Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Definitive Guide to Chocolate

inline_definitive_guide_to_chocolateAh, chocolate. What a life.

According to the Aztecs, the great feathered serpent god of wisdom and creation known as Quetzalcoatl introduced the cocoa bean to mankind. It’s likelier that it originated in the Amazon rainforest and wound its way north to Mesoamerica, whose inhabitants figured out they could domesticate, ferment, roast, crush, and mix cocoa with water, chilies, and spices to produce a bitter, intoxicating drink. It then took a boat across the Atlantic, learning Spanish along the way. Europe wasn’t sure what to make of the bitterness until someone spilled a little sugar into the drink. Cocoa quickly swept across the continent, giving rise to large corporations that persist to this day, like Cadbury, Nestle, Hershey, and Lindt.

Today, chocolate is everywhere. It’s part of the fabric of human experience.

Why’s it so good?

Let’s start with…

The Health Benefits

Chocolate Contains Healthy Fats

Cocoa butter is mostly monounsaturated and saturated fat, with very little polyunsaturated fat. And because most of that saturated fat is stearic acid, which turns into oleic acid in the body and is well known for having neutral effects on LDL, even avowed lipophobes can happily and heartily gobble up cocoa fat.

Cocoa butter has been shown in animal studies to protect the liver against ethanol-induced damage.

Dark Chocolate Contains Lots of Flavanols

Flavanols are an important class of polyphenols, the phytonutrients that have beneficial effects on oxidative stress, inflammation, and help produce beneficial hormetic stress responses. When it comes to polyphenol content and antioxidant capacity, cocoa trounces the “superfruits” acai, pomegranate, cranberry, blueberry and almost everything else. The most studied polyphenol in chocolate is epicatechin, a flavanol.

Dark Chocolate and Endothelial Health/Blood Pressure

Epidemiological studies pretty consistently show that dark chocolate consumption is related to lower blood pressure readings. In Jordan, among Kuna Indians living in Panama, among pregnant women, and among elderly Dutch, this holds true.

Controlled trials suggest this observation is probably causation:

Cocoa consumption improved arterial flow in smokers. That’s not too surprising, as smokers have higher oxidative loads and high-polyphenol foods help fight oxidative stress. What’s really fascinating is the study that found fifteen days of eating dark chocolate, but not white chocolate, lowered blood pressure (and improved insulin sensitivity) in healthy subjects. The main difference between white and dark chocolate is the polyphenol content; both types contain cocoa fat, so cocoa fat isn’t enough to improve blood pressure.

In another study, flavanol-rich dark chocolate consumption improved endothelial function while increasing plasma levels of flavanols (which indicates the flavanols had something to do with it). Another study used flavanol-rich cocoa to increase nitric oxide production in healthy humans, which increased vasodilation and improved endothelial function. In another, the highest dose of cocoa flavanoids caused the biggest drop in blood pressure. Still another found that while dark chocolate did not reduce blood pressure, improve lipids, nor reduce oxidative stress, it did improve coronary circulation.

Dark Chocolate Is Prebiotic

Chocolate is a good source of polyphenols and fiber, both of which act as prebiotic precursors for healthy gut bacteria.

In “spontaneously hypertensive” rats, cocoa soluble fiber lowered blood pressure, perhaps by reducing weight gain.

Dark Chocolate and Cardiovascular Disease

In humans, both with normal and elevated cholesterol levels, eating cocoa powder mixed with hot water lowered oxidized LDL and ApoB (a good barometer for LDL particle number) counts while increasing HDL. All three doses of high-flavanol cocoa powder – 13, 19.5, and 26 g/day – proved beneficial. If you’re wondering, 26 grams of powder is about a quarter cup. It also works if you drink it with milk.

