The Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

The health benefits of dark chocolate have been well covered by the media, but ongoing research is revealing more wonderful news! Are you looking for an indulgent treat that you can feel good about eating? Maybe you already love chocolate but thought you had to cut out all candy. Well, I have good news — dark chocolate is a creation-based food that you can keep in your diet!

Unfortunately for all you milk chocolate lovers and super sweet tooths, it’s only dark chocolate that has the health benefits. Apparently the milk in the milk chocolate prevents the antioxidant benefits from being absorbed by the body. Also, “dark chocolate” with a lot of added sugar, isn’t truly dark. To get the maximum health benefits, you want to eat your chocolate as dark as possible; I’d say at least 75% pure chocolate. Keep in mind that candy isn’t the only way to enjoy chocolate either. There are a variety of ways to incorporate chocolate in both sweet and savory foods!

Nutritionally, dark chocolate is healthy because it’s loaded with flavonoids and minerals. It’s especially high in one flavanoid called epicathechin, which acts as an anti-oxidant and supports cardiovascular health.[1] Chocolate is also a vasodialator (meaning it expands your blood vessels). A recent study demonstrated that dark chocolate causes a decrease in blood pressure and an increase in insulin sensitivity (both tremendous health benefits) shortly after eating.[2] Another study demonstrated that dark chocolate causes the adhesion of platelets to artery walls to decrease, thus reducing the build up of arterial plaque.[3]
The anti-oxidant benefits of dark chocolate also contribute to it’s ability to lessen the amount of skin damage caused by sun exposure, making it a great post sun-tanning treat (perhaps as a banana and dark chocolate smoothie?).

In addition to containing powerful antioxidants, dark chocolate also supplies an impressive list of nutrients, like iron, magnesium, copper, fiber, and protein. The magnesium chocolate contains is especially valuable, as many Americans are magnesium deficient (by about 100 mg per day). Magnesium is vital for optimum cardiovascular health and energy production. Finally, dark chocolate contains lots of pure energy from saturated fats! You may be surprised that I list this as a good thing, but saturated fats are easily used by the body as fuel, and they don’t cause a spike in insulin or throw off the important Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acid ratio.

If dark chocolate is too bitter for your taste, give it a few tries and it might grow on you! I eat an 85% dark chocolate bar on a regular basis and now the 72% bars taste too sweet and not complex enough in flavor. Trader Joe’s has a delicious 85% dark chocolate bar for only $1.49. CBH also offers Organic Cocoa Nibs (pure dark chocolate), which can be used in a variety of recipes. Try them out and enjoy – your heart and taste buds will thank you! If you have a favorite type of dark chocolate, share it with the rest of us by posting a comment below!

Originally posted 2011-03-18 06:12:00.

Add Some Color to Your Diet with Foods You Love

Organic market fruits and vegetablesAdd Some Color to Your Diet with Foods You Love

Sometimes when we think we cannot accomplish a goal, we have a tendency to give up. After all, why try to do something that is thought to be impossible. The USDA recommends that we eat 3-5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day, but only 33 percent of Americans are reaching this goal. This may make the goal seem impossible. What if we are a picky eater? What if we do not like kale or blueberries? Can we still achieve a healthy and balanced diet?

The answer is yes! You do not need to love the latest super food or the healthiest of vegetables to get the nutrients your body needs to thrive. Simply add some color to your diet.

Most of the nutrients in fruits and vegetables can be separated into color groups, so all you have to do is pick a couple of foods from each group to add to your weekly food intake.

Green

The green fruits and vegetables have amazing benefits from lutein, zeaxanthin and indoles that help age-related macular degeneration as well as speed up the enzymes that break down carcinogens. These greens also strengthen bones and teeth.

Green fruits and vegetables include: kiwi, honeydew, avocado, zucchini, celery, asparagus, edamame, peas

Green, Leafy

I have separated out the green leafy vegetables from the other green fruits and vegetables because of the health benefits and disease prevention provided by this specific group. These vegetables also contain a lot of fiber, vitamins and minerals. It is very important to include green leafy vegetables in your diet on a daily basis.

