February is designed for getting cozy. The snowflakes and cold temperatures draw us inside to cuddle on the couch under thick blankets and sip warm drinks. For me, the majority of the time, that warm drink involves chocolate. I used to feel guilty about drinking a cup of hot chocolate until I learned the health benefits associated with chocolate.
Let me start by clarifying one thing: the health benefits of chocolate do not extend to white chocolate or milk chocolate. Did you ever notice how white chocolate does not taste like chocolate? That is because it is not chocolate at all. It is essentially a mix of cocoa butter, sugar, milk solids, lecithin, and flavoring. As a result, aside from perhaps making you feel happy when you eat it, there are no real health benefits. Milk chocolate does contain the powerful cocoa solids that makes dark chocolate the healthier option, but it also includes a fair amount of sugar (which increases inflammation in the body), milk solids, cream, and sometimes flavorings. The most potent choice for health benefits is dark chocolate. Now that that is cleared up, let’s get to the good stuff.
Benefits of Dark Chocolate:
- Antioxidants: Dark chocolate is loaded with antioxidants like epicatechin and cocoa phenols. Antioxidants, in particular, are compounds that help fight off free radicals and other substances that are harmful to our cells and may lead to a slew of cardiovascular and other health issues. Science is still unclear on the complete benefits of phenols although several studies indicate they are play a key role in supporting our immune system and cell health. For another reason to choose dark chocolate over milk chocolate, consider that milk competes with the absorption of the antioxidants in chocolate.
- Lowers blood pressure: There have been several studies that show a correlation between consuming dark chocolate and lower blood pressure. Thank you antioxidants.
- Nutrition: A 100-gram bar of 70-85% dark chocolate contains 98% of the RDI for manganese, 89% of the RDI for copper, 67% of the RDI for iron, 58% of the RDI for magnesium, and 11 grams of fiber. The high amounts of fiber and magnesium are two of my favorite properties of dark chocolate. However, a 100-gram bar of dark chocolate is pretty large and not recommended for most people to eat on daily basis. Benefits are reported for people who consume 1-2 ounces of dark chocolate daily.
- Decreases Depression: A recent study showed individuals who ate dark chocolate daily had lower scores of self-reported depressive symptoms on the PHQ-9 questionnaire. Additionally, people experiencing depressive episodes report craving chocolate. The mood-enhancing benefits appear to be linked to the antioxidants and flavonoids in cocoa.
If you’re ready to give it a try, here is my recipe for hot chocolate:
8-12 oz. unsweetened, plain almond or coconut Milk
2 Tbsp. Scharffen Berger Unsweetened Natural Cocoa Powder
0.5-1 Tsp. sugar (optional, although you may want to add more)
Dash of cinnamon (optional)
Dash of cayenne Pepper (optional)
Heat the milk in a mug for 1.5 to 2 minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients. If I am at home, I will use my French press to heat my milk and mix the ingredients together, but a spoon works great too. Dust with cinnamon or cayenne pepper and enjoy!
(For 8 oz of almond milk, 2 Tbsp cocoa powder, and 2 tsp of sugar: Calories 100, Fat 5g, Sat. Fat 1g, Trans Fat 0g, Cholesterol 0g, Sodium 180mg, Carbohydrates 14mg, Fiber 5g, Sugar 9g, Protein 3g.)