Healthier chocolate choices for Easter

We all love chocolate at Easter… but is there a healthier way to get your chocolate hit? Coles Group Nutritionist and dietitian Kim Tikellis shares her top tips.

Chocolate bark

One healthier tip this Easter is to make chocolate fruit and seed “bark”, with dried berries and nuts.

Chocolate needs no introduction, but it all starts with cacao beans (seeds) of the acuatl or chocolatl tree, native to the West Indies and Latin America. Fermented cacao bean pods are roasted to create cocoa nibs, containing cocoa butter plus cocoa solids which can be ground into powder. Cocoa powder is used in cooking or to make drinking chocolate, usually served warm. 

Choose dark

Generally, the darker the chocolate, the higher the cocoa percentage, which means more naturally occurring cacao bean antioxidants and less sugar. Dark chocolate tastes bitter, as it contains 50-90% cocoa solids, cocoa butter and sugar, compared to milk chocolate that generally contains up to 50% cocoa solids, milk, plus cocoa butter and sugar. White chocolate is a less nutritious choice as it does not contain any cocoa solids and is made simply from cocoa butter, sugar and milk, reflected in the sweet, milky taste profile.

Lower-quality chocolates may add butter fat or vegetable oil, so carefully read the ingredients list on chocolate labels. The bitter taste of dark chocolate also means that you are more likely to limit your intake, which can help with portion control. 

Mind your portions

There’s a reason chocolate is classified as a discretionary or “sometimes” food in healthy eating guidelines, to enjoy in small amounts. Keep in mind that chocolate is high in both fat and sugar, making it an energy-dense food which may contribute to weight gain, if consumed in excess. Chocolate should always be considered as “extra” in the context of energy requirements. If you’re up for enjoying a few extra serves of chocolate, you should also enjoy an active lifestyle via increased physical activity to balance the additional energy (kilojoules) and help maintain a healthy weight or waistline.

Avoid turning to chocolate as a sugar-fix, or if you’re hungry or bored: try to practice portion control by being mindful of your intake. One serve is only half a small bar (25g) of chocolate as defined by www.eatforhealth.gov.au/guidelines and contains ~600 kilojoules or 143 calories of energy. This small serve size means that the nutritional benefits of consuming chocolate, such as a dietary magnesium or iron, are limited. 

Celebrate indulgence

While we enjoy the celebration of sharing food and drink at Easter, chocolate is not necessary for a healthy eating plan. There’s no denying the way chocolate smoothly melts in your mouth is a pleasurable sensation that contributes to the joy of eating. The compromise: try to use good-quality dark chocolate with a high cocoa percentage to enhance nutritious core foods. 

Suggestions to treat your sweet tooth

  • Half dip fresh strawberries or seasonal fruits in melted chocolate and serve with Greek yoghurt
  • Add a drizzle of melted chocolate to oats, multigrain cookies or bars, and fruit-based desserts
  • Use dark chocolate buttons to make a trail mix with dried fruit and unsalted nuts
  • Make chocolate bark topped with goji berries, cranberries or dried blueberries and nuts
  • Create chocolate curls by scraping a metal cheese slicer across a block of dark chocolate to add to a platter or top desserts.

Cacao chocolate hit

Cacao powder adds a natural chocolate flavour in baking or adds a dash of chocolate dust over plain cake or oat cookies, using a tea strainer for effect. Convert into a warm drink with reduced fat milk or dairy-free alternatives and sprinkle with mini-marshmallows for an afternoon treat.

Top Tip:  Blend 1-2 tablespoons of Wellness Road organic cacao powder (no added sugar) with a large frozen banana for a dairy-free ice cream.  Serve with fresh seasonal soft fruit or berries, and sprinkle with pistachio nuts for a dessert treat. This is a good trick to use up ripe bananas, too: simply peel, add a squeeze of lemon juice to prevent browning, and store in the freezer until ready to use.