The Truth About Chocolate (& the Best Way to Eat It)

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, chocolate is on my mind.

In fact, Valentine’s Day sparks memories of my childhood days. Cheesy (but adorable) cards, Conversation Hearts (with Call Me and Love You printed in red ink), and Russell Stover’s and Whitman chocolate boxes.

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Back then I actually thought I didn’t like chocolate. I was suspicious of the oddly flavored, pseudo-fruit fillings. And unconvinced by the dodgy caramel and nut fillings. I just thought I wasn’t a “chocolate” person.

Then I visited Switzerland (the land of chocolate) and was given carte blanche in a high quality chocolate shop. And I finally understood the obsession with chocolate!

I’ve also done the research — on the real benefits of chocolate and how to get the most out of it.
 
So if you plan to indulge yourself (or someone else) for Valentine’s Day with chocolate, please continue reading. Because I’m sharing the evidence-based benefits of chocolate, how to make sure you get the most from your chocolate, and my favorite chocolate brand.

THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF CHOCOLATE

You’ve probably seen headlines and news snippets touting the health benefits of chocolate. Think it sounds too good to be true? Think again!

Studies show that chocolate consumption is linked to:
    •     Lower blood pressure
    •     Improved insulin response
    •     Improved mood

Plus, it tastes delicious!


WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW WHEN PICKING CHOCOLATE

Not all chocolate is the same. A high quality dark chocolate is going to do much more for you than a high-fructose corn syrup sweetened fudge topping. To make sure you're picking the best options, I’ve put together a mini chocolate education for you.

1.) Cocoa is NOT Cacao.

You may see these words on chocolate products and think they are the same.

But they aren’t.

Cacao fruit trees (also known as Theobroma Cacao) produce cacao pods. Cacao pods contain cacao beans. Cacao beans can be processed different ways.

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Cacao beans.

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Cacao beans can be chopped into small pieces and are called cacao nibs. They can be heated and made into a paste (then often made into cacao bars). Most often, the beans are lightly heated until the cacao butter separates from the beans. Once the butter is removed, the beans are milled into a fine powder.

Cocoa is the product of processed cacao; usually cacao is processed at extremely high heat to make cocoa. What does this do? It improves the taste by decreasing bitterness. On the flip side, the high heat processing can decrease the potency of beneficial enzymes and antioxidants.

2.) Dark chocolate is best.

There are actually federal definitions for chocolate. Let’s review some common definitions to make sure we're on the same page.

  • Dark chocolate: a chocolate product that is at least 50 percent cacao.
  • Milk chocolate: a chocolate product that is at least 30 percent cacao. Milk chocolate usually contains sugar and vanilla. It may also contain dairy (see #3 below).
  • White chocolate: a product made from cocoa butter and sugar.

The health benefits of chocolate are attributed to the cacao. Therefore the higher the percentage of cacao, the better off you are. That means the darker the chocolate (and the higher the percentage), the better off you are.

3.) Dairy in milk chocolate makes it harder for you to get the health benefits of chocolate.

Nearly all the research that shows health benefits with cacao and cocoa are completed using powder with NO dairy added.

The reason? When milk solids are mixed with cacao, many of cacao’s beneficial nutrients are not absorbed by the body.

So if you rationalize chocolate consumption by waxing about the health benefits, make sure you choose dairy-free options.

4.) Many chocolate products contain unnecessary (and often unhealthy) additives.

Most chocolate products sold contain unnecessary additives. These additives usually make chocolate worse for you.

Think of dairy and milk solids already discussed. They decrease the health benefits of chocolate. Other additives that can be found in chocolate include clay, soy lecithin, and chemical emulsifiers.

To make sure you get the most bang for your chocolate buck, pick chocolate without unnecessary additives.

5.) White chocolate is not actually chocolate.

Recall from the definitions above that white chocolate is a product made from cocoa butter and sugar. It does not contain cocoa. Therefore, it really isn’t chocolate.

While it may be tasty, white chocolate does not contain the health benefits of cocoa.

MY FAVORITE CHOCOLATE BRANDS

Note: I do NOT have any financial relationships with the companies I recommend below. This is entirely based on my personal opinion and experience.

As you can see, not all chocolate is created equally.

Expensive and well known chocolate brands are often not the best.

In my mind, the best chocolate is:
    •    Dark (65% or higher content)
    •    Contains three ingredients or less
    •    Is free of unnecessary additives (like milk solids, clay, and soy lecithin)

While my list of requirements is small, it can be tricky to find a product that fits the bill.

Theo Chocolate

My favorite go-to is Theo chocolate (remember, I mentioned back here around the holidays). Theo is an organic chocolate roaster and maker located in Seattle, Washington. Their products are high quality, free of unnecessary additives, and reasonably priced.

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If you live in Seattle, you can even visit the Theo chocolate factory where they give daily tours. If not, you can find Theo chocolate at a variety of retailers across the United States. Whole Foods (in store), REI (in store), Amazon (online), and Thrive Market (online) all stock Theo chocolate.

Enjoy Life

If you are looking for chocolate chips or chunks for baking, Enjoy Life makes some great options. The mini chips only include 3 ingredients are free of milk solids and common allergens (such as gluten, peanuts, soy, and eggs).

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I’ve been known to dip a spoonful of almond butter into the Enjoy Life mini chips for a quick and sweet treat.

Natural grocers and Whole Foods usually stock Enjoy Life chocolate chips. I usually buy mine online from Vitacost at a significant discount.

