In case you haven’t read my blog about Chocolate – Healthy or Not?, then spoiler alert – yes it is***.

(***All those stars mean there are terms, conditions, and fine print).

Sigh! I know, it would be so cool if this one single delicious ingredient could be given a decisive go ahead.

It’s your prerogative

How you use chocolate in your diet is your choice, but for most of us it’s going to feature in some way. So, to make the search for healthier chocolate recipes easier, I put together a little recipe round up for you.

I thought we could start with 5 recipes. (Mostly because I have personally made each one and my family and I may be a little overloaded on chocolate at the moment).

About that fine print I mentioned

Treats are something that need to be eaten mindfully and in moderation. While all these recipes are gluten free, they inevitably use some form of sweetener, (always natural). If you are experiencing issues with blood sugar or hormones, I urge you to partake in moderation.

Who’s on the list

The health and wellness community is diverse and when I reached out to my colleagues for recipes, I was thrilled to get responses from all over the globe (Canada, Australia & South Africa). Whether you are near or far you can enjoy what we each have to offer.
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Grain-Free Chocolate Zucchini Fudge Cake 

Chocolate and fudge in the same sentence!

This gem is loaded with protein and fiber to help with managing blood sugar spikes. Zucchini is a truly underrated fruit and you will be surprised (and delighted) at how well it works with this recipe. Another bonus is the handy swop outs to accommodate a vegan diet – so everyone can try this one out.

Caitlin is a Certified Holistic & Culinary Nutritionist and Yoga Instructor based in St John, Canada. She is a passionate advocate of changing our relationship with food to live our best lives. To find out more about her incredible story and for more recipes, be sure to visit her site: Nourished by Caitlin Iles and follow her on social media: @nourishedbycaitlin

Double Chocolate Almond Granola

https://www.mealsbytiia.com/recipes/double-chocolate-almond-granola/Tiia knocked it out the park with this recipe.

If a chocolaty start to the day is what you are after, then her Double Chocolate Almond Granola is what you have been looking for.

Using raw cacao powder to boost the antioxidant and magnesium goodness as well as offering the option to add a little collagen powder. I love a recipe that manages to pack a nutritional punch and doesn’t compromise on taste. Tiia is a Culinary Nutritionist based in Toronto, Canada and helps her clients with meal prepping, planning and much more. For more recipes be sure to head on over to her site: Meals by Tiia and follower her on social media: @mealsbytiia

Fully Loaded GF Chocolate Chip Cookies

These cookies are not only delicious but so quick and easy to prepare. Great for whipping up when guests come over or as a gift for your friends – trust me they will thank you, or to have with your afternoon tea – no sharing needed.

Sharan follows a Gluten Free eating plan to best manage her health and does not compromise on taste. The smell alone will have you drooling.

Sharan is a certified Health and Hormone Coach based in Melbourne, Australia. Through her own journey of dealing with 3 autoimmune diseases Sharan focuses on feeling well, living well and loving life. Follow Sharan on social media: @whysettleforordinary or download the recipe here with all her contact details.

GF Dark Chocolate Torta Caprese

This is decadence at its best!

If you want to impress with an after-dinner slice of chocolaty heaven – then this is the go to recipe. It’s like a soft pillow of chocolate.

Shoots and Leaves are an eatery based in Umhlanga, KZN, South Africa. Their food is always fresh with something new on the menu each day. Using local whole foods their harvest table lunches are legendary and a must try if you are in the area.

To order your box of farm fresh veg, wholesome frozen meals for the week or meet up with friends for a delicious lunch check out their website: Shoots & Leaves or connect with them on social media: @shoots_and_leaves_sa

Download the recipe here with all their contact details.

Chocolate Truffle Cups

This is one of my personal favorite recipes to make. From my days of following a ketogenic diet and loving the texture of smooth buttery fat bombs, it was a springboard from there. Tahini with coconut syrup is also reminiscent of the old days when I would have peanut butter and syrup.

It all makes for a deep chocolaty, buttery truffle in a bed of crispy hazelnut. A mineral rich treat sure to satisfy the chocolate lover in you.

