Tag Archives: chocolate

Finally, healthy foods you want to eat!

If you pay attention to news about food and nutrition you have probably noticed that there is a great deal of controversy about what we should eat. Lists of foods to avoid and foods to eat every day are common. Unfortunately, lists from different sources may not be the same or, worse, a food that is on one “never eat” list is on another “always eat” list.

Often, it seems that the foods we should eat are not the things we enjoy the most. We are told to eat more vegetables and drink more water but avoid sweets and high-calorie restaurant meals. This leads many to develop the notion that good nutrition and good health are about depriving yourself of foods you enjoy. But this is not always the case. Sometimes, the foods we are supposed to eat and the foods we want to eat are the same.

Just in time for the holidays, here are three examples of foods that have health benefits that you can enjoy guilt-free—in moderation, of course!

This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

Coffee chocolate wine


Chocolate

Chocolate, especially dark chocolate, contains phytochemicals, plant-derived compounds that have certain health benefits. Antioxidant flavonoids in chocolate have been shown to affect a variety of physiological systems. The beneficial effects include dilation of blood vessels, improved blood clotting, and reduced inflammation, all of which can reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases including heart attack and stroke. Additionally, these flavonoids may lower blood pressure, regulate insulin levels, and reduce stress. These flavonoids are what give dark chocolate more of a bitter flavor than milk or white chocolate. Look for chocolate that contains at least 70% cocoa (sometimes listed on the label as cacao or cocoa solids) and remember that a small amount is enough.  Since chocolate does contain sugar and calories, eating more may not be the best idea.

 

Coffee

Coffee also contains many of the same or similar flavonoids as chocolate that have similar effects and benefits. Research shows that moderate coffee consumption (2-3 cups per day) is associated with a lower risk of heart disease. Coffee also contains caffeine which can have additional benefits related to alertness, attention, and physical performance. If you choose not to consume caffeine, decaffeinated coffee still contains the beneficial phytochemicals. But make sure you are drinking coffee. Many popular coffee drinks are more like milkshakes, with lots of added sugar and calories.

 

Wine

You have probably heard that red wine is good for you. Because it has many of the same antioxidant phytochemicals found in chocolate and coffee, drinking 1-2 glasses of red wine per day has been shown to reduce the risk of hypertension and heart disease. Obviously, wine contains alcohol so more isn’t better and non-drinkers are not encouraged to start.

 

The good news is that there are some foods you may enjoy that can actually be good for you. With all of these, more isn’t always better, so moderation is the key. Also keep in mind that many fruits contain the same antioxidants as chocolate, coffee or wine, so a serving of berries, for example, may be a better choice. And finally, achieving good health requires more than simply changing one aspect of what you eat, so include these foods as part of an otherwise healthy diet balanced by daily physical activity.


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Finally–Three healthy foods that you actually might like!

If you pay attention to news about food and nutrition you will notice that there is a great deal of controversy about what we should eat. Often it is very black and white: Some foods are good for you, while others are bad. In reality, nutrition information almost always falls in the gray area between good and bad. There are very few foods that are always bad for you, but some are certainly more healthful than others.

Eating more vegetables and drinking enough water are two examples of things that everyone should do and are included in nutrition recommendations, almost without exception. Everyone should eat more vegetables and drink more water!

There are some foods, though, that seem to have health benefits, but aren’t necessarily recommended for everyone. You don’t have to consume these foods, but if you do, they may be beneficial. This is usually due to the presence of a nutrient or other component of the food, and the health effect is usually small.

My Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week provides three examples of foods that have some health benefits.  You don’t have to eat them, but you may want to—in moderation, of course!

Coffee chocolate wine


Chocolate

Chocolate contains phytochemicals, plant-derived compounds that have health benefits. Indeed, chocolate does contain antioxidant flavonoids that have been shown to affect a variety of physiological systems. The beneficial effects include dilation of blood vessels, improved blood clotting, and reduced inflammation, all of which can reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases including heart attack and stroke. Additionally, these flavonoids may lower blood pressure, regulate insulin levels, and reduce stress. These flavonoids are what give dark chocolate more of a bitter flavor than milk or white chocolate. Look for chocolate that contains at least 70% cocoa (sometimes listed on the label as cacao or cocoa solids) and remember that a small amount is enough.  Since chocolate does contain sugar and calories, eating more may not be the best idea.