Green leafy vegetables include: kale, spinach, collards, Swiss chard, mustard greens broccoli, romaine lettuce, cabbage and iceberg lettuce (although this last one is mostly water).

Blue and Purple

This category of colored fruits and vegetables contain anthocyanins, phenolics and resveratrol that help prevent the risk of cancer, stroke and heart disease. These nutritious fruits and vegetables also help improve memory and promote healthy aging.

Blue and purple fruits and vegetables include: purple cabbage, blackberries, blueberries, grapes, eggplants, and plums.

Red

Red vegetables and fruits contain lycopene and anthocyanins which helps to neutralize free radicals that can cause cancers and other harmful diseases.

Red fruits and vegetables include: tomatoes, grapefruit, watermelon, strawberries, raspberries, beets, radishes, red peppers, rhubarb, cherries, cranberries and red apples.

Orange and Yellow

This color of produce contains carotenoids and bioflavonoids that help maintain the immune system, slow aging, as well as prevent cancer. Carotenoids are also thought to improve eye health.

Orange and yellow fruits and vegetables include: cantaloupe, corn, pineapple, pumpkin, apricots, oranges, tangerines, orange and yellow peppers, and mangoes.

White

White fruits and vegetables contain anthoxanthins that may help lower blood pressure and reduce risk for heart disease. These also contain allicin which has been shown to reduce the risk of stomach cancers.

White fruits and vegetables include: bananas, mushrooms, onions, garlic, potatoes, cauliflower, parsnips and turnips.

So why not pick out one or two items from each color category and add them to your diet? You do not need to love all fruits and vegetables or even the most popular produce to obtain the nutrients you need. Simply pick and eat the ones you enjoy to live a healthy, happy life.

Sources: Guide to a Healthy Kitchen by WebMDThe Color of Nutrition by NY TimesNutrition: Fruit and Vegetable Colors by Livestrong

Originally posted 2013-10-29 10:44:10.

How 'bout cayenne pepper?

Cayenne peppersCayenne pepper is an extremely hot, yet tasty and versatile spice.  The bite comes from the active ingredient capsaicin.  With a beautiful crimson color and high heat, it is sure to add flare to any dish you are planning to cook.  But cayenne pepper is more than just a heat maker.  This spice has a plethora of uses that not even your orthodox medical practitioner can argue with.   

History of Cayenne Pepper            

Cayenne pepper has been used in Mexico, South America, and the West Indies for thousands of years.  Capsicum annuum is its botanical name.  When the pepper was discovered by the Spanish, it was eventually introduced into Africa, Asian, Indian, and European cuisines.  It has now become one of the most popular spices in the world.  It can grow in most any climate, but most loves the nutrient-rich soils of moist climates.  It has been used for its flavor, its medicinal purposes, and as decoration.

Considerations for Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne pepper is actually quite spicy.  It has a 7 out of 10 rating for spiciness, which means it is 30,000 – 50,000 Scoville Units.  To give you an idea of what that means, jalapeno, chipotle, and poblano peppers are only about 2,500 – 5,000 Scoville Units, serrano peppers are about 5,000 – 15,000 Scoville Units, and habanera peppers are roughly 100,000 – 350,000 Scoville Units.  That means cayenne peppers can really pack a punch.  The nice thing about cayenne pepper is that it usually comes in powdered form, providing the flexibility to make any dish as mild or as spicy as you want!

Home Remedies and Health Benefits of Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne Pepper has been used for thousands of years as not just a spice but a medicine. 

~Stomach ailments~

The ancient peoples of Peru and Guatemala used cayenne pepper as a cure for many types of stomach ailments.   You would think because cayenne pepper is so spicy that it would cause heartburn.  For most people, however, cayenne pepper has the opposite effect. Modern research suggests that cayenne pepper not only reduces heartburn, but can help people who have ulcers.  I suppose the Mayans were on to something!

