Each year on January 31, people across the country celebrate the timeless cold weather beverage hot chocolate. Hot chocolate is a warm beverage made with ground chocolate, heated milk or water, and sugar. Sometimes called hot cocoa, the terms hot chocolate and hot cocoa are often used interchangeably by Americans. Hot chocolate is made from ground chocolate that contains cocoa butter. Hot cocoa is made from the cocoa powder component from the cocoa beans after the cocoa butter has been extracted. Through the fermentation, drying, roasting and grinding process of cocoa beans a paste called chocolate liquor is produced. It is this cocoa powder that we use to make hot cocoa.

It is believed that 2000 years ago the first chocolate beverage was created by the Mayans and a cocoa beverage was an essential part of Aztec culture by 1400 AD. Europe popularized the drink after it was introduced from Mexico in the New World and it has undergone multiple changes since then. Up until the 19th century, hot chocolate was used medicinally to treat ailments such as stomach diseases. Hot chocolate can be enjoyed in a variety of combinations, topped with whipped cream or marshmallows. Sometimes a sprinkle of cinnamon or a dash of peppermint makes the chocolate extra special. In the United States, an instant form of hot chocolate is popular. It is made with hot water or milk and a packet containing mostly cocoa powder, sugar, and dry milk. People enjoy topping it with marshmallows or whipped cream.

There are health benefits to drinking hot chocolate. Cocoa contains significant amounts of antioxidants that may help prevent cancer. It has also been shown that the cocoa beans help with digestion. The flavonoids that are found in the cocoa also have a positive effect on arterial health.

 

 

Do eat: Walnuts?

Walnuts are one of those treats you might only think about during the holidays, and that’s a shame. They’re full of some amazing stuff, starting with a ton of vitamin E, and healthy fats. Not only do those things all help maintain good heart health, but some studies suggest adding them to your regular diet can lower your risk of a heart attack by as much as 51 percent. A healthy helping of walnuts will also help you ward off depression — they contain omega 3 oils that are shown to raise serotonin levels in the brain.

Walnuts also have a huge amount of antioxidants, more than what you’d get from any other nut. Antioxidants are key to maintaining good health, shown to help in the fight against heart disease, cancer, and the effects of premature aging. They even help keep us healthy on a cellular level, and even though walnuts are fairly high in calories (one ounce is about 180 calories), they come with so many other benefits that you should definitely sprinkle some on your salads. You can also make them a part of a healthy breakfast, with this banana walnut overnight oatmeal from Skinny Ms.