Brain-Boosting Hot Cocoa

 Brain-Boosting Hot Cocoa

Who doesn’t love curling up with a comforting cup of hot chocolate? Whether you were just in it for the mini marshmallows or not, if you live in the Great White North, hot chocolate is the basis of your childhood memories and an essential survival item for harsh winters.

Now that I’ve got you feeling all warm and fuzzy with nostalgia, I have to burst your bubble. The ingredients in most hot chocolates on the market read “sugar, high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated vegetable oil, modified milk products …” — not so comforting anymore! Sugar and its corn-derived counterpart, high fructose corn syrup, are anti-nutrients. They require your body’s vitamins, minerals and enzymes (and so much more!) to simply digest and metabolize. Plus, they use up even more nutrients as your body works to to fight off their negative health effects, after they are digested.

Sugar and its corn-derived counterpart, high fructose corn syrup, are anti-nutrients.

Another anti-nutrient, hydrogenated vegetable oil, creates the dreaded trans fats when it's produced. These trans fats are called “competitive fats” because they sneak in and kick essential-DHA (a healthy fat) out of your brain – they then proceed to wreak havoc in your brain, while you remain non-the-wiser.

Have I convinced you? Drop that powdered chocolate STAT in the nearest garbage and replace some of your lost nutrients with our healthy little cup o’ delight. Why is our Brain-Boosting Hot Cocoa so good for you? Check out our Brainy Bites below to get the scientific scoop on key brainy ingredients. Enjoy!

Brain-Boosting Hot Cocoa
Yield: Serves 1
Prep: 15 Minutes
Cooking: 15 Minutes
  • 2 cups unsweetened almond or coconut milk
  • 2 Tbsp dark chocolate chips, at least 74% cacao
  • 3 Tbsp raw cocoa powder
  • 1-2 Tbsp coconut sugar (sweeten as desired)
  • 1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • Small pinch sea salt
  1. Gently heat milk over medium-high heat in a small saucepan. Bring to a low simmer, and do not allow milk to boil as it will cause the milk to split.
  2. Add chocolate chips to milk and stir until thoroughly melted.
  3. Incorporate the remaining ingredients with a whisk until cocoa powder has been fully absorbed.
  4. Bring cocoa up to a gentle simmer once again, pour into mug, and enjoy!
Brainy Bites

Almond Milk

  • Rich in vitamin E, an antioxidant that helps protect against deterioration of neurons and is highly associated with the prevention or slowing of cognitive decline.
  • Almond milk is a great alternative to cow’s milk, for those with dairy sensitivities in whom the dairy protein (casein) results in brain-allergy symptoms and inflammation.

Dark Chocolate

  • Rich in antioxidant flavonoids (especially ones called catechins) that can actually reach the brain directly and may help protect your brain cells.
  • The sheer happiness we are flooded with while eating (or drinking) chocolate is undeniable, and might be from the tryptophan it provides to build our happy neurotransmitter serotonin.

Coconut Sugar

  • Undergoes far less processing than refined white sugars, and does not wreak havoc on blood sugar like they do.
  • It contains good amounts of inulin fiber, balancing our blood sugar levels to stabilize mood and increase energy.
  • It boasts impressive amounts of antioxidants, iron and zinc. Essential for brain development, zinc in particular is also key for communication in the brain areas involved in memory. 
  1. Francis, S., Head, K., Morris, P., & Macdonald, I. (2006). The effect of flavanol-rich cocoa on the fMRI response to a cognitive task in healthy young people. Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology, 47, 215-220.
  2. Guillén-Casla, V., Rosales-Conrado, N., León-González, M., Pérez-Arribas, L., & Polo-Díez, L. (2012). Determination of serotonin and its precursors in chocolate samples by capillary liquid chromatography with mass spectrometry detection. Journal of Chromatography A, 1232, 158-165.
  3. Nehlig, A. (2013). The neuroprotective effects of cocoa flavanol and its influence on cognitive performance. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 75(3), 716-727.
  4. Scholey, A., French, S., Morris, P., Kennedy, D., Milne, A., & Haskell, C. (2009). Consumption of cocoa flavanols results in acute improvements in mood and cognitive performance during sustained mental effort. Journal of Psychopharmocology, 24(10), 1505-1514.

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