I love hot chocolate. As a kid I would have a cup almost every day in the winter. Especially during the Christmas season, there is something so special about cozying up next to the fire with family during the holidays and sharing a hot cup of deliciousness.
When I was pregnant, the hormones altered my digestion so much that I could not handle vegetables, meat, or anything with high fiber. As a result, my iron intake was disturbingly low. Also, I could not stomach iron pills. At my 20 week appointment, I noticed my hemoglobin and hematocrit had decreased; I was worried about anemia, so I took action. I created my iron boosting hot cacao (cacao is a more raw form of cocoa with higher nutritional value) and drank it every single day. Maybe it was that, maybe it was God, or maybe it was the spinach ravioli and mashed potatoes I ate daily; I never became anemic, despite the near lack of iron in my diet.
The two big players in this special drink are raw cacao powder and blackstrap molasses. These two ingredients both have incredible health benefits, especially raw cacao, which is a superfood filled with antioxidants.
Raw cacao contains about 7.3 mg iron* per 100 grams. Studies have shown that cocoa is a significant source of moderately bioavailable iron. (1) Raw cacao is also high in beneficial antioxidants and magnesium.
Blackstrap Molasses contains about 3.5 mg of iron* for per 1 tbsp (2). Blackstrap molasses also contains calcium and magnesium.
For healthy adults between the ages 19-50, the recommended daily allowance is 8 mg for men and 18 mg for women.
*Plant-based iron is not absorbed well by the body. Taking vitamin C with plant-based iron helps to increase its absorption. I would highly recommend this if you want the iron boosting benefits (2).
Why Boost Iron?
Why do I care about iron so much? Well, before we start making hot cacao, let’s do science.
What does iron do in the body? In a short sense, iron assists the cells in delivering oxygen to the tissues.
Red blood cells are filled with proteins called hemoglobin. Hemoglobin grabs oxygen as it comes from the lungs via the air we breathe. These oxygen rich red blood cells go from the lungs to the heart and then are pumped throughout the body. The oxygen is released to the cells in the body where it is utilized and the red blood cells pick up carbon dioxide. They travel back to the lungs where we expel the carbon dioxide through breathing and the process starts over.
Hemoglobin is made of two parts, heme rings and globin chains. Each hemoglobin has four total heme rings and four total globin chains. Each heme ring contains iron in the center; “Fe” is the periodic table abbreviation for elemental iron. This iron binds oxygen. So, there are four heme rings, each with an iron atom in the center; therefore, one hemoglobin can carry four oxygen molecules. The more red blood cells you have, the more hemoglobin you have. The more hemoglobin you have, the more oxygen your cells can carry. There are two blood tests that are done on a regular basis to check the oxygen carrying capacity of a persons blood: hemoglobin and hematocrit. (3)
- A hemoglobin measurement is the grams per deciliter of hemoglobin in your blood.
- A hematocrit measurement is the percent of packed red blood cells in your blood.
A lack of iron decreases the oxygen carrying capacity of your red blood cells, may decrease your hemoglobin and hematocrit measurements, and is a cause, but not the only cause, of anemia.
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Okay back to the hot cacao, because we need our iron.
Hot Cacao Recipe
- 12-16 oz of full fat coconut milk
- 1 heaping tsp raw cacao powder
- 1 tsp raw honey
- ½-1 tbsp blackstrap molasses (start small, add more if you like the flavor)
- One scoop grass-fed collagen peptides for a protein boost (optional)
- Dash of ginger
- Dash of cinnamon or cinnamon stick
Heat for a couple minutes either on the stove or in the microwave, add all ingredients, and mix very well with a whisk.
This hot cacao is not very sweet, and of course has a strong molasses flavor. I don’t consume much sugar anymore, and therefore it is the perfect sweetness for me. I love drinking this in the afternoon when I have a moment during naptime to write, research, and work.
The temperature is 4 below zero as I write this and you’ll be surprised to know this is warm compared to the temperatures we have been getting here in North Dakota! This recipe makes a great alternative to the traditional cup of sugary Christmas hot chocolate, because the holidays require a warm beverage to sip on! A peppermint stick would be a lovely stirring tool! What’s your favorite cold weather drink?
- 1 Iron Bioavailability of Cocoa Powder
- 2 Iron Deficiency and Blackstrap Molasses
- 3 Clinical Laboratory Hematology
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