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Diet, Health, Fitness, Lifestyle & Wellness


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Cacao Nibs: Even Better For You Than Dark Chocolate

The Huffington Post Canada     Terri Coles    08/02/2013 

You’ve heard about the health benefits of dark chocolate, but did you know that you can benefit even more by eating the beans themselves, with less processing? Cacao nibs are cacao beans that have been roasted, separated from their husks, and broken into smaller pieces.

Cacao nibs have a chocolatey taste, but they’re not quite as sweet as chocolate, which can make them more versatile. Their flavour can also vary depending on how much they are roasted, with hints of fruity or nutty flavours. It can be an acquired taste if you’re used to milk chocolate and bars with sweet fillings, but cacao nibs are a surprisingly useful ingredient. You can snack on raw cacao right out of the bag, add it to trail mixes or smoothies, or use it whole or powdered in your cooking and baking.

There are more differences between cacao and cocoa than just the spelling, at least in how we use the words. The beans come from the Theobroma cacao tree, and the word cacao comes from the Olmec people in what is now Mexico. It’s actually thought that the spelling cocoa originated as a mistake that stuck. So the two are technically referring to the same thing, but we generally use cocoa to refer to a more processed chocolate product with added sugar, versus the raw cacao, which has no sugar.

Magnesium: Cacao beans are one of the best dietary sources of magnesium — a mineral needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions in our bodies — with 272 milligrams per 100 grams. It’s important for muscle and nerve function and keeps the heart rhythm steady.

Fibre: You don’t get any dietary fibre when you eat a chocolate bar, but you do get some when you snack on cacao nibs: one ounce has nine grams!

Iron: Iron, which is necessary for red blood cell production, is found in cacao nibs. An ounce of the raw nibs has six per cent of your recommended daily iron intake.

Cacao-Nibs

Antioxidants: Surely you’ve heard about the antioxidant power of dark chocolate — well, that goes even more for cacao beans, especially when eaten raw. Antioxidants are important for health because they absorb the free radicals that cause damage in the body.

Mood Improver: Neurotransmitters are the messengers in our brains that tell our bodies how to act, and that includes mood. Cacao’s ability to act on those neurotransmitters is why it’s known for its mood-enhancing skills. Chocolate and cacao stimulates the brain to release particular neurotransmitters that can trigger emotions — including good ones like euphoria. That’s why some people say chocolate is better than sex!

Phenylethylamine (PEA): This is a chemical found in cacao, one that our bodies also make naturally. We produce PEA, an adrenal-related chemical, when we’re excited — it causes the pulse to quicken, making us feel focused and alert.

Anandamide: Anandamide, a lipid found in cacao, is another compound tied to cacao’s feel-good properties. This lipid has been called “the bliss molecule”, because its natural molecular shape represents that of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

Theobromine: Cacao beans do have a couple of controversial ingredients, though. One of them is theobromine, which makes up one to two per cent of the cacao bean and is a nervous system stimulant that dilates the blood vessels — much like caffeine. This ingredient is what makes cacao and chocolate unsafe for dogs, and some people find that it affects them the way caffeine might.

Oxalic Acid: Oxalic acid is a compound found in cacao that inhibits the absorption of calcium, a mineral that’s also found in the food. So though there is calcium in cacao, it’s not considered a good calcium source for this reason. The good news is that you’re getting more of the calcium by eating cacao than you are if you eat processed chocolate, because the sugar found in chocolate takes calcium reserves from the body.

Other foods also contain oxalic acid, including rhubarb stalks, black pepper, and poppy seeds.


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Healthy Reasons To Enjoy Chocolate Every Day

BY MICHAEL T. MURRAY    JUNE 10, 2013

Is there such a thing as a guilt-free pleasure when it comes to food? Absolutely, and chocolate is one of them. This delectable, seemingly addictive food is produced from the beans of the cacao tree, whose official name is Theobroma cacao. Its scientific name reflects our long-standing love of chocolate that’s endured for millennia (theobroma is the Greek word for “food of the gods”).

Here are a few scientifically proven health benefits of consuming moderate amounts of heavenly, high-quality chocolate.

1. It improves your mood.

Chocolate has long been associated with love, and now scientists have discovered a possible chemical connection. Chocolate contains a compound known as phenylethylamine (PEA), a brain chemical that’s released during moments of emotional euphoria. In addition to PEA, controversial findings suggest that chocolate contains pharmacologically active substances with the same effect on the brain as marijuana. The active ingredient in marijuana, THC, isn’t found in chocolate, but another neurotransmitter called anandamide is. Like THC, anandamide is naturally produced in the brain and binds to the same receptors as THC, which may help explain why, while eating chocolate will not make you high, it’s likely to engender some pleasant feelings or at least make you feel more relaxed and less anxious.