NEXT STEPS

Consider yourself chocolate educated! So next time you reach for a chocolate treat (or buy one for someone you love), remember my tips so you can enjoy the health and taste benefits.

xoxo,

Skye

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Banishing Post-Lunch Bloat & Regret (+ 6 Tips for a Better Lunch)

Lunch Regret

Have you ever eaten lunch and immediately regretted it? Maybe you felt bloated, lethargic, or just plain bad afterward. Or your pants felt too tight or your skin a little greasy? If so, you are not alone. I call sufferers of this phenomenon victims of Lunch Regret Syndrome (LRS).

Instead of focusing on the negative, let’s focus on how you want tofeel after lunch. In a perfect world, you would feel nourished, invigorated, and refreshed. Ready for action and mentally clear.

And it’s possible. There are filling lunches that also leave you flourishing.

You can have your lunch and eat it too.

To help you, I’m sharing tricks to help you have a better lunch. If this is right up your alley, you have one of my oldest friends to thank. This post was her special request. And because she has two adorable kiddos, a special bonus section on lunches for little ones follows.

A Word to the Wise

Do yourself a favor and just pack lunch the night before. It’s tempting to think you’ll have time in the morning, but if you are like me, it won’t happen. Trust me on this one. And use those extra minutes in the morning to meditate.

Adult Lunch Tricks

1. Pack leftovers from the night before.

Obvi, but this is what I do 90% of the time. I cook something delicious and nutritious for dinner (tonight is mushroom fajitas) and immediately pack leftovers for lunch the next day. Add a side salad and a piece of fruit, and you’re set!

2. Make a smoothie.

If I know I’ll be on the go during lunch hours or seeing patients without a break, smoothies are my go to. Fill them with spinach, fruit, flaxseed, and nuts and you’ll be satisfied for hours.

3. Wrap it.

With collard greens, that is. Instead of a sandwich on white bread, fix a sandwich in a raw collard green. Collards (the new kale) are mild in flavor and high in nutrients. My current fave is hummus, spinach, Greek olives, and red peppers wrapped in collards.

4. Be a salad chef.

I’m not talking about wilted iceberg lettuce and some weird dressing from a bottle. Picture colorful greens, black beans, ripe avocado slices, diced fresh tomatoes and cucumber, homemade tortilla chip crumbles, cilantro garnish, all topped with a creamy and delicious dressing. This salad should be satisfying, filling, and packed with flavor. Add a side of fruit and a sparkling water, and you’re set up for lunchtime success. TRICK: bring your dressing in a separate container (a small mason jar works great) or place on the bottom on your container to prevent the dreaded mushy salad.

5. Add dark chocolate.

Okay, this should not be your entire lunch so hear me out. If you like to finish off with something sweet (and I know many people do), consider a square of natural dark chocolate. The less sugar, the better. My personal pick is Theo dark chocolate, which is made in Seattle, but can be found at retailers across the country. Whole Foods and REI carry Theo chocolate from coast to coast. You can always order online from Theo direct or from third-parties such as Vitacost (on sale right now and save an extra $10 off your purchase using this link).

6. Finish with a tisane or tea.

Mint is a natural stomach soother and has other wonderful health benefits. This is why many restaurants offer after dinner mints. Finish your lunch with a refreshing warm drink. When I can, I infuse hot water with fresh mint leaves from my garden. In a pinch or when I’m on the go, I use herbal mint tea (Tazo Refresh is my usual).

BONUS: IDEAS FOR KIDDOS

Personally, I’m excited to dive into leftovers for lunch. But as a child (and really until I started cooking for myself), I detested leftovers. The good ol’ packing leftovers trick may not work for the kiddos so I’m giving you a few ideas to help make their lunches better.

Drinks

Water, water, water. If your kids beg for juice, please make sure it is 100% fruit juice. I shudder remembering the Sunny D I used to drink during soccer game half-time (corn syrup is the second ingredient and I’m still not sure why canola oil would need to be added to “juice”).

Fruits and Veggies

Make fruit and vegetables approachable. Would you ever send your kiddo to school with a raw chicken breast in their lunchbox? Probably not. So why would you send them with unprepped fruits and veggies?

Cut and core apples and add a side (nut butter with a little honey is a good option or make it dessert with a chocolate dip). Try kale chips. Serve chopped veggies with hummus or another tasty dip. Use a vegetable peeler and make carrot peels. Dust your spiralizer off and make veggie curls. Have fun and be creative here.

Sandwich Hacks

If your little eaters are sandwich lovers, there are still ways to improve the quality of their lunches.

  • Try bread alternatives (see collard idea above).
  • Use whole grain bread exclusively. This is an area where food marketing really tries to trick you. Look at the ingredient list and make sure the word “whole” precedes the grain in each ingredient. Remember, multi-grain does not necessarily mean whole grain.
  • Switch up the type of bread you use. It can be easy to buy the same bread each week, but there are a plethora of options out there. Experiment with brown rice bread, pumpernickel, rye, sourdough, and raisin bread.
  • Try a nut butter and fresh fruit sandwich. Think peanut butter and banana, almond butter and strawberry, or cashew butter and blueberry. If your little ones really want sweet, drizzle a little sweetener (like Grade B maple syrup or honey) on top.
  • Sneak veggies into other sandwiches. Lettuce, tomato, raw spinach, sprouts, avocado, and red peppers can often complement sandwich ingredients.

Sweet Tooth

If something sweet is desired, think outside the (store bought cookie) box. Most kids love a good smoothie — try packing one full of fruit or try a chocolate smoothie. Be a cookie chef and try an uber healthy recipe. I’m a bonafide cookie lover and have a cadre of wellness supporting recipes in rotation.

Get Ready to Feel Better in the Afternoon

Now that you have a few tricks up your sleeve, pick one or two and give it a try tomorrow. Or the next time you need to pack a lunch. Don’t stress if every trick doesn’t work for you. See what works and stick with it, and discard what doesn’t.

Here’s to a better way to lunch. Do you have a great lunch hack that I missed? I’d love to hear about it.

 

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