On biting-cold winter days, hot chocolate can be a delight: warming hands and bodies, and giving us an excuse to continue socializing even after cold-weather activities. Like many, I’m all for engaging in and enjoying these experiences, and while I’m doing this, I am always to looking for ways to “layer in healthy”. So, after skating with my family this weekend, and subsequently partaking in our hot chocolate debauchery, I decided I’d write and share some of my ideas for upping the health ante on this super-delish liquid treat. Here are some of my ideas for you:
MAKE A HEALTHIER HOT CHOCOLATE AT HOME:
Use raw cacao powder instead of cocoa mixes. Raw cacao - which is as its names suggests is raw, not roasted – has an exceptional array of polyphenols, that are powerful antioxidants. In fact, overall, raw cacao has an impressive nutrient profile – 3 tablespoons contain just 80 calories, 6 grams of both protein and fibre, and 40% of your daily magnesium requirements, as well as many other minerals. You won't get this kind of nutrition in processed hot chocolate products.
Control the sweetness yourself. When you start off with an unsweetened cacao or cocoa powder, you can use your own sweeteners such as local honey, maple syrup, or even a sprinkle of stevia to sweeten things up.
If you do dairy, favour grass-fed or organic milk. Grass-fed cows feed on pasture until the winter months when they’re fed cut grasses inside the barn. Cows that produce organic milk are given some access to pasture and at least 30 per cent of their diet must come from grass. Grass-fed cattle produce milk that have a healthier fatty acid profile. When organic-producing cattle don’t pasture, they’re given organic feed that is free of antibiotics, hormones, synthetic pesticides and herbicides and genetically modified ingredients. Most conventional milk comes from large industrial providers using cows that live inside barns, housed in indoor pens or tethered to individual stalls: they eat non-organic feed that includes grain, corn, soy and alfalfa. As a side note, when you buy organic milk contained in a glass bottle, you will help support an effective recycling system.
CAN’T DO DAIRY? TRY VEGAN MILKS:
Almond or Cashew Milk. Choose the unsweetened varieties, which are very low in carbohydrates, and are free of milk proteins and lactose. From here, just as with cow’s milk, you can add your own raw cacao or cocoa powder and natural sweetener of choice. Choose brands that do not contain carrageenan, as there is some evidence that it may be harmful to us. Better yet, make your own nut milks – it’s easier than you would think. Tip: use a blender or Nutri-Bullet (or similar) for a more frothy texture.
Coconut Milk: I prefer the kind that comes in a can, since it has fewer additives and in general, is thicker (you can thin it out with a bit of almond milk or water). Look for organic and preservative-free. Coconut milk contains a variety of different fats, some of which are anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. Some coconut milks may contain guar gum - a soluble fibre derived from the guar bean, a traditional vegetable dish in South-East Asia. While guar gum is now being studied as a therapeutic tool for reducing blood glucose and cholesterol levels, some people have trouble digesting this component of the bean –if this is you, be sure to avoid brands that use it. Whichever coconut milk works for you, it can be used on its own or combined with other milks to create a thicker drink experience.
HOLD THE MARSHMALLOWS.
Healthier sprinkles include: coconut flakes, cacao nibs, a few hemp hearts, or even some shavings of almonds or Brazil nuts. There are so many alternatives to think about!
MODIFY YOUR CAFE HOT CHOCOLATE.
At Starbucks: Ask for “half sweet” or just “1 pump” of chocolate syrup. Considering that each pump has 5g of sugar and 20 calories, and that a typical hot chocolate will have 4 or more pumps, you can save yourself a good dose of calories by limiting these syrups.
At Tim Horton’s: ask for half milk and half hot chocolate. It’s still pretty sweet.
RESERVE HOT CHOCOLATE AS A TREAT.
Reserve hot chocolate as a post-exercise treat. At least this way you have burned some calories and “earned” some of that liquid energy. Keep in mind, that on any given day, sugary drinks are not a health-supportive choice, and commercial chocolate beverages are not ideal post-workout recovery options for most people, including children, teenagers, and people trying to stay healthy.