Chocolate!

Due to the positive feedback from last week’s post discussing coffee consumption, this week I’ll do a similar analysis of another dark and flavorful food – chocolate!

Chocolate, as we know it, is much different than the cocoa bean that grows in nature. The beans are roasted, de-shelled, and ground into a paste. From there, sugar, cocoa butter, and emulsifiers (usually soy lecithin) are added. Finally, it is refined, treated with an alkalizing agent to reduce the acidity, and often combined with dairy.

The darker the chocolate you consume, the less inputs are added. For the sake of discussion, let’s look at the health benefits of 100% raw cocoa:

  • It has more antioxidants, particularly flavonoids, than any other substance. These help the body maintain healthy cardiovascular function by improving endothelial function, blood lipid levels, blood pressure, and insulin sensitivity.
  • It is predominately saturated and monounsaturated fat, the safest and most stable forms of fuel for the body.
  • One ounce (less than a single square from a bar) fulfills the listed percent of recommended daily values for the following minerals:
    • 50% Copper and Manganese
    • 35% Magnesium
    • 25% Iron and Phosphorus
    • 15% Potassium and Zinc

These are minerals that most people are deficient in…particularly when you consider the anti-nutrient content, and resulting absorption issues, of the foods they are predominately found in (nuts, seeds, and grains).

I would list the following facts as downsides of cocoa:

  • One ounce contains 65mg of caffeine (not nearly as much as coffee but on par with black tea).
  • One ounce also contains 200-500mg of theobromine – another stimulant that takes the body longer to process than caffeine.
  • As mentioned above, it is usually processed with sugar, dairy, and soy.

Again, all these facts are for 100% raw cocoa, often sold in the baking aisle of grocery stores as baking chocolate. In this form, it is very bitter and difficult to over consume.

I’d recommend buying the darkest chocolate you can still enjoy. Most people can find a 75%-85% dark chocolate bar that they like…just experiment with different brands!

I personally buy 100% raw cocoa and melt it into smoothies or shave it on top of yogurt and homemade ice cream. When mixed with other foods, particularly sweeter foods, I find the bitterness of the 100% dark to be perfect.

I use 1-2 ounces (one square from a full bar) on each day of the weekend. I personally would not want to consume cocoa on a daily basis due to the stimulant properties. However, if you are consuming 85% or darker cocoa, there is no reason not to enjoy one square a day (just try to eat it earlier in the day due to the stimulant properties). Be on the lookout for bars loaded with sugar, milk, or other inputs that could lead to over consumption.

One separate matter worth mentioning, that I unfortunately did not touch upon in my last post, is the environmental and humanity issues involved in the production of cocoa. Very often, child slaves and impoverished farmers are subject to terrible treatment. Also, deforestation is a major concern when growing and harvesting cocoa beans.

Try to find cocoa that is certified Fairtrade. This implies that a certification body has approved the environmental, labor, and developmental standards involved in the production of a food. Like many other bureaucratic systems however, this certification is far from perfect and does not guarantee fair treatment of every person involved in the cocoa trade.

In closing, I would like to reiterate: check the list of ingredients on the back of whatever you buy. Find a product with the shortest list that does not contain any ingredients you could not find in nature. And also, consume in moderation. Just because a food has more benefits than detriments, doesn’t mean more is better.

Enjoy!

Coffee

Today, let’s look at the potential benefits and drawbacks of one of my favorite things – coffee.

For the sake of discussion, I’m going to include espresso (or the “Nectar of the God’s” as I like to think of it) in the same category as coffee.

First, the benefits:

     It tastes amazing!

      It is loaded with antioxidants that may prevent free radicals from damaging cells.

      Two organic acids found in coffee, caffeic acid and chlorogenic acid, may have a slightly anti-diabetic effect. It appears that these compounds help increase lipolysis, allowing the body to use fatty acids from body fat stores, as opposed to glucose and sugar, as energy.

     It may improve endothelial function and raise HDL, promoting a healthier cardiovascular system.

     There may be a limited value to acute caffeine consumption for reducing feelings of depression.

     Finally, it gives a boost that can help increase work productivity, either during exercise or mental tasks.

The downsides:

     Some of the organic acids within coffee can raise cortisol levels for up to 12 hours after consumption! This can interfere with sleep and exacerbate anxiety issues.

     Coffee is extremely acidic meaning it can cause acid reflux and leach calcium from bones.

     It is high in polyphenols that inhibit proper absorption of iron, leading to anemia.

     Finally, caffeine is a stimulant, a classification for a drug with a “speedy” affect. The fact that it is a drug, with noticeable affects mentally and physically, means there is addiction and withdrawal potential. Also, it can mask other issues due to the artificial energy and buzz it provides.

Now that we’ve looked at the hard facts behind coffee, how exactly should we treat consumption of a substance with such a balanced list of pros and cons?

I would never dare tell you what to do, particularly when it comes to something as beloved as coffee, but I can offer my approach:

I treat coffee as a tasty indulgence and a performance enhancer. By that, I mean, on days I work out, I have a large cup of very dark coffee. This helps me push a little harder in the gym and also leaves me more alert for the rest of my workday. On the days I don’t work out, I make a couple shots of espresso in my stove-top Moka machine.

Then, on Saturdays and holidays, I’ll indulge and have a few extra shots throughout the day.

I have removed coffee from my diet before and noticed a marked improvement in my stress levels throughout the day. For this reason, whenever I take a recovery week from the gym, I have tea instead of coffee or espresso.

I am a rather high-stress individual…my mind is always going a mile a second and I always have a dozen different things on my mind. This, in part, is why I try to be rather conservative with my coffee intake.

For the general public, I’d suggest finishing your coffee in the morning and avoiding it after 12PM.

One thing I’ve done to curtail my desire for coffee is expand my tea palate. As much as I love coffee, there is also a sense of excitement when opening my kitchen cabinet and deciding which, of about a dozen teas, I am in the mood for.

I have a training session in a few moments and would love nothing more than a shot of espresso…but, I’ll brew a mug of Lemon Ginger Yogi tea and, after the first few sips, I’ll be perfectly content.

Maybe give it a try and see how you feel. Let me know!