Category Archives: chocolate
by Carolanne Wright
(NaturalNews) Good news for all you chocolate lovers out there, new research has found this divine food has even more health boosting advantages than previously recognized. Not only does it enhance both cardiovascular and mental well-being, but it also lowers body mass index (BMI) and insulin resistance. However, before consuming chocolate with wild abandon, it’s important to discern between the different varieties – and choose only superfood grades for ultimate benefit.
Food of the gods (and mere mortals too)
Relished for over 3,000 years, chocolate (also known as cacao in its purest form) has been used as a potent tonic, aphrodisiac and mighty food across cultures and continents. The ancient Aztecs raised cacao worship to new levels, reserving it for royalty and specific ceremonies. Europeans stumbled upon the delights of this strange ‘almond’ while exploring the New World and quickly adopted it as a remedy for fevers, mental fatigue, tuberculosis, poor digestion and gout. Fast forward to the present day and modern research has uncovered still more health enhancing features of this magical bean.
Live your bliss with chocolate
Containing a cornucopia of beneficial compounds, cacao has been shown to alleviate a wide-range of health complaints. But to reap the benefits, only high quality chocolate will do. Focus on raw, organic, dark cacao. And remember, the higher the percentage of chocolate, the lower the sugar. Below are some of the perks associated with this tasty superfood.
Cardiovascular – Of all the known edibles, cacao ranks the highest in beneficial antioxidant polyphenols that curb heart disease. A study at the University of California Department of Nutrition in Davis demonstrated the superior properties of a cacao rich beverage on platelet aggregation, thereby curbing heart harming blood clots. Even moderate consumption of cacao can reduce stroke risk and blood pressure while lowering cholesterol.
Brain – A wealth of mood-modifying elements, cacao has a positive effect on the mind. Theobromine, phenethylamine (PEA) and anandamide present within chocolate stimulate the central nervous system while promoting positive, clear, and some claim, blissful mental states. Cacao also encourages production of the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin which soothes depression, anxiety and irritability.
Diabetes prevention – A small Italian study at the University of L’Aquilia discovered that participants who consumed the equivalent of a candy bar’s worth of dark chocolate over the course of 15 days reduced insulin resistance by almost half. According to lead researcher Claudio Ferri, M.D., “Flavonoids increase nitric oxide production. And that helps control insulin sensitivity.”
Stress reduction – As reported in Women’s Health Magazine, “Swiss scientists (who else?) found that when very anxious people ate an ounce and a half of dark chocolate every day for two weeks, their stress hormone levels were significantly reduced and the metabolic effects of stress were partially mitigated.”
Sun protection – Rich in skin protecting flavonols, dark chocolate is a smart choice. British researchers discovered that participants who consumed nutrient dense cacao over the span of three months had significant reduction in the speed of developing sunburns.
Lower BMI – Research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine revealed that out of 1,000 Californians between the ages of 20 and 85, those who consumed chocolate on a regular basis had lower body mass index ratings. Dr. David Katz of Yale University remarks in the Huffington Post, “antioxidants might play a role in reducing inflammation, and that dark chocolate in particular might help balance the hormones that facilitate weight control.”
Looking for more benefits? Cacao also boosts cognitive ability, reduces tooth decay, calms coughs and improves vision.
Sources for this article include:
by J. D. Heyes
(NaturalNews) Most of us would agree that life is a busy endeavor, which can lead to lots of stress. And the busier we get, the more stress we have to deal with.
Fortunately, there is a medicine-free way in which you can reduce a significant portion of that stress, all from the comfort of your own kitchen and dining room. Here are six excellent, healthy foods that can help you lower your stress levels naturally:
Grab a couple handfuls of almonds daily. Almonds, and other nuts, are so good for so many different reasons – among them; their ability to reduce your stress level.
“Nuts are loaded with vitamin E, which boosts immunity,” says Health and Living. “A healthy immune system means you’re less likely to fall victim to that cold that’s making its way around the office, and a healthier you means a less stressed you, too.”
According to Anna Magee and nutritional therapist Charlotte Watts, authors of the book The De-Stress Diet, “Nuts are crammed with B vitamins, zinc, magnesium, and omega oils, nutrients that are depleted when anxiety is high. As a source of healthy fats, nuts have also been shown to curb appetite, naturally balance blood sugar levels, reduce sugar cravings, and support the metabolism.”
Use caution; however, in terms of the amount of almonds and other nuts you consume, writes Lisa Collier Cool for Yahoo! Health.
There’s no fish like oily fish. Fish like salmon, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, is the perfect dinner de-stress option. “Omega-3s have been shown to boost mood and brain function, and can aid significantly in dealing with anxiety and depression,” Health and Living says.
