Can you make hot chocolate healthy?

29 Jul 2020

Food + Drink Health Hot Chocolate

There’s nothing better than sipping on a mug of hot cocoa in the evening – but is hot chocolate healthy?

Who can say no to a cup of hot chocolate? We adore it in the evening, curled up with a blanket in front of the TV. Whilst we’d love to drink it every day, we’re not sure our waistband would appreciate it: hot chocolate tends to be high in sugar and fat, making it more of a treat than an everyday beverage.

But is there a way to make hot chocolate healthy? We look at how you can select the right ingredients to take your mug of hot cocoa from a calorie-dense treat to a drink which is more nutritious, but still delicious.

Hotel Chocolat Hot Chocolate

What is in hot chocolate?

The main ingredients in hot chocolate are cocoa powder, sugar and milk or water. If you don’t want to go through the hassle of trying to find the right balance between the bitter cocoa powder and the sweet sugar then there are plenty of drinking hot chocolate powders available.

However, many store-bought hot chocolate powders will have preservatives to ensure they last longer, or artificial additives if your hot chocolate is flavoured.

To ensure our hot chocolate is as full of flavour as possible, we use natural ingredients only – our hot chocolate uses gossamer-fine flakes of the real stuff so that you can taste all of the authentic, natural notes of the original bar. This helps us to keep the cocoa content high as possible in our hot chocolate, resulting in a drink which is full of flavour and ridiculously creamy.

If you’re looking for a drink with the most nutrients, we suggest you either stick to using cocoa powder or opt for one of our high cocoa hot chocolates, as a healthy mug of hot chocolate needs to be rich in cocoa (we’ll go into the reasons why later). If you’re interested in learning how we turn a humble cocoa bean into something which is suitable for both drinking and eating, we’ve explored how chocolate is made here.

Is hot chocolate healthy?

OK – so a mug of hot cocoa which is swimming with sugar, topped with whipped cream, dotted with marshmallows and speared with a flake is never going to be healthy (although we can’t help but salivate at the thought).

However, the essential ingredient in hot chocolate – the cocoa powder – can actually be good for you. Cocoa solids are the form cocoa powder takes before it’s, well, powdered, and they are packed with nutrients. The solids contain significant amounts of plant chemicals called flavanols and, according to some studies, could have positive effects on heart health and blood pressure.

cocoa beans for chocolate

Surprisingly, cocoa can help with weight loss. If you are trying to shed a few pounds, then this doesn’t mean you should swap out fruit and veg for chocolate which is high in sugar – it is the cocoa which aids weight loss, and therefore chocolates with the highest cocoa percentage are the best option.

According to studies, cocoa powder can aid weight loss by suppressing your appetite and keeping you fuller for longer. This means you can fix your cocoa cravings, without having to eat a whole bar of sugar chocolate. Cocoa powder can also allegedly prevent fat storage, although more research needs to be done to prove this.

Not only does cocoa have a positive impact on your physical health: it can also affect your mood and brain. We explore the health benefits of chocolate more in depth in our blog here.

So, you can make your hot chocolate healthy by opting for cocoa powder, or a natural, high cocoa percentage drinking chocolate. Although cocoa powder isn’t incredibly low in calories, health isn’t just measured by this – keeping a healthy, happy body is far more important than calorie counting.

Is it bad to drink hot chocolate every day?

Again, we’re not talking about the artificially flavoured stuff here with lashings of cream and toppings adorning your mug. Even if you opt for the natural stuff, is it OK to drink hot chocolate every day?

Well, according to the European Food Safety Authority, we should consume roughly 2.5g of high-flavanol cocoa powder per day to achieve heart health benefits, although other researchers have deemed this number is too small.

Of course, 2.5g is hardly enough to make even a child’s serving hot chocolate, and so you’d need a much higher amount of cocoa powder to achieve that deep, indulgent cocoa taste. Although how much we should consume still remains unclear, it is at least apparent that regular consumption of cocoa powder has its health benefits.

The ingredients and quantities you use in your hot chocolate also determine whether it’s healthy enough to drink every day. If you like your hot chocolate high in sugar, with full-fat milk and cream stirred in for extra thickness, then everyday consumption might not be the wisest idea – just because cocoa powder has some alleged health benefits, this does not mean that it outweighs all the negatives of the other ingredients.

hot chocolate with marshmallows and cream

As a small hot chocolate from a high street coffee shop can contain up to 20g of sugar, repeated consumption of this can lead to weight gain, putting you at a higher risk of heart disease.

