As I write this, our home is filled with the welcoming scent of home-baked cookies. Over the past few weeks, Jen and I (with plenty of help from our children) have been busy baking treats for the holidays, which we enjoy sharing with family, friends, and neighbors. I believe that treats can be a part of a healthy diet, if made with good quality ingredients and eaten in moderation.
Dark chocolate, in particular, provides a sweet, sensual, and sin-free pleasure food as well as some significant health benefits. Chocolate is a good source of magnesium, a nutrient that many people don’t get enough of in their diets. Chocolate also contains phenylethylamine (PEA), a natural compound that promotes mental alertness, clarity, and enhances the ability to concentrate and retain information (dark chocolate has even been shown in studies to reduce the onset of dementia). Many people feel happier and calmer after consuming a bit of chocolate, and there’s a scientific reason: Chocolate contains the amino acid tryptophan, which makes the neurotransmitter known as serotonin; together with the neurotransmitters dopamine, and the compounds phenylethylamine (PEA) and anandamide (known as the “bliss chemical”), these natural compounds exert beneficial effects on the brain and nervous system and help to prevent depression. Finally, research indicates that dark chocolate has positive effects on blood pressure and insulin sensitivity, apparently through reducing inflammation.
To be beneficial, chocolate must be dark (milk or white chocolate doesn’t have the same healthful properties). The cacao bean from which chocolate is made is rich in antioxidant phytochemicals known as flavanols, however, the concentration of the flavanols in chocolate depends on how the cacao bean is processed. When choosing chocolate, buy dark, good quality chocolate (at least 70% cacao content or higher). For baking chocolate, choose unsweetened cocoa powder that has not been “Dutch processed” (a process that washes the beans with an alkali substance that destroys the beneficial flavanols).
These brownies are made with rich dark unsweetened cocoa powder, which is an excellent source of healthful polyphenols (our favorite cocoa powder is Dagoba or Ghirardelli). They also contain coconut in several forms: coconut flour makes them appropriate for those who must avoid gluten, and coconut oil provides beneficial medium chain triglycerides, which have been shown to increase beneficial HDL cholesterol. Coconut oil is a good substitute for butter in any recipe. Sweetness is provided by coconut palm sugar, a natural sugar lower on the glycemic index that doesn’t wreak havoc with blood sugar levels. Finally, they’re loaded with shredded coconut, pecans, and dark chocolate chips. These brownies are a delicious, satisfying, and healthful holiday treat. Enjoy!
Healthy Chocolate Brownies Recipe
- 1/3 cup coconut oil (plus additional for pan)
- ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 6 eggs
- 1 cup coconut palm sugar
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- ½ teaspoon powdered cinnamon
- ½ cup coconut flour
- ½ cup roughly chopped pecans, lightly toasted
- ½ cup flaked coconut (unsweetened)
- ½ cup bittersweet dark chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 8×8 baking pan with coconut oil.
- Melt 1/3 cup coconut oil in saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and mix thoroughly. Set aside and let cool.
- In large mixing bowl, beat together eggs, sugar, salt, and vanilla. Add cooled coconut oil-cocoa mixture and blend.
- Add coconut flour and cinnamon, blending until smooth.
- Stir in pecans, coconut, and chocolate chips.
- Spread batter into prepared pan, and bake in preheated oven for 30-35 minutes or until done. (Brownies are done when toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.)
Cool, and cut into 16 pieces.