Being a typical type A personality, I rush everything I do including eating. 9 times out of 10 I’ve gobbled up a plateful of food whilst others are not yet half way through. Or, I’ve sat at my desk working away eating my lunch but not really tasting or savouring it. I walk fast, talk fast, eat fast – it’s just the way I am. Often, I end up feeling heavy and uncomfortable. Sometimes, I feel dissatisfied: I’m still hungry and I want to eat more food. Continue reading
For a long while I suspected that I had a bit of a problem with wheat. If I’d had cereal for breakfast and then a sandwich for lunch I’d notice that my stomach would feel quite uncomfortable, bloated and made some low grumbling noises in the afternoon. It was obviously not happy! Continue reading
I don’t know about you but if I had an important event looming that I wanted to look good for I’d up my exercise regime and work out fast and furious. The result?? Not what I’d expect – in fact, sometimes the scales would even show an extra pound or two! Continue reading
Serves 1 to 2
Can you guess what I’m referring to?
Chocolate, of course. With Easter fast approaching and the shops overrun with every kind and size of chocolate egg possible, it’s hard not to think about the creamy, melt-in-your-mouth sweet stuff.
Chocolate is, without a doubt, one the most craved-for foods of all time. It makes us feel good. Well, that is until the guilt of indulging, or even overindulging, kicks in.
Chocolate Easter bunnies aside, most of us turn to chocolate at times of celebration or desperation. You might share a bar of chocolate with friends at the end of a lovely meal. Or, you might devour a whole slab of chocolate locked away in your bedroom at the start of your dreaded period.
So what’s the deal with chocolate? Is it our friend or foe? Is it good for you or does it solely serve to pile on the pounds and the guilt?
The answer depends on the type of chocolate you’re eating. Most of the chocolate consumed nowadays is full of sugar and nasty ingredients.
Here’s a piece of chocolate’s history for you:
Chocolate comes from cacao beans, which are seeds of the fruit of the Theobroma cacao tree native in tropical regions of South and South America. Research shows it was first consumed in the form of a bitter frothy drink around 1900 BC in Mexico, so very different from the sweet treat we enjoy today. Cacao beans were fermented, roasted, and then ground into a paste mixed with water and spices like chili peppers and vanilla and later on sweetened with honey or cinnamon.
The Mayans and Aztecs revered chocolate for its invigorating and mood enhancing properties. The Mayans worshipped a god of cacao and reserved chocolate for rulers, warriors, priests and nobles hence it became known as ‘Food of the Gods’.
It continued to be consumed only in exclusive circles until Dutch chemist Coenraad Johannes van Houten invented the cocoa press in 1828. This separated the cocoa butter from roasted cacao beans, leaving behind a dry cake that could be ground into a fine powder that was mixed with liquids and other ingredients and could be poured into moulds. Chocolate became available and affordable for the masses.
In 1847, the first solid chocolate bar, made from just 3 ingredients – cocoa butter, cocoa powder and sugar, was introduced by the British c company J.S. Fry & Sons. Cadburys, Hersheys, and Mars came into the picture in the 1900s and introduced the different sweet variations we have today.
So, with all the extra nasties now present in that innocent-looking bar of chocolate, you can indulge in an occasional treat but if you’re looking to enjoy something healthier and guilt-free, why not give minimally processed dark raw chocolate a try? Make sure it’s organic and fair trade and has a cacao content of at least 70%. A single square of chocolate packs a mighty punch of the most powerful antioxidants and the least amount of sugar. The higher the percentage of cacao the greater the potential health benefits.
I know, raw chocolate is an acquired taste. The polyphenols are what make the chocolate bitter, which is why manufacturers remove them and, as a consequence, we lose the health benefits. The good news is that you can train your palate to enjoy raw dark chocolate. My son is milk (lactose) intolerant so I decided to buy it for him. And then, of course, I had to try some too. At first, we both found it very bitter but we gradually came to enjoy it. He and I often have a piece of raw dark chocolate in the evening after our meal. One or two pieces is enough as it is so rich, which it means a whole bar lasts a few evenings AND we don’t over-indulge and scoff the lot in one go!
