Sunday, January 26, 2014

Can chocolate be good for your heart?

Seeing as our next holiday is Valentine’s Day, I thought I would take a look at chocolate.  And who doesn’t like chocolate?  Everyone says candy is bad for you – at least that is what they used to say.  And yes, candy does have added sugar and that isn’t healthy.  But can chocolate have health benefits?  Yes, it can, dark chocolate that is. 

When the manufacture dark chocolate they leave in more of the cocoa solids and add less sugar compared to milk chocolate.  This is what gives dark chocolate its stronger, rich flavor.  So what is the “healthy” ingredient in dark chocolate?  Flavenols, these are an antioxidant found in dark chocolate and cocoa.  Milk chocolate is not has healthy as it not only contains more added sugar but less of these healthy flavenols.  It is the flavenols that can help guard against heart disease, diabetes, dementia and stroke, quite a list of diseases.
Heart benefits of dark chocolate:  How does chocolate benefit our hearts?
1.        Lowers blood pressure
2.       Lowers cholesterol
3.       Improve the cells lining our heart and blood vessels
Brain benefits of dark chocolate:
1.        Learning and memory – dark chocolate flavenols accumulate in our brain, in the areas of memory and learning.  Researchers believe eating dark chocolate and getting the flavenols over a long period of time can actually be protective against our brain declining, or “cognitive decline”. 
What to buy?  The darker the chocolate the better for your health.  The researchers studying chocolate used chocolate containing 70% cocoa.
Ingredients – look for cocoa butter, sugar, vanilla.  Avoid chocolate with palm, coconut oil or other fats. 
Portions – keep them small as chocolate has calories and fat. One ounce of chocolate has about 168 calories and provides 12 grams of fat. 
Image Source:   Chocolate heart

Sunday, January 19, 2014

What are the Best Diets for Weight Loss?

Last week I reported on the ranking of diets in the January issue of the US News and World Report.   I wrote about their top 2 ranked best diets overall.  The report also ranked the top diets for weight loss.  Since many people have resolutions to lose weight in 2014, what weight loss diets are the best? 
Number One Weight Loss Diet:  Weight Watchers Diet
The top ranked diet for losing weight according to the experts is Weight Watchers.  Why?
-          Great diet to not only lose the weight but keep it off
-          Based on real foods, you can eat what you want
-          No foods are “off limits”
-          Safe diet
-          Philosophy:  fill up on healthy foods
-          Hunger – you shouldn’t be hungry on this diet as you can have 3 meals a day and 2 snacks. 
Weight Watchers uses a point system, every food is given a point value.  Foods like fruits and vegetables have zero points while processed foods like bologna have a high point value. 
Cons – some people find counting the points tedious and then lose interest.  A student in my class stated her mom easily followed the diet and counter her points every day.   However, her Dad tired easily of counting points, especially trying to look up points for the restaurant meal he wanted to order.  On the other hand, I know a couple that went on this diet together and now well over a year later, they have both lost the weight they wanted and are still counting their points. 
Number Two Weight Loss Diet:  Biggest Loser Diet
This diet ranked a very close second.  
-          Healthy, balanced meal plan
-          Emphasizes exercise
-          Good way to keep weight off short term and moderately well long term
-          No foods off limits
-          Can be pricey
-          Lot of “grunt work” to stay on the diet
Philosophy:  Eat more of the right foods, less of the wrong foods, and sit less
Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein.  This diet emphasizes keeping a food journal.  Many studies have shown the benefits of writing down what you eat.  They do want you to buy one of their Biggest Loser’s books to get started.  The diet works because you restrict your calories while exercising more.

So if you are looking to drop a few pounds in 2014, choose one of these top rated diet plans to get you going. 
Next week we will look at other diets ranked by the US News and World Report.
Sources:   Best Weight-Loss Diets, Weight Watchers Diet, Biggest Loser Diet,  Image source: