Tag Archives: Chocolate

5 Junk Foods that are Actually Healthy

Generally, nutritionists and dietitians refrain from labeling foods as “good” or “bad,” as it can promote unhealthy attitudes towards food — and, for the most part, any food can be eaten as long as it’s in moderation. But we’re all familiar with junk food: heavily processed and often packaged food products that are high in calories, fat, sugar, and sodium and generally void of nutrients. Cheeseburgers, Cheetos, Twinkies, and french fries might come to mind. But some “junk foods,” like the ones listed below, actually have some redeeming nutritional qualities. They may not be as nutrient-dense as whole, unprocessed foods like blueberries, kale, salmon, and lentils, but they do have a place in any healthy diet (especially when you’re in a pinch and are staring at a Cinnabon menu!). Just eat them in the most unprocessed form you can find– think air-popped popcorn instead of movie theater popcorn.

Chocolate
As long as you’re sticking to dark chocolate–with a cocoa content of 70% or higher–a few pieces of chocolate might just be the perfect dessert. Dark chocolate is rich in flavonoids, antioxidant compounds also found in green tea and red wine, that have been shown to boost heart health by improving cholesterol levels and relaxing blood vessels. One study from San Diego State University, comparing the health effects of dark chocolate versus white chocolate, found that individuals who ate dark chocolate had lower blood sugar levels, perhaps because its antioxidants help the body use insulin more efficiently. But more noteworthy, perhaps, is that white chocolate-eaters experienced a decline in skin blood flow, indicating that the antioxidants present in dark chocolate cancel out the negative effects of fat and sugar.

Pick it: Chocolove Currants & Almonds in Dark Chocolate (73% cocoa content); Scharffen Berger Dark Chocolate (70%); Michel Cluizel Grand Noir (85%)
Skip it: White chocolate; milk chocolate; grocery store truffles

Dark chocolate

Popcorn
A recent study found that popcorn contains more antioxidants than many fruits and vegetables. Because popcorn is only 4% water (fruits and vegetables, in comparison, contain up to 95% water), the antioxidant polyphenols, found in the hull, are more concentrated. One of these polyphenols–ferulic acid–has been found to reduce the risk of cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and neurodegenerative diseases. Of course, smothering your popcorn in oil, butter, and salt will reduce the protective benefits of its antioxidants and fiber. Air-popped popcorn is best, as it’s an undoctored whole grain; add flavor with ingredients like turmeric, cardamom, cumin, parmesan cheese, and truffle oil. Microwave popcorn has twice as many calories, so indulge in moderation.

Pick it: Air-popped popcorn with spices, herbs, nuts, or a little butter or parmesan cheese
Skip it: Microwave popcorn; movie theater popcorn

Popcorn

Full-fat salad dressing
Restaurant and fast food salads are often at the top of “worst foods for your waistlines” lists, and that’s often because their dressings pack a ridiculous amount of calories and fat. On The Border’s Chipotle Honey Mustard Dressing adds at least 310 calories and 29 grams of fat to your meal–and that’s only if the chef adheres to the serving size. But the fats found in salad dressings help us absorb nutrients like fat-soluble vitamins A, D, K and E, lycopene, and beta carotene. In one study, individuals who ate a salad with avocado (rich in monounsaturated fats) absorbed two to fifteen times more lycopene, beta carotene, and alpha carotene than those who ate a fat-free salad. The key is portion size: a standard serving size for salad dressing is two tablespoons, a mere fraction of what you’re likely served at restaurants. Ask for dressing on the side and pour judiciously; or simply dip each bite into the dressing. Look for dressings made with monounsaturated fats (look for olive, canola, avocado, or sesame oil); these will enhance nutrient absorption no matter how much you use, so you can keep calorie consumption in check.