Furthermore, drinking hot chocolate which contains full-fat milk, and is topped with double cream, means your beverage is high in saturated fat, which can affect your cholesterol levels, potentially increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Whilst it might not be a good idea to enjoy an extra-indulgent mug of hot chocolate every day, this doesn’t mean that you have to avoid it completely – fats are actually an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet, as they are a source of essential fatty acids, which the body can’t make itself. Incorporating a treat or two into a healthy diet is completely fine – whilst you shouldn’t have to cut it out of your diet completely, it also shouldn’t be enjoyed alongside breakfast, lunch and dinner.

But is there a healthier way you can enjoy your hot chocolate so that you can enjoy it every day without worrying about it having a negative effect on your health? Well, as already discussed, cocoa can have positive health effects, meaning your hot chocolate can be healthy.

dark chocolate pieces

In fact, there is some evidence that suggests that consuming foods high in cocoa can actually be better than not eating it at all – a study of 157,809 people revealed that those who had a higher chocolate consumption were at a lower risk of heart disease, stroke and death compared to those who ate less chocolate.

Whilst it’s clear that cocoa has some health benefits, is there a way to make the additional ingredients – such as sugar and milk – better for you?

What is the healthiest hot chocolate?

To make hot chocolate healthy, we need to explore different ways to make your cup of hot cocoa better for you.

The liquid

Water – the lowest calorie option, water is the one to go to if you want to enjoy a cup of hot cocoa every day, with the least amount of calories. However, water creates a thin hot chocolate, meaning you don’t get that thick, creamy consistency which we love.

Full-fat milk – full-fat milk is full of nutrients, containing a whole array of vitamins, including calcium, vitamin A, zinc, magnesium and more. Studies have also shown a link between dairy consumption and a lower risk of cancer and heart disease. It also promotes bone density and prevents fractures in the older generation.

However, full-fat milk is also more calorific, meaning you need to watch how much you consume each day if you want to avoid weight gain. To keep many of the health benefits without the calorie load, you can try semi-skimmed or skimmed milk, but you will sacrifice some creaminess.

full fat milk

Oat milk – oat milk is a creamy, dairy-free alternative. As it contains soluble fibres, these can help slow digestion, keeping you full for longer. It can also stabilise blood sugar levels and may reduce cholesterol levels: a study of 66 men showed that that drinking roughly three cups (750 ml) of oat milk daily every day for five weeks reduced total blood cholesterol by 3%

Almond – lower in carbs than cow’s milk, almond milk is a good option if you’re following a low carb diet. It is also a good source of the antioxidant vitamin E, although it’s low in protein. You also have to watch for those which are sweetened, as it can contain added sugar.

Sugar

Stevia – sugar-free and calorie-free, stevia is a good option if you want to keep your hot chocolate as low in calories as possible. Stevia is made from the leaves of the stevia plant, meaning it is completely natural. However, it can have a strong aftertaste, which some may find unpleasant.

Honey – honey has antimicrobial and antibacterial properties, which is why it is often used as a remedy for coughs or sore throats. Look for high-quality honey, which doesn’t contain any additives, to ensure you can make your hot chocolate healthy.

honey jar

Coconut sugar – this is made from the sap of coconut trees and is less processed than sugar. This is because the sap is extracted and then placed in the heat to dry, giving it a brown hue. It also has traces of minerals such as magnesium and potassium. However, it is also high in calories, meaning you’ll have to watch your intake of other sugary foods if you want to pursue weight loss.

Remember, added sugar should contain only 10% of your daily calories: if you do want to incorporate sugar into your hot chocolate, make sure you’re not consuming a lot of sugar in other foods.

Whilst hot chocolate can be made healthy, it’s also important to remember that it should be enjoyed in moderation, depending on how you make it. Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to stick to the low calorie stuff all the time – our Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate makes for an extra indulgent treat in the evening, or why not try our Raspberry White Hot Chocolate for a fruity and velvety drink? We recommend a hearty dollop of whipped cream to top these off – if you’re going to treat yourself, do it right.

hotel chocolate raspberry white chocolate hot chocolate
Our Raspberry White Hot Chocolate, made with flakes of the real stuff

If you’re a serious chocoholic, and want to enjoy a hot cup of cocoa every day, you can make your hot chocolate healthy by switching up the ingredients. However you like your hot chocolate, it’s important to remember that you can indulge every now and then.