5 Reasons to Eat Chocolate

myfitnesspal 5 reasons to eat chocolate

If it replaced your daily cholesterol and blood-pressure medications, you’d pop a chocolate pill, right? The idea might seem farfetched, but for an upcoming study by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and Mars Inc., researchers will try to prove such tablets have a positive impact on heart health.

Before you get too excited, these pills won’t exactly be candy-coated. Instead, they’re filled with concentrated flavanoids, heart-healthy compounds found in the cocoa bean. Super-high in antioxidant activity, previous studies indicate flavanoids may play a role in improving blood pressure, cholesterol, insulin levels, artery health, and heart health factors. By putting these flavanoids in pill form, scientists will be able to study the effects of the compounds without the associated fat and sugar of chocolate that can lead to weight gain—a risk factor of cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions.

Still, when indulging your sweet tooth, you could do worse than a brick of flavanoid-rich dark chocolate. Need more convincing? Here are five good reasons to eat chocolate:

1. Portion (and weight) control When you buy individual bricks of dark chocolate, and eat just one for dessert after a meal, you’re less likely to overdo it than if you were scooping out ice cream or slicing into a cake. “A once-ounce portion of dark chocolate will cost you roughly 150 calories—much better than most cookies and cakes, and lower in fat, too,” says Jackie London, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian in New York City. “And as long as you stick to that one portion, individuals who eat chocolate with increased frequency are shown to have lower BMIs.”

2. Antioxidants Antioxidants abound in cocoa, and they have a laundry list of associated health benefits. Think: anti-inflammatory effects, better immunity, cancer-fighting properties, a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, as well as better skin integrity and wound healing. What’s not to love?

3. Stress reduction You are not imagining it: your worries do melt away when you eat chocolate. At least, the associated symptoms do. “Some studies have demonstrated that an intake of daily dark chocolate can impact the physical effects of stress on the body,” says London. These range from reducing the urinary excretion of stress hormones to positively affecting the gut.

4. Caffeine It might not be a bad idea to have your daily choco-fix after lunch, possibly as an afternoon pick-me-up at work. “Dark chocolate can contain caffeine, which serves as a central nervous system stimulator, resulting in improved alertness and cognition,” says London.

5. Happiness Whether you’re having a rough day at the office or dealing with a breakup, chocolate really can help. “Dark chocolate, in particular 85% cacao, contains tryptophan, which is a precursor of serotonin—a neurotransmitter that serves as a mood-booster,” says London.

Go ahead: have a serving! Just remember to be choosy about chocolate. London explains the more processed the chocolate, the fewer health benefits, and the worse it is for you. So…

Look for a high percentage of cacao The fewer ingredients in the chocolate, the better. “The problem with a lot of commercial chocolate is food additives and ingredients that you may have otherwise not considered, such as soy lecithin,” London says. “The general rule of thumb is that the more heavily processed any food is, the greater the depletion of health benefits. Therefore, what you’re looking for are ones that are higher in cacao percentage, while still retaining a sweet and satisfying flavor that you will enjoy.” To nab benefits and get great taste, aim for the “sweet spot,” which is 70% (or higher) cacao.

Lose the add-ons There’s a reason Snickers and Twix bars, while chocolatey, are not healthy. “Add-ons rack up the caloric content and decrease the cacao content, thus decreasing the health benefits of the chocolate,” London says. “Avoid additional toffee, caramel, nuts and dried fruits to keep the caloric content at bay.”

Seek organic or fair-trade Seek out organic, fair-trade, and locally-sourced dark chocolate to get maximum health benefits. “These tend to be the ones with the fewest additives, and are essentially close to natural form as possible,” London says.

What do you think? Will this sweet treat land in your shopping cart this week?

 

Jenna BirchJenna Birch is a health and lifestyle writer. She has written for many web and print publications, including Marie Claire, Runner’s World, mom.me and WomansDay.com. As a nutrition and fitness junkie, she’s a lifelong athlete, major college sports fan and developing yogi — but still can’t resist the allure of an occasional chocolate lava cake. (Everything in moderation, right?) For more, visit her at jennabirch.com or follow her on Twitter.  

