I cannot remember the last time I went a full day without consuming cocoa. Seriously. Whether it's my morning hot chocolate I make from scratch, or the raw cocoa powder I sprinkle over frozen banana slices for a sweet snack, cocoa is getting into my system in some way or another. Am I an addict? Yeah, probably. Is it a health concern? Not the way I consume it.
We've written about the health benefits of cocoa before. It is packed with antioxidants that destroy free radicals, the chemicals that accelerate aging, inflammation and increase the potential for a range of diseases. Eating a little dark chocolate can reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke. It can even improve blood pressure and blood vessel health, and improve your HDL cholesterol. We all have heard the studies about how great cocoa is, but we can't just go around chowing down on chocolate bars. The benefits are too often far outweighed by the negative consequences of the fat and refined sugar we tend pair with our raw cocoa powder.
Instead, here are healthful ways to add cocoa powder to your diet without any of the negative stuff that ruins cocoa's goodness.
Puddings (even for breakfast!)
Think you can't have chocolate pudding for breakfast? Think again. Here's a fantastic recipe for Chocolate Cottage Cheese Chia Pudding — high in protein, it'll keep you full for hours while also adding the benefits of cocoa powder into your meal.
Another variation is this Raw Chocolate Superfood Pudding, which as the name suggests, packs in the superfoods, making it a great breakfast or snack option. Falling somewhere between a sweet breakfast and a potential dessert treat, here's a recipe for Banana Avocado Pudding. It's about as simple as you can get, and I can't wait to try it.
This one is a little rich for breakfast, but for a sweet and healthy dessert, try my Chocolate Avocado Pudding which is vegan, raw, and filled with nutrients and healthy fats.
Photo: jreika /Shutterstock
Sprinkled over fruit
My very favorite snack, and something I admittedly eat daily, is a cup of frozen banana slices with cocoa powder sprinkled over the top. Falling somewhere between a chocolate-covered banana and a cold banana truffle, this treat is one of my go-tos for satisfying a sweet tooth. And it's just a banana and some cocoa powder. Can't get healthier than that for dessert.
Take it a step farther by adding the frozen banana slices and cocoa powder to a food processor or blender and blend until smooth for a creamy chocolate ice cream. No really, it's just like ice cream!
Another way to go is to toast a piece of whole-grain bread, spread a layer of raw nut butter (almond or peanut are my favorites!), add another layer of thinly sliced banana, and sprinkle with cocoa powder. It's a healthy breakfast that tastes like dessert. It also works if you do a layer of freshly sliced strawberries instead of bananas — or thinly sliced apples or pears, for that matter.
Be creative because really any fruit is a perfect pairing for cocoa powder. The sweet from the fruit counters the bitterness from the cocoa, so you have chocolate without any refined sugar. Even a bowl of raspberries or blueberries can get a sprinkle of cocoa powder for extra deliciousness.
Photo: Dan Kosmayer /Shutterstock
Granola bars are surprisingly easy to make. A quick Web search will give you lots of recipes, though one of the simplest and healthiest I've found is a 5-ingredient granola bar. You can just add cocoa powder to the mix, adjusting the moist ingredients slightly to make sure the mix isn't too dry, or you could add raw cacao nibs to your granola bar mixture. Cacao nibs are the same thing as cocoa powder only before the cocoa has been ground down to powder. So you'll get the same health benefits (and a little crunch!) by using them instead of powder.
Another option for adding cocoa powder to healthy snack bars is this recipe for Chocolate Larabars, or these easy 5-Minute Raw Cacao Snack Bars. There are tons of great ideas and options online, so it's only a matter of time before you can begin perfecting your own personal recipe for healthy cocoa-infused snack bars.
Photo: Jaymi Heimbuch
Fudge and brownies
Yes it's true, there are even healthy (or rather, healthy-ish) versions of fudge and cocoa that can give you more of cocoa powder's benefits without all the unhealthy stuff attached.
For example, there is this mouth-watering recipe for The Best Vegan Black Bean Brownies Ever, which boasts having more protein than an egg per brownie square. For a spicier version (that I expect would be a hit at parties), try No-Bake Chili Brownies, which take about 15 minutes to make and about 10 minutes to set, then they're ready to scarf down.
Another option for coffee lovers is this recipe for Chocolate Almond Espresso Fudge Bars, a super easy recipe for raw, no-hassle fudge. And for those who like to keep things simple, try this "fudge yeah!" recipe for Black Bean Fudge.
Photo: Lesya Dolyuk /Shutterstock
Amaze-balls (aka: healthier truffles)
Who doesn't love a cocoa-powder-covered truffle?? (If you have made it this far in the article, I highly doubt you're raising your hand!) These are typically made with dates, figs or nut butter, with coconut shreds and other goodies mixed in. And of course, they are finished off with a good roll in the cocoa powder. It's a dessert, to be sure, but when you use nature's natural sugars like blended dates, it's pretty hard to feel guilty. And they're just as rich as "regular" truffles, so you're not missing out, not by a long stretch.
This recipe for 5-minute Raw Paleo Fudge Balls looks divine. And I'll never complain about truffles that take five minutes to make. Another winner is Raw Chocolate Amaze Balls, which also feature walnuts, a superfood food filled with important nutrients and healthy fats. Not a fan of walnuts? Okay, try out these Choco-Hazel Bliss Balls, which use hazelnuts.
A quick Google search will have you knee-deep in recipes for healthy versions of delicious amaze-balls, bliss balls, or whatever you want to call them.
Tips for buying cocoa powder
Look for certified fair trade. There are many great brands to choose from, and you're helping to ensure workers get a living wage.
Look for organic. It's true that not all organic cocoa tastes as good as non-organic, so you'll have to test a few out and see what you like best. But if you can, go for organic.
Look for a higher fat content. Yep, you read that right. The really good cocoa that has lots of flavor (and therefore is more satisfying and you won't need to use as much) has as much as 24 percent more fat than the cheap stuff.
Make sure you're getting unsweetened cocoa powder, and not something that has sugars mixed in. Avoid packages labeled "ground chocolate" as this is basically powdered chocolate bars with added stuff we're trying to avoid in the first place. Make sure the only ingredient is cocoa.