Yes, there is such a thing as healthy hot chocolate

Yes, there is such a thing as healthy hot chocolate

Yes, there is such a thing as healthy hot chocolate that actually tastes good! We review a selection of the winter warmer beverages on the shelves

Sales of comforting drinks such as hot chocolate soared by 15 per cent over lockdown last year but market analysts say consumers are now looking for healthy versions.

Mandy Francis asked Ruth Kander, dietitian at Fleet Street Clinic in London, to assess some of the healthier hot chocolates around. We then rated them.

Should help you sleep 

Sleep Well Chocolate Milk Drink

3 x 200ml cartons, £4.95,

Per 200ml ready-mixed carton: Calories, 166; saturated fat, 5.4g; sugar, 12.8g; protein, 6.6g; salt, 0.28g

Claims: ‘Made with whole Jersey milk, honey, cocoa powder and valerian [a traditional herbal remedy]. Valerian will help you relax and contribute to getting better sleep.’

Expert verdict: A milky drink at bedtime does seem to help some people fall asleep. It’s thought this is due to significant levels of the amino acid tryptophan in the whole milk, which plays a role in the production of the sleep hormone melatonin.

Valerian root has been used as a traditional sleep remedy for thousands of years — small studies suggest it may help some people to fall asleep faster and improve sleep quality.

There is no standard dose but 300-600mg is considered effective — you’ll get around 400mg in a single-serve carton here. But you will also get just over half a teaspoon of added sugar in a serving.

(Note: Valerian is unsuitable if you are pregnant or breast-feeding). 7/10

Taste: A little on the bland side, with powerful honey notes. 5/10

Sleep Well Chocolate Milk Drink

Nourishes the skin

Ancient + Brave Cacao & Collagen

250g, £22

Ancient + Brave Cacao & Collagen

Per 200ml serving (made with semi-skimmed milk): Calories, 132.8; saturated fat, 2.61g; sugar, 10g; fibre, 2.98g; protein, 10.94g; salt, 0.33g

Claims: A blend of raw cacao, bovine collagen peptides [a form of collagen, from cows] and plant extracts including beetroot, carob, ashwagandha [Indian ginseng]; and baobab [from the African tree] ‘to nourish skin from within’. ‘A rich source of fibre . . . and excellent source of protein.’

Expert verdict: Collagen is a natural protein that keeps skin firm, joints flexible and bones strong. There is some evidence a supplement can heal tendon and ligament damage, but more research is needed as to whether it improves the condition of skin.

But collagen definitely provides muscle-building protein — this drink offers the highest content of all here. The cacao and other vegetable ingredients give you just under a tenth of your daily fibre in a serving. Raw cacao also contains higher levels of flavonoids (antioxidant plant compounds) than normal cocoa. All the same, it’s not cheap.


Taste: You may want to add sugar to balance the bitter taste. 5/10 

Low-calorie treat 

Cadbury Highlights instant hot chocolate sachet

Cadbury Highlights instant hot chocolate sachet

11g, 28p,

Per 200ml serving (with hot water): Calories, 38; saturated fat, 0.7g; sugar, 2.7g; fibre, 3.2g; protein, 1.8g; salt, 0.24g

Claims: ‘Light way to enjoy hot chocolate. Only 38 calories a cup.’

Expert verdict: With its long list of additives (including one sweetener) and processed ingredients, this is an ultra-processed food.

Diets that contain a lot of ultra-processed foods have been linked to obesity. Some of the sweetness will come from the dairy ingredients but there is also glucose syrup and sugar, which count as added sugars — this sachet portion contains half a teaspoonful of sugar from the powdered milk, chocolate and added sugar.


Taste: Watery and it’s also cloyingly sweet. 3/10

Full of nutrients 

Of The Earth Superfoods Invigorate Chili Hot Chocolate

Of The Earth Superfoods Invigorate Chili Hot Chocolate

180g, £5.99,

Per 200ml (made with semi-skimmed milk): Calories, 165; saturated fat, 2.77g; sugar, 12.6g, fibre, 3.4g, protein, 9.3g; salt, 0.23g

Claims: Organic cocoa powder blended with banana flakes, lucuma and chilli. ‘Nutrient dense superfood. Full of flavonoids and the essential minerals potassium and zinc. No added sugar.’

Expert verdict: The cocoa will provide useful heart-healthy antioxidant flavonoids. Cocoa is also a good source of zinc, needed for a strong immune system.

