What So Sweet About Chocolate?

What So Sweet About Chocolate?

Maybe the reason it is the favorite flavor of America is because it tastes so good…chocolate, that is.

According to the National Day Calendar, the process of chocolate goes something like this:

Chocolate comes from the seed of the tropical Theobroma cacao tree. Cacao, which has been cultivated for at least three millennia, is grown in Mexico, Central America and Northern South America. The earliest known documentation of using cacao seeds is from around 1100 BC.  The cacao tree seeds have a very intense, bitter taste that must be fermented to develop the flavor.

Once the seeds have been fermented, the beans are dried, cleaned and roasted.  After roasting, the shell is removed to produce cacao nibs. The cacao nibs are then ground into cocoa mass, which is pure chocolate in rough form.  The cocoa mass is usually liquefied then molded with or without other ingredients. At this point in the process, it is called chocolate liquor.  The chocolate liquor may then be processed into two components: cocoa solids and cocoa butter.

But, here’s the sweetest part of it all – chocolate, in its purest form is actually good for you. Many think it’s an unhealthy guilty pleasure. However, if eaten without all of the additives that most manufacturers like to include in the ingredients, chocolate can actually be a health food. It’s high in iron, calcium, potassium and vitamins A, B, C and D.

Here are some facts:

Antioxidants: chocolate contains flavanol, a naturally occurring antioxidant with many heart healthy benefits including lowering blood pressure and reducing blood clotting. Besides flavanol, chocolate also contains many more powerful antioxidants, and according to health experts, may contain up to fifteen times more of these cell-protecting antioxidant compounds than blueberries!

Essential vitamins and minerals: Cacao beans are loaded with many essential vitamins and minerals the body needs to thrive. These include vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, C, E along with magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc, copper, potassium and manganese.

When compared to other foods, cacao contains one of the highest amounts of magnesium—an essential mineral required by the body to maintain healthy muscle and nerve function, build strong bones, and keep our immune system strong.

Mood boosting propertiesThere’s a reason chocolate makes us smile. Resveratrol, an antioxidant found chocolate among other products contains mental health benefits including boosting levels of endorphins and serotonin in the brain helping to improve our mood.

So, this National Chocolate Day, you can have your chocolate and eat it, too! Go ahead…indulge. Just do me a favor…

Remember that it’s best to avoid overly processed chocolate that contains artificial flavoring and sweeteners. It’s easy to find them, especially around certain holidays of the year, such as Valentine’s Day and Halloween. Opt for organic dark chocolate, whenever possible.

7 Fruits and Vegetables to Enjoy During National Nutrition Month

7 Fruits and Vegetables to Enjoy During National Nutrition Month

This month March, is National Nutrition Month. This year’s theme is “Put Your Best Fork Forward.” While of course, it is important to eat foods that are nutritious, taste is a key reason why people choose to eat what they do. Pairing good nutrition with great taste creates a win-win situation. National Nutrition Month, created annually in March by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, is a nutrition education campaign which focuses on the importance of making good food choices.

One way to “put your best fork forward” is to include a colorful diet. My suggestion, when choosing fruits and vegetables, is that you choose a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables as different antioxidants exist in the different color spectrums. The deep orange color found in cantaloupe and sweet potatoes contains beta carotene. The dark blue color of blueberries contains polyphenols which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. The deep red pigment found in tomatoes and watermelon contains the antioxidant lycopene.

Below (in alphabetical order) are several nutrition powerhouses, of varying colors and nutrients that I love to include in my diet and highly recommend. Continue reading