So, what are the health benefits of dark raw chocolate?
A 2013 paper in the Netherlands Journal of Medicine hailed cacao as a complete food for its:
- healthy monosaturated fats
- high levels of antioxidants (nearly 8 times the levels of strawberries) which are critical in protecting the body from damage and ageing.
- positive effects on our cardiovascular system, helping reduce blood pressure and cholesterol
- high levels of minerals, including potassium, phosphorus, copper, iron, zinc, and magnesium, all critical for the body’s efficient functioning.
- ability to improve brain function. thought to be due to the high content of flavonoids. Various studies bear this out. http://www.webmd.com/brain/news/20160222/can-chocolate-improve-brain
- Mood enhancing properties. It contains phenylethylamine (PEA), the same chemical your brain creates when you feel like you’re falling in love.
Just an ounce of dark chocolate with 70 percent to 85 percent cacao solids contains around:
- 168 calories
- 12.8 grams carbohydrates
- 2.2 grams protein
- 12 grams fat
- 3.1 grams fibre
Click here for a nutritional breakdown:http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/sweets/10638/2
So you can see why it has been referred to as Food of The Gods.
Cacao v cocoa?
These can be used interchangeably but in cooking and baking, I tend to choose raw cacao powder as it retains more of its natural goodness. Cocoa powder, on the other hand, is typically heated at much higher temperatures, destroying many of the health properties. It also often contains sugar. You could also try raw cacao nibs. A sprinkling makes a great addition to porridge or to your smoothie.
What about caffeine?
Dark chocolate contains caffeine but much less than coffee. Compare a 1.5-ounce bar of dark chocolate with 27 mg of caffeine, to the 200 mg in an eight-ounce cup of coffee. However, if you do have trouble sleeping don’t indulge in chocolate from late afternoon onwards as some people find it gets in the way of a restful night’s sleep.
So, to sum up:
If you want to enjoy the health benefits of this Food of The Gods consume dark chocolate. Look out for the highest percentage cacao content you can find (at least 70%), check the sugar content, consume in moderation, relax and relish its rich deliciousness.
This week we’ve had the Spring Equinox, the annual celestial alignment between the Earth and the sun, which usually takes place on or around 21st March. It is accompanied by a change in the seasons from winter to spring in the Northern hemisphere.
The Spring Equinox occurs when the Earth is in the right place with respect to the sun. At this point in the Earth’s roughly 365-day journey, both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres receive almost the same amount of daylight (12 hours), meaning there are almost equal amounts of daytime and nighttime in both halves of the Earth. Hence, the word, equinox, which means “equal night” in Latin.
The Spring Equinox marks the start of longer days for the Northern Hemisphere (and shorter days for the Southern Hemisphere). It has long been celebrated as a time of rebirth with the spring festivals of Easter and Passover celebrated at this time.
It’s a perfect time to think about the balance and the ‘yin’ and ‘yang’ in our own lives. The basis of this Chinese philosophy is that all life is ruled by the interplay of these 2 dynamic forces: yin is negative, yang is positive. Seemingly opposite or contrary forces (such as night and day, darkness and light, masculine and feminine), one cannot exist without the other. The whole is greater than the parts.
The table below gives some characteristics of Yin and Yang:
The yin yang symbol (see below) is a wonderful expression of the interplay between the two forces. The black colour represents the yin and the white colour represents the yang. There is a black dot that looks like an eye of the white fish. Similarly, there is a white dot as if an eye of the black fish. If you were to walk through the diameter of the circle, you would not experience pure black or pure white. There is always some black and some white. This reflects that the yin and yang are rooted in one another. You find yin in yang, and yang in yin reflecting the reality of life: there are seeds of sadness in happiness and opportunities in every risk.
The roundedness of the symbol gives the sense of continual movement and interaction of the two energies. Yin can turn into yang and yang turns into yin, causing a new state of yin-yang relationship to establish. The aim is to balance them as far as possible for without balance there is discord and disharmony in our worlds.