Cocoa, banana flakes and lucuma all provide potassium, a mineral that’s important for steady blood pressure, and it has 12 per cent of your daily fibre (in a tablespoon).

Although there is only 1 per cent chilli in this, spicy foods are best avoided at bedtime, as they may cause indigestion in some. No added sugar, which is good. 


Taste: A grown-up spicy chocolate flavour. 7/10

For energy boost

No Guilt Bakes Cocoa Plus

220g, £9.99

No Guilt Bakes Cocoa Plus

Per 200ml (with semi-skimmed milk): calories, 135; saturated fat, 2.47g; sugar, 9.6g; fibre, 2g; protein, 8g; salt, 0g

Claims: To help you ‘power through your day’. Formulated for people following a low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet; the hot chocolate mix includes a ‘boost’ from MCT [medium chain triglyceride] oil powder. It has no added sugar.

Expert verdict: MCT oil is usually extracted from coconut oil and more rapidly digested than other fats, to provide an immediate source of energy — so it would be more useful to drink this in the morning than at bedtime. 

There are only a few ingredients, which is good. But it contains erythritol, a zero-calorie sweetener that can cause digestive problems.5/10

Taste: Smooth — like an everyday hot chocolate. 9/10 

Helps heart health 

Aduna Super-Cacao

100g, £5.99

Aduna Super-Cacao

Per 200ml serving (with semi-skimmed milk): Calories, 160; saturated fat, 3.2g; sugar, 9.6g; fibre, 7g; protein,11.2g, salt, 0.22g

Claims: Made with high-flavanol-content cacao beans and nothing else, this has ‘twice the flavanols of regular cacao powder’. The manufacturer says a daily dose of 200mg flavanols (four heaped teaspoons of this) is ‘proven to help maintain the elasticity of blood vessels, which contributes to normal blood flow’. Also ‘high in protein and a source of magnesium’.

Expert verdict: Flavanols are powerful plant compounds with protective antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits — several studies show flavanol-rich foods such as cacao can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

A 200mg daily dose of cacao flavanols (also found in tea, red wine, apples and peanuts) is considered optimum. You will also get almost 23 per cent of your daily fibre in a cup, and 11.2g protein. No added sugar.


Taste: You may want to add sugar to balance the slightly bitter aftertaste. 6/10

Rheal Superfoods Coco Dream

Stress buster

Rheal Superfoods Coco Dream

180g, £25

Per 200ml (made with unsweetened almond milk): calories, 52, saturated fat, 1.07g; sugar, 0.7g; fibre, 0.96; protein, 1.59g; salt, 0.28g

Claims: Made with raw cacao, coconut sugar, reishi mushrooms, ashwagandha root [Indian ginseng] and cinnamon, this has ‘adaptogenic [stress-busting] properties to support sleep and manage stress.’

Expert verdict: Reishi mushrooms have long been a staple of traditional Eastern medicine, where they are used to boost immunity. Some studies suggest reishi may help improve the activity of white blood cells, a key part of the immune system — but more research is needed.

Ashwangandha root is a traditional medicine that is believed to help the body manage stress — but again, there’s not enough evidence. 

This is sweetened with coconut sugar but you’ll get less than a fifth of a teaspoonful per serving.


Taste: Extremely bitter, with powerful cinnamon notes. 5/10

Per 150ml serving (made with hot water): calories, 36; saturated fat, 0.3g; sugar, 1.4g; fibre, NA; protein, 3.4g; salt, 0g

Claims: This powder with dried, skimmed milk claims to ‘support your beauty routine’. Includes biotin [vitamin B7], vitamin B6 ‘to reduce feelings of tiredness’, and collagen and vitamin C ‘to support collagen formation’. ‘High in protein — a healthy way to satisfy your sweet tooth.’

Expert verdict: You will get 50 per cent of your recommended daily amount of a broad selection of B vitamins, plus 15 per cent of your recommended vitamin C in a sachet of this. These vitamins are important for healthy skin, hair and nails, and energy levels.

The sweetness comes from the dairy ingredients and added artificial sweetener. The generous 1000mg of collagen provides 3.4g of muscle-building protein in a serving — that’s about half an egg’s worth.

On the downside, though, there are a lot of processed ingredients. 


Taste: Sickeningly sweet, with an odd powdery flavour. 1/10

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