Expert assesses possible health benefits of hot chocolates

Could a mug of cocoa really make your hair grow? Expert assesses possible health benefits of a selection of hot chocolates

  • Manufacturers are focused on adding health benefits to classic chocolate drink  
  • Dietitian Noor Al Refae head of dietetics at Cheswold Park Hospital in Doncaster
  • Top hot chocolate brands were Cacao Superpowder and Rude Health Dairy Free 

A hot chocolate hits the right note in this cold weather, but this year manufacturers have focused on adding health benefits to our favourite warming drink. Mandy Francis asked dietitian Noor Al Refae, head of dietetics at Cheswold Park Hospital in Doncaster, to assess a selection. We then rated their health credentials.

Rude Health Dairy Free 

Rude Health Dairy Free scored a respectable 8/10

1 litre, £2,

Per 200ml: calories, 108; saturated fat, 0.6 g; sugar, 8g; salt, 0.28g

Expert Verdict: This dairy-free ready-to-drink hot chocolate is made with oat milk and cacao, a less processed version of cocoa that retains more of the bean’s protective antioxidants (cocoa is roasted at much higher temperatures than cacao). Though with just 1.5 per cent cacao here, you are unlikely to benefit much.

It contains no added sugar; the two teaspoons per 200ml come naturally from the oats, so won’t count towards your daily limit of 30g ‘free’ [or added] sugar. Oat milk also provides beta-glucan, a soluble fibre good for heart health.

Taste: A bit thin and watery, with just a hint of chocolate. 8/10

Sweet Freedom Choc Shot Orange Spice 

Sweet Freedom Choc Shot Orange Spice

320g, £2.95,

Per 200ml (made with semi-skimmed milk): calories, 152; saturated fat, 2.6g; sugar, 18.4g; salt, 0.2g

Expert Verdict: A hot chocolate syrup made with carob (a fibre-rich flavouring used as a chocolate substitute), this is dairy-free and high in fibre. We added it to semi-skimmed milk as recommended.

The syrup is 45 per cent sugar so a four-teaspoon serving will give you 8.8g — a significant proportion of which is added sugar, and will contribute almost a third of your daily limit.

But you will also get 1.6g gut-friendly fibre from the carob and cocoa — about the same as you would find in a medium raw carrot and about 5 per cent of your recommended daily amount.

Taste: Sweet, powerful chocolate orange with a spicy notes. 4/10

Ovaltine Chocolate Light  

Ovaltine Chocolate Light got 7/10

300g, £3.40,

Per 200ml (made with water): calories, 77; saturated fat, 1g; sugar, 10.5g; salt, 0.3g

Expert Verdict: Made with four teaspoons of powder and hot water, a mug of this ‘light’ malted chocolate drink has just 77 calories. But there are more than two-and-a-half teaspoons of added sugar in a cup — a third of the daily limit.

Each cup will give you 20 to 25 per cent each of the recommended daily amount of vitamin A, which is important for eye health, and B vitamins for energy production, as well as bone-strengthening calcium, iron (which is needed for red blood cell manufacture) and zinc, which helps to boost the immune system.

Taste: Has a comforting, biscuit flavour. 7/10

Aunt Flo’s Drinking Chocolate  

Aunt Flo’s Drinking Chocolate costs £10.99

58g, £10.99,

Per 200ml (made with almond milk): calories, 160; saturated fat, 2.8g; sugar, 11.3g; salt, 0g

Expert Verdict: This has been formulated with dried nettle and raspberry leaves to help ease menstrual discomfort.

The dark cacao chips should be stirred into hot plant or nut milk for the best taste and drunk daily for seven days before your period and for a further seven days once it starts, says the maker.

Cacao is rich in iron, important for the manufacture of red blood cells, which women who experience heavy bleeding can lack.

Two teaspoons provide 5 per cent of a woman’s daily iron needs. Nettle is thought to ease bloating and raspberry leaf contains antioxidants that some believe help reduce cramping and nausea. But this product lacks the research needed to back up its claims.

Taste: Bitter flavour. 5/10

Cocoa Locks For Healthy Hair  

Cocoa Locks For Healthy Hair promises healthy hair 

250g, £12.49, hollandand

Per 200ml (made with water): calories, 26; saturated fat, 0.1g; sugar, 5.3g; salt, 0.08g

Expert Verdict: An instant hot chocolate drink that claims to repair, grow and strengthen hair. It contains 800ug biotin — 16 times our recommended daily amount of this B vitamin. It also contains selenium, zinc and folic acid, deficiencies of which can contribute to hair loss.