Coffee

Coffee also contains many of the same or similar flavonoids as chocolate that have similar effects and benefits. Research shows that moderate coffee consumption (2-3 cups per day) is associated with a lower risk of heart disease. Coffee also contains caffeine which can have additional benefits related to alertness, attention, and exercise performance. If you choose not to consume caffeine, decaffeinated coffee still contains the beneficial phytochemicals. But make sure you are drinking coffee. Many popular coffee drinks are more like milkshakes, with lots of added sugar and calories.

Wine

You have probably heard that red wine is good for you. This is because it has many of the same antioxidant phytochemicals found in chocolate and coffee, wine can be a good source of these nutrients. Indeed, drinking 1-2 glasses of red wine has been shown to reduce the risk of hypertension and heart disease. Obviously, wine contains alcohol so more isn’t better and non-drinkers are not encouraged to start.

The good news is that there are some foods you may enjoy that can actually be good for you. With all of these, more isn’t better, so moderation is the key. Also keep in mind that many fruits contain the same antioxidants as chocolate, so a serving of berries, for example, may be a better choice. And finally, achieving good health requires more than simply changing one aspect of what you eat, so include these foods as part of a diet that includes real food balanced by daily physical activity.


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
What can I help you with?
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Is chocolate healthy? The depends on what you mean by chocolate. And what you mean by healthy.

With Valentine’s Day quickly approaching, you may be planning to get something sweet for someone special. Traditionally, this typically includes a box of chocolates. While candy isn’t really a healthy option, eating certain types of chocolate has been linked to some health benefits.

The idea that chocolate may be healthy is no doubt welcome news for chocoholics. But it may leave you wondering if eating chocolate really is healthy. The answer depends on what you mean by chocolate and what you mean by healthy.

ChocolateA

First, it is worth understanding what it is about chocolate that may promote health. The health benefits of chocolate have to do with the fact that it comes from a plant, the cacao tree. Like many plant-based foods including fruits and vegetables, chocolate contains phytochemicals, plant-derived compounds that have health benefits. Indeed, chocolate does contain antioxidant flavonoids that have been shown to affect a variety of physiological systems. These flavonoids are also found in a wide variety of fruits and vegetables as well as coffee, tea, and wine. The beneficial effects include dilation of blood vessels, improved blood clotting, and reduced inflammation, all of which can reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases including heart attack and stroke. Additionally, these flavonoids may lower blood pressure, regulate insulin levels, and reduce stress.

The chocolate that we eat contains two main components from the cacao plant, cocoa and cocoa butter, in addition to added sugar and other ingredients. Cocoa is the non-fat component of the cocoa bean and cocoa butter is mostly fat. The flavonoids are found in the cocoa, so chocolate that is richer in cocoa, like dark chocolate, contains more of these beneficial compounds. For example, dark chocolate may contain 70% cocoa, compared to 25% cocoa in milk chocolate. These flavonoids also give dark (sometimes called semi-sweet) chocolate more of a bitter flavor than milk or white chocolate. This is also because dark chocolate may contain less sugar than milk chocolate, but this isn’t always true.

Milk chocolate contains more of the cacao butter along with other additives, usually milk. White chocolate is made exclusively from the cocoa butter and contains no cocoa, so none of the beneficial phytochemicals. Even though the fat in cocoa butter is mostly healthier monounsaturated and saturated fats, it still contains calories. Sugar, milk, and other ingredients also add calories, so chocolate is certainly something to enjoy in moderation.

One thing to keep in mind is that some of the research into the health benefits of chocolate was conducted in animals, not humans. And some of the research in humans used isolated extracts from the cacao plant, not chocolate. And when subjects were given chocolate it was dark chocolate that is high in cacao. The point is that the evidence for chocolate being healthy was not based on eating more Hershey’s bars!

But given the potential benefits, eating dark chocolate instead of other sweets such as cakes, cookies, and other candy is probably a good idea. Simply eating more chocolate in addition to other sweets will not make you any healthier, and the extra calories could lead to weight gain. Look for chocolate that contains at least 70% cocoa (sometimes listed on the label as cacao or cocoa solids) and remember that a small amount is enough.

Also keep in mind that many fruits contain the same antioxidants as chocolate, so a serving of berries, for example, is a better choice. And finally, achieving good health requires more than simply changing one aspect of what you eat, so include dark chocolate as a part of a diet that includes real food balanced by daily physical activity.