Given the effects of chocolate on lipid peroxidation, we can probably surmise that it will also lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. And indeed, epidemiological studies suggest that this is the case. In a sample of over 2200 patients (PDF), chocolate consumption was inversely associated with progression of atherosclerotic plaque. The association held for chocolate in general, and I don’t think it’s likely that everyone was consuming 100% raw cacao powder brimming with polyphenols. A study from this year from the same group got similar results: chocolate consumption was inversely associated with cardiovascular disease.

Dark Chocolate and Insulin Resistance

For fifteen days, hypertensive, glucose-intolerant patients received either 100 daily grams of high-polyphenol dark chocolate or 100 daily grams of zero-polyphenol white chocolate. Diets were isocaloric, and nothing differed between the groups besides the type of chocolate. Dark chocolate improved beta cell function, lowered blood pressure, increased insulin sensitivity, and improved endothelial function, while white chocolate did none of those things. Again, this indicates it’s the polyphenols, not just the cocoa butter.

Dark Chocolate and Fatty Liver

As mentioned earlier, cocoa butter is hepatoprotective in the context of ethanol consumption. These benefits seem to extend to other areas of liver health.

Daily chocolate consumption is linked to lower liver enzymes.

Dark Chocolate and UV Damage

One study found that feeding high levels of dark chocolate to healthy people over twelve weeks doubled their MED, or resistance to UV damage; feeding low levels of dark chocolate had no effect on the MED.

Similarly, another study found that a people who ate high levels of cocoa flavanols had greater resistance to a given UV dosage than a low-flavanol group over a six and twelve-week period.

Dark Chocolate and Aging

It seems like every time you read about the dietary habits of a centenarian, they’re big chocolate lovers. That may not be a fluke, as chocolate has been shown to improve many aspects of the aging process.

In postmenopausal women, high-cocoa dark chocolate improves blood flow to the brain and periphery. It also reduces arterial stiffness.

A 40 gram hunk of dark chocolate improves the ability of older patients with peripheral arterial disease to walk unassisted within 2 hours of consumption. That’s wild.

Older folks who eat the most chocolate have better cognitive function and a lower risk of getting type 2 diabetes.

It’s pretty clear that the older you are, the more chocolate you should eat. I’m certainly operating under that assumption.

How Chocolate Is Made

What are we talking about when we talk about chocolate? How’s it made?

After the cocoa bean is scooped out from its pod, it sits in piles for about a week to cure. This is heap fermentation—the first step in cocoa processing. During heap fermentation, yeasts degrade the mucilaginous pulp that surrounds the beans into ethanol, bacteria turn the ethanol into acetic acid and carbon dioxide, and this raises the temperature enough to eventually “kill” the cocoa bean. Now dead with its cell walls breaking down, the bean experiences chemical reactions that develop flavor and color. Fermentation also reduces bitter compounds and phytic acid.

Then the bean is dried for a week or two, then roasted, then pulverized to form nibs. Sometimes that process is flipped—they pulverize the dry bean into nibs and then roast the nibs. The nibs are ground into a paste called cocoa liquor or chocolate liquor, which is combined with sugar, vanilla, and other ingredients to form the actual chocolate. This is also the point at which they make cocoa powder by pressing the liquor and extracting the cocoa butter.

They’ll further refine the cocoa, trying to reach the point at which the human tongue won’t perceive individual particles. Once it’s smooth, they’ll “conch” the chocolate, which involves mixing and aerating the stuff at high temperatures to improve texture and mouthfeel. Soy lecithin improves emulsification and cuts down on the amount of conching required.

Each step of the processing, um, process reduces the flavanol content of the chocolate. This means the rawer the chocolate, the higher the flavanol content. But except for the explicitly raw bars, almost every finished chocolate bar undergoes fermentation, roasting, and conching. There’s really no way around it. And even the “raw” chocolate probably isn’t even raw. And if it were, is that even desirable? Fermentation and roasting all reduce phytic acid content, after all. Even the ancient Mesoamericans roasted their cocoa beans before eating or drinking them. And it’s not clear if “more polyphenols” are always desirable.