However, a healthy, varied diet would include all these nutrients in sufficient amounts — so there really is no need to purchase this expensive powder — which is more than 75 per cent sugar.

Taste: mild chocolate flavour and cloyingly sweet. 0/10

Hotel Chocolat 100% Dark  

Hotel Chocolat 100% Dark is ‘incredibly rich’ 

250g, £9,

Per 100ml (made with skimmed milk): calories, 227; saturated fat, 9.8g; sugar, 6.9g; salt, 0.1g

Expert Verdict: This is made with 100 per cent dark chocolate and is incredibly rich. Stirred into 100ml hot skimmed milk, these chocolate flakes provide iron and protective antioxidants.

It also contains a useful amount of gut-friendly fibre, providing just over 10 per cent of your recommended daily amount.

The sweetness mainly comes from the added milk, but the cocoa butter in the cocoa solids gives it an exceptionally high saturated fat and calorie content: one serving provides almost half an adult’s daily limit of saturated fat.

Taste: Rich, powerful hit of dark chocolate. Delicious. 7/10

Cacao Superpowder  

Cacao Superpowder receives a top 9/10

100g, £5.99, hollandand

Per 200ml (made with semi-skimmed milk): calories, 158; saturated fat, 2.76g; sugar, 13.76g; salt, 0.23g

Expert Verdict: Made by mixing four teaspoons with hot milk, this powder contains 45 per cent raw cacao which is a good source of iron. Low iron levels can cause fatigue.

It also provides potassium, important for blood pressure regulation, as well as magnesium and calcium, which play a role in bone strength.

It is 20 per cent bee pollen (for sweetness and fibre), 20 per cent powdered maca root (a Peruvian vegetable which contains vitamin C and copper, for energy production), plus powdered golden berries and lucuma — two fruits which are high in vitamin C.

Taste: Pleasant semi-sweet, malted flavour. 9/10

Options White Chocolate Sachet 

Options White Chocolate Sachet costing 40p

11g, 40p, at large supermarkets.

Per 200ml (made with water): calories, 44; saturated fat, 0.9g; sugar, 5.7g; salt, 0.3g

Expert Verdict: A lighter hot chocolate providing fewer calories, helped by the fact it is meant to be made with hot water.

There’s just under one-and-a-half teaspoons of sugar in one sachet. And it is low in calories.

However, white chocolate is made from cocoa butter, milk and sugar, and doesn’t offer the antioxidants and iron you find in dark and milk chocolate. It contains thickeners, sweeteners and milk powder, which provides some bone-strengthening calcium.

Taste: A flavour like sweet condensed milk. 4/10 

Peanut Hottie Chocolate Powder  

Peanut Hottie Chocolate Powder has 80% less fat 

180g, £3.60,

Per 200ml (made with water): calories, 51; saturated fat, 0.2g; sugar, 2.2g; salt, 0.17g

Expert Verdict: Made with hot water, this contains 81 per cent peanut flour (finely ground peanuts) and markets itself as high in protein. There are also just 51 calories in a three-teaspoon serving.

It is at least four times higher in protein than the other products, which is important for muscle health and a robust immune system.

Peanuts are a good source of magnesium for bone strength and blood sugar balance, and there’s also useful amounts of phosphorous for healthy cells, zinc (for immunity) and niacin (for nerve function). One serving contains just over half a teaspoon of sugar.

Taste: Peanuty with a subtle whiff of chocolate. 8/10

Mature Well: How health gets better with age 

This week: Brain power

Although we tend to assume our brain power blunts as we age, some processes actually become sharper.

Research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that while the speed at which we process information peaks at 18, and working memory (used, for example, to hold a phone number in mind long enough to dial it) is most agile between 25 and 35, other mental skills improve with age.

The 2015 study of nearly 50,000 volunteers revealed we are best at reading others’ emotions in our 40s and 50s and we keep building our vocabulary well into our 60s and 70s.

It isn’t known why different mental skills mature at different rates, but researcher Joshua Hartshorne says that age-related changes in brain structure and gene activity may play a role.

Writing in the journal Psychological Science, he adds: ‘At any given age, you’re getting better at some things, you’re getting worse at some other things, and you’re at a plateau at some others.’

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