As a nutritionist that specialises in mental wellbeing and brain health, encouraging my clients to include brain-boosting foods and nutrients in their diet is hugely important; fortunately, chocolate is on that list!
Most of us associate chocolate with being unhealthy, which is partly true, due to the amount of sugar often added to commercial chocolate products. However, cacao – the plant that chocolate is made from – actually has a whole host of health benefits.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not giving you a free pass to eat just any chocolate (sorry!), but including raw, dark chocolate with a high cacao content in your diet, like with this dark chocolate and coconut mousse, is a fantastic way to enjoy chocolate and simultaneously improve brain health.
Cacao is great for the brain, it contains polyphenols (plant compounds) such as resveratrol, flavenol, anthocyanins and catechins, which are packed full of antioxidants. These prevent inflammation and oxidative stress (the accumulation of too many harmful free radicals), which can contribute to disease development.
The brain is particularly sensitive to oxidative stress, so including antioxidants in your diet can help to prevent symptoms of depression and brain fog. Flavonol-rich chocolate in particular has also been shown to help increase blood flow to grey matter in the brain, which explains why it can also help us to feel more focused and improve concentration.
Cacao additionally contains theobromine, a bitter-tasting compound that has similar effects on the brain as caffeine. Like caffeine, cacao can perk you up when you’re feeling sluggish and fatigued, but without giving you that jittery feeling (bonus!). Theobromine also helps to increase blood flow by relaxing and widening blood vessels, making it easier for blood to reach organs like the brain.
Finally, cacao is rich in N-acylethanolamine – a fatty acid that can have anxiety-reducing effects on the brain. N-acylethanolamines act on the pleasure receptors in the brain, which explains why chocolate can help us feel relaxed and slightly euphoric.
So, by using raw, dark chocolate in this hassle-free mousse recipe, you’ll whip up dessert that is not only delicious, but that helps your brain to fight sources of stress and combat anxiety – need I say more? Enjoy!
½ cup/70g raw dark chocolate (85–90%) broken into rough pieces
2 cups/475ml coconut cream (must be refrigerated for at least 24 hours. Make sure this is the solid coconut cream, and not coconut milk)
¼ cup/60ml honey
½ cup/50g plain raw cacao powder (organic if you can)
1 tbsp vanilla extract
½ tsp sea salt
The zest of one large orange
Gently melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water until just melted, but do not allow to burn.
As soon as the chocolate has melted, take the coconut cream out of the fridge and scoop out the solid white cream only, you can discard any other liquid. Using a food processor or hand blender, mix the coconut cream, melted chocolate, cacao powder, honey, vanilla and salt on a low speed for around a minute until well combined. You can also whisk by hand, although it may take a few more minutes. Taste to check whether it is sweet enough for you, if not, add a little more honey and mix thoroughly.
Once the mousse has a thick, airy consistency, divide between 4 small cups and chill for a few hours in the fridge. When you’re ready to serve, zest a large fragrant orange and place a couple of pinches of orange zest on the top of each mousse to serve.
The mousse will keep well in the fridge for around 24 hours, but if you’re anything like me you will have devoured it all before then!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Anastasia is a registered nutritional therapist who specialises in nutrition and its role in mental health and brain function. She is passionate about empowering people with the tools to take their mental health into their own hands, and has been working for a number of years with clients suffering from a wide range of psychiatric conditions, such as depression, generalised anxiety disorder, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.