Besides, all those chocolate researchers aren’t using obscure cacao products. They’re not using raw unfermented cacao beans handpicked by Aztec elders. They’re using commercially-available cocoa products subjected to significant processing, like 85% dark chocolate or unsweetened cocoa powder. And they still work great and produce excellent benefits.

Powder: There are different powders out there. I won’t discuss pre-mixed sugary hot cocoa powders; avoid them.

  • Raw cocoa powder comes from dried, fermented, unroasted beans. As the beans haven’t been roasted to extract all the cocoa butter, some residual fat remains.
  • Roasted cocoa powder comes from fermented, roasted beans. This tends to be lower in fat, as the roasting process allows greater extraction of cocoa butter.

Nibs: Nibs are like chocolate gravel, unsweetened. You can add them to smoothies, eat whole, or grind down to make your own cocoa liquor.

Liquor or mass: Cocoa liquor/mass is ground up cocoa nibs/beans in solid or semi-solid form. It’s about equal parts cocoa solids and cocoa butter. You can eat this straight up like a maniac or use it to make your own chocolate.

Bars/chips: The finished product. The percentage of cocoa in a bar (100%, 85%, 70%, etc) indicates the amount of cocoa mass and butter. An 85% chocolate bar is 85% cocoa mass and cocoa butter, 15% other stuff like lecithin, sugar, and flavorings.

How to Eat

There’s the obvious way: Place in mouth and chew. I like to go a square at a time, and really just let it sit on my tongue, slowly melt, and envelop my taste buds. This way, chocolate lasts longer and you need less of it to get the desired effect.

You can also get creative in the kitchen.

Stu Can’t Stop Bark: Stu is my writing partner and buddy Brad Kearns’ dog, and Stu can’t stop barking once he gets going. Stu Can’t Stop Bark is Brad’s edible, polyphenol-rich homage to Stu.

  1. Take a pound of 80%+ chocolate and break it up into pieces. Add half to a double boiler or glass bowl set above a boiling pot.
  2. As chocolate melts, add 3 tablespoons of coconut oil. Stir to combine.
  3. Add two cups of chopped macadamias or other nuts to a large mixing bowl along with the rest of the chocolate.
  4. When chocolate/oil mixture is completely melted, pour it into the mixing bowl. Stir until everything is melted and evenly distributed. Really coat those nuts.
  5. Spread half the mixture evenly into a 15 x 10 inch glass baking pan. Drizzle three tablespoons of almond butter across the top. Optional: sprinkle coconut flakes or coconut butter across the top.
  6. Spread the rest of the mixture across the top. Sprinkle sea salt. Optional: sprinkle coconut flakes or coconut butter across the top.
  7. Refrigerate until solidified. Remove from pan, cut into squares with large chef’s knife. Keep refrigerated or frozen until ready to eat (immediately).

Do not give Stu, or any other dog, Stu Can’t Stop Bark. They can’t process the theobromine in the dark chocolate. To a dog, chocolate bark is way worse than a bite.

Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Hearts: Just posted earlier today. Go read it and make it.

Spiced Cocoa: Heat water, coconut milk, regular milk, nut milk or a blend of some of them and whisk in cocoa powder, turmeric, black pepper, cayenne, cinnamon, and sweetener if desired. Top with real whipped cream (no sugar needed).

I’ll sometimes do a tablespoon of powder in my coffee, blended.

Next time you make chili, throw a bar of 85% dark chocolate in.

How to Choose Chocolate

Stick with dark chocolate.

Milk chocolate is, for all intents and purposes, not a health food. The milk and the extra sugar crowd out the cocoa. Some chocolatiers are starting to make milk chocolate with a greater percentage of cocoa content, which is an improvement—but you’re still left with the huge sugar dose milk chocolate inevitably provides. There is one company making chocolate (both dark and milk) sweetened with erythritol and stevia and a large dose of prebiotic inulin that tastes great and has just a few grams of digestible carbs per bar; I’ll grab one of their salted milk chocolate bars when I see it.