Chocolate Truffle Cups

Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time10 mins
Set Time30 mins
Total Time50 mins
Course: Dessert, Treat
Keyword: chocolate
Servings: 12

Equipment

  • Cupcake Tray
  • Cupcake Liners
  • Spoon
  • Bowl
  • Whisk
  • Measuring Equipment

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Hazelnuts
  • 1/4 cup Dates pitted
  • 1/4 cup Coconut Oil melted
  • 50 grams Cacao Powder
  • 75 ml Coconut Syrup
  • 2 tbsp Tahini

Instructions

  • Preheat oven tp 160°C and line cupcake tray with cupcake liners
  • CUPS: Blend hazelnuts and dates in a food processor for 1 - 2 minutes. (Duration will depend on processor strength). The mixture will be course but stick together when rolled into a ball.
  • Divide mixture into 12 equal sized balls and press each ball tightly into cupcake liners. (It should reach about halfway up the sides)
  • Place tray in the oven and bake for 8 - 10 minutes or until they begin to brown. Remove and place on cooling rack. (Discard cupcake liners just prior to serving). Prepare filling while cups are baking and cooling.
  • FILLING: Add melted coconut oil, cacao powder and coconut syrup to a medium well and mix well.
  • Once cups have cooled (5-10min) pour or spoon filling into each cup until it just reaches the top.
  • Refrigerate for 30 minutes to allow filling to firm up. (To set it quicker place in freezer for 10-15 minutes)
  • Serve and enjoy!

Notes

Substitutes: Use raw honey or maple syrup instead of coconut syrup
More flavor: Experiment with filling and mix in chopped basil/mint, dried orange or coconut.
Dates too dry: soak them in warm water for a few minutes, then discard the water and use the dates
Leftovers: Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week in the fridge. (Can be frozen, but may affect the crispiness of the cups)

Yet another health question that we all wish had a simple yes/no answer! The next question is – when you say chocolate what do you mean? Chocolate meant something completely different to me 10 years ago to what it means to me today…

Confused?

Let me explain.

Until I got really serious about my food and did a bit of research, the word chocolate would conjure up very specific images. My favorite chocolate bar, the silken sauce over my ice cream or the powder I used for my hot chocolate (or ate from the can if I’m being honest). The only variation I couldn’t instantly eat was the cocoa powder for baking.

Many of you know (as I do) that it was also a one-way ticket to acne breakouts, a few extra kilos on the hips and a headache. But then – there was all this hype about dark chocolate being healthier, certain types of chocolate helping with blood pressure regulation and being an antioxidant? How could it possibly be healthy and cause so much havoc in my body?

So What’s The Difference?

It turns out that there are different types of chocolate. They are differentiated by varying processing methods.

Type of Chocolate

You may have noticed the chocolate ingredient being listed as either cacao or cocoa. Back in the day I thought that was just a spelling error, but it turns out there is a bit – nay – big difference.

Cacao

Also known as: raw cocoa, raw cacao, superfood, vegan cocoa, true chocolate
Taste profile: strong, bitter, acidic
Appearance: dark brown, fine dust like powder
Variations: nibs/liquor, powder
Used in: baking, drinks, sauces, desserts, cooking
Processing: Other than the initial fermentation, drying and grounding process, very little is done
Nutrition Profilei: As the processing is very limited and done at a low heat or using friction only. The nutritional profile is mostly unharmed. Without getting into the technical stuff the beneficial components are:
Minerals – magnesium being the most notable and useful as a relaxant
Polyphenolic compounds – flavan-3-ols being the component responsible for the bitter flavor and for the potent antioxidant effects.
Healthy fats – oleic acid the same found in olive oil

Using good quality dark chocolate made with raw cacao has been shown to be beneficiali in the fight against cardiovascular disease, lowering cholesterol, insulin resistance and much more. But, before you decide it’s all good, let’s talk about cocoa.

