My Holly Jolly Brain Candy collection of confections is unapologetically chocolate-centric. I’m a card-carrying chocoholic and, hey, if ever there was a time when we could use more chocolate, this is it!! It’s natural to turn to sweet treats to cheer ourselves up in times of stress and holidays are often focused around feasting. But as you know from my Food For Thought post, excess sugar (particularly refined sugar) leads to inflammation in the brain, not to mention the rest of you. So rather than reach for commercially prepared, processed candies and confections, why not make your own?
These are all quite simple to make. And instead of gobbling heaping helpings of refined sugars and poor quality ingredients, you feast on high quality dark chocolate and natural sugars like dates and maple syrup. And they contain fibre and healthy fats. Fibre is food for our gut microbes, which are involved in brain health and behaviour, including our reactions to stress and anxiety. And both fibre and fat slow the digestion and absorption of sugar which helps keep your blood sugar stable. And when it comes to the absorption of sugar into the blood, slow and steady wins the race!
Let’s compare Turtles and may the slowest Turtle win
Compare my Dark Chocolate Turtles to Nestlé TURTLES Classic Recipe, for example:
My Dark Chocolate Turtles: Dark chocolate, dates, pecans.
Nestlé TURTLES Classic Recipe: Milk chocolate (sugar, modified milk ingredients, cocoa butter, cocoa mass, soy lecithin, natural vanilla flavour, salt), caramel (glucose, sugar, modified milk ingredients, water, modified palm oil, salt, natural vanilla flavour), pecans. May contain peanuts and other tree nuts.
My turtle is an entirely different species. Each one of my turtles has two grams of fibre where there is zero fibre in Nestlé TURTLES Classic Recipe. And with mine there’s not a “modified” anything in sight. Yes, they require a little more work than opening up a box, but not much more. And that’s a good thing as you are less likely to mass produce them and binge.
These treats contain brain-boosting antioxidants, fibre, phytoestrogens and healthy fats from dark chocolate, dates, oats, chickpeas and nuts. Read on for more about the brain-healthy benefits of dark chocolate and dates.
And if you don’t feel like cooking, simply serve up a spread of some of your finest dark chocolate, clementines and a bowl of whole nuts and get some exercise in with a nutcracker. Decorate your platter with a few sprigs of holiday evergreenery and you have a quick, nutritious and festive treat!
I generally don’t encourage a lot of sweets because even natural sugars are still sugar. But at this time of year, everyone indulges. So I hope you choose instead to enjoy these healthier treats (in moderation of course, just as you would alcohol) so you don’t do your head in…or your waistline. 😉
Happy holidays to you and yours and wishing you all a healthy New Year!
Holly Jolly Brain Candy
Dark Chocolate Turtles (I prefer these to Nestlé’s version as I can use superior quality dark chocolate and they are more nutritious; have some fun playing with the variations suggested in the notes or create your own classic recipe)
No Bake Dark Chocolate Coconut Cookies (nothing but yummy chocolate, oats, coconut, vanilla and sea salt; make sure your vanilla doesn’t contain water or your melted chocolate will seize when you add it)
Coconut Chickpea Blondies (chickpeas, almond butter, maple syrup and cinnamon star in these scrumptious squares, making them higher in protein and fibre than in sugar; and if you don’t tell about the chickpeas, no one will ever guess, trust me)
Pistachio Pomegranate Bark (back by popular demand from my 2018 Holiday Collection, the ruby red pomegranate seeds, green pistachios and dusting of shredded coconut adorning this dark chocolate bark make a very festive presentation; and pistachios are one of the most vitamin B6-rich foods around, important for regulating mood; if you buy them in-shell you are less likely to overindulge)
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A few featured foods …
The key word here is dark. 70% cacao at the very minimum. The higher the cacao content, the lower the added sugar. And cacao is the source of all the nutrients and antioxidant activity. Studies have shown that flavanol-rich dark chocolate may improve cognitive function by increasing blood flow in the brain. Cacao also contains stimulants like caffeine and theobromine, which may also improve short term brain function. And a 30 g serving of 85% dark chocolate has about 3 grams of fibre to help keep your gut (and gut-brain axis) healthy. When purchasing, look for the fewest ingredients with the least amount of sugar. By buying organic chocolate, you can also be assured that any flavours used (like vanilla) are not artificial.
Dates are high in fibre, minerals and antioxidants, including flavonoids which may help reduce inflammation and have been studied for their potential to reduce the risk of both diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Dates are a healthier substitute for refined sugar which has virtually no nutritional value. I recommend the Medjool variety as they are soft and chewy and reminiscent of caramel. One of my favourite quick treats is to pit a few dates, add almond butter to the centres and then pop them in the freezer until they firm up. They taste a little like toffee bites. 🙂
Cooking your own food is the single most impactful step you can take to improve your health and energy!
I hope you enjoy the Holly Jolly Brain Candy recipes in this month’s featured recipe collection. Sign up here to receive the download link for them and to receive the recipes I share each and every month. And if you want to cook more of your own food but don’t know what to make or have the time to organize your own menus and shopping lists, The Nutritional Reset offers a meal planning service. It makes preparing tasty, nutritious meals a snap. Click here to find out more.