Similar story with white chocolate. It’s got the cocoa butter but no cocoa flavanols. Not a health food.

I won’t say “never eat white or milk chocolate!” Just don’t make them a health staple.

When I’m talking about chocolate, I’m talking about dark chocolate.

Aim for 85% cocoa content or above. You can still enjoy 72% cocoa chocolate. I won’t throw you out of the tribe just because you eat 66%. But 85% cocoa chocolate is really that sweet spot when good things start to accumulate. The sugar content becomes negligible. The fat and fiber go up. The cocoa flavanols start gathering force. And, if you can learn to appreciate it, the flavor is unmatched. Try your best to develop the taste.

The first ingredient should be cocoa. Cocoa (or cacao) bean, cocoa mass, cocoa liquor, cocoa powder are all acceptable. If “milk” or “sugar” or anything else comes first in the ingredient list, it’s not high-quality chocolate.

Avoid Dutch process cocoa. The Dutch process alkalizes cocoa, reducing the acidity and bitterness but also the bitter flavanols responsible for many of its health benefits. There are a few potential “tells” if you don’t know the Dutching status of your chocolate.

  • Dutch process cocoa will have a little residual sodium (from the alkalizing agent sodium carbonate) in the nutrition facts.
  • Dutch process cocoa will be darker in color and have a richer “classic” chocolate flavor.
  • Un-Dutched cocoa will be lighter in color and fruitier in flavor.

Look for Fair Trade chocolate. Cocoa production has a long and storied history with slave and child labor, and some of that continues to this day, particularly in West African countries—where most of the world’s chocolate originates. Sticking with Fair Trade chocolate helps avoid this ethical issue, increasing the chances that the people who grow, harvest, and produce your chocolate are adults receiving fair compensation.

What to Eat

There are thousands of boutique chocolates out there. Most are probably good, so eat what you like. Some of my preferred brands and products:

Santa Barbara Chocolate Company: These guys sponsored PrimalCon from the very beginning, and their awesome chocolate they provided was, for many people, the highlight of the experience. I still remember Brad walking around with a big sack of their dark chocolate and being surrounded by a Vibram-clad mob.

Hu Kitchen: I love their salty chocolate bar.

Addictive Wellness: Tasty chocolate with functional ingredients. They pair high quality cacao with adaptogens and herbs like reishi mushrooms, chaga, ashwagandha. Sweetened with stevia and xylitol.

Theo: Theo 85% chocolate is one of my favorite bars right now.

Eating Evolved: The coconut butter dark chocolate cups are out of this world. Treat as a treat.

Bare: Their chocolate coconut chips. Just try them. Treats, not staples.

Trader Joe’s: The Montezuma 100% chocolate bar is the smoothest 100% cocoa bar I’ve ever had. You can actually eat this straight up and enjoy it.

Green and Black’s: Their 85% bar is widely available and still one of the best I’ve had.

What About Toxicity Concerns?

What about heavy metal toxicity? A recent report from As You Sow, a consumer advocacy group, claims to have found dangerously high levels of cadmium and lead in many leading chocolate brands.

Cocoa is often grown in volcanic soils which are relatively high in lead and cadmium, especially in Latin America. Cocoa trees are especially good at absorbing lead and cadmium from the soil and distributing it throughout the beans. Those metals persist throughout processing and wind up in the finished product, albeit, according to this study, at relatively low levels.

I’m not sure how important this is. After all, the benefits of chocolate are clear and well-studied. It seems to improve health and longevity, not curtail it. And some chocolate experts express skepticism at the reports, suggesting that the assays used to determine the heavy metal levels in chocolate are superficial and not definitive, criticizing the refusal of the advocacy group to publish their specific results, and pointing out that previous studies into lead and cadmium levels in cocoa found low levels. At any rate, many Primal foods and spices, like garlic, ginger, onions, green tea, as well as probiotics, spirulina, and chlorella have all been shown to reduce lead and cadmium absorption and toxicity.

