Archive for February, 2010

Go Ahead… Indulge with Chocolate on Valentine’s Day!!!

Valentine’s Day on February 14th is fast approaching and for many this is a time associated with love and… chocolate!!! While many men give gifts of chocolate as symbols of their love, the recipient of the “love” is often left feeling guilty eating it since she is led to believe that if she eats it, it will make her gain weight or cause her face to break out (and if she does not then she feels guilty again). Nothing could be further from the truth! Not only is chocolate not bad for you, but it is actually good for you. If you make sure that you are eating a high-quality chocolate and also watch the quantity you eat, you can enjoy your chocolate anytime guilt-free, especially on Valentine’s Day!

When you are eating chocolate it is very important to make sure that you eat at least 60% pure dark chocolate and lay off the chocolates stuffed with caramel or the milk chocolates laden with milk fats and sugars! Pure dark chocolate is nature’s miracle food. Chocolate contains the photonutrients flavonol and polyphenol that are natural antioxidants, the alkaloids theobromine, phenethylamine and anandamide, and is rich in magnesium. Chocolate can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes and dementia, balance brain chemistry, help build strong bones, help prevent cancerous activity and, last but not least,help with weight loss. On top of all that, it contains and has been linked to higher levels of the mood-altering serotonin. Chocolate is a natural aphrodisiac and boosts our mood and energy! If you are an exhausted working mom like me, it is a great pick me up in the afternoon and healthier alternative to a Starbuck’s latte!

In order to understand what chocolate to buy, it is helpful to know how is it made!
Chocolate is made from the seeds of the Theobroma Cacao tree. “Theobroma,” by the way, means “food of the gods!” After the seeds of the Cacao are picked, they are fermented, dried, roasted and the shell removed to form cocoa nibs. These nibs are then processed in a complex process involving grinding, heating, liquefying and blending to form a chocolate liquor, which can be further processed to form solid cocoa or cocoa butter.

Pure, unsweetened chocolate contains primarily cocoa solids and cocoa butter in varying proportions. Most chocolate produced today has tons of added sugars, as well as cocoa butter and milk fats. Milk chocolate is chocolate that has added sugar as well as milk powder or condensed milk. White chocolate contains cocoa butter, sugar, and milk but no cocoa solids and is not considered to be true chocolate. The quality of the chocolate produced depends not only on the quality of the cocoa nibs but also on the ingredients used when processing the nibs into chocolate and, of course, the artisan creating the chocolate.

Where does chocolate come from?
The Olmec Indians are believed to be the first to grow cocoa beans as a domestic crop in 400 A.D. and the Mayans who migrated into northern regions of South America began establishing the earliest known cocoa plantations in the Yucatan in 600 A.D. A chocolate beverage called xocolātl, meaning “bitter water,” was popular with the Aztecs, and in the 16th Century Spanish explorers brought it to Europe. Much like the Aztecs and even the Mayans before them, the Spaniards began to add cane sugar and flavorings such as vanilla to sweeten their cocoa beverages to form what we know today as “hot chocolate.” In 1657, the first chocolate shop opened in London and chocolate became a fashionable drink. Chocolate was first manufactured in the United States in 1765 at Milton Lower Mills, near Dorchester, Massachusetts. And, in Switzerland in 1876, M. D. Peter of Vevey, perfected a process of making milk chocolate by combining the cocoa nib, sugar, fat, and condensed milk and the modern day chocolate that we know today was born!

Although fine chocolate is made all over the world today in countries such as France and England, the United States has the world’s largest chocolate manufacturing industry. Chocolate has become a multi-million dollar industry in the United States. Only 20% of the chocolate out there, however, is pure. Most chocolate consumed in the United States is highly-processed and has added ingredients such as refined sugar, artificial flavors and cheap high cholesterol polyunsaturated fats and hydrogenated oils resulting in an unnatural product that is high in fat and calories virtually devoid of nutritional value.

What do you look for when you are buying chocolate?
Before you reach for that Hershey’s milk chocolate bar, take a look at the label. Milk chocolate contains lots of sugar and dairy and, as discussed above, many commercial brands are just candy disguised as chocolate! Look for bars that have a chocolate content of 60% or more and are free of added sugars, saturated fats and other artificial ingredients.

My favorites are Green and Black, Dagobaand my absolute favorite is a raw chocolate bar called Raw Chocolate Love bars. Experiment and see which brand you like best! I also love to make hot chocolate on cold afternoons and have included my recipe below. We are all chocoholics in our family and below are some of our favorite recipes. Not only are they packed with delicious chocolate, but they are nutritious too!

