Can you be a healthy organic foodie and enjoy delicious chocolates, too? Yes, if you ask Nichole Dandrea, a nutritionist and yoga instructor behind the organic, fair trade and vegan Nicobella chocolate truffles and Munch treats. I caught up with the health-conscious chocolate lover at the Women of the Green Generation conference, and she shared how you can mix a lean green business with chocolatey pleasures.
MNN: When I think nutritionist, I don't usually think decadent chocolatier. But you've combined the two roles. Can rich chocolate snacks really be healthy?
Nichole Dandrea: Yes! I’ve always been a lover of dark chocolate and was beyond excited when they started releasing studies several years ago, highlighting all of the benefits of dark chocolate. Once there was evidence I thought, wouldn’t it be great to use dark chocolate as a vehicle to deliver other healthy foods? That’s how the truffles were born. Starting with 70 percent dark chocolate, we substitute oat milk and coconut oil for the cream, then infuse wholesome ingredients such as blueberries, green tea and pumpkin. They are rich and decadent but not too sweet, making them a high antioxidant, healthy treat.
Your chocolate treats are about the greenest in the market — organic and fair trade certified, and packed full of antioxidant rich ingredients, and even packaged with all FSC-certified paper. Was it tough to make the truffles as environmentally friendly as you did? Or are greener ingredients and packaging easier to find now?
Greener ingredients are definitely much more available compared to when we first started experimenting with the truffles in our kitchen about four years ago. But organic and fair trade certifications are costly to our suppliers and to our manufacturer (Theo Chocolate), making the product a little pricier than non-organic and fair trade chocolate. However we truly believe in eating organic and supporting the farmers, therefore want to stay true to our values. FSC certified material is very accessible now and using FSC certified material seems to be a standard with many green companies. This is comforting knowing that companies are supporting the environment and consumers are becoming more aware of the benefits of FSC certification.
For the health-conscious chocoholic who wants to eat a little chocolate every day, how many truffles are okay to indulge in on a daily basis? Which truffle is your personal favorite?
This is a tough question since I just ate three in a row (it’s probably better to space them throughout the day!). Today I had two pure cocoa bliss truffles (my favorite as a chocolate purist) and one sunflower butter banana truffle. Because they are only 45-65 calories a piece and choc-full of antioxidants, it’s fine to eat two or three a day. They won’t break the calorie bank and it’s suggested that an ounce of chocolate a day is good for the body! (Each truffle is about 12-15 grams or ½ ounce). Also, the truffles made with ‘butters’ (pumpkin chai, sunflower butter banana and walnut flaxseed) are filled with healthy fats and protein, making them great satisfying snacks!
When you're not eating chocolates, what do you enjoy for meals?
It’s a little weird, but I crave greens the way I crave dark chocolate. Typically I tried to include vegetables with every meal. Since I have a vegan company I often get the question ‘Are you vegan?’ While I eat about 80 percent vegan, I do enjoy fresh organic mozzarella cheese and eat eggs for breakfast one or two days a week (cage-free, grain-fed hens). Grilling at home is so much fun during this time of year, so right now we are doing lots of grilled foods drizzled with olive oil, sea salt and pepper. I try to subscribe to the 80/20 rule: eat as healthy as you can 80 percent of the time and eat what you want 20 percent of the time. For example, yesterday we had some amazing pizza at a local favorite spot. It was not the healthiest, but so good! I think it’s okay to indulge once in a while, but important to not make it a daily habit. We use vegan ingredients in Nicobella products to keep the chocolate as healthy as possible and to also stay in line with our mission to support animal welfare.
What's next for Nicobella?
We are thinking about ‘upsizing’ our Munch bags, while keeping the 2-ounce bag option as well. Also, our ‘Nicobella Naked Munch’ will be available (hopefully!) before the fall. It’s our Maple-Nut Munch and Mama Munch without the chocolate. We’ve been snacking on them (yum!), and are so excited to share them soon!
You can get more eco-health tips from Nichole at Self's Eat Like Me blog, where Nichole is guest blogging this week. Get her 10 steps to cleansing without fasting and recipe for a sunflower oatmeal breakfast. And if you like what you read, vote to maker her the permanent blogger for Self's blog!
Middle photo courtesy of Nichole Dandrea; bottom photo by Siel Ju