Cocoa

Also known as: cocoa powder, coca, hot chocolate, chocolate
Taste profile: creamy, mild
Appearance: light to dark brown powder
Variations: powder
Used in: baking, drinks, sauces, desserts
Processing: It begins with the same processing is followed as cacao. Thereafter it is heated and most likely mixed with other components. NOTE: Most cocoa powders are also mixed with fillers, anti-caking agents, sweeteners, whey powders and various other additives.
Nutrition Profile: The nutritional profile starts out exactly the same as cacao. It gets diminished by additional processing, adding of ingredients and dilution.

So how much chocolate is in my chocolate?

It appears to be anything from zero, typically labeled as ‘flavored’ and synthetic based, all the way to 100%, which is usually found in specialized boutique shops. The only way of really knowing is making sure you read the label or contact the manufacturer. Alternatively, buy cacao or cocoa powder and make your own dishes. This is the ultimate level of controlling how much chocolate is in your chocolate.

Getting back to “When you say chocolate, what do you mean?”

Hopefully, you are a little less confused by that question now. Chocolate, like so many foodie words nowadays, is used very loosely. Cacao and cocoa are also used interchangeably by manufacturers, so it can get confusing. What I have come to understand is this (based upon my personal opinion):

  • Chocolate is an ingredient or flavor (not the enemy)
  • Chocolate can be used for good (as part of a healthy eating plan), or
  • Chocolate can be used for bad (loaded with fillers, additives and miscellaneous stuff)
  • Chocolate as it is presented to the masses is more sugar than chocolate
  • When I would say ‘I need a chocolate fix’, I actually needed a sugar fix. Now, I use chocolate as a key part of a healthy diet. A chocolate treat can either help build my health or send me on a sugar frenzy..
  • Both options can be made with raw cacao.

What’s going to stop you from using cacao

Okay, so maybe you are all fired up about using the healthier version of chocolate. There are a few things that may put you off though, so let’s deal with them quickly.

Raw Cacao is expensive

  • Maybe some of you can find a reasonably priced supplier, but here where I live it’s right up there with buying an island. As a result, I am very selective about when and how I use it. I make it count. It is going to be rich, decadent and as healthy as possible.

Raw Cacao is strong

  • This helps with the expensive thing. Raw cacao is potent and you don’t need as much as you would with regular cocoa.
  • If you are swopping out cacao for cocoa, try the full amount for the first try of the recipe. If you it’s too overpowering, reduce the amount by a teaspoon or two for the next attempt.
  • If this is a new ingredient you are trying, experimentation will be required.

Raw Cacao is bitter

  • Many of you are probably picturing a delicious cup of hot chocolate after the reference earlier, but beware. This requires using a neat version of the powder and you may be in for a little surprise. Remember those flavan-3-ols mentioned under the nutritional profile – they are strong and as healthy as they are, they are bitter. Again, you are introducing a new flavor and it takes time and adjustment. You cannot use it the same as common cocoa. Perhaps start with blending cocoa and cacao to begin with and then gradually changing the ratio.

Chocolate – Healthy or Not?

If you are looking at chocolate as an ingredient in the purest form you can get and afford – then the answer is an easy yes. What you add to it to get the end product that you will be eating or drinking is what determines its ultimate level of healthy or not.

Recipes Please!

Now all this talk about chocolate probably has you motivated to try out a few recipes? I am way ahead of you. Pop on over to: 5 Effortless Chocolatey Recipes For You To Try. I added one of my own favorites and reached out to my colleagues for some recipes. They are diverse and delicious, so be sure to check them out, and don’t forget to show us. We love to see your creations #nutrichologist

 

CAUTION

Something I did not mention earlier is the compound Theobromine. This is one of the compounds in chocolate that makes us humans so happy when we eat chocolate. The more diluted the cacao is the less of an effect it has on us. The problem arises when we think it’s a good idea to feed it to our pets. Depending on the strength it can have a mild to lethal effect on our pets. It’s known as chocolate poisoning and causes anything from mild diarrhea and nausea to seizures and death. Dogs are particularly vulnerable. To be safe, please do not feed chocolate to your pets.

