire recipe). Want a vegan alternative? Replace the butter with beneficial coconut oil for the same great taste. Gluten sensitive? Make sure to buy certified gluten free oats. Enjoy!
Hazelnut Oatmeal Baked Pears
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
Serving Size: One pear with topping
These baked pears can last in the refrigerator in a covered container for up to three days. To make a great breakfast dish, serve with protein-rich yogurt for a balanced meal.
3 whole pears, such as Anjou or Bosc
3/4 cup rolled oats, gluten free optional
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup (or pure honey if preferred)
3-4 tablespoons unsalted melted butter (or coconut oil if preferred)
1/4 to 1/3 cup hazelnut pieces*
3 ounces dark chocolate bar, for chocolate drizzle, optional
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Cut the pears in half and scoop out the middle with a tablespoon or melon ball scooper.
Place the halved pears face up in a shallow pan. Fill enough water on the bottom to keep the pears from drying out during baking time (about 1/4 to 1/2 cup).
In a medium bowl, mix the all of the remaining ingredients except the chocolate. Scoop topping into the pears to fill just to the top.
Place in the oven and let bake for 30-45 minutes, or until pears are soft and the topping is crisp.
If using chocolate: About 5-10 minutes before pears are done baking, melt dark chocolate in a small metal bowl over a boiling pot of water (or a double boiler if available).
Remove the pears from the oven and drizzle the melted chocolate on top.
*I broke the hazelnuts up by covering them with a sheet of parchment paper, then crushing with the bottom of a heavy liquid measuring cup.
Kathryn Pfeffer-Scanlan MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian and recent transplant to Boulder, Colo. After working as an inpatient dietitian for almost five years in Boston, she is expanding her expertise in the health and wellness industry. Katie is passionate about cooking and food photography, sharing her culinary adventures on her food blog, One Hungry Bunny, and exploring her new Rocky Mountain surroundings. Follow Katie on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.