Shake-shake-shake with Zumba— followed by some delicious (and healthy) chocolate treats. Readers want to know: How many calories do you really burn during Zumba? Are there any healthy chocolate recipes?

How many calories do you really burn during Zumba? Yeah, it is a blast to go to, but could I burn the same calories in 30 minutes on an elliptical? —Amy W. via Facebook

It’s awesome you’re focused on getting the most out of cardio. Studies show cardiovascular exercise can reduce the risk of type-2 diabetes and lower blood pressureEffects of exercise on cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetes: a meta-analysis. Chudyk, A., Petrella, R.J. Aging, Rehabilitation, and Geriatric Care Research Centre, The Lawson Health Research Institute, Parkwood Hospital, London, Ontario, Canada. Diabetes Care, 2011 May;34(5):1228-37.Effect of aerobic exercise on blood pressure: a meta-analysis of randomized, controlled trials. Whelton, S.P., Chin, A., Xin, X., et al. Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana. Annals of Internal Medicine, 2002 Apr 2;136(7):493-503.. Unfortunately, docs are usually wary of offering calorie-burn counts for aerobic exercise (especially less traditional methods, like Zumba), because the number of calories each person burns depends on so many factors, from gender and weight, to body composition, exercise intensity, and range of motion.

That said, your heart rate and how heavily you’re breathing are good cues as to how hard the body is working, and, in turn, how many calories you’re burning. Personally, the loud music and crazy moves in Zumba class trick me into working a lot harder than when it’s just me and the elliptical (and the TV…), but every person’s different. To gauge your own exercise intensity, consider this: At moderate intensity, you’re not out of breath, but breathing is quicker; you can carry on a conversation, but singing would be a challenge. At vigorous intensity, you’re breathing fast and heavy, and can only say a few words between breaths. If that seems a little too ambiguous, try taking your heart rate.

How hard you’re working will determine how long you should spend exercising each week for optimal health. For example, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensityAmerican College of Sports Medicine position stand. Quantity and quality of exercise for developing and maintaining cardiorespiratory, musculoskeletal, and neuromotor fitness in apparently healthy adults: guidance for prescribing exercise. Garber, C.E., Blissmer, B., Deschenes, M.R., et al. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 2011 Jul;43(7):1334-59.. Opt for a vigorous workout regimen to make the most of gym time, or if you don’t feel up to it, double your time and dial down the intensity. You should know, though, vigorous exercise may also up your calorie burn for the rest of the day. So the short answer to your question is, Zumba and exercising on the elliptical can be equally as effective, depending on how hard you push yourself and how much time you’re willing to spend at the gym. Choose the workout that will really make you sweat— and smile.

I love chocolate. Do you know any recipes that are chocolaty but still (relatively) healthy? —Kate N.

Good news, Kate: You are totally asking the right person. I’m of the opinion that dinner (or breakfast or lunch) isn’t over until I’ve had something sweet— preferably chocolate. But it doesn’t always have to equal unhealthy. In fact, on its own, dark chocolate is pretty healthy, packing in the antioxidants. Given the choice, definitely choose dark chocolate over white or milk chocolate.

In the realm of pre-made snacks, Kashi TLC Dark Chocolate Coconut bars are a pretty good option, as long as you think of them as a candy bar rather than a healthy lunch alternative. If you’re an ice cream junkie, try Self magazine’s peppermint ice cream trifle. The no-sugar-added vanilla ice cream base makes this dessert surprisingly waistline-friendly. Cutting out the flour in baked goods also makes them significantly healthier than the originals. These flour-less chocolate cookies make sugar-reducing substitutions, too. And, just in time for the holidays, how do chocolate-dipped gingersnaps sound? They even incorporate a superfood, ginger, which reduces inflammation and may help tummy-aches.