Lastly, a word of advice. Watch not only the quality you buy but also the quantity! You can have too much of a good thing! An un-named man in my household keeps dark chocolate in the breadbox, which he nibbles on everytime he passes it. If you have a box of chocolates just once a year at Valentine’s Day, then just go for it! But, if you routinely keep chocolate in the house and eat it regularly, then decide how much you will have per day and when you do eat it put it on a plate, sit down and enjoy it without guilt! You will find that you are oh, so much more satisfied with it that way anyway!

Healthy Hot Chocolate
2 cups vanilla almond milk
2 tbsps unsweetened dark chocolate powder (or, even better, raw cacoa powder)
1 tbsp agave nectar (or more or less depending on how sweet you want it)

If you have a Vitamix blender , then it is beyond easy to stick all of the ingredients in the blender and turn it on and voila! Vitamix blenders will literally heat up the mixture and make your hot chocolate for you. If you don’t, just put the almond milk and chocolate powder in a sauce pan and stir. I like to add in the agave at the last minute so you don’t literally cook it. If it does not seem to want to mix, then put it in a regular blender for a bit and back into the sauce pan.

“Double Trouble” Chocolate Coconut Macaroons

1 cup unsweetened chocolate or cocoa powder
3 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
½-¾ cup agave nectar
2 tbsps coconut butter (coconut oil)
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp sea salt

Combine 1 cup of the chocolate powder and 2 cups of the coconut in a mixing bowl then add the coconut butter, agave nectar, vanilla and sea salt and mix well. Scoop balls of the mixture out with your hands and roll into balls. Place shredded coconut on a place and roll balls in it to cover. These make a delicious and nutritious pick-me-up in the afternoon or an after-school treat for your children.

Coconut Water: Nature’s Gatorade!

What is this wierd piece of fruit with a hat? It is a Thai coconut, and if you are training for a marathon, doing serious exercise, going out a lot and drinking, getting no sleep as a new mom or are trying to cleanse and lose weight, I recommend that you get to know it! The newZico , Vita Coco or One prepackaged, individual coconut water containers that you may have seen is just the pre-packaged version of water from this special fruit. I was in our local deli here in New York where “healthy” consists of a sugar-laden muffin and even they were carrying the Vita Coco ones! So, now there is no excuse not to grab something healthy on the run!!!

Coconut water is fat-free, cholesterol-free and has only 45-60 calories per 11 oz. serving. Coconut water contains all five essential electrolytes, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, and calcium and is an ideal drink to replenish the body’s fluids after a strenuous workout! An 11 oz. serving actually contains more potassium than a banana and 15 times the potassium in an average sports drink (and, of course, none of the sugar!)

Additionally, coconut water helps boost immunity, regulate digestion, promote smoother skin and healthier hair and nails, boosts circulation by carrying oxygen and nutrients to cells, promotes heart health, enhances mental acuity and regulates PH balance in the body!

Because coconut water replenishes lost fluids and potassium, some use it as the ultimate hang-over cure to help replenish fluids and lost electrolytes the morning after! Coconut water comes from light-colored young coconuts, not the aged, dark-brown ones you might have run across!
While the pre-packaged coconut waters are, of course, health promoting and replenishing, there is nothing better than the fresh, real thing! The next time you are in Whole Foods or one of your local health food stores and see the young Thai coconuts, pick up a few and bring them home to have fresh coconut water to drink after your workouts and delicious coconut puddings to have as a decadent afternoon snack or for dessert!

Where can I buy coconuts?
Coconuts are now very easy to buy and can be purchased at many local health shops and at Whole Foods.

Ok, I have gotten them home, now how do I open them?
While on appearance, coconuts may be intimidating to open. It is actually quite easy if done properly. Basically, you cut off the top of the “cap” with a sharp knife and stick the knife in the top and just pluck it off. Watch this video,How to Open a Coconut, to see how before you get started! Once you have opened your coconut, pour the water through a strainer. Any remaining water can be either put aside along with the coconut meat (please don’t throw it out!!!) to use in one of the attached recipes (go to ‘Coconuts: Delicious and Loaded with Omega 3’s to learn more), placed in the refrigerator for a few days or even frozen! Usually, when I am opening coconuts, I will open at least 3 or 4 at a time for efficiency!

Ok, I am not ready to open them yet…where can I buy coconut water?
Many health food stores have juice bars where the juicer will crack open a fresh young coconut for you right before your eyes. Just grab a straw and you’re ready to go! If you want the ease and convenience of pre-packaged ones, I recommend the brands Zico, One and Vita Coco.