All chocolate does not have the same health benefits

Is Chocolate Really a Health Food?

The health benefits of chocolate depend on more than just its color.

With Halloween sneaking up on us, it seems a good time to say a few words about the health benefits of chocolate. First a disclaimer: I love dark chocolate and eat it regularly. But I am not going to defend my habit by making up facts. The science stands on its own: Chocolate has many health benefits!

But like any other plant food rich in nutrients, the health benefits are only there if the food is grown and prepared properly. And that’s what’s missing from all the stories about the health benefits of chocolate. How is the chocolate made?

Here’s a little primer.

Chocolate comes from seeds found within the fruit of the cacao tree. Once the seeds, or cocoa beans, are harvested from the pod, they are fermented, dried, and roasted. Next the shells are removed and the beans are cracked into pieces called chocolate nibs. Some nibs are sold for cooking and baking, but most are ground into a paste known as chocolate liquor.

Chocolate liquor is processed to separate the cocoa solids from the cocoa butter. The cocoa solids are more commonly known as cocoa powder, a bitter tasting, low fat baking ingredient. Cocoa butter is a pale-yellow, solid vegetable fat with a mild flavor. It is used to make toiletries, such as body lotion, and pharmaceuticals in addition to chocolate candy we know and love.

To make dark chocolate, the cocoa powder and butter are recombined in various ratios along with sugar, the emulsifier lecithin and sometimes vanilla. Milk solids are added to make milk chocolate. That mixture is then conched, or mechanically mixed, at various temperatures for up to 78 hours to develop the taste, texture and creamy consistency. A final melting and cooling process called tempering insures the melt-in-your-mouth quality of the chocolate.

At this point, those nutrient rich cacao beans – assuming they were grown under ideal conditions and harvested at their peak of ripeness – have been fermented, dried, roasted, shelled, cracked, mashed, liquefied, separated, recombined with other ingredients, refined, conched and tempered.

Do you get my point?

Cocoa beans are rich source of cocoa flavanols, naturally occurring compounds that have been shown to improve circulation, heart function and cognition among other things. But when used to make chocolate, those cocoa beans are put through a lot.

At present there is no way to know the flavanol content of the chocolate you buy, no matter what percent cocoa it contains. Consequently it is not possible to make any recommendations about how much chocolate you should eat to get certain health benefits. And it is unlikely chocolate will ever be “prescribed” in that way. percent cocoa

So my advice is this: Whenever you eat chocolate, be sure you pick the one that tastes best to you!

 

 

Processed food shouldn’t be blamed for unhealthy diets.

Can Processed Foods be Part of a Healthy Diet?

Food processing has many benefits that make choosing a healthy diet possible.

Do you think your diet is healthier as a result of using processed foods? If you answered yes then you have a good understanding of all that food processing involves. If you said no, you might be surprised to find out just how difficult it would be to have a healthy diet without processed foods.

The most basic definition of food processing includes any method that transforms raw foods and ingredients into another form before consumption. A more detailed definition includes washing, cleaning, milling, cutting, chopping, heating, pasteurizing, blanching, cooking, canning, freezing, drying, dehydrating, mixing, packaging or other procedures that alter a food from its original state.

From the moment a crop is harvested or animal is slaughtered, food processing begins. It is done to preserve the food, make it easier to store and transport, improve its digestibility and taste, enhance nutritional value, increase the variety, shorten preparation and cooking time and lower the cost.

While food processing has gotten a bad rap of late, it has been used since prehistoric times when it was discovered that the sun and salt could keep foods from spoiling. Applying heat from a fire soon followed, and cooking is now one of the most commonly employed forms of food processing used around the world today.

All of the advances made in food processing since the days of drying berries on a rock in the sun have helped to make our lives and our diets better. Yet many people object to the modern treatment our food undergoes. They view food processing with suspicion while welcoming technological improvements in every other area of their lives.

The irony is I’ve never met anyone who wants to eat raw whole grains as opposed to being able to eat bread, let alone anyone who wants to bake all their own bread from scratch! So like it or not, food processing does make our lives easier, more palatable and more nutritious if we choose our food wisely.

And that brings us back to the real heart of the issue. How well do we make our food choices amidst so many choices? There are some foods that have way too much salt and fat in them, but it is also possible to pluck fresh spinach from your garden and put too much salt and butter on it right in your own kitchen.