Veg Out! 7 Meat-Free Protein Sources that Satisfy

myfitnesspal seitan with capers

Lorimer Street KitchenIf you’ve checked your Twitter feed in the last few hours, chances are #MeatlessMonday has popped up at least once. The goal of this trend is to kick-start your week with veggies, and become more aware of what you are eating in general, so you can make healthier choices all week. Why go meat-free for the day? Cutting back on your meat intake comes with tons of healthy benefits—to name a few: it decreases your chances of obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

If the idea of avoiding meat, even just for one day, leaves you wondering, “How will I get enough protein?” You’re not alone—it’s a worry plenty of people have. But it turns out getting enough of this important nutrient is easier than it seems. There are plenty of plant-based sources of protein that are easy to cook and taste amazing, too.

Tofu & Tempeh Tofu is probably the first food that comes to mind when thinking of vegetarian meat substitutes, and for good reason! Tofu and tempeh are made from soybeans, and they’re incredible sources of protein. Tempeh contains 15 grams of protein per half cup, while tofu offers 20 grams! Both have unique textures that easily absorb the flavor of whatever you are cooking, making them ideal in stir-fries, or seasoned and baked.

Seitan While not as well known as tofu, seitan is a versatile meat substitute made from wheat gluten that packs tons of protein—32 grams per half cup! It’s a great replacement for poultry, and is very simple to cook.

Quinoa Most grains are low in protein, but quinoa has more than 8 grams per cup! Quinoa is delicious as a side dish (try it in place of rice), and works well as a hot or cold breakfast. You can also toss a handful of cooked quinoa into soup or chili to thicken things up.

Beans Beans are little powerhouses of nutrition. High in both protein and fiber, they keep you feeling full longer and provide your body with tons of energy. How much protein are we talking about? 1 cup of kidney beans is loaded with 15 grams of protein, and 1 cup of black beans contains 42 grams! Keep in mind: canned beans tend to be high in sodium, so be sure rinse them before using.

Nuts & Nut Butters Nuts get a bad rap for being fattening, but they are packed with both healthy fats and protein. Most varieties have 5 to 6 grams of protein per ounce, which means you don’t have to eat too many to get a protein boost. To maximize the health benefits, look for unsalted, raw, or roasted nuts, and opt for nut-butters made without any added sugars or oils.

Seeds Like their nutty counterparts, seeds, such as sunflower, sesame and poppy, are filled with protein and healthy fats. Sunflower seeds, for example, have almost 15 grams of protein per cup. They’re delicious toasted and sprinkled on top of a salad.

Greens While green vegetables may not be the protein powerhouses that beans, nuts, and seeds are, ounce for ounce, they still hold their own. Packed with fiber to keep you feeling full, 2 cups of spinach (easy side salad!) contains 2 grams of protein, and a cup of broccoli has 3 grams.

Need help planning a plant-based meal? Try this easy Lemon & White Wine Seitan with Quinoa and Broccolini dish that I created just for MyFitnessPal. (The recipe is in the database for easy logging!)

What do you think of #MeatlessMonday? Are you planning a meat-free meal today?

 

Jennifer Pantin HeadshotWriter, lawyer, and healthy-eating proponent, Jennifer Pantin loves experimenting with new, healthy recipes in her Brooklyn kitchen. Her blog, Lorimer Street Kitchen, is where she shares this passion for food and the belief that healthy recipes can be good for you and delicious, too. Connect with Jennifer and Lorimer Street Kitchen on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

The Truth About Rice Cakes

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During the low-fat, high carbohydrate craze of the late 1980’s and 1990’s, rice cakes quickly became one of the ultimate diet foods. So we bought them in bulk thinking that, if we swapped our cookies and crackers for 70 calorie rice cakes, we’d lose weight and look great.

They may be low in calories, about 35 a pop, but when eaten alone they can actually sabotage weight loss. If you look at the Nutrition Facts Label on a package of rice cakes, you’ll see a whole lot of nothing. No fat, no fiber, minimal vitamins and minerals, and maybe 1 gram of protein–all important nutrients that nourish your body, improve satiety and actually keep your mind off of snacking.