Pick it: Olive-, canola-, avocado-, sesame-, peanut-, and other monounsaturated fat-based oils
Skip it: Fat-free and reduced-fat salad dressings; high-sugar salad dressings; salad dressings high in saturated or trans fats; salad dressings with more than five ingredients

Salad Dressing

Beer
Red wine might steal the spotlight when it comes to antioxidant-rich alcoholic drinks, but don’t overlook beer: it contains just as many antioxidants as wine plus B vitamins and minerals. The hops (which are actually flowers from the plant Humulus Iupulus and are responsible for adding that bitter taste and aroma to beer) contains xanthohumol, an antioxidant that exhibits antiviral, anti-allergic, anti-clotting, anti-inflammatory, and anti-tumor activity. According to Donald Buhler, PhD., lead author of a study testing beer’s antioxidant effects, xanthohumol is especially potent because of its unique chemical structure that allows it to survive longer in the body, thereby maximizing its disease-fighting effects. As always, drink in moderation: research shows that one drink a day for women or two drinks a day for men is associated with improved brain and heart health and stronger bones. Pick stouts or dark ales, which contain higher levels of antioxidants.

Pick it: Guinness Draught; Newcastle Ale; Beck’s Premier Light
Skip it: Sierra Nevada Bigfoot; Samuel Adams Boston Lager; high-calorie beers; sugary cocktails

Red Meat
Good news for most Americans: it’s perfectly healthy to indulge in steak, bison burgers, and lamb chops every so often. Red meat is packed with protein (20-24 grams per three ounce serving), as well as iron, vitamin B12, and zinc. And grass-fed beef has even more benefits: it contains up to one third the amount of fat as corn- or grain-fed beef, and the fats it does have contain more omega-3 fatty acids in addition to conjugated linoleic acid, a type of fat that is linked with weight loss and a reduced risk of cancer and heart disease. Pick leaner cuts of meat like sirloin and top round; steer clear of fattier cuts, like rib-eye, T-bone, and strip steak, as well as processed meats like bacon, sausage, and deli meats.

Pick it: Grass-fed beef; eye, top, and bottom round roast and steak; sirloin; leg of lamb; bison meat
Skip it: Bacon, sausages, cured meats; hot dogs

Red Meat

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Foods That Fight Mental Decline

Research shows that normal memory problems can begin as early as age 27. And while such minor forgetful moments certainly don’t signify cognitive decline, everyone could still use a boost in cognitive performance! In addition to keeping stress at bay, working out and engaging your brain regularly, simply eating certain foods can actually boost mental performance. Add these six foods (including dark chocolate!) to your weekly or daily diets. Read more at America’s Eating Strategist.

Chocolate Chip Cherry Coconut Cookies

These whole wheat cookies are packed with cherries, chocolate chips, and coconut, making them a healthier variation of the traditional and much-loved chocolate chip cookie. Ingredients like whole wheat flour, honey, and applesauce displace some of the cookie’s less healthy ingredients without compromising flavor. Dried cherries, dark chocolate, and flaked coconut give the standard cookie a more complex flavor profile and decrease the amount of sugar necessary. I like my cookies chewy; if you like yours crispier, bake for an extra 3-4 minutes.

Ingredients
1 cup Whole Wheat Flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
⅛ teaspoon salt
½ cup brown sugar, packed
1 T honey
⅛ cup butter, softened
⅛ cup unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
½ cup semisweet chocolate chips
⅓ cup dried cherries, chopped
1 cup unsweetened coconut, flaked (note flaked, not shredded; bigger pieces of coconut give better flavor and crunch)

Method
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. On baking sheet covered in aluminum foil, spread flaked coconut and bake for 5 mintues (watch carefully so it doesn’t burn).
3. Add sugar, honey, butter, and applesauce in a large bowl; beat until blended.
4. Add vanilla and egg; beat.
5. Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt; add to large bowl and mix at low speed.
6. Add chocolate chips, dried cherries and coconut until just combined.
7. Scoop onto greased cookie pan.
8. Bake for 9 minutes.

Makes about 15 cookies.

Nutritional Information: per cookie: 166 calories, 7 g fat (4 g saturated), 23 g carbs, 2.3 g fiber, 2 g protein, 18 g sugar


Why you should eat these:
The average chocolate chip cookie has about 200 calories, but restaurant and deli options can easily pack in 500 or more! And because cookies are essentially empty calories, it’s best if they have as little a caloric impact as possible. These cookies manage to come in under 200 calories, even though they’re packed with chocolate chunks, cherries, and coconut. Another bonus: these same delicious ingredients give the cookie some nutritional redemption. Dark chocolate is packed with flavonols and antioxidants that help lower blood pressure, protect against cardiovascular disease, improves mood, protects skin, and, as new research shows, may help individuals maintain a healthy weight. Cherries are an athlete’s superfood: due to their anti-inflammatory properties, they help reduce muscle soreness following intense exercise. And coconut, made of healthier medium chain fatty acids, may boost metabolism and the immune system. While I wouldn’t recommend depending on dessert for a nutrient and antioxidant boost, it’s certainly an added bonus to a great-tasting cookie.

