Valentine’s Day: For the Love of Chocolate!

     The day of love is coming up, and people have all sorts of ways that they express themselves. Some traditional choices are dinners, roses, and Valentine’s Day cards, but biggest tradition always seems to be the chocolate–  You can see the yearly explosion of heart-shaped chocolates from the moment you step into the grocery store!

     While no one is going to deny that chocolate is delicious, too much of a good thing always comes back to bite you in the end. So how do we indulge in our love of chocolate this Valentine’s Day without the repercussions?  You may be surprised to hear that chocolate has some healthy qualities.  In fact, new research suggests that chocolate’s main ingredient, cocoa contains some major heart healthy benefits.  Before you get too excited, let me clarify the pros and cons of this research.

Pros:

  • It’s rich in antioxidants and magnesium
  • The compounds in chocolate, theobromine and phenethylamine has been associated with increased serotonin levels.  Serotonin is what I like to call our body’s natural “happy pill.”
  • Flavanols in chocolate may reduce inflammation, blood pressure and improve blood flow.

Cons:

  • All chocolate is not created equal.
  • Dark chocolate has a lot more healthier benefits than milk chocolate (Darn!)
  • The milk components in milk chocolate may prevent some of the absorption of the antioxidants
  • You need to limit the amount of chocolate you consume daily, especially if you are watching your weight

     Choose chocolate with at least 72% cocoa. Also make sure it doesn’t contain partially hydrogenated fat.  Sorry, you still need to limit the dark chocolate to about 1 ounce a day.  Also consider using old fashion cocoa which has all the benefits without the extra fat, sugar and calories, which most chocolate products contain. So enjoy your chocolate (in moderation) this Valentine’s Day.

     Let me share one of my favorite ways to enjoy dark chocolate.   How about adding fruit to your chocolate treat.  Dark chocolate covered strawberries gives you the best of both worlds– yummy chocolate along with the bonus of  fiber, vitamins, and minerals. This recipe is so appropriate for Valentine’s Day.  So go ahead; have your chocolate and eat it too!

 

Dark Chocolate Covered Strawberries (low-sugar)

Ingredients:

  • 1 large bar of 72% (or higher) cocoa chocolate
  • 1 pound of fresh strawberries, with leaves

Directions:

  1. Wash and dry strawberries
  2. Place strawberries on a wax-paper covered pan– set pan in the refrigerator.
  3. Break the chocolate bar up into small pieces, place them in a glass bowl and microwave for  about 20 seconds at a time, stirring well in between.
  4. Repeat this until the chocolate is smooth and melted (the total time will depend on the size of the chocolate pieces and amount of chocolate that you’re making)
  5. Remove strawberries from the refrigerator and immediately begin dipping your strawberries. Carefully place them on the pan – do not allow the strawberries to touch.
  6. Store in the refrigerator until the chocolate has hardened.

     There are a lot of variations on this recipe– you could use dark chocolate bars, or a 3:1 ratio of semi-sweet and milk chocolate (or white chocolate) chips. They can be coated with crushed nuts or drizzled with a contrasting colored chocolate (which also helps disguise any mistakes!).

 

Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody!

 

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Keeping it Simple

I’m sure you’ve seen nutrition articles out there, all touting a new, special “superfood”– usually one that’s expensive, difficult to find, or hard to prepare. While these foods aren’t inherently bad, they’re not necessarily better for you either. Many of the exotic foods have more familiar alternatives with similar nutritional content.

For example:

Açai: Açai is a small berry grown in the Brazilian Amazon, and is packed full of anthocyanidins (an antioxidant), fiber, phytoflavinoids, potassium and Vitamin C. Fresh açai berries aren’t usually available in the United States, so they tend to be sold as powders, supplements, or juice at inflated prices. As an alternative, blueberries are widely available, much cheaper, and have a similar flavor and consistency– as well as similar levels of anthocyanidins, fiber, and less sugar than açai berries. Pomegranates are another alternative with similar benefits, and even more Vitamins K and C, as well as less sugar than açai berries.

