If you are trying to stick to a healthier diet you may think you will have to miss out on cake and other treats. Not true! In fact, cocoa has a wide range of nutritional benefits which have been celebrated for centuries. Chocolate is made from cocoa which is the finely ground cacao bean, the fermented seeds of the cacao tree.
Once the naturally occurring cocoa butter is removed and the dry cocoa is left the resulting powder is packed with vitamins and minerals including potassium, magnesium and iron (which is why women often crave it at certain times of the month!), calcium and vitamins B, E and K as well as zinc.
Research has found flavonoid-rich cocoa can help lower blood pressure and improve the elasticity of blood vessels. It can also increase your good cholesterol while decreasing your bad. And cocoa actually has anti-ageing properties too! A report in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry noted that cocoa exhibits higher antioxidant activity than black or green tea or red wine. Antioxidants help neutralise the oxygen-based free radicals that are present in the body, which can contribute to the signs of ageing. The zinc in cocoa similarly protects against accelerated ageing as it prevents oxidative stress.
Cocoa itself has been stripped of the high fat content and has no sugar – which people commonly associate with chocolate. Which is why you can have all the flavour of chocolate with none of the ‘nasties’ with some clever cooking as Caroline Hartley from The Happy Food Kitchen explains: “Cocoa has an intensely chocolate flavour and a little goes a long way,” she says.
“It’s a great way of masking foods which you don’t like the flavour of, for example spinach in a smoothie. And it’s easily sweetened with natural sugars so there is no need to deny yourself the delicious taste of chocolate if you are dieting or aiming to eat healthily – cocoa is so healthy that it’s well worth including that chocolate tang in your diet!”
These chocolate muffins, which Caroline has devised, are egg-free, fat-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, nut-free, but definitely not flavour free! “There is a good reason I call them the ‘Free From Everything Healthy Chocolate Brownie Muffins’ – it just means they are good for everyone!” says Caroline. They’re a healthy choice if you need a sweet snack at coffee time or as a pudding and kids will struggle to taste the difference between these and the high sugar and saturated fat versions.
90g dried dates
90g dried figs
100g oats (gluten free if required)
30g cocoa powder
1 tablespoon baking powder
250 ml water
100 ml milk of your choice
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
100ml milk of your choice
2 tablespoons cocao powder
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
If you’re looking for other ways to help satisfy a sweet craving while cutting back on refined sugar, try this cacao avocado mousse and we love this green smoothie – which tastes sweet while packing a seriously healthy punch.