We have all by now heard the very good news that chocolate can be beneficial for your health. In pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, chocolate was considered a “food for the gods”, was used in religious rituals and cacao beans were such a precious commodity that they were even used as a form of currency.
Today we are fortunate that chocolate is readily available, but the big problem is that a lot of commercial chocolate you buy is full of things that are best avoided… such as hydrogenated vegetable oils, sugar, artificial sweeteners, additives, preservatives, colours, flavour, powdered milk solids, and much more.
There is a lot of exciting research coming to light about raw cacao, and the benefits of the cacao bean and dark chocolate. These benefits extend to the heart, vascular system, brain, aging, mood and energy. This is in some part due to the fact that raw cacao is abundant in antioxidants, minerals, vitamins and many unique properties. Cacao contains twice the antioxidant content of red wine, and up to three times that of green tea. These antioxidants can improve cognitive impairment and produce nitric oxide with some great cardiovascular benefits.
The ORAC Score measures the benefits of antioxidants. Here is a comparison of the ORAC score per 100 grams for some common foods known to have a high antioxidant level, listed in descending order.
• Dark Chocolate – ORAC 13,120
• Milk Chocolate – ORAC 6,740
• Prunes – 5,770
• Raisins – 2,830
• Blueberries – 2,400
• Blackberries – 2036
• Kale – 1,770
• Strawberries – 1540
• Spinach – 1260
• Raspberries – 1220
• Brussel Sprouts – 980
• Broccoli – 890
Another important nutrient found in cacao is theobromine (a chemical related to caffeine). Theobromine was discovered in cacao and a few other plants in the 19th century and by 1916 it had been extracted from the bean and was being used in medical treatment for oedema and angina. In modern medicine the compound theobromine is used as a vasodilator, this means it can dilate smooth muscle such as the blood vessels, bronchial tubes, large intestine. It is also used as a diuretic and heart stimulant. Recent research shows the effects of how theobromine can lower blood pressure as well as help with asthma.
Unlike caffeine, theobromine does not have an addictive nature or have the same strong affects as caffeine has on the nervous system. The cacao bean can have up to 10% of its weight made up of theobromine, the effects of the theobromine on the body can be up to 6 - 10 hours after consumption.
Importantly, as many of you will attest, chocolate enhances the mood and boosts energy.
So what is the best way to obtain the benefits of chocolate without the nasty hydrogenated fats and processed sugars? Raw cacao powder is now readily available in health food stores, along with raw cacao chocolate bars in an amazing variety of flavours.
Or experiment and make your own raw chocolate truffles. These make great presenters and look great packaged up in a pretty box or cellophane wrap and ribbon.
Raw Chocolate Truffles
• 1/2 cup of sunflower seeds (or any other seeds you have on hand)
• 1/2 cup walnuts (or any other nuts you have on hand – cashews are wonderful too)
• 1/2 cup dates
• 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
• 4 tablespoons raw cacao powder
1. Process the nuts in the food processor. Keep processing them until you can't see the nuts anymore, but stop processing before they get too soft looking.
2. Add the dates, sea salt and cacao powder. Process again until everything is well mixed and clumped together.
3. Roll the balls in your hand and form balls. You may also like to roll the completed truffles in goji berries, coconut, cacao powder, etc.
These keep well in the fridge.
I recently gave a workshop, and the most commonly asked questions revolved around fish oils.
Ever since researchers noted that native sub-actic populations were quite stout and yet didn’t have many of the chronic diseases of industrialised society, fish oil has been in the research pipeline. The results of 20+ years of publications, on balance, point to fish oil having big health benefits chiefly through its potent anti-inflammatory effect (helping with everything from cardiac disease and mental health, from skin conditions to arthritis).
However, for years I’ve told most of my clients that while they think they have this base covered, the junk they’re buying at the chemist or supermarket store isn’t helping. Now a recent study highlights that fact.
This study compared the effectiveness of 4 different types of fish oil, including concentrated (and more expensive) fish oil, cheaper concentrated fish oil, cheap krill oil and unconcentrated salmon oil.
The more expensive concentrated fish oil was found to be far, far more effective.