2. It’s good for your heart.

One of the key areas of research into the benefits of chocolate consumption is its effect on cardiovascular disease.  A growing amount of recent research suggests that:

  • Chocolate is a rich source of flavonoid antioxidants that are especially important in protecting against damage to the lining of the arteries.
  • Chocolate flavonoids prevent the excessive clumping together of blood platelets that can cause blood clots.
  • Unlike the saturated fats found in meat and dairy products, the saturated fats found in chocolate do not elevate cholesterol levels.
  • Frequent chocolate consumption is associated with a nearly 40% reduced risk for heart disease and a 30% reduced risk for a stroke.
  • Chocolate can provide significant amounts of arginine, an amino acid that’s required in the production of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide helps regulate blood flow, inflammation and blood pressure.

 

A is for Antioxidants



3. It’s associated with weight loss.

A recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that frequent chocolate consumption was associated with lower body mass index (BMI) — a ratio of height and weight that’s used to measure obesity. The authors used data from 972 patients who answered the question, “How many times a week do you consume chocolate?” Their data indicated that chocolate consumption frequency was associated with lower BMI, even after adjusting for total calorie intake, exercise activity, and saturated fat intake.

These results are extremely promising. The researchers believe the benefits are once again related to the antioxidant flavonoids in chocolate. They do caution that the benefits of chocolate are only apparent with moderate consumption, and that consuming large quantities of chocolate would obviously be counterproductive to losing weight.

How much and what kind?

Since dark chocolate is higher in flavonoids, it offers the greatest health benefits. Most experts agree that the recommended “dose” of dark chocolate is approximately 30g to 60g/day (roughly 1 to 2 ounces).

In order to provide the most healthful choices of chocolate products, here are some suggestions:

  • For the biggest flavonoid bang for your caloric buck, choose high-quality dark chocolate. Limit daily intake to 1-2 ounces. The darker, the better.
  • Unsweetened dark cocoa powder is great for you, because it has no fat or sugar, and it’s high in antioxidants.
  • Avoid chocolate candies and treats made with hydrogenated fats or refined flour, neither of which promotes health.
  • Also pass on products labeled “artificial chocolate” or “chocolate flavored.” These imitations are not even close to the real thing in flavor, texture or health benefits.

In the right form, chocolate is a true super food. Of all the foods available on planet Earth, chocolate is perhaps the most magical and maybe one of the best health foods around. Fortunately, it’s also one of the most delicious, so enjoy it in good health.


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12 Foods That Supercharge Your Brain

August 4, 2013  by: True Activist

Simply put, your brain likes to eat. And it likes powerful fuel: quality fats, antioxidants, and small, steady amounts of the best carbs. The path to a bigger, better brain is loaded with Omega-3 fats, antioxidants, and fiber. Give your brain a kick start: eat the following foods on a daily or weekly basis for results you will notice.

1. Avocado

Start each day with a mix of high-quality protein and beneficial fats to build the foundation for an energized day. Avocado with scrambled eggs provides both, and the monounsaturated fat helps blood circulate better, which is essential for optimal brain function. Worst alternative: a trans-fat-filled, sugar-laden cream cheese Danish.

Green it: you don’t need to buy an organic avocado – conventional is fine. But make sure your supplementary protein is free range, cage free, or organic.

2. Blueberries

These delicious berries are one of the best foods for you, period, but they’re very good for your brain as well. Since they’re high in fiber and low on the glycemic index, they are safe for diabetics and they do not spike blood sugar. Blueberries are possibly the best brain food on earth: they have been linked to reduced risk for Alzheimer’s, shown to improve learning ability and motor skills in rats, and they are one of the most powerful anti-stress foods you can eat. Avoid: dried, sweetened blueberries.

Green it: buy local and organic, and be mindful of seasonality. When blueberries are out of season, opt for cranberries, grapes, goji berries, blackberries or cherries to get your brain boost.

3. Wild Salmon

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for your brain. These beneficial fats are linked to improved cognition and alertness, reduced risk of degenerative mental disease (such as dementia), improved memory, improved mood, and reduced depression, anxiety and hyperactivity. Wild salmon is a premium source, but we’ll highlight a few other sources on this list for vegetarians and people who just don’t like salmon. Avoid farmed (read: sea lice infested) salmon.

Green it: the California salmon stock is threatened, so choose wild Alaskan salmon only, and eat small portions no more than twice a week.

4. Nuts

Nuts contain protein, high amounts of fiber, and they are rich in beneficial fats. For getting an immediate energy boost that won’t turn into a spike later, you can’t do better than nuts. The complex carbs will perk you up while the fat and protein will sustain you. Nuts also contain plenty of vitamin E, which is essential to cognitive function. You don’t have to eat raw, plain, unsalted nuts, but do avoid the ones with a lot of sweetening or seasoning blends. Filberts, hazelnuts, cashews, and walnuts are great choices, with almonds being the king of nuts.

