Hot chocolate is such a fun treat this time of year, but those store-bought hot cocoa packets aren’t the best. They’re chock full of added sugar and fat, mixed with preservatives and hard to pronounce ingredients.
How can you satisfy your hot chocolate craving this winter in a more healthy way?
GET CREATIVE WITH YOUR COCOA
Everything in hot chocolate isn’t bad for you. In fact, cocoa powder and dark chocolate have many health benefits. They’re rich in polyphenols, naturally occurring antioxidants that are found in foods like fruits, vegetables, tea and wine. They’re also heart-healthy, helping to reduce inflammation, improve blood pressure and lower cholesterol — all of which means you get better blood flow to your heart and brain!
Cocoa has a host of other benefits as well. It can improve mood and symptoms of depression, it has cancer-protective properties, and can help those with asthma breathe better.
Making your own hot cocoa from scratch is great because you get to choose the ingredients! When making cocoa drinks at home, I love to stir in collagen powder for added protein (you don’t taste it at all). This provides the satiating power of protein, and if you use chocolate collagen powder you get even more chocolate flavor!
My favorite cocoa drinks are cocoa-flavored herbal coffee or functional mushroom elixirs. These cocoa drinks offer all the cozy vibes of hot cocoa, with the added benefit of functional mushrooms and powerful herbs. You can use liquid stevia or a little honey to sweeten them, and add a dash of warm almond milk to make it creamy.
LIGHTEN THINGS UP
If calories are a concern, there are several ways to lighten up your homemade hot cocoa. You can make it with 2% or skim milk, or your favorite unsweetened dairy-free substitute. Unsweetened vanilla almond milk is a great choice. It has about 30 calories per cup and is a good source of calcium to boot.
To amp up nutrients, go with raw cacao powder. Many of the beneficial nutrients are lost through the roasting and alkalizing process of making cocoa powder. Raw cacao powder is more nutrient-dense.
If you can only get your hands on cocoa powder, choose an unprocessed cocoa powder (often labeled as unsweetened cocoa powder) and avoid Dutch-processed to get the most antioxidants (and health benefits) from your cocoa.
You can reduce the amount of sugar by using natural sweeteners like stevia and monk fruit extract or sugar alcohols like erythritol, which have been shown in studies to cause the least amount of stomach upset.
Skip the whipped cream or marshmallow topping and boost flavor by dusting your hot cocoa with cinnamon, vanilla powder, shaved chocolate or even a bit of cayenne pepper for a little zip.
Looking for more hot chocolate inspiration? Try this healthier hot cocoa recipe. You can also satisfy your hot cocoa craving with this low-carb almond-flour cocoa scone recipe, which has all of the flavors of hot cocoa with only 5 grams of sugar, 11 grams of carbs and 11 grams of protein.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Hot chocolate is a fun cold-weather treat that’s perfect after hitting the slopes or playing in the snow. Create a healthy indulgence by making it yourself (and avoid all the chemicals, preservatives and added sugar). This way you can enjoy the health benefits of cocoa powder, without the empty calories and sugar.
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