February is the month of love…and chocolate! Chocolate doesn’t care if you are single or in a relationship, sad, happy or indifferent. It is always there, in good times and bad to lift your spirits and give you a boost of chocolatey endorphins! The problems is that all of that sugar and processing in most commercial chocolates can cause more harm than good — decreasing your immunity, making your blood sugar and energy spike, then crash — so you want to make sure the chocolate you eat is worth it. I have dedicated years to blending my career as an acupuncturist (and therefore healthy eating advocate) and my absolute devotion to chocolate. Skip the Hershey’s, the Dove and the Moonstruck (even though I adore them), and read on for the best ways to eat chocolate without compromising your health — and find an easy decadent chocolate mousse recipe at the end!
Here is the low-down on why chocolate has gotten some good press lately:
COCOA. Research shows that cocoa is rich in flavonoids and antioxidants. This means it can help decrease inflammatory levels in your body, and in particular can help improve blood flow to your brain and heart, and lower blood pressure.
COCOA BUTTER. This is where chocolate gets its richness. It is made up of oleic acid, steric acid and palmitic acid in equal parts. It is a well-balanced fat, as oleic acid actually has been shown to be heart-healthy, steric acid has a neutral effect on the cardiovascular system. Palmitic acid does cause some issues with cholesterol, but it is just 1/3 of the fat in cocoa butter, and hopefully you are not consuming a box of chocolate each day.
Now that you know some of the benefits, let’s talk about what that means for eating chocolate. These benefits all decrease significantly with processing, so for any kind of regular chocolate intake, you need to be aware of getting the highest quality and least processed dark chocolate you can get. Look for chocolate bars without a lot of added ingredients, since the caramel, pretzels, nougat and added sugars will negate any possible health benefits. We are lucky in Portland to have some amazing chocolatiers who have dedicated their lives to making and selling fantastic pure chocolates.
Now that I’ve managed to make chocolate seem boring, let’s get to the good part. Here are my favorite ways to get my chocolate fix without feeling bad about it:
Alma Chocolate’s Sea Salt Hazelnut Crunch Bar. This is a bar of 70% cocoa deliciousness paired with sweet hazelnuts and local Oregon sea salt as a finish.
Woodblock chocolate (anything!). We are so lucky to have this husband and wife team making chocolate in Portland. They do everything by hand, from roasting to separating to wrapping. They make excellent chocolate, and right now have a Valentine’s Box that is incredible (even after Valentine’s day, clicking on the link will give you a great idea of what they are producing).
Xocolatl de David’s Piment d’Espelette is an incredible single origin 74% cacao bar paired with locally sourced French Basque chili and finished with fleur de sel. Chocolate with a little heat.
Even though it contains a bit of sugar, if you cannot call yourself a chocolate lover if you have not tried Cacao’s drinking chocolate. It is a decadent (which may be an understatement) experience, and one that is best savored with friends on a cold rainy day. It is made with cocoa mass, sugar and cocoa butter, and is one of the most intense ways to take in chocolate. While you are at Cacao, check out their collection of incredible chocolate bars from around the world.
Alma’s hot chocolate is rich and will make you glow from the inside out. It isn’t as thick as the drinking chocolate, but is pure – 68% cocoa with no added sugar. Have a cup while you check out the gold leaf chocolate idols that made Alma famous.
Andrea Nakayama, of Replenish PDX is a clean eating fanatic and incredible nutritionist. She also has a chocolate recipe that has inspired my own chocolate making. I make mine a bit differently, but here is her original recipe of Chocolate Nakayummies for your chocolate-making pleasures. Good for you and tasty? You won’t be disappointed.
Try making a little chocolate mousse for your loved ones tonight. This mousse is simple, quick and healthy. And trust me — I would not suggest it if it wasn’t incredible! I have no tolerance for terrible desserts and healthy without deliciousness is not worth it for me. Give it a whirl and let me know what you think by posting in the comments.
Creamy Chocolate Avocado Mousse
2 slightly ripe avocados
1/2 cup dutch processed cocoa powder
1/2 cup maple syrup or raw honey + 1 Tbsp maple syrup
1 Tbs vanilla extract
pinch of sea salt
1 can full fat coconut milk (cream only)
Chill small mixing bowl, beaters and can of coconut milk to prepare for making the whipped cream.
While that chills, put the avocado meat and cocoa powder into a mixer or food processor and mix until smooth. Add vanilla extract and sea salt and mix until incorporated. Slowly add 1/2 cup maple syrup or honey, mixing until well blended. Scrape into a mixing bowl.
Next, make your whipped cream. Add the cream only from your can of coconut milk (save the liquid for another project or smoothie), 1 Tbsp maple syrup and 1/4-1/2 tsp of vanilla extract to your chilled mixing bowl. Beat on high until moderately stiff peaks are formed (7-8 minutes).
Add the whipped cream to the chocolate avocado mixture. Fold together until well incorporated. Serve immediately.