“A 2011 study from Ohio State showed a 20 percent reduction in anxiety among medical school students who took omega-3 supplements,” Cool notes. “The researchers made this surprising discovery during research to test their theory that omega-3s would lower stress-induced levels of cytokines, compounds that promote inflammation in the body, which can lead to illness and heart attack.”
Oily fish also contain a host of vitamins and minerals – B vitamins, zinc, and magnesium – “that help reduce sugar-addiction cycles and counteract the damaging effects of stress on the body,” says Dina Spector of BusinessInsider.com.
Oh, yes – chocolate. Not that the other foods aren’t good (and good for you), but seriously, who can resist a little chocolate?
Few of us can but that’s all right because a little chocolate goes a long way towards reducing our stress levels.
“Too much indulgence is likely to keep you from your weight-loss goals, but a small portion of chocolate as a pick-me-up isn’t such a bad idea,” Health and Living says. “This sweet treat helps to boost serotonin levels, which plays a key role in dealing with stress. In a study conducted by Duke Medical Center, researchers found that lower levels of serotonin actually cause a more extreme reaction when the body encounters stress.”
How much is just enough?
“Research has shown that 40g of dark chocolate a day can help us cope with stress by releasing ‘happy chemicals’ known as beta endorphins in the brain,” says Spector. “When it comes to a treat, dark chocolate can be a good snack choice to stave off cravings for less healthy choices, while providing a much-needed energy boost without the agitating effects of caffeine.”
From chocolate to… spinach. Well, Popeye knew a little something about nutrition after all.
“Spinach and other dark leafy greens like Swiss chard and kale are loaded with magnesium, which has been credited as a major stress fighter, helping to relax muscle fibers and put you at ease,” saysHealth and Living.
“There’s no such thing as a chill pill, but some foods contain body-boosting nutrients that help soothe stressed-out nerves,” adds Whole Living, noting that green leafy foods contain folic acid, which helps “make dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure.”
Oranges – for sunshine in your life. Oranges, along with Brussels sprouts, broccoli, red and green peppers and strawberries contain lots of vitamin C, which “boosts your immune system and fights brain-cell damage resulting from constant exposure to cortisol,” says Whole Living.
“Stress makes our body release even more free radicals than when we are in good mood. Interestingly, vitamin C helps to keep the free radicals in control, and repairs the body. Basically, it helps protect the body from the cumulative effects of stress,” adds Dr. Lee Dobbins, a physician who specializes in weight loss-related issues.
1: Chocolate Anything
Don’t beat yourself up about indulging in a brownie or two when feeling down in the dumps. Multiple studies have revealed that chocolate (gasp!) is actually healthy in moderation. Although it’s still high in calories, chocolate contains a myriad of beneficial nutrients that help regulate mood. The sugar that gives chocolate its rich taste helps increase serotonin levels, while the fat content releases mood-elevating endorphins . Top it off with the stimulating effects of caffeine and antioxidant levels higher than even berries, and chocolate becomes a heavyweight mood-influencer. To avoid paying the price in the waistline area, however, indulge in just one or two pieces each day of the dark variety, which is more heart-healthy than milk chocolate.
2: Beef Stew with Veggies and Potatoes
When it’s cold outside, nothing feels quite as good in your belly as piping-hot soup. But the comfort factor doesn’t stop there. Lean red meat is an excellent source of tryptophan and protein, both of which are critical to mood regulation. Dial down the unhealthiness quotient by trimming any excess fat before putting the meat in the Dutch oven or slow cooker. It’s also a health-conscious move to prepare the dish with stewed tomatoes or a beef broth rather than fat-laden gravy. Toss in a few serotonin-enhancing potatoes and some vitamin-rich vegetables to create an all-around satisfying meal for your taste buds and body.
3: Sweet Potato Souffle
Complex carbohydrates, such as sweet potatoes, are packed full of energy and mood-boosting vitamins and minerals. Like many other mood-influencing foods, sweet potatoes boost serotonin production. Sweet potatoes act as a referee of sorts because they contain carotenoids, which are responsible for insulin regulation. Correctly managing insulin helps us avoid sugar crashes that cause irritability. The miracle food also contains potassium, which has been shown to reduce mood swings, increase energy levels and lessen tension . Although many dieters malign carbs of all shapes and sizes, low-carbohydrate diets have been linked with a reduced desire to exercise and increased fatigue in overweight adults . The health quotient for this popular holiday dish can be amped up by cutting back the amount of butter used in preparation and by including walnuts, which are an excellent source of tryptophan.
4: Chili and Cornbread
Whether you get your protein from animal or plant sources, your body just can’t function without it. For meat-lovers out there, chili is a great source of protein, especially when it’s prepared with lean ground beef. Lean beef contains high levels of B6 and tryptophan, the proven mood-regulator. An even healthier option for your chili recipe is ground turkey.
