February is the month for celebrating love, and one of the ways we all love to do that is with the most-loved food on earth: chocolate! Chocolate is everyone’s favorite indulgence, and it’s no wonder why. It’s filled with brain- and mood-supporting nutrients, including magnesium, which is a mineral known for supporting nervous system health. †
Chocolate is also full nutrients that support healthy dopamine and serotonin levels (two neurotransmitters that play a part in happiness and a sense of well-being). The antioxidants in chocolate also provide protection against free radicals while supporting cardiovascular and cognitive health. †
Of course, the benefits of chocolate aren’t found in sugary, milk-chocolate candy bars and chocolate donuts; they’re found in real, unprocessed chocolate or very dark chocolate. This includes raw cacao powder, cocoa powder, raw cacao nibs, dark chocolate bars with very little (or no) sugar added or unsweetened baking chocolate. All of these varieties of chocolate are full of benefits without unnecessary ingredients.
So, to help you reap all those benefits, here are 11 simple ways to get your chocolate fix this month in a healthy way. Add a few of these ideas to your regular routine and you’ll be well on your way to a happier mood and a healthier heart in no time!
1. Shake it up
A great way to add some of the benefits of chocolate into your regular routine without adding high amounts of calories, sugar or fat is to simply add a tablespoon or two of a raw, organic cacao powder or plain cocoa powder to your morning smoothie or protein shake. Mixing it with non-dairy milk, some wild blueberries, chia seeds, a frozen banana and a scoop of plant-based protein makes for a delicious, powerful shake that starts the day out right. Feeling even more adventurous? Add a handful of greens for a dose of veggies too.
2. Add a boost to your oatmeal
Another easy way to add some chocolate to your morning routine (or any time of the day) is to sprinkle a tablespoon of raw cacao nibs or raw cacao powder over your morning oatmeal. Oats are full of magnesium, B vitamins, iron, plant-based protein, potassium and, of course, fiber. Since they’re already a great food to include in your daily routine for optimal health, bringing chocolate into the mix is a terrific way to boost your heart health in one meal! Add a handful of strawberry slices or raspberries on top for a nice, little Valentine’s Day touch.
3. Give your favorite cookie recipe a makeover
Do you love chocolate chip cookies? Well, of course, you do — who doesn’t? But why not take your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe and give it a slight makeover? Use a clean, non-GMO chocolate chip product free of allergens and low in sugar, such as Enjoy Life’s dark chocolate chips, and use a whole-grain flour or gluten-free flour in your cookie recipe instead of regular white flour. Try this walnut chocolate chip cookie recipe that’s vegan and dairy-free or these paleo and vegan salted chocolate coconut cookies for another healthy option.
4. Choose a different kind of candy bar
Perhaps you just want to enjoy a candy bar without making a thing. Who can blame you? We’re all busy, and sometimes, we just want a treat without overthinking things. Luckily, there are many great, more-natural chocolate candy bar options on the market that aren’t packed with chemicals. When consumed in moderation, they are a fantastic way to get a chocolate fix. Try an organic dark chocolate bar with at least 85 percent cacao content, such as the ones from Pascha or Theo.
5. Elevate your brunch choices
Why not make a healthy brunch recipe using chocolate? Try mixing in dark chocolate chips, raw cacao nibs or even raw cacao powder into a whole-grain pancake, muffin or waffle recipe. Drizzle these with pure, organic maple syrup and you’ve got a better-for-you breakfast in just minutes! Mix some raw cacao nibs into these superfood hazelnut waffles for a delicious healthy brunch choice. You can also try these mocha fudge muffins and substitute the regular sugar in the recipe with organic coconut sugar instead. Brunch can be healthy and tasty at the same time with choices like these.
6. Make a healthy fruit drizzle
To make a healthy drizzle to put on some fresh fruit, simply melt some oil-free chocolate chips in a saucepan or put them in a mini ramekin and melt them in the microwave for 15 to 20 seconds. Give them a stir and drizzle over the fruit immediately to enjoy healthier chocolate-covered fruit anytime you wish.
7. Whip up some raw chocolate energy bites
Chocolate and raw dates go really well together, and you can easily make your own raw energy bites or balls using nothing more than raw cacao powder and raw dates. Soak dried Deglet Noor dates in some water first, or use a softer variety, such as fresh Medjool dates, which you can find in the produce section at the store. Blend the dates with some cacao powder in a food processor and form the “dough” into small balls or bites. The dates have a natural, caramel-like sweetness that goes wonderfully with raw cacao powder. You may not ever crave chocolate candy again after you try this treat out for yourself.
8. Create a chocolate quinoa breakfast treat
Want a protein boost with your chocolate? Quinoa is a great, plant-based choice to get all the essential amino acids you want and need on a plant-based diet if you’re not crazy about beans. You can also make quinoa into many different dishes, including a morning breakfast cereal instead of oatmeal. Try quinoa flakes cooked in some non-dairy milk, and mix in some raw cacao nibs. You’ll not only get a little mood lift from the chocolate, but you’ll also have an energy boost from the wonderful complex carbohydrates and natural protein found in quinoa.
9. Make your own healthy chocolate milk
Who doesn’t love a glass of cold chocolate milk? It’s a childhood classic many of us miss when we adopt a healthier lifestyle. Luckily, you don’t actually have to forgo this classic treat while eating healthier. Just blend some raw cacao powder or organic cocoa powder with some unsweetened, non-dairy milk and a touch of stevia extract for a sugar-free, natural chocolate milk. Just don’t forget to serve it in a frosted glass for that extra special touch.
10. Rethink your protein bar
Most protein bars on the market are loaded with sugar and dairy protein or have lots of additives you might not want in a protein bar. Instead, you can easily make your own healthy protein bars at home using only five ingredients — and don’t forget to give it a chocolate boost while you’re at it! Simply mix a cup of oats, a cup of natural peanut butter (or almond butter), half a cup of cocoa powder, a quarter cup of pure maple syrup or honey and a cup of softened dates in a food processor until you get a thick dough. Press dough into a glass pan and set in the fridge. In just an hour, you’ll have your own healthy protein bars to slice up and put in baggies for the whole week.
11. Make your own morning mocha
And now, for my favorite way to enjoy chocolate in a healthy way every single day: in my daily cup of coffee! I brew organic, low-acid coffee in a coffee maker, and after pouring it into a mug, I whisk in some organic raw cacao powder, a pinch of stevia and a dash of cinnamon for my morning mocha. Give it a try for yourself! You can also add in a drop of peppermint extract for a peppermint mocha or some non-dairy milk for a healthier, creamier option. To make an even frothier blend, you can mix all these ingredients in a small blender after brewing the coffee instead of whisking the ingredients into the coffee.
What’s your favorite way to enjoy chocolate in a healthier way? For more healthy recipes made with chocolate, you can also check out all of the Vitacost chocolate recipes.
†These statements have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.