If you think you’ve misread the title of this dish – “Avocados and chocolate? Surely not!” – please bear with me; it’s not what it seems. Granted, it does sound like a bold combination; but when you think about it, avocadoes are fruits, and they don’t have to be eaten as guacamole. Moreover, both avocados and chocolate contain powerful anti-cancer nutrients, so that’s as good a reason as any for us to enjoy this dish regularly.
This confection is also ridiculously delicious, and that’s not something you can say of a lot of gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free desserts. In fact, it’s so non-avocado-ey that my hyper-sensitive and uber-critical testers (my three kids) didn’t flinch when they tasted this, safe in the conviction that they were eating a traditional egg-cream-chocolate mousse. The avocado revelation blew them away.
Before we start cooking, a quick nutritional review.
Avocados are a veritable font of health. For one, they boast a long list of carotenoids (powerful antioxidants erroneously associated only with red, yellow and orange produce) such as beta-carotene, alpha-carotene and lutein, and the more obscure neochrome, neoxanthin, chrysanthemaxanthin, beta-cryptoxanthin, zeaxanthin, and violaxanthin.
Moreover, avocados contain several extremely healthy fats. (Yes, the terms “fat” and “health” can be compatible!)
First are the phytosterols (such as beta-sitosterol, campesterol, and stigmasterol), compounds that help to keep inflammation under control. Second are avocados’ polyhydroxylated fatty alcohols (PFAs), which provide further anti-inflammatory benefits. Third is the oleic acid in avocado (it’s also the predominant fatty acid in olive oil); oleic acid helps our digestive tract form transport molecules that facilitate the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients like carotenoids.
Add to the list of anti-cancer factors in avocados the flavonoids epicatechin and epigallocatechin 3-0-gallate, vitamins C and E, and the minerals manganese, selenium, and zinc and omega-3 fatty acids, and you’ve got yourself a super food!
Alas, there isn’t (yet) much research available on the anti-cancer properties of avocados, but one interesting study showed that avocado extract can selectively kill oral cancer cells by prompting them to self-destruct (a process called apoptosis); at the same time, it supports the health of non-cancerous cells by increasing their supply antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients.
But what about cocoa? Due to its high concentration of catechins and procyanidins (plant chemicals with antioxidant properties), cocoa may also have beneficial health effects against oxidative stress and chronic inflammation. Procyanidins are prevalent in red wine, but cocoa is an excellent alternative for teetotalers: for two to three squares of good-quality chocolate containing 70-85% cocoa solids are equivalent to a 125 milliliter glass of procyanidin-rich red wine. Research into the link between cocoa and cancer is still in its infancy, but scientists have observed that cocoa procyanidins slow the development of breast cancer in laboratory cell cultures, prostate cancer in rats and may lower inflammation in humans.
Most supermarkets sell chocolate with 70% cocoa content or more; if yours doesn’t, you can find it at a health-food store or online. Raw cacao (which hasn’t been roasted or processed with an alkalizing agent – a process called “dutching”) is the best to use here as it contains a much greater concentration of antioxidant flavonols than processed cocoa. (One study found that 60% of natural cocoa’s original antioxidants were destroyed by even light dutching, and 90% were destroyed by heavy dutching.) Because some cocoa-producing countries allow the use on cocoa plants of pesticides banned in the US and Europe, we suggest you buy cocoa products with an organic certification.
Before we finally start cooking, I should confess that I haven’t created this recipe myself; it’s been rumbling around the internet, making the rounds in the vegan and paleo diet communities (achieving a rare meeting of minds over this one dish). I wish I knew who started it because I should like to hug them and thank them for this fabulous addition to my healthy-eating repertoire. I have adapted it slightly by adding hazelnut butter to make it taste like my erstwhile favorite confection, Nutella.
Finally, I’d also like to thank the amazing team at “World’s Healthiest Foods” for supplying such detailed information about the benefits of avocados.
And now for the recipe.
Avocado-Chocolate “Nutella” Pudding (Serves 2-3)
1 ripe avocado
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup Grade B maple syrup
1 tbsp hazelnut butter
6 tablespoons coconut or hazelnut milk
Optional toppings: grated coconut, almond slivers, ground cocoa nibs, coarsely grated chocolate
Place all the ingredients in a small electric blender. Blend until perfectly smooth and creamy.
Spoon into cups/bowls/ramekins and top if desired.