 

REFERENCES

[i] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4696435/

Part 1 dealt with how honey was made and some environmental issues. It was clear that honey is not without some controversy. However available and commonplace it seems to be across the world, it is something that we need to take notice of and consider.

In Part 2 we are going to talk a little more around the health and usage of honey.

Depending on your health practices/beliefs you may consider using honey as anything from a firm ‘no thanks’ to considering honey to be the elixir of life. Love it, hate it or avoid it, it’s a very interesting substance. As is the case with the history, production and environmental information available, a single blog, (or two), doesn’t even scratch the surface on health and cooking information. 

Lets Get The Sugar Thing Out The Way

The composition of honey is actually quite complex. It has over 20 different types of sugars that fall under two main categories: glucose and fructose. Proportions vary depending on the source of the nectar. (As a general rule sweeter honeys have more fructose). At this point you would be tempted to start reading up about the different sugars to determine their health benefits or effects, but regardless of the prevalent type of sugar it all turns into glucose in your body.

This makes it a potent source of energy. For those of you that are carb conscious it’s a no go sweetener. On the flip side if you are looking for fat free, low protein then honey is on the menu.

What about diabetics?

But what if you are diabetic? That is a very tricky question. A meta analysis(i) of over 100 studies, done in 2018, looked specifically at honey for preventing and treating various types of diabetes. A number of the studies showed clear benefits of honey, not all were specific to diabetes but there was promise.

There were also a number of studies that were inconclusive or contrary.

The conclusion – further studies were required and dosage would have to be determined. That’s science for you – yes, no… maybe.

You decide

While I will not weigh in on whether a diabetic can or cannot use honey, it needs to be noted that there are other benefits to honey unlike many other regular or processed sugars commonly available. If you are diabetic, pre-diabetic or have issues with sugar, then perhaps proceed with caution and make sure you are working with a health professional.

The Glycemic Factor

The Glycemic Index (GI) of honey is closely related to the combination of its sugar content and can range from 35 – 80.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with the Glycemic Index (GI) then the quick answer is this – The GI level of food determines how quickly it spikes your blood glucose levels. The scale goes 1 – 100 and foods with a value of 55 or less are generally digested slower, therefore less likely to spike you blood glucose, therefore insulin levels.

Now you may think, ‘I’m not diabetic, so that doesn’t apply to me’, but think again. Insulin has a knock on effect on adrenal and cortisol levels, growth hormones and more.

The GI level can be mitigated by what you eat with your honey. This is called a Glycemic Load (GL). By combining foods with a higher fiber and/or fat content you can potentially lower the overall load of the meal. The idea is slow down the metabolization of the food. Having honey in your tea versus having it on a seed cracker has a vastly different effect on your body. This is something to consider when deciding where to use honey in your diet.

Storage and Use

Before we get into the health benefits of honey, let’s make sure we aren’t destroying all that goodness while it’s sitting on our shelf.

Heat 

In part 1 I pointed out that the temperature was quite important. This is because the healing enzymes of honey begin to deteriorate and are deactivated by heat. Honey should not be heated above 40˚C. (This needs to be noted when cooking or baking with honey).

If you are using high heat then consider using a cheaper or pasteurized honey as you are using it for flavor and not for nutrition.

Pasteurized honey has been treated with high heat and is therefore not as nutritious as raw honey.

Light

Like heat, light has the same effect on honey. It is best to keep it in a dark environment or in a dark container.

Shelf Life

Honey stored in well sealed, dark glass containers have an indefinite lifespan. There have been vats found in Egyptian tombs dating back 4000 years. Still edible, still delicious.

You want to avoid plastic containers for two reasons. The first is the obvious reason of it being plastic and contaminating whatever is in it. The other is that plastic does in fact allow air in. This can darken the honey and even begin a small amount of fermentation.