Healthy Valentine’s Day Foods

A huge box of chocolates, a shared plate of spaghetti and meatballs, a heart-shaped red velvet cake: Valentine’s Day is certainly not the time to shy away from indulgent foods. But your dinner doesn’t have to be a caloric feast. Many foods – some common, some exotic – with historically aphrodisiac roots are high in valuable nutrients – and boost your mood at the same time.

Figs
Featured prominently in the Bible, many scholars believe the fig was actually the forbidden fruit picked by Eve, giving it it’s first scandalous reputation. Ancient Romans believed figs were a gift from the god of intoxication, Bacchus, while in ancient Greece, figs were symbols of love and fertility. And even with their sweet, honey-like taste, figs are still considered a healthy treat: with 14 grams of fiber per cup (broccoli has 5 grams), they are one of the highest plant-based sources of fiber. In addition to protecting against breast and colon cancer and lowering cholesterol, fiber helps in weight management. And don’t throw away the famous fig leaves that once covered Adam and Eve: several studies have shown that they have anti-diabetic properties by reducing the amount of insulin needed.

Oysters
The word “aphrodisiac” actually originated with an oyster, when the goddess of love Aphrodite rose from the sea in an oyster shell. Since then, oysters, as well as other mollusks, have been regarded as the ultimate food of love. Low in calories and high in protein (six contain just 57 calories and 6 grams of protein), they’re an excellent choice for an appetizer. While salmon gets all the omega-3 hype, oysters are high in the fatty acids as well, which contribute to a healthy heart and fight inflammation. They’re also the richest source of zinc, a mineral that contributes to a healthy immune system and may even reduce depression and anger. If you can’t stomach raw oysters, don’t mar their delicate taste with cream or butter; they’re just as delicious poached, steamed, baked, or roasted with a squirt of lemon juice, salt, and herbs.

Asparagus
17th century herbalist Nicholas Culpepper wrote that asparagus “stirs up lust in man and woman.” He may have been on to something: a 2011 study published in the International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Drug Research found that extracts of asparagus significantly exerted aphrodisiac properties in male rats. Asparagus is rich in inulin, a type of soluble fiber that travels undigested to the large intestine and acts as a prebiotic (as a food source for probiotics like Lactobacilli). In studies, inulin has also been found to increase calcium absorption, making it the only food source (apart from calcium) that effectively improves bone mineral density. In addition to being high in potassium, folic acid, choline, biotin, and vitamins A, C, E, and K, the National Cancer Center has named asparagus as the top food source of glutathione, one of the most powerful antioxidants in the body. Serve asparagus roasted with truffles, another lust-boosting food.

Chocolate
Chocolate – the ultimate Valentine’s Day food and the number one craving of American women – contains a cocktail of compounds that contribute to both health and those loving feelings. With anandamide (a molecule that mimics THC), phenylethylamine, and theobromine, it has been found to increase the release of the bliss-inducing neurotransmitter dopamine. And adding more bang to your happiness buck, it’s one of the few sweet treats that actually has some nutritional value: its flavanols are known to protect against cancer and heart disease and lower blood pressure. Other antioxidants boost cognitive performance, including memory, attention span, problem solving, and reaction time. Stick with one ounce a day and pick a bar with at least 70% cacao (skip the generic supermarket Russell Stover box!); milk may hinder the absorption of antioxidants, while added sugar negates its benefits.

Truffles
In 1825, French gastronome Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote that the truffle “awakens lustful and erotic memories” among both genders. And although he didn’t know it, their musky scent is reminiscent of the male pheromone androstenone. Apparently, it attracts both sows, who eagerly dig up the truffles, and female humans. Truffles are high in protein, containing all the essential amino acids, making them an ideal source for vegetarians. Like other mushrooms, they stimulate the immune system and and inhibit tumor growth. Because they’re so rare, truffles are extremely expensive (recently, three pounds sold for $300,000!). But their rich and intense taste comes with even tiny amounts, and allows you to cut back on fat and salt for flavoring.