Pack your chili full of beans: black, red, pinto and other types you like. Beans are a terrific vehicle for ingesting selenium and increasing levels of magnesium, a deficiency of which has been linked to depression [sources: Magee, Melone].
The perfect complement to this wintertime favorite is cornbread, which contains gluten, known for its ability to stimulate endorphin production .
5: Banana Split
This ice cream parlor favorite can easily be modified into a less fattening and more nutritious version. The two main components — ice cream and bananas — are both rich in B vitamins, which are effective depression-thwarters . Bananas also contain high levels of tryptophan. This amino acid aids the body in the production of niacin, which in turn produces serotonin .
Obviously, the ice cream portion of the banana split is the biggest culprit when it comes to sugar and fat content, but ice cream enthusiasts need not forego this popular comfort treat entirely. Modifying your choice makes it easy to include ice cream in the occasional menu. Numerous light or reduced-fat and low-sugar ice creams abound in your grocer’s freezer section. And thanks to major strides in the ice cream industry in recent years, low-fat ice cream tastes surprisingly close to its full-fat brethren .
6: Mashed Potatoes and Turkey
Turkey and mashed potatoes need not be reserved for Thanksgiving, thanks to the mood-boosting vitamins and minerals this main dish and savory starch contain. Potatoes are complex carbohydrates, and eating them actually increases production of serotonin. That’s why ingesting complex carbs helps people calm down, even when they’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed (as many of us do during the holidays) . Turkey is also credited with being one of the top feel-good foods because it contains many nutrients that stave off depression and maintain good moods. Because turkey can make people feel sleepy (it packs a might wallop of tryptophan), try serving iron-rich spinach or other leafy greens on the side to provide a much-needed energy boost.
7: Spaghetti and Lean Meatballs
We’ve already spelled out the benefits of whole-wheat pasta: It’s high in folic acid and helps increase serotonin levels. Ambitious chefs don’t have to let the nutritional gains end there, however. Meatballs or sauce made with lean beef are great sources of protein, selenium and B6, the vitamin that facilitates serotonin production . Try serving this Italian favorite alongside vitamin-packed spinach, broccoli or a leafy green salad. All are believed to be powerful mood-enhancing foods. When done right, spaghetti and meatballs can be transformed from a guilty pleasure into a healthy meal. (No word yet on any beneficial effects of that classic Italian dessert, tiramisu.)
8: Scrambled Eggs and Oatmeal
For good reason, breakfast is widely touted as the most important meal of the day. Studies have shown repeatedly that eating a healthy, balanced breakfast results in a good mood, increased energy and improved memory skills. Remember those helpful B vitamins found in dairy products? Eggs are also rife with the critical substance. Serve a couple of eggs on the side of folate-rich oatmeal for a filling and nutritious breakfast. The folic acid found in oatmeal is powerful because it produces a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which many studies have linked with increased pleasure. Whole-wheat toast or whole-wheat pancakes are other grain options with high amounts of folate .
9: Salmon and Brown Rice
Although most of us wouldn’t consider salmon a comfort food, it’s certainly one of the most nutritionally beneficial foods available. Experts agree that the numerous vitamins and minerals present in salmon qualify the fish as a superfood; furthermore, they recommend that everyone strive to consume two or three servings of salmon or other fish per week.
Multiple studies have linked depression to imbalances in omega-3 fatty acids, found abundantly in fish . Scientists believe omega-3s are responsible for managing brain signals that regulate mood. In fact, studies have revealed that people in cultures who consume more omega-3 rich fatty fish suffer from depression less frequently than populations that eat fewer servings of fish. Because omega-3 can’t be produced by the body, it’s critical to incorporate fish, eggs or cod liver oil into your diet . Brown rice is an ideal dish to serve with salmon because it contains high amounts of selenium, low levels of which have been linked to poor moods .
10: Macaroni and Cheese
Although the boxed variety of macaroni and cheese is a childhood favorite, the homemade kind is really the best way to go when indulging in this comfort food. The dairy products standard in this recipe (milk and cheese) contain high levels of vitamin B, which has been shown to heavily impact the brain. In fact, studies indicate that depression can often be lessened when a deficiency of folic acid (a type of B vitamin) is corrected. Similarly, normal levels of riboflavin (B2), B6 and thiamine (B1) have been proven to boost mood in multiple studies . Coupling the mood-enhancing effects of dairy with multigrain macaroni helps the meal pack a powerful punch.
If you’ve sworn off pasta, consider this: Carbohydrates increase serotonin and endorphin levels, cranking up good mood vibes and energy levels simultaneously. Experts recommend switching from regular pasta to the multigrain variety because it counts toward recommended daily servings of whole grains .