Furthermore, it is worthwhile remembering that fish oil can go rancid - even in capsules. So if you are buying a big bottle of fish oil that was sitting in the bargain bin outside the chemist for some time, and then that sits on your kitchen bench for even longer, then chances are it has gone off on the inside. Rancid fish oil actually CREATES inflammation in the body, the exact opposite of what you want.
You can check the freshness of your fish oil by biting into a capsule. If it tastes like fresh fish, then you are probably OK. If it tastes bitter, rancid or unpleasant, then it might not be that good for you. I often recommend fish oils that you take off the spoon as you can always taste whether it is OK, and you also get a good therapeutic dose that way.
There are many other factors to consider when buying fish oil - including the ratio of EPA/DHA (types of fatty acids) - differences here help us know whether your fish oil is best for mental health or cardiovascular health for example. If you are going to shell out on a supplement, then you might as well get the one which is formulated for the particular effect you are after.
Of course, it is always good to get your fish oil from fresh fish as well. Some varieties are better than others, but that is a whole other blog post (or kettle of fish, so to speak!).
Next time you are in for a consultation, feel free to ask me for a recommendation on the fish oil best for you. I am not aligned with any particular manufacturer or supplier, so happy to provide an unbiased recommendation.
What's the deal with coffee? And why do some people do well on diets, and others don't? Why are these two topics related?
You might have noticed lately that there seems to be a few studies coming out about coffee. And they are confusing, right?
One study tells us that coffee will help prevent cancer. The next tells us that coffee may cause cancer. Coffee helps us lose weight. Coffee is bad for cardiovascular disease. And so on.
So what do we make of this information? Do we drink coffee or don’t we? Maybe we can limit it to one or two cups a day. But is that enough to get the benefits? Or is it too much?
And then there are the diets. Paleo, Primal, Atkins, Vegan, Low Carb, Low Fat, High Carb, High Fat, Fasting, Eating more…. Where do you start to work out what is best for you?
The easiest way to cut through the confusion is to remember that we are all different. Very different.
Our genomic make-up, the environment we live in, the food we eat, the activities we undertake, whether we are stressed or relaxed, how much sleep we get, our family history, our hormone health, our happiness levels all vary and make us the individual we are.
This is something that naturopaths have always taken into account when helping our clients get healthier. It is why your first consultation with us can take up to 90 minutes, and we also make use of some pretty comprehensive questionnaires and use functional pathology testing in clinic to get a holistic picture of who you really are.
It is why we recommend you consult with someone trained in vitamins, minerals and herbal medicines before taking supplements. What works for one person, may not be great for another.
And now we even have access to looking at your how your genomic profile influences your health. As we learn more about our genes, we are starting to get some pointers to a range of health clues through genomic profiling tests which can tell us:
• Your ability to metabolise sugar and, in turn, your risk of diabetes.
• Your in-built stress response and the impact stress has on your body.
• Your personal need for a range of key nutrients vital for health including omega 3, vitamins, and CoQ10.
• The best way for you to reduce and maintain healthy cholesterol and blood pressure levels.
• Your liver detoxification ability.
• The optimal amounts of fats and salt your body requires to support health.
• Your risk for late onset lactose intolerance and coeliac disease.
• How your body responds to caffeine and the impact caffeine has on your body.
• Bone health for prevention of osteoporosis.
• Your oestrogen detoxification ability.
• Your inflammatory response to food and lifestyle.
• Antioxidant response and antioxidant levels.
• The best exercise regime for strength and stamina for you.
• And even your seasonal variation to sleep, mood, appetite and social activity.
The emerging science of epigenetics reveals that how genes express themselves are influenced by what we eat and ingest, our lifestyles, emotions and environment.
By accessing your genetic profile, you can learn how to optimise your diet and modify your lifestyle to “turn of” genes that have the potential to cause harm and “turn on” genes that help to prevent disease.
It is an exciting time we live in to be able to access this information.
PS – if you want to learn more genomic wellness testing, then right this way!
It is getting chilly, and at the moment, a salad just doesn't cut it.
Here are 5 easy lunch ideas to try instead...
1. Ingenious Noodle Pots
3. Paleo Pizzas
Naturopath, Nutritionist and Herbalist