A challenge for us in life is to balance the yin and yang in things we do. The better we are in finding the equilibrium, the more effective we can be.
I’d like you to think about:
- The yin and yang aspects of your life. Are your mood and energy more aligned to yin or yang at this point in time?
- Where you have been focusing your time and efforts. Have you been focussed on work rather than family, fitness or self-care?
- The aspects of your life you have been neglecting. Do you need to reconsider your priorities to stay balanced?
If you have been giving to others you need to take the time to receive for yourself. There are many ways to find your way back to balance. Here is a handful of suggestions below:
- To counteract the long time spent sitting at your desk during the week, go out and enjoy a run or hike, sit outside or sign up for a fitness or yoga class
- We all need a respite from social interactions. Take time out to just ‘be’. Immerse yourself in a good book, meditate or enjoy an hour in a flotation tank
- Whenever possible, ditch your smart clothes for casual attire. Spend a day with no makeup, relaxed and free in tracksuit bottoms!
- If you’re feeling grumpy or dissatisfied, take a moment to reflect on all the good things you have in life and what you have to be grateful for
- Whenever possible, take a break from your hectic routine. Plan regular holidays or long weekends to relax and do things you enjoy
- If you find you’ve been eating unhealthily, try to balance the junk with nutrient-dense food such as healthy vegetables, a salad, or one of my go-to recipes here
The chart below may help you see where you can make choices to rebalance your diet:
|Yin Foods: “Yoga Foods”
Makes you light and happy
Can make you spacey and scattered
|Yang Foods: “Weight-lifter Foods”
Makes you grounded and focused
Can make you aggressive and forceful
|Fruits||Chicken and eggs and meat|
Whole grains (brown rice, millet, quinoa, oats
Dark leafy greens
Vegetables: squash, carrots, onions, broccoli, mushrooms
Beans and legumes
So, I’d love to hear your thoughts around the areas you are going to focus on to rebalance, ready to shrug off that winter blanket and leap into spring with vitality and energy.
A member of the turmeric and cardammon family, ginger root is a great digestive aid – great to drink after a heavy meal. It can relieve nausea and bloating and prevent travel and morning sickness . But its therapeutic properties go way beyond that and being a good source of vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, copper, and manganese it is a good immune booster, can increase cardivascular circulation and help with pain relief especialy helpful in protection against osteoarthritis pain and several cancers, including ovarian, colorectal, lung, and breast cancers.
This tea is great on a cold winter’s day to warm you up or alternatively it can be just as refreshing over crushed ice on a summer’s day.
Make as much as you like – we tend to cook up about 1 litre at a time and store in a glass jar in the fridge to have whenever we feel like it.
- Fresh ginger root about 3 to 4 inches peeled and chopped and bashed (this releases the flavour)
- 2 Star anise (optional)
- 1 Cinnamon stick (optional)
- 1 Litre of water
Put all the ingredients into a slow cooker and cook for 6 or 7 hours on slow (or 3 and 4 hours on high) or if you don’t have a slow cooker bring to the boil in a normal saucepan and simmer for a couple of hours topping up the water as you go.
Drink straight away or cool down and keep in fridge in a glass jar.This is great served cold with ice or warmed through. And if it is too strong for you, just dilute with some more water.
Optional to serve: add lemon slices and if you need to sweeten add some raw honey or stevia but I like it just as it is!
This is drunk a lot in Asia and is it known as ‘liquid gold’. A great comforting drink for the winter and especially if you feel you are ‘coming down with something’. I love a cup of this as part of my wind-down bed routine too. Continue reading
Coming up to the holiday season with all the wonderful calorie laden goodies, lunches and cocktail parties how do we ensure we enjoy ourselves and still maintain our weight and health? Continue reading
In the autumn/fall time and in the run up to Halloween I automatically think of pumpkins and butternut squash with their sweet orange texture in warming stews, curries, roasted vegetables and risottos. Continue reading