Here’s something everyone knows: We’ve all experienced a craving for chocolate. Even as registered dietitians, there are times that we’d do just about anything to get our hands on some melt-in-your-mouth chocolate goodness.
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The good news: Chocolate and cocoa-containing products, enjoyed in moderation, may help reduce risk for heart disease, lower blood pressure, reduce risk for certain types of cancer, boost your mood and tamp down chronic inflammation.
The health benefits of dark chocolate stem from cocoa flavanols, natural plant compounds from the cacao beans, so chocolate products that have the most cacao will offer the most health payoffs.
Here are nine genius ways – with recipe ideas – to satisfy your chocolate cravings from nutrition pros:
- Dark chocolate.
- Make chocolate hummus.
- Chocolate covered almonds.
- Make your own superfood trail mix.
- Try a DIY mocha.
- Go for the drizzle technique.
- Scoop it.
- Drink it.
- Make it with chia.
Milk chocolate has a very low percent of cacao, often just 10% to 30%. That means 70% to 90% of the chocolate is less healthful ingredients like added sugars, fats and other ingredients. “I always recommend that my clients look for dark chocolate choices with at least 60% cacao, but the more cacao, the healthier the chocolate. Chocolate with more cacao means more heart-healthy flavonoids and less sugar,” explains Tracy Wilczek, a Boston-based registered dietitian.
For example, Lindt’s 95% cacao dark chocolate bar has less than half a teaspoon of added sugar, 4 grams protein and 5 grams fiber, making it a satisfying choice. ChocZero offers a variety of chocolate products, including dark chocolate, that are all sugar free. They’re sweetened with monk fruit extract, a no-calorie natural sweetener.
Hummus is having a moment, so it’s not surprising that chocolate hummus is hot. The hummus usually unsweetened cocoa powder, nut butter and process until desired consistency. Here is a simple dark chocolate, peanut butter hummus recipe from Brittany Poulson, a Utah-based registered dietitian. The combination of fiber- and protein-rich chickpeas with peanut butter and dark cocoa makes it a superfood spread. Serve with fresh fruit.
Dark Chocolate-Covered Almonds
As a dietitian, my go-to healthy chocolate treat are dark chocolate-covered almonds (or any nut). Nuts help reduce risk for chronic conditions and are a satisfying snack due to the fiber and protein counts. Look for a sugar-free option. Lily’s dark chocolate covered almonds, for example, has no added sugar for a guilt-free indulgence. Plus they have added fiber for an impressive nutritional profile. A serving has 5 grams of both fiber and protein to keep you satisfied with fewer calories compared to traditional chocolate-covered almonds.
Dark Chocolate Superfood Trail Mix
Store-bought trail mixes are not much more than peanuts, raisins and M&Ms – not the healthiest way to get your chocolate fix. “For a better blend, make your own trail mix with a variety of seeds and nuts, dried and freeze-dried fruit and dark chocolate morsels,” suggests Alicia Sain, a San Francisco Bay Area registered dietitian. This chocolate treat is high in calories, so be sure to keep your portions in check.
I love coffee shop mocha beverages – but not their stratospheric calorie and sugar counts. To make your own, simply add 1 tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder and milk to your coffee for a perfect mocha. An added perk: Unsweetened cocoa powder is one of the best sources of beneficial flavonoids. If you need to sweeten, use a calorie-free sugar substitute.
Drizzling dark chocolate allows you to get satisfying chocolate flavor with minuscule amounts of chocolate. Simply melt some dark chocolate squares and drizzle over your favorite foods. Some of my faves include oatmeal, yogurt, fresh fruit, graham crackers, popcorn and whole wheat pretzels or waffles.
Chocolate ice cream is one of the most craved chocolate treats of all. Problem is, most chocolate ice cream is loaded with oodles of added sugar – about 5 teaspoons sugar per serving. Since deprivation never works, dietitians often recommend healthier alternatives to traditional chocolate ice cream that packs in 200-250 calories per half-cup serving.
A favorite pint pick among nutrition pros is Halo Top for its lower sugar and calorie counts and added protein and fiber. Halo Top Dairy-Free Chocolate ice cream has 70 calories, 3 grams protein, 3 grams fiber and 1 teaspoon sugar per half-cup serving. Grab your spoon!
Hot cocoa is a great way to satisfy a chocolate craving. The healthiest hot chocolate is made with unsweetened cocoa powder for all of the health benefits of flavonoids minus the added sugar. Sweeten with calorie-free sweetener, as desired. A pinch of salt and vanilla extract will enhance the chocolate flavor.
Chicago-based registered dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner swears by her three-ingredient, 3-minute chocolate chia pudding.
- 1/2 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder.
- 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk.
- 2 tablespoons chia seeds.
Secure lid and shake until the chia and milk thicken to a pudding consistency. Enjoy with fresh strawberries or raspberries on top. Chia seeds provide 5 grams of protein and 11 grams fiber to fill you up — not out.