~Cardiovascular Health~

Capsaicin is a vasodilator, which means that it enlarges the space (the lumen) in the blood vessels so that blood can flow more easily.  Vasodilation promotes several physiological effects, including relief from headaches and pain, as well as improvement in overall vascular health.

~Cayenne Pepper for Pain and Inflammation~

Capsaicin, when applied topically, has shown very promising results in patients with neurological pain, such as phantom limb and HIV neuropathy.  The Capsaicin found in cayenne peppers also has strong anti-inflammatory effects.

~Cayenne Pepper for Weight Loss~

While eating cayenne pepper won’t magically turn you into a model, the heat it produces in your body does mean you are burning a few extra calories.

~Cayenne Pepper for Cough Suppressant~

Cough keeping you up all night?  Mix a dash of cayenne pepper with a tablespoon of honey and melt that in with your favorite tea or a glass of warm water.  Sip on that for a while and your cough should subside enough to help you get to sleep.  I tried this last January when I had a really bad cold accompanied by a horrible cough.  Sure enough, it worked!

~Cayenne Pepper as an All-Natural Pet Repellent~

Cat chewing on your house plants?  Dog getting in your garden?  Well, a little bit of cayenne pepper sprinkled in these areas is a great way to ensure your pet will not try again (unless, of course, you have a very stubborn animal).  Cayenne Pepper is non-toxic to both your pet and your plants.  Our cat used to chew on a piece of fraying carpet in our old apartment.  My husband put a little cayenne pepper in the area and, after a few sneezes, he never chew again!  Just be careful not to put tons of the spice in a very concentrated area because it could burn your pet’s paws of nose.  The trick is to just make it uncomfortable for them when they enter the restricted area.

Precautions when using Cayenne Pepper

While cayenne pepper has many fine qualities, you have to be careful with a few things.  First off, you want to be careful when handling this pepper, even in its powder form.  If you’re sprinkling it out of a bottle,  you have less to worry about, just don’t handle large amounts of it for an extended period of time without wearing some hand protection. Like most hot peppers, cayenne pepper can burn your skin.  You also have to be very careful not to rub cayenne pepper in your eyes after handling it.  While you won’t go blind you will be in a lot of pain, and there is little you can do about it (cayenne pepper is what they use to make pepper spray with).  Make sure you wash your hands (and under your fingernails) after handling it.  Also, you want to keep cayenne pepper away from intense, direct heat.  Heating peppers brings out more flavor, but heating them too much can create fumes that will make you cough uncontrollably.  Truth me, it’s really bad.  My husband and I learned the hard way.  Being aware of the fumes is especially important if you have asthma or other lung problems.  Lastly, what goes in spicy will come out spicy.  You have been warned!

Cayenne Pepper Nutrition Highlights (%DV = percent of daily value)

In 1 tbsp:

  • Calories 17
  • Vitamin A 44% DV
  • Vitamin C 6% DV
  • Iron 2% DV
  • Vitamin B-6 5%  DV
  • Magnesium 2% DV           

Cayenne Pepper In the Kitchen

  • Use these spicy peppers on sweet potato cubes sautéed in grass-fed butter.  The sweet and spicy combination gives way to a very savory dish.
  • A pinch of cayenne pepper on deviled eggs will certainly spice up any party.
  • Use cayenne pepper instead of black pepper to add variety to you usual cusine.
  • Add cayenne pepper to chili of soup to make it even hotter.
  • Mix in cayenne pepper with your chicken, tuna, or egg salad.
  • And, don’t forget to experiment! 

REFERENCES: Home cooking with Hot ChilisRed Pepper Encyclopedia; David M. Simpson, MD,  Stephen Brown, MD, Jeffrey Tobias, MD; Controlled trial of high-concentration capsaicin patch for treatment of painful HIV neuropath; Neurology June 10, 2008 vol. 70 no. 24 2305-2313; USDA

Originally posted 2013-09-24 12:30:45.