The truth about rice cakes is this. Rice cakes are little more than refined carbohydrates (which are quickly digested and converted into sugar) that have been sprinkled with salt, and possibly sprayed with some artificial flavoring. Their glycemic index, an indicator of how a food affects blood sugar, ranks pretty high at 82 compared to pure sugar which tops out at 100. Instead of taking your mind off of food, snacking on rice cakes on an empty stomach can induce a spike in blood sugar that might just leave you feeling sluggish and craving, you got it, more rice cakes.

Instead of reaching for those rice cakes the next time hunger strikes, try choosing a nourishing snack with healthy fats, protein and fiber. Here are five quick and easy ideas:

  • A whole grain wrap with peanut butter and sliced banana
  • Greek yogurt sprinkled with granola and berries
  • Hummus with veggies and a serving of pita chips for dipping
  • A 1-ounce (28g) serving of almonds and a small piece of fruit
  • 100% whole grain toast with topped with a sliced hard boiled egg, avocado and a sprinkle of salt & pepper

And if you can’t entirely let go of rice cakes quite yet, fear not. Buy the plain variety and flavor them yourself with something nourishing, like a tablespoon of almond butter and fresh peach slices!

10 Healthy Foods to Boost Your Fertility

myfitnesspal 10 best foods to boost your fertility copy

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In addition to regular exercise and other healthy-living behaviors, eating certain foods can greatly improve your chances of getting pregnant. Packing your (and your partner’s) diet with nutrients like folic acid and vitamin D can help improve the health of your eggs and prepare your body for pregnancy, ensuring the best nine months possible when you do conceive. Try adding these ten fertility superfoods to your pre-conception eating plan today!

1. Salmon Fatty fish contains omega-3 fatty acids, which help regulate your reproductive hormones and increase blood flow to reproductive organs. Salmon is an especially good source of omega-3s, and it’s easy to cook and put on a salad, or serve with a side of healthy veggies. If you don’t eat fish, flaxseed oil, walnuts, and supplements also contain omega-3s.

2. Raspberries Raspberries are bursting with antioxidants, molecules found in certain vitamins and nutrients that fight free radical damage within your body, and help support your fertility—and your partner’s by protecting his sperm from oxidative stress. Raspberries, and other berries, are also high in vitamin C and folate, both of which are essential to female fertility and early baby development.

3. Quinoa Quinoa is a complex, gluten-free carbohydrate with fertility-boosting folic acid, fiber, and zinc. Unlike refined carbs (think: processed flour, white bread, white rice, and sugary snacks), which can disturb your menstrual cycle and reproductive hormones, the complex carbohydrates found in whole grains, like quinoa, keep blood sugar levels stable and help regulate ovulation. Bonus: Quinoa is known to support baby brain development, too.

4. Oranges Citrus fruits, like oranges, lemons, and grapefruits, are a rich source of vitamin C, which helps stabilize your ovulation and encourages the release of an egg each month. They’re also rich in folate, a naturally occurring form of folic acid that is known to improve your chances of conception and reduce sperm abnormalities in men. You and your partner should aim to eat over 600mcg of folic acid daily.

5. Olive oil Olive oil is loaded with vitamin E, a nutrient naturally found in the fluid of the follicle that houses your eggs. It also contains healthy monounsaturated fats (the “good” kind) that help increase insulin sensitivity and reduce inflammation, which in turn ups your chances of getting pregnant.

6. Whole milk Studies show regularly consuming high-fat dairy foods decreases the risk of infertility in women, while low-fat dairy products can actually increase this risk. High-fat dairy products have calcium and vitamin D, nutrients that are great for both bones and reproductive health. However, your body needs fat to fully absorb calcium in milk, so it’s important to stock up on “whole” dairy items, rather than “low-fat” or “non-fat.” Which means whole milk lattes and ice cream are totally cool—as long as you stick to ones made from natural ingredients and don’t overindulge.

7. Water Not technically a food, water makes this list because it’s critical to your overall health. Plus, consuming 8 or more glasses a day will also boost your baby-making chances. Water is essential for transporting hormones, and for producing the watery cervical mucus that appears during ovulation and makes it easier for sperm to travel to the egg. Try to drink before you feel thirsty—because by then you’re already dehydrated.