Chocolate is good for you, but it’s still candy. I consider it to be a supplemental food, a medicinal ingredient to be used regularly but sparingly. Don’t obtain a significant amount of calories from chocolate. If the heavy metal issue does turn out to be a significant problem, treating chocolate as a supplement will mitigate the consequences.

That’s it for today, folks. Now go eat some chocolate!

What’s your favorite chocolate brand, type, or mode of ingestion? Got any great recipes? Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone.

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Tips for Mixing Collagen into Hot & Cold Liquids

Hey, hey!

So, I receive a lot of questions about the collagen (and sometimes protein powder) that I add to my daily glass of iced coffee. It’s a great (and easy!) way to add some extra protein to my diet and collagen has SO MANY awesome health benefits!

Can collagen mix with coffee?

How much collagen do you add to coffee? 

How do you add collagen to coffee? 

These are all great questions, so let me answer them for you! 🙂

Yes, you can absolutely mix collagen with coffee – both hot and cold coffee and other liquids. I typically add half to one full scoop (10g) of collagen, but you could totally add more/less depending on your personal preferences. I’ll often mix a scoop of collagen AND a scoop of protein powder into my iced coffee, and they mix right in, no problem. Here’s how I do it…

Here’s a quick tutorial:

  1. Grab a shaker bottle
  2. Pour in some iced coffee
  3. Add a scoop of collagen
  4. Pour in more iced coffee and/or milk/cream
  5. Shake!

No shaker? Just mix the collagen with a little warm water until fully blended and THEN add your iced coffee.

This morning, I had the opportunity to work out at KFIT – possibly my last workout at the old location!

KFIT is moving to a new location (right near the Derby Street Shoppes in Hingham) in just a few weeks. I got to see the new space this morning, and it’s going to be INCREDIBLE!!! I’ll keep you guys in the loop about the grand opening!

After a quick shower, I drank a protein shake and snacked on some carrot sticks on my way to the current unofficial DTFN office to get some work done for the day.

Now, it’s time for lots-o-work! And, unrelated, I can’t wait to see my boys tonight for our Valentine’s Day celebration!

Question of the Day

Have you hopped on the collagen trend?

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Dark Chocolate and Hazelnut Hearts

inline_Chocolate Hearts 2Show yourself some love on Valentine’s Day by indulging in these heart-shaped dark chocolate candies. These treats are truly irresistible, with intense bittersweet flavor and a smooth, creamy texture that slowly melts in your mouth. There’s nothing questionable added, just health-giving ingredients like cacao butter, raw cacao powder, avocado oil, maple syrup, sea salt, and hazelnuts.

If you think making chocolate at home is too complicated, you’ll be surprised by how easy this recipe is. Simply melt cacao butter, then whisk in cacao powder, and PRIMAL KITCHEN Avocado Oil with a little sweetener, and you’ll be in chocolate heaven. What’s really fun about making chocolate at home is experimenting with all sorts of flavors. Nuts, nut butters, coconut flakes and coconut butter, spices, dried fruit…the flavor variations are endless.

This recipe is for purists, though, who like dark chocolate with just a hint of added flavor. In this case, it’s hazelnuts, which pair perfectly with chocolate and are also good sources of vitamin E, manganese, and magnesium.

You’ll end up with more dark chocolate hearts than you can (or should) eat alone, so share the love. Your Valentines will be thrilled to get homemade chocolate, instead of a box of sugary store-bought candies.

Servings: 18 to 20 1.5-inch hearts

Time in the Kitchen: 25 minutes, plus 1 hour to set

Ingredients:

cacao powder and butter

  • 1 cup finely chopped cacao butter (120 g)
  • 1 cup cacao powder (100 g)
  • 2 tablespoons PRIMAL KITCHEN® Avocado Oil (30 ml)
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup, or more to taste (30 ml)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt (1.2 ml)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or other flavoring extract) (5 ml)
  • ½ cup hazelnuts, roughly chopped (75 g)
  • Kitchen Equipment: 18 to 24 -cavity silicone mold (can be heart-shaped, square, round or whatever shape you want the chocolates to be)

Instructions

Primal

First, create a double broiler (which keeps direct heat away from ingredients to prevent scorching). To do so, add several inches of water to a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer. Set a smaller saucepan on top, making sure it’s not touching the water.