Kale: Kale is a dark leafy-green most closely related to collard greens and brussel sprouts. Its abundant in Vitamins K, A, and C, calcium. While kale is relatively inexpensive and widely available at most grocery stores, many find it to have an acquired taste due to the slight bitterness. If you aren’t a fan, consider spinach–  a sweet, very common, salad green. Spinach is very rich in many of the same nutrients as kale, with even more Vitamin B6 and folate.

Chia seeds: Chia seeds are used for their high fiber and protein content, while supplying a low number of calories. This is example of a food that doesn’t have one single alternative, but is easy to fill those same benefits with a well-balanced diet . While it’s difficult to find a food that matches the 151% of your daily value of fiber offered by chia seeds, wheat bran comes close with 99% of your daily value, at a reduced price. Turkey, beef, pork, fish, and cheeses are good sources of protein, while black, white, navy, kidney, and lima beans are all good non-meat sources of both fiber and protein.

Eating a well-rounded diet containing all of the food groups and the full rainbow of fruits and vegetables helps to ensure that you obtain adequate amounts of all of these nutrients, without having to go out in search of specific foods. Remember, the best “diet” is one that you stick to for life! Simplifying your food choices and sticking to the basics can help your healthy eating patterns become more routine, rather than a chore.
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Let’s Talk about Halloween Candy!

There are certain things that instantly bring one’s mind to autumn– orange leaves, brisk breezes, pumpkin spice-flavored everything… and Halloween! The sweetest– and scariest– holiday of them all has arrived! And along with Halloween comes the grocery store aisles filled with colorful bags of individually-wrapped wads of sugar in any shape and artificial flavor you could imagine.
Of course, moderation is key, and a small treat never hurts once in a while– but when you buy a 5-10 lb bag of candy to hand out to the trick-or-treating youngsters, it provides an opportunity for that willpower to slip and that steel-clad discipline to turn into a giant pile of empty mini Snickers wrappers sitting on the counter.

 

To avoid such a scene from happening this year, here are a couple tips to consider:

-Be a procrastinator this year, and buy your Halloween candy at the last minute. This will stop the temptation to crack open that big bag of chocolate a couple days early. Granted, the closer you wait until Halloween, the more likely they are to be out of your favorite type of candy– which leads to the next tip…

-Buy candy that you don’t like! The easiest way to avoid temptation is to stop it from entering your house in the first place. Try to think of the candy that’s so gross, you wouldn’t eat it even if you were sitting by the door for two hours with a big bowl of it in your hand– chances are, the kids aren’t as picky. Or better yet…

-Rather than buying sugary candies, try some healthier food options like little baggies of cinnamon almonds, mini boxes of raisins/craisins, or clementines. There are also candy-free options! Little trinkets and toys– like vampire fangs, mini slinkies, and googly eyeballs– are easy to come by at party stores or dollar stores. They provide kids with that same entertainment and fun, but without the stomach aches to follow!

-After all is said and done, make sure you don’t have leftovers after the festivities come to an end. If you still have a bit too much candy toward the end of the night, it may be time to become that neighbor that every kid loves and give out giant handfuls!

-If you end the night with too many leftovers, consider donating it! Many food banks, homeless shelters, and nursing homes will gladly take excess candy– as do some military charities such as Operation Shoebox or Operation Gratitude, who ship candy to the troops overseas.

-If you have young kids at home, you could use some of the candy they’ve collected to try some fun candy experiments! There are dozens of child-friendly experiments that can help them learn while they play with their food, rather than eating it.

 Have a safe, happy, and healthy[ish] Halloween, from NADEC!

 

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Welcome to NADEC’s First Blog!

At the Nutrition and Diabetes Education Center, it’s our goal to provide practical advice and solutions to help you navigate through the complexities of nutritional health.
Since 2003, we’ve used a holistic approach with our patients, through the mind, body, and spirit, to help people grow– and now we’re going to be taking that same approach in our practice! Over the years, we’ve had thousands of people come visit us at our office– but now we’re going to start bringing the information straight to you in our brand new blog and social media accounts!
By following this, you’ll have access to the most current nutritional news and research, fun cooking tips and recipes, lifestyle advice– as well as news about NADEC– all in one convenient and exciting place! Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, and keep on the lookout for our next post, where we’ll be getting into the fun of Halloween candy!
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