Chocolate is bliss.
Seriously. I could eat chocolate every day. In fact, I pretty much do – dark chocolate to be clear. I am fully capable of going without: for a couple months during my diagnostic and early treatment phases I conscientiously avoided anything with sugar, chocolate included. Just last month – the entire month of January – I again successfully prevented a single morsel from passing my lips.
I survived; life was fine and I know I could go on without it if my life literally depended on it. But I deliberately choose not to because 1) it’s so darn delicious 2) it’s got plenty of health benefits and 3) why settle for a life that’s just fine?! Life with chocolate just tastes so much better.
Now, I’m still watching my sugar intake, but I’ve come up with guilt-free ways to incorporate high-quality, high-cacao percentage dark chocolate back into my diet. Pure cacao and 100% coca has literally no sugar, and high-quality, high-cacao bars have very little sugar so one little square is significantly less than one gram (e.g. organic 85% cacao). These days, many on-the-ball brands have nixed the refined sugar altogether and replaced it with natural sweeteners such as honey or stevia. Win!
So in honor of the chocolate holiday (although let’s be honest we don’t really need a holiday as an excuse to consume chocolate) I’m posting a new recipe every day this week for a decadent chocolate indulgence – all sugar-free! And because today is #selfcareSunday and we all need to nourish ourselves at every opportunity possible, I’m starting off the series by sharing my go-to sugar-free, vegan version of one of my favorite winter indulgences: hot cocoa.
And fortunately with the proliferation of sugar-free sweeteners like stevia and benefit-rich natural alternatives like honey, it tastes just as delicious – if not more so – than the refined sugar versions I grew up with.
While we’re on the subject: a quick note on stevia.
Stevia is an all-natural, zero-calorie sweetener derived from the leaf of a flowering plant. Stevia comes in several forms, but the best is full, green leaf stevia, which is the least processed version. As with any food product these days, the brand you purchase most definitely matters, so going for high-quality brands is the best way to avoid GMOs and added chemicals.
In addition to the fact that it has zero calories and no sugar to send your blood sugar on a soaring roller-coaster ride, studies showed improved diabetic symptoms and insulin reactions. Furthermore, it is an anti fungal, anti-inflammatory, and antibiotic agent and helps balance the pancreas, which is particularly helpful for anyone suffering a sugar-related imbalance in the body. It has even been shown to regulate the digestive tract and greatly increase energy.
What makes cocoa healthy?
Well, as I mentioned earlier, cocoa (or raw cacao) is actually super healthy – perhaps one of the healthiest foods on the planet. My taste buds most definitely rejoiced when I read that.
The only way chocolate becomes unhealthy is when there’s loads of added refined sugars, chemicals, and additives. So you can’t just reach for any chocolate on the shelf – it’s absolutely imperative to read the labels and go for high-quality, higher cacao options.
Apparently, cocoa contains over 700 known compounds – mind blown. In particular, cocoa is super rich in antioxidants, which protect cells from free-radical damage and prevent premature aging and disease. Polyphenols are a group of antioxidants of particular interest in cocoa – these are the same compounds that confer benefits to red wine and green tea.
Amongst the polyphenols are flavanoids which are cardio-protective and help in lowering blood pressure and aid in improving the elasticity of blood vessels. It also inhibits platelet aggregation. Basically, it keeps the blood flowing properly. Dark chocolate is substantially healthier than milk due to its higher flavonoid content; white chocolate has exactly zero flavanoids, so none of the health benefits. [Sorry white chocolate lovers.]
Additionally, cocoa is a mood and brain booster. It contains compounds that enhance the production of serotonin and dopamine- the feel-good chemicals in the brain. Cocoa also stimulates the brain due to its caffeine and theobromine content. We all know caffeine is a stimulant -fortunately cocoa has substantially less than a cup of coffee although individuals highly sensitive to caffeine should monitor quantity of cacao intake before bed. But what about this theobromine stuff? Like caffeine it stimulates the central nervous system – though is much less so than caffeine – and it also stimulates the cardiac system and is a potent diuretic. All good stuff for the body.
Why Chocolate is the Ultimate Pleasure Food
Another key compound in chocolate, Phenethylamin, triggers the release of endorphins and increases in the brain when we fall in love and during orgasm… which explains the association of chocolate with pleasure and why it’s particularly important on Valentine’s Day! Chocolate actually stimulates the brain chemicals associated with being in love – it is quite literally the gift of love.
What makes this hot cocoa even better
In addition to the cocoa, this version adds some superfood superstars: maca (another aphrodesiac), cinnamon, and ginger. Cinnamon and ginger are both anti-inflammatories with too many other benefits to list here. Maca, in addition to being rich in a bunch of vitamins and minerals, an energy and mood booster, hormone balancer, and skin smoother, is more pertinently to this post considered to be a libido-booster – ya might wanna drink this before your special date-night!
Recipe: Luscious Healthy Hot Cocoa
- 1 cup of milk (non-dairy ideally – I prefer coconut or cashew for their creaminess; organic whole milk can be used)
- 1 1/2 tbsp high quality unsweetened cocoa powder (or raw cacao if you have it!)
- 1/8 tsp ground ginger (or small chunk chopped fresh ginger, about 1/2 tsp)
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp maca
- Sweetener of choice*:
- A few drops stevia liquid or one serving green leaf stevia powder;
- 1-2 tsp raw organic honey
- 1/2-1 tbsp coconut sugar.
- *Start small and adjust levels to taste.
- optional: add 1 tbsp high quality chocolate chips (sugar-free if possible)
- Combine the dry ingredients in your favorite mug.
- Heat up the milk in a small saucepan, pour it into your mug, and stir until there are no lumps left.
- If using stevia or honey, mix into mug.
- Alternative method: add all ingredients to the heating milk and whisk together while in the saucepan.
- Drink up the deliciousness!