8. Kale Kale, along with its leafy green cousins, like spinach and Swiss chard, is a major fertility booster. Kale is high in folate, iron (which promotes healthy red bloods cells), calcium, and manganese (a mineral recognized to help women get pregnant faster). You’ll also find more than half of your daily vitamin A requirement in just one cup of the green stuff. Be sure to wash vegetables well before eating them, to remove any lingering pesticides used in the growing process.

9. Avocado Loaded with everything from folate and vitamin K, to Omega-3 fatty acids, avocado is a natural fertility booster. There are so many delicious ways to enjoy avocado—spread it on toast, toss it in a salad, serve it with scrambled eggs, make guacamole, and more. Despite being high in calories and fat, it’s okay to have about one avocado daily (as long as you’re keeping track of your overall calorie intake), because they contain healthy kinds of fats.

10. Eggs Packed with protein, vitamins B12 and E, and often enriched with monounsaturated fat, such as DHA, eggs are frequently cited as among the most effective foods for promoting your fertility. If you’re having trouble choosing eggs at the grocery store, look for a dozen that contain DHA or other Omega-3 fatty acids. And don’t toss out the yolk before cooking—that’s where you’ll find most of the fertility-boosting nutrients.

Are you trying to get pregnant? Which of these healthy foods are you planning to eat more often?

 

Sarah Downey Ovuline headshotSarah A. Downey is a writer at Ovuline, which makes the Ovia smartphone app to help women conceive faster and have healthier pregnancies. Over 60,000 couples have had babies using Ovia Fertility. Follow Sarah at @SarahADowney.

#MyFitnessQs Should I Eat Before My Morning Workout?

myfitnesspal eat before morning workout

Morning workouts aren’t for everyone, but for those of us who love them (or just love to get them over with early in the day!), deciding whether to eat breakfast before or after is a pretty common dilemma.

Head straight out the door for a morning bike ride without eating or drinking, and you may not have enough in the tank to power through it. That’s  because over the course of the night your carbohydrate stores, which your muscles rely on for energy during exercise, have been used to maintain your blood sugar and provide energy to your brain. On the other hand, eating a full meal before working out could lead to stomach cramping, indigestion–or worse. (If you don’t know what I mean by “worse,” trust me, you don’t want to.)

The good news is, it’s possible to be properly fueled for a morning workout without the unpleasant side effects that send you running to the nearest restroom. It’s all about what you eat, and when you eat it.

Before Your Morning Workout

  • 30-60 minutes before you lace up your sneakers, have a carbohydrate-rich snack, like a piece of fruit, a slice of toast with jam, or a low-fiber granola bar.
  • Drink a tall glass of water to help digest your snack and rehydrate after those 8-12 hours of laying around.
  • Avoid fiber and fat since they take more effort for you body to digest and can cause an upset stomach.
  • If eating early in the morning doesn’t agree with you, have some applesauce or a small glass of 100% fruit juice. Just stay away from the more acidic juices like orange or grapefruit since they can irritate your stomach. You can also hydrate with a diluted sport drink instead of regular water. The added carbohydrates will help keep you going.

After Your Morning Workout

Enjoy a healthy breakfast that contains complex carbohydrates and protein within 1 hour following your workout. Doing so will replenish your energy stores and help build and repair muscle. Here are a few great post-workout breakfast ideas:

  • A yogurt parfait with granola, fruit, and a sprinkle of nuts or seeds
  • A smoothie made with yogurt, fresh or frozen fruit, and some avocado, peanut butter, flax, or chia seeds for a dose of healthy fats
  • Oatmeal (made with milk for added protein), topped with dried or fresh fruit, nuts, or nut butter
  • Eggs with sautéed veggies (think: spinach, tomato, caramelized onions), a slice of whole grain toast, and a cup of reduced-fat milk. Grab a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts if you’re still hungry.

Don’t sabotage your morning workout before you even get started. Eating the right things before and after will keep you fueled and help your body recover afterwards!

Do you exercise in the morning, too? What are some of your favorite workout-fueling foods?