Kitchen Hacks

  • When measuring out your honey for a recipe, coat your measuring spoon or cup with a little coconut oil first. This will allow it to slide out without too much staying behind.
  • To make honey more pliable or runny. Warm thick honey by placing the container in some warm, (not boiling), water for 10 – 15 minutes.
  • Honey can also be caramelized like sugar. You will need to heat it to around 70˚C or higher.
  • Honey browns more quickly than sugar. When baking you may have to lower the oven temperature and cook for longer.

The Health Benefits(ii)

Honey has been used as a healing balm and drink for millennia. Before the science and terminology was even invented, honey was used as an antimicrobial and antibacterial agent. Today medical grade honey is still being used.

The most notable studies are now being done around its efficacy in life threatening antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

A medical article(ii) published in 2011 listed the first written mentions of honeys medicinal properties as follows:

“a Sumerian tablet writing, dating back to 2100-2000 BC, mentions honey’s use as a drug and an ointment. Aristotle (384-322 BC), when discussing different honeys, referred to pale honey as being “good as a salve for sore eyes and wounds”

That same article went on to conclude that after reviewing many studies, “Microbial resistance to honey has never been reported”.

Honey is most useful in the medicinal sense as a topical application. However, this does not mean you get to bypass the doctor if you have a wound. The use and application for these purposes are done under medical supervision and dosage. What this does is simply validate the healing abilities of honey. 

What about when we eat it?

Honey has many health aiding benefits to it and can be a valuable addition to a healthy diet. However, caution must be taken and we must remember:

  • It is still a sugar
  • Where you get it from is important
  • How you store it and use it impacts its health benefits
  • Bees are crucial to our survival as a species, so be responsible when using honey

REFERENCES

Almond Butter Toffee

A simplified toffee recipe using just two ingredients!
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time2 mins
Resting Time1 d
Total Time1 d 12 mins
Course: Dessert
Servings: 16
Author: Dawn

Equipment

  • Candy Thermometer
  • Saucepan
  • Spoon
  • Electronic Scale
  • Parchment Paper (optional)
  • Loaf Pan or flat dish

Ingredients

  • 150g Honey
  • 150g Almond Butter or use your favourite nut or seed butter instead
  • Coconut Oil for greasing

Instructions

  • Line dish with parchment paper or lightly grease with coconut oil
  • Place honey in sauce pan with candy thermometer and set heat to medium
  • Allow honey to boil until it reaches 120˚C
    - no candy thermometer - no problem. have a cup of cold water handy. When the honey is boiling, drop some (just a drop) into a cup of cold water, if it makes a ball and sinks then it’s ready
  • Remove from heat and allow to cool for a bit (±1min)
  • Add almond butter to the pot and stir until the mixture becomes toffee like and forms a ball (2-3min)
    - you should be able to handle the mixture without it sticking to your fingers
  • Place mixture in the loaf tin or dish or your choice
    - you may have to bang the tin/s on the counter to level out the mixture
  • Leave to cool for about an hour, then cover and refrigerate for 1 - 2 hours
  • Remove from fridge, cut into toffee size blocks and serve (can be individually wrapped in parchment or wax paper for gifting)

Substitution

  • Use a nut or seed butter of your choice. (Different nut and seed butters have different textures. End results may vary)

More Flavor

  • Add choc chips, chili flakes, dried orange rind, botanicals, ginger, vanilla, course sea salt, whole nuts…

Storage

  • Store in airtight container, in between layers of parchment or wax paper
  • Keep refrigerated for up to 3 weeks. (It sets more & gets better the longer you leave it in the fridge)

Notes

Nutrition Note
Remember this is a treat and should be eaten sparingly and mindfully.
A Word on Honey
Honey heated to 40˚C – 50˚C no longer has any healthy enzymes and is therefore just a sugar. For this particular recipe you may want to use a cheaper brand that may have been pasteurized. It is always prudent to check that the honey you purchase is sustainably sourced and from a local supplier.
Some cheaper brands are blended with substances that are called adulterants and should be avoided. Adulterants include substances like high-fructose corn syrup, molasses, flour and starches.
Hives that are kept in unsavory conditions require antibiotics and fungicides and may contain contaminants like pesticides and pollutants or even thinned out with water.