Add cacao butter to the smaller saucepan, stirring as it melts. When cacao butter is completely melted, turn off the heat. Slowly whisk in cacao powder, avocado oil, maple syrup, salt, and vanilla. Whisk until smooth.

At this point, stir in the hazelnuts or any other flavoring ingredients you want.

Taste the chocolate–if it’s too bitter, add more maple syrup.

Pour the chocolate into silicone molds (using a bowl with a pour spout works best). Refrigerate 1 hour until solid. Note: there chocolates keep best in the refrigerator.

Chocolate Hearts 1

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What Thomas Has Taught Me

Whether it’s your spouse, children, furry friends, or best friends, give someone a smooch today!

They always say that the strongest relationships bring out the best in one another. Thomas and I are similar in so many ways. We are both strong-willed and driven, goofy and a little dorky (but we think we’re cool), eager to solve problems, and lovers of many of the same things: iMessage (which we discussed in detail on our first date), playing soccer, and Half Baked ice cream, to name a few. We often finish each other’s thoughts. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve said “I was just about to say that!” or we call each other at the same time.

We complement one another in other ways though, and these are some of the things that Thomas has taught me.

Doing things the right way

I love a good short cut, but Thomas is go big or go home. Whether it’s building things, the way he runs his business, making a purchase, or simply cooking a meal, the guy does not cut corners. In our wedding vows I wrote “You have taught me that anything worth doing is worth doing right.” He is the tortoise, I am the hare. He wins every time!

The Benefit of The Rinse-Off Shower

Much to his embarrassment, I’m confessing to you all that Thomas takes a LOT of showers. You might think of that as wasteful, but he is very quick (sometimes less than one minute). He always smells so clean, and I have picked on the habit as well. I have come to realize how much better I feel taking a quick rinse-off shower too, perhaps when my workout is hours away, when I’m heading out to the beach, or I’ve gotten just a little sweaty during the day. I used to be a consistent once-a-day showerer (usually late morning after my workout) but sometimes I will hop in just to rinse off and feel so much more energized for the day or night.

Forgiveness

I tend to hold grudges, and it’s hard for me to shake off emotions. This is probably because I am a Scorpio! When Thomas comes into conflict, he wants to solve the problem and forgive right away. He’s taught me that nothing good comes out of holding a grudge and made me a better person for it. We have had very few fights in our time together because we don’t let anger override respect.

Gettin’ Cozy

I used to wear my daily outfit until I got into my PJs for bed, but Thomas has taught me the wonderful feeling of changing into lounge clothes right after dinner. The extra change of clothes seemed too much for my brain, but it takes 10 seconds to do! I’d watch him change into cozy clothes and feel all stiff in my jeans and shirts, so I started adopting the habit too. Turns out my Lou & Grey cozies are SO much more comfortable for evening TV and tea. Speaking of tea, T makes a cup of tea every night, and now our nights would be weird without it! I always have Sleepytime with a teaspoon of honey.

Sports Are Kinda Fun!

I’ve never really been into watching sports, except for Duke Basketball, but I’ve also never really had a good reason to watch. My life turned upside-down upon marrying a sports-a-holic! You might think that I’d be annoyed with all of the watching (football season, golf season, basketball, soccer, hockey – it’s year round and never-ending!) but instead I’ve really tried to embrace it all. Joining a Fantasy Football team made all the difference! (Sorry, I can’t get into hockey…)

I could go on and on about the ways this man has changed my life! We each wrote our own vows, mirroring the same format, but we ended them with the same line:

I promise to give you the best of myself, for I know that together we will build a life far better than either of us can imagine alone. 

<3

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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