HEALTHY COCOA: A WINTER MUST!
I mean, who doesn't love to wrap their hands around a warm mug of hot cocoa? I have memories of enjoying hot cocoa sprinkled in throughout my life. Even as an adult, sometimes I just simply want a good old fashioned cuppa sipping chocolate to warm the soul. And let me just say, the kiddos in this house depend on hot cocoa to keep their bodies warm during all of our winter adventures! So in essence the adults depend on it too -- happy kids, happy parents! Going sledding? Pack the cocoa! Going skiing? Pack the cocoa! Such an essential winter treat for those cold adventures.
But cocoa, just like everything else, can be enjoyed via REAL food. Of course YES those packages are easy, but are they what nourishes our bodies best? The great thing about how cocoa is actually how EASY it is to make it homemade! Before I share my oh-so-complex recipe, let's review what is in a package of the classic Swiss Miss.
From the packaging: Swiss Miss Milk Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix Ingredients: Sugar, Corn Syrup, Modified Whey, Cocoa (Processed With Alkali), Hydrogenated Coconut Oil, Nonfat Milk, Calcium Carbonate, Less Than 2% Of: Salt, Dipotassium Phosphate, Mono- And Diglycerides, Carrageenan, Acesulfame Potassium, Sucralose, Artificial Flavor.
There are lots of red flags in this ingredient list. Of course we want to minimize refined sugar. In the winter especially, we want strong immune systems, and sugar can wreak havoc on your immune system. It basically puts your white blood cells into a temporary coma - making it so that they can't do their job! Corn syrup is definitely not real food; it is a syrup which is made from the starch of corn and contains varying amounts of maltose and higher oligosaccharides, depending on the grade. Whey protein is a mixture of beta-lactoglobulin, alpha lactalbumin, bovine serum albumin, and immunoglobins. Seems unnecessary when we can just use organic milk (I prefer almond milk, and our kids are getting used to it, too!).
I think we can all agree that we should avoid hydrogenated oils (for many reasons, including heart health). Mono and di glycerides are trans fats, which are used as emulsifiers and also can impact heart health. Carrageenan is a common food additive extracted from red seaweed. Manufacturers often use it as a thickening agent. Unfortunately when carrageenan is processed with acid, it creates a substance called degraded carrageenan, or poligeenan, which carries significant health warnings. Poligeenan is an inflammatory substance. Researchers often use it to test new anti-inflammatory drugs in the laboratory. Poligeenan is not approved as a food additive. But of course what happens when carrageenan mixes with stomach acid? To me, the answer is obvious. Possible side effects of consuming carrageenan are inflammation, bloating, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, the list goes on. Again, no thank you!
Acesulfame potassium contains the carcinogen methylene chloride. Long-term exposure to methylene chloride can cause headaches, depression, nausea, mental confusion, liver effects, kidney effects, visual disturbances, and even cancer in humans. So, let's avoid that! And sucralose is an artificial sweetener, which I avoid ALL of those. Let's keep it natural and simple (ideally honey or maple syrup, but if not that -- just cane sugar is safer than artificial sweeteners). Sucralose may even increase blood glucose and insulin levels and may negatively affect the very people who are using it to decrease sugar consumption and stabilize blood glucose levels. A study found that sucralose increased blood glucose levels and insulin levels while decreasing insulin sensitivity.
And last but not least, we try to avoid artificial flavors in our home. An artificial flavor is a *chemical* mixture meant to mimic the flavor of a natural food. Why do we need to mimic the flavor of cacao when we can use it? Phew, that was a long list of weird chemicals and potential toxins and carcinogens! Now that we know WHY we want to avoid those ingredients, let's hurry on up and make our own HEALTHY COCOA!
Ingredients to make 6 servings of hot chocolate:
4 cups milk (cow, almond, cashew, you name it!)
1/2 cup cacao powder
1/2 maple syrup
We use organic cacao powder and syrup, but even if yours isn't organic, it's still better than all those other ingredients we just sorted through. So throw those three ingredients in a pot, stir, heat and then pour into a blender to mix and get out all the clumps. Adding this extra step will make your cocoa extra frothy and delicious!
I just made this recipe for three little boys over the weekend, and it was definitely kid-approved -- which is essential! For extra yumminess, whip up some homemade whipped cream with heavy whipping cream or the fat from a can of organic coconut milk. YUM. And if your kids (or you) like it a little sweeter, add more maple syrup. If you like it extra chocolate-y, add more cacao. Hard to mess this up!
PLUS, there are many benefits of CACAO:
40x the antioxidants of blueberries
highest plant based source of iron
full of magnesium: brain bower!
more calcium than cow's milk
So, cheers to many mugs of hot cocoa to enjoy this winter -- I firmly believe that if we live these winter days well nourished, that we will be healthier and happier -- and that then we can go live out those fun, cold, beautiful winter adventures!