With Easter right around the corner, it’s almost impossible to ignore the temptation of chocolate... The easter eggs gleaming from every aisle, kids coming home from school with pockets full of chocolate given out at during Easter activities, and sweet treats in every café window.
Do you give in, telling yourself it’s the holidays/a special occasion, that you’ve been ‘good’ so far this year (maybe knowing that you might feel rubbish afterwards)? Or do you resist, feeling miserable, and feeling like you (or your kids) are missing out? It seems like you can’t win either way!
But what if I was to tell you that you can have your chocolate and eat it, too?!
Most of us have heard that chocolate can actually be good for us. Chocolate contains antioxidants, minerals, and plant phenols, and has been used for centuries to treat bronchitis, sexual malaise, fatigue, hangovers, anaemia, depression, memory loss, high blood pressure, poor eyesight, and more. The ancients Mayans and Incas purportedly traded in chocolate - it was so valuable - and believed it helped with sexual prowess and energy. Chocolate is also a great source of the ‘bliss’ neurotransmitters serotonin and tryptophan, which help to boost your mood and make you happier!
The problem is that most chocolate comes laden with other extremely unhealthy ingredients, such as refined sugar and dairy. In addition, most chocolate is processed at such high temperatures that it loses much of its nutritional value (so, sorry, you can’t argue that you’re eating that Galaxy bar for health reasons!).
That’s why I love raw cacao (pronounced kah-kow), which is chocolate in its raw form (note that this is different to cocoa powder, which is refined and processed at high temperatures). Raw cacao is processed at low temperatures, thereby retaining all of its ‘superfood’ health benefits. You can buy it in powder form, or as a chocolate bar (usually sweetened with coconut sugar, rather than refined sugar). You can also buy cacao nibs (chocolate in its true form!) which are unsweetened and slightly bitter, but can replace chocolate chips in recipes.
Top tip: If you see ‘cacao’ on the label, but not ‘raw’, don’t worry – it is! By using the term ‘cacao’ they are indicating that it is chocolate in its pure form, and therefore has to be processed at lower temperatures.
If raw chocolate is not available where you are, or out of your budget, opt for dark chocolate over milk or white chocolate. The number on dark chocolate packaging refers to the percentage of cacao bean in chocolate. For maximum health benefit, look for dark chocolate that has at least 75% cacao. And choose one that has the least refined sugar. Bonus points if it's refined sugar free (it can be sweetened with an unrefined sugar such as coconut sugar, but sweeteners should be avoided, unless it’s stevia or xylitol). For more information on the different types of sugar, keep an eye out for my upcoming article on ‘sugar substitutes’.
Top tip: the further down on the ingredients list, the less of that ingredient the product contains. Or you can check the nutritional label, under “CHO, of which sugar” - the lower the number the better.
If you don’t want to give up chocolate this Easter, check out my 3 recipes below, which are not only delicious, but also good for you!
Charlotte’s Cherry Chocolate smoothie
Prep time: 5 minutes
Makes one large portion
N.B. You’ll need a powerful blender – I personally use the Nutri Ninja personal blender, but any strong blender will do.
1/3 fresh avocado (or ¼ cup frozen)
1 tbsp raw cacao powder
1 tbsp shelled hemp seeds (also known as ‘hemp hearts’)
scant 1 cup oat milk (or any other plant milk you like)
½ cup frozen dark sweet cherries
1 tbsp cacao nibs
If using a personal blender (like the Nutribullet), add the ingredients into blender jug in the order listed above, excluding the cacao nibs. (If you’re using a regular jug blender, like a Vitamix, reverse the order. Frozen things should always be closest to the blades.) Blend until smooth. Add more milk if you prefer a runnier consistency.
Add the cacao nibs and pulse once or twice to break them up a little.
Raw Chocolate Truffles
Prep time: 20 minutes
Makes about 9 truffles
N.B. You’ll need a good food processor!
½ cup ground almonds
½ cup walnuts (or cashews)
1 tbsp chia seeds
1 tbsp raw cacao powder
1 tsp maca powder (optional)
1 tsp ashwagandha powder (optional)
1 cup medjool dates (about 8-9 dates)
1 tbsp raw cacao nibs
Water (to mix)
Toppings: shredded coconut, raw cacao powder, chopped mixed nuts, etc.
Remove the stones from the dates and soak them in cold water for at least an hour (if you’re in a rush you can also soak them in hot water for 5-10 minutes, but this means the recipe won’t be raw).
Mix nuts in a food processor until finely ground.
Add the powders (except the cacao nibs) and chia seeds and pulse to combine.
Add the dates and pulse to process. It should be quite a sticky dough, but you can add a little water if it’s too dry.
Add the cacao nibs and pulse once or twice just to disperse them.
Remove from the food processor and roll in small balls. Coat them in your chosen topping (I usually do half the balls in coconut, and half in cacao powder).
Refrigerate for four hours or overnight for best results.
The Best Vegan Chilli
Prep time: 35 minutes
Makes 6 portions
This recipe was adapted from the Vegan Zombie, many years ago. I took out the chipotle and a lot of the chilli (I don’t like very spicy food!), and also the sugar (I kept in the molasses however, as it’s the least processed form of cane sugar and contains lots of antioxidants and minerals). I also made it healthier by reducing the amount of oil used, and adding in the cacao, which works really well with the molasses!
2 cans crushed tomatoes
1 can chickpeas
2 cans pinto beans
1 can kidney beans
1 cup cashews
1 brown onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup molasses
1 tsp chilli powder (more if you like it spicy!)
1 tbsp raw cacao powder
2 tbsp dried garlic
Pinch artic sea salt
Brown rice, rinsed
In a big pot, sauté the onion in olive oil for 2-3 mins on medium heat.
Add the cashews and stir for about 1 min.
Add in the kidney beans with their liquid (turn to high heat).
Strain the chickpeas and pinto beans and add to the mix (still on high heat).
Add the crushed tomatoes and stir. Add the molasses. Stir till it bubbles and then turn down to a simmer.
Add the chilli powder, cacao powder, dried garlic, pinch of salt and pepper (if using). Stir and simmer for 20-30 mins.
If you’re serving the chilli with brown rice, you can cook the rice now.
Serve with brown rice, or on its own for a lighter lunch.
This recipe is great to batch cook on the weekends for easy mid-week dinners or lunches, and it also freezes really well!
WANT TO DIVE DEEPER?
Would you like to know more about how to read nutrition labels, or what ingredients to look out for? Are you confused about what sweeteners are ok, and which to avoid? Would you like to know more about when is the best time of the month to eat chocolate? Or are you looking for more healthy swaps? Let’s talk! Schedule a complimentary health coaching consultation with me today – or pass this offer on to someone you care about!
I received my training from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, where I learned about over 100 dietary theories and studied a variety of practical lifestyle coaching methods. I am also a certified Life Coach, Yoga Teacher, Thai Yoga Massage therapist, and a Doula, and I hold a PhD in Philosophy and Ethics. Drawing on all of this knowledge, I will help you create a completely personalised “roadmap to health” that suits your unique body, lifestyle, preferences, and goals.
If you try any of these recipes, let me know how you get on the comments below, and tag me @drcharlottehay in your masterpiece creations on Instagram!