The key is to balance your food choices so they add up to a healthy diet at the end of the day. Processed food can help us do that, but we have you do our part, too.

For more on making the right food choices, read:

Imagine Shopping Without Nutrition Facts on Food Labels

Guess What? There Are No Junk Foods!

The Yin Yang Symbol Offers Path to a Balanced Diet

Are Superfoods the Key to a Healthy Diet?

Junk food not the problem, imbalanced food choices are.

Guess What? There Are No Junk Foods!

5 Simple Truths help avoid the junk food mindset

It’s the catch-all phrase used to describe anything edible that’s blamed for the rising rates of chronic disease and obesity in this country, but what exactly is junk food? Given the frequency the term is used, I’ve never heard a satisfactory definition of junk food, or the criteria for labeling a food or beverage as such, that can help people make eating decisions.

Maybe we need a food group for junk foods to know which ones they are and how many servings a day we can have?

Some people say junk foods provide empty calories, or ingredients that are unhealthy, or are overly processed. Well that implies everything we eat is supposed to be full of nutrients. Ever look at the nutrition facts for iceberg lettuce? It’s pretty empty. And what about nutritious foods, like eggs, that also happen to have a lot of something in them that isn’t so good for us, like cholesterol. Are eggs a junk food? What if we eat something just because it tastes good. Should chocolate chip cookies be banned?

Blaming individual foods, beverages and ingredients for what’s wrong with our health and trying to ban certain foods as a way to fix the problem just doesn’t make sense. And it doesn’t work, either. First, there is simply no way we could ever make a definitive list of all “junk foods”, and even if we did, thousands of new food items enter the marketplace every year making “the list” obsolete very quickly. Second, people eat for many reasons, not just to meet their nutritional needs. Celebrations, rituals and traditions of all sorts are based on eating certain foods, and that is an important part of every culture.

So if you’re still trying to figure out if something belongs on the junk food list du jour, here are 5 Simple Truths to help you put it all into perspective:

  1. No food is bad for you unless the food is bad – as in unfit to eat. It’s the quality of your total diet – everything you eat and drink throughout the days, weeks, months and years of your life – that determines your nutritional well-being. (Exceptions apply for those with diseases or allergies for which special foods must be consumed or avoided.)
  2. There are no fattening foods or foods that make you gain weight. The calories in everything we eat are all equally available to be used as energy or stored as fat if not used. Some calories come packaged in foods with many other nutrients, but if we eat more of them than we need, the nutrients will not make us healthier, but the calories will make us fatter.
  3. There is no perfect diet, or diet plan. Instead of shopping around for the next best diet, start paying attention to what you now eat and how that stacks up against the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Then you can begin to fix your diet one food group at a time using ChooseMyPlate.gov.
  4. People come in different sizes and so should their food. There is no one serving size that’s right for all of us, so don’t count on that food label to tell you how much you should eat. The serving size listed on packages is just a reference amount for the rest of the nutrition information found on the label. Eating too much of something that’s good for you is a much bigger problem than eating a little bit of something that isn’t.
  5. Hypocrisy is the worst nutrition message parents and other care-givers can deliver to children. It sounds like this: “No you can’t have that junk food, it’s not good for you,” one day and then, “You can have that junk food because it’s your birthday, a holiday, we’re on vacation…” on another. It’s far better to teach them how to enjoy all foods in moderation and set a good example for how to do it, one chocolate chip cookie at a time.
Eating and weight loss contests and cooking shows fill the airwaves while Americans grow fatter.

Competitive Eating, Cooking Shows and Weight Loss Contests – What’s Wrong with This Picture?

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. This site was deactivated on July 1, 2013 so the blog has been reproduced here.

TV SHOWS FOCUSED ON EATING, COOKING AND DIETING HAVE INCREASED ALONG WITH OBESITY

There are three things going on in this country that I believe have contributed to the obesity epidemic by redirecting our attention away from eating as a way to nourish and sustain us and turning it into a form of entertainment, a spectator sport, a chance for chef’s, coaches and trainers to become celebrities. They are Competitive Eating, Cooking Shows and Weight Loss Contests. Let me explain.

Competitive Eating

The International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE) is the governing body for Major League Eating (MLE), an organization that oversees all professional eating contests. The MLE hosts more than 80 competitive eating events worldwide every year and provides “dramatic audience entertainment” for their sport and an “unparalleled platform for media exposure.”

