Sure, it’s hot chocolate season and you should go ahead and indulge because chocolate is good for you. You’ve probably heard that before, right? Remember, though, when people say that chocolate is good for you, they’re not talking about processed milk chocolate. They are talking about dark chocolate (70%+ is the party line), or even better than that, raw chocolate. Cacao comes from the nuts (the seed from the fruit) of the cacao tree. Yep, chocolate grows on trees.
Raw chocolate (cocoa, cacao) is super-rich in antioxidant bioflavonoids (more than any other natural food tested so far), which can aid cancer prevention, boost immunity, and help maintain healthy blood flow (regulate BP). Cacao is a great source of important minerals and vitamins including magnesium, sulfur, calcium, zinc, iron, potassium, manganese, and many B vitamins. It’s also a source of important amino acids and neurotransmitters (tryptophan, dopamine, and others), which promote positive mood and mental alertness, alleviate depression, and can postpone the onset of dementia. Cacao has anti-inflammatory properties and has been shown to be an appetite suppressant. But remember: eating processed milk chocolate is not the same thing. You can sit down and eat a whole bag of mini-Snickers bars near Halloween and you just keep wanting more, but you wouldn’t feel that same addictive need to eat a whole bag of raw chocolate.
So, by all means, have your hot cocoa, but this year DO IT RAW. If you’ve been making your hot cocoa from packets or big tubs of cocoa mix, you are definitely not alone. I think most people who make their cocoa this way do so because they think it’s easier (instant!). I’m here to tell you that making your hot cocoa from raw chocolate, natural sweetener, and your choice or milk or milk alternative is easy, fast, tasty, and so much better for you and your family.
At the end of this post, I’ll be leaving you with a recipe for making your own Raw Hot Chocolate with these ingredients: high-quality milk or unsweetened almond milk (for a dairy-free version), raw cacao powder, and 100% pure maple syrup.
But first, here are the ingredients lists for the Regular Hot Chocolate and No Added Sugar Hot Chocolate products from one of the most popular hot chocolate mixes on the market.
Regular Hot Chocolate Mix
No Sugar Added Hot Chocolate Mix
Wow, that took up a lot of space! And that was half my point. You don’t need all that in your hot cocoa, do you? I don’t have the space to go through each of the ingredients above, but I’ll spotlight 3 of them and tell you a little bit about why they’re good to avoid.
Cocoa, processed with alkali – Cocoa powder, great. Processed with alkali, not so great. Because it is alkaline (on the pH scale), alkali is added to cocoa powder in many processed products in order to neutralize the acidity of the raw cocoa. The result is a milder, sweeter powder that mixes more easily with liquids. That all sounds great, but processing cocoa with alkali also reduces the concentration of antioxidants (specifically, flavonols) in the cocoa, thus negating some of the biggest health benefits of drinking your cocoa. That’s no good.
Carrageenan – Carrageenan is a thickening agent derived from seaweed. Hey, seaweed’s great for you, so that doesn’t sound so bad at first either. The problem is that carrageenan in processed foods can easily degrade into poligeenan, which studies have linked to inflammation, gastrointestinal ulcerations, and cancer. Why take that risk?
Hydrogenated coconut oil - Again, we start with the positive — coconut oil is great (one of the only saturated fats that you should include in your diet). But hydrogenated is BAD. You always want to run, not walk, from hydrogenated oils. If you don’t already know it: whenever you see “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated”, you’re looking at a trans fat, the worst kind of fat to ingest. Trans fats are not naturally occurring fats, rather they are created when hydrogen is added to naturally occurring oils. Our bodies simply don’t know what to do with these foreign substances — it’s kind of like eating plastic — and trans fats (trans fatty acids) have been linked to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol and much more.
Now, on to the good news. Making your own Hot Cacao in the Raw is so easy and incredibly tasty. Give it a try this Fall and Winter. You can probably find raw cacao/cocoa powder at your local health food store. If not, you can definitely buy it online — this is one of my favorite online sources of raw cacao powder (and other herbs and spices).
Hot Cacao in the Raw
(less than 100 calories per serving, when using almond milk; ~150 calories with milk)
Making your Hot Cacao:
Alternatively, you can combine your milk and cacao in the saucepan, whisk to combine them while heating, and finally stir/whisk in your maple syrup — you might find that your cocoa blends more easily with this approach.
Eat Well. Live Well. Be Well.