For those avoiding carbs, macadamia nuts are much higher in fat than most nuts. By the way, peanuts just aren’t ideal. Aside from the fact that many people are allergic, peanuts have less healthy fat than many other types of nuts…maybe that’s because peanuts are not actually a nut! They’re still much better than a candy bar, however.

Green it: try to choose organic, raw nuts, and if you can’t get those, at least avoid the tins of heavily-seasoned, preservative-laden nuts that may have taken many food miles to get to your mouth.

5. Seeds

Try sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flax seed, and tahini (a tangy, nutty sesame butter that tastes great in replacement of mayo and salad dressing). Seeds contain a lot of protein, beneficial fat, and vitamin E, as well as stress-fighting antioxidants and important brain-boosting minerals like magnesium.

Green it: Again, just look for organic and try to avoid the highly-seasoned, processed options. In general, things like fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts are pretty low-impact, environmentally speaking, in comparison to meats and cheeses.



6. Pomegranate

Opt for the fruit over the juice so you get more fiber. Pomegranates contain blueberry-like levels of antioxidants, which are essential for a healthy brain. Your brain is the first organ to feel the effects of stress, so anything you can do to offset stress is a smart choice.

Green it: pomegranates are seasonal and not generally local for most of us, so enjoy sparingly and rely on other berries like acai, grapes and cherries when you can’t get this fruit.

7. Garlic

Garlic – the fresher the better – is one of the most potent nutritional weapons in your arsenal. Eat it as much as your significant other can stand. Not only is it fabulous for reducing bad cholesterol and strengthening your cardiovascular system, it exerts a protective antioxidant effect on the brain.

It makes life easier, but don’t even think about buying the chopped or peeled garlic. Nutritional benefits = zero.

Green it: just choose organic, and go for local if you can get it.

8. Green Leafy Vegetables

Spinach, kale, chard, romaine, arugula, lolla rossa – whatever green you like, eat it daily. Green, leafy vegetables are high in iron (slightly less “green” iron sources include beef, pork and lamb). Americans tend to be deficient in iron, which is too bad, because the deficiency is linked to restless leg syndrome, fatigue, poor mood, foggy thinking, and other cognition issues.

Green it: choose organic, and shop at your farmers’ market or order from a local CSA. Leave out the red meat a few days a week and rely on a big, well-seasoned green stir fry or salad.

9. Cacao nibs

Cacao nibs are among the top five most powerful brain foods, right next to wild salmon and blueberries.

Green it: as long as it’s fair trade and organic, it’s green.

10. Tomatoes

Go figure, but tomatoes don’t usually make the brain-boosting food lists. Tomatoes contain lycopene, an antioxidant that is particularly good for your brain – it even helps prevent dementia. You have to cook tomatoes to get the lycopene. But this does mean that ketchup is good for your brain. Although because of the sugar in it, you should look to other sources for most of your lycopene intake, such as fresh tomato sauce.

Green it: try to eat tomatoes that are local and get your lycopene in vitamin form when tomatoes aren’t in season. You’ll know when that is – the tomatoes will be pale, tasteless, and pithy.

11. Olive Oil

Though we know the brain does need a small, steady supply of glucose, don’t overlook fat. Studies have consistently shown that a low-fat diet is not the health boon we hoped it would be (remember the 90s low-fat craze?). In fact, avoiding fat can increase foggy thinking, mood swings, and insomnia. A diet rich in healthy fats is essential to clear thinking, good memory, and a balanced mood. Your brain is made of fat, after all.

One study of men found that those who relied on the processed vegetable fats found in salad dressings, snacks and prepared foods had 75% higher rates of mental degradation (dementia, memory loss) than men who ate healthy fats. Most processed foods and fast foods use corn oil, palm oil, soybean oil and other Omega-6 fats. You don’t want Omega 6 fats. Even saturated fat is safer than Omega 6’s.

Choose healthy fats such as those present in olive oil, nut butters, nuts and seeds, flax, oily fish, and avocados. Avoid processed fats found in pastries, chips, candy bars, snacks, junk food, fried foods and prepared foods. Eating the wrong fat can literally alter your brain’s communication pathways.

Green it: look for organic, local, or farmers’ market options when it comes to your food. You should also explore herbal remedies for mood swings and brain health.

12. Tea

You have to brew tea fresh or you won’t get the benefits of all those catechines (antioxidants) that boost your brain. Because tea has caffeine, don’t have more than 2-3 cups daily.

Green it: buy organic, fair trade loose leaf or packets to support sustainable business practices.

Sources :
http://preventdisease.com/news/13/080413_12-Foods-That-Supercharge-Your-Brain.shtml
www.trueactivist.com