According to their website, MLE promotions generate more than one billion consumer impressions worldwide annually. They say the Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest alone generates more than 300 million consumer impressions on domestic television in just a few weeks.

Some other MLE sanctioned contest results that caught my eye were:

  • 7 quarter-pounds sticks of Salted Butter in 5 minutes
  • 17.7 pounds of cow brains in 15 minutes
  • 49 Glazed Doughnuts in 8 minutes
  • 36 Peanut Butter and Banana sandwiches in 10 minutes
  • 6 pounds of SPAM from the can in 12 minutes

Cooking Shows

Thousands of cooking shows have been aired on American television since James Beard hosted the first postwar TV cooking show called I Love to Eat in 1946. Julia Child’s The French Chef was one of the longest running cooking shows, broadcast from February 11 1963 to 1973. Reruns continue to air on the Cooking Channel. Then in 1993 the Food Network made its debut and since then has created over 300 different food, restaurant and cooking shows.

The Food Network programming is now seen in more than ninety million households and includes number-crunching shows like $40 a Day, 30 Minute Meals, 5 Ingredient Fix and 24 Hour Restaurant Battle. In 2005 the reality contest The Next Food Network Star made its appearance, pitting viewers against one another for the chance to have their own cooking show.

Weight Loss Contests

The Biggest Loser premiered on October 19, 2004 with 12 contestants vying for a $250,000 Grand Prize. On September 20, 2011 the show kicked off Season 12 with 15 contestants competing in a “Battle of the Ages” that groups them by age for the first time. Hundreds of contestants have lost weight and won a few moments of notoriety in between.

The series is now an international hit, produced in 25 countries and aired in 90. The Biggest Loser has also become a “lifestyle brand” made up of merchandise and services inspired by the show and promoted through its subscription-based online diet and exercise extension at www.biggestloser.com. Spending on these consumer products has generated over $300 million through 25,000 major retailers.

A newer entry in the television weight loss genre is Heavy, a docudrama that follows 22 heavy individuals facing “extreme life-threatening health consequences” as a result of their obesity. The producers say this is not a competition or stunt, but an in-depth look at the weight loss journeys of each participant over a six month period of time.

The Problem

All this attention on eating, cooking and losing weight follows a parallel trajectory with our rising rates of obesity. Is there a connection? I think there is, and if you agree, it may be time to turn off the TV and take a walk.

How has watching any of these shows changed your life?

The concept of Yin Yang can be applied to food selection for a healthy diet

The Yin Yang Symbol Offers Path to a Balanced Diet

How to use the philosophy of Yin Yang instead of MyPlate to make healthy food choices

The food world got a new circle in June called MyPlate. It was created to illustrate how we should proportion our food at each meal to balance the diet. It works pretty well if you can separate your food into individual piles of grain, protein, fruits, vegetables and dairy, but not if you’re eating a slice of mushroom pizza and a fruit smoothie.

Given the many ways food is combined to make it taste good – think lasagna, burritos, sushi – the strategically divided MyPlate is not the handiest tool for diet planning. But the ancient symbol of Yin Yang is. It represents the idea of balance by viewing everything in relation to its whole, like the complementary characteristics of day and night, sky and earth, fire and water.

Using the concept of Yin Yang at meals would encourage us to think about whether our choices harmonize well as part our daily diet, instead of trying to figure out into what food group each item on our plate belongs. I particularly like the way the symbol of Yin Yang invokes the importance of balance without making us feel like we need a scale to get it right.

Seeing the image of Yin Yang might gently nudge us to be mindful when eating and consider whether we have had enough whole grains for the day or possibly too many. In that way it could help us make healthy food choices without ever having to deconstruct a bowl of soup into its component parts.

The inclusive nature of Yin Yang also allows for all of our food choices, without judgment, as long as no food or drink dominates our diet or is neglected. This distinction of Yin Yang preserves the essence of cuisine that makes eating so enjoyable. In the harmonizing world of Yin Yang, food can be a little salty or spicy or savory or sweet. It can be hot or cold, liquid or solid, crunchy or smooth. All of the most highly personal to the most patently universal aspects of food selection can be accommodated.

In short, the Yin Yang message can be used to promote moderation and variety in the diet. And that’s pretty much all we need to know to achieve good nutrition. Why not conjure up the image of Yin Yang at your next meal and see what happens?