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Some good news: Hot chocolate can be healthy.

Praise be.

Whether it’s milky-sweet or not, chocolate warms the soul. But if you’re looking specifically for top-tier brain benefits, consider using only raw cocoa powder, which is made from ground whole cacao beans.

Raw cocoa benefits

  • packed with antioxidants
  • boosts cognition and brain function
  • soothes symptoms of stress and anxiety

You’ve probably heard that chocolate is very high in antioxidants. That’s because cacao contains polyphenols, a group of naturally occurring chemicals with antioxidant properties.

The brains behind the facts did the research and found that daily consumption of cocoa can improve mental performance and increase blood flow to the brain in as little as one week.

Flavanols, the largest family of polyphenolic compounds, are associated with enhanced cognition.

And since cocoa has the highest amount of flavanols per weight of any food, it’s no wonder our brains scream for chocolate halfway through the day (or, let’s be real, after a presentation).

Speaking of screaming, raw cocoa is also linked to decreased anxiety, depression, and stress. One study showed that consuming cocoa once a day for 30 days significantly increased feelings of calmness and contentment.

So get your marshmallows ready (or not, if opting for a lower-sugar version).

Ingredients

  • 1 cup milk of choice (whole, coconut, almond, etc.)
  • 2–3 tablespoons raw cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon sweetener of choice (raw honey, maple syrup, or erythritol)
  • ¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • Pinch ground cinnamon (optional)

Directions

  1. Combine all ingredients in a small pot and warm over medium-low heat, whisking well to evenly dissolve.
  2. Serve warm, topped with a pinch of ground cinnamon.

You may need to consume 3–6 tablespoons of raw cocoa powder daily for 30 days to start noticing the health benefits, but that’s above the recommended daily dose to keep your intake of heavy metals low.

Other than heavy metal contamination, cocoa powder isn’t associated with any serious side effects and is considered safe for the vast majority of people. Choose a brand that has been analyzed and is low in cadmium and lead, such as Dagoba or Hershey’s 100% Cacao Natural Unsweetened. Also because cocoa contains some caffeine, people who are extra-sensitive to caffeine should take care not to consume too much cocoa.

Tiffany La Forge is a professional chef, recipe developer, and food writer who runs the blog Parsnips and Pastries. Visit her at her blog or on Instagram.