Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Sneaky Snacking

Fine! I eat chocolate! Now please stop the infernal dripping noise and get that bright light out of my eyes.

My clients always want to know where my nutrition deviates and they come up with a zillion niggling questions to get the lowdown. The answer isn't really that fascinating since, as most of you know, grains throw me WAY off track so I'm seldom tempted. It's chocolate that melts my resolve, though you won't catch me eating fun-sized anything or any products by Hershey. But if you saw someone who looks a lot like me buying Blanxart Chocolate in the Raw one afternoon at Whole Foods, I may not have an alibi.

It would be an especially good time to cover this particular topic since many of you indulged over the holidays - and you know who you are. In the coming weeks, you may find that reeling it back in proves a bit of a challenge. Sometimes you just want 'a little something' as you try to shake loose that nasty grip that sugar has on you and I have a secret recipe I've been formulating.

Before you all 'Aha!' me in unison, you may want to read all the health benefits of chocolate courtesy of PT on the Net. Following are the key benefits:

  • "Flavonoid compounds are found almost exclusively in the plant kingdom, and it’s estimated that there are more than 4,000 of them. Various epidemiological studies have shown that populations consuming a diet rich in flavonoids (including foods such as wine, tea and certain fruits and vegetables) have lower rates of heart disease and stroke."
  • "Flavonoids present in cocoa and chocolate may protect the heart by inhibiting the oxidation of the “bad cholesterol” called LDL (oxidized LDL is much more likely to result in the formation of plaque on the artery wall). Studies have shown that as the amount of chocolate flavonoids in the blood increases, there is a corresponding decrease in the markers associated with oxidation damage. In addition, the antioxidants in cocoa and chocolate may help spare other antioxidants such as vitamin C and E, which allows them to act longer to fight off foreign invaders."
  • "Some studies indicate that after consuming flavonoids in chocolate, there is a decrease in markers associated with platelet aggregation and adhesion (stickiness of the blood/blood clotting). Both platelet aggregation and adhesion are associated with a higher risk of plaque formation on the artery wall. As plaque formation increases, so does the risk of a heart attack by blocking flow of blood to the heart. Thus, chocolate can almost have an aspirin-like effect."
  • "Cocoa and chocolate flavonoids may protect the heart by increasing concentrations of a substance called nitric oxide that relaxes the inner surface of blood vessel walls. This has the effect of increasing dilation of the arteries, which improves blood flow and heart functioning. This function of cocoa and chocolate may help those who have high blood pressure. In fact, a small study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that dark chocolate (but not white chocolate) lowered blood pressure in those with hypertension."
  • "Research reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that procyanidins (flavonoid found in the cocoa bean) can reduce blood levels of leukotrienes, which are a pro-inflammatory substance. This has positive effects on the immune system. In addition, this benefit could help protect the heart as inflammation in the lining of the artery walls is believed to be part of the damaging process that leads to cardiovascular disease."

Here we go with fat again . . . .
"Cocoa butter makes up about 50 percent of the dry weight of a cocoa bean, with 70 percent of that being saturated fat. However, the saturated fat in cocoa butter is mainly stearic triglycerides (maybe this would be a good time to review my fat post again) that are less well absorbed than other saturated fats. Thus, cocoa butter is less bioavailable and has minimal effect on cholesterol levels as opposed to palmitic acid found in fatty meats and butter. Stearic acid has been referred to as a neutral fatty acid. The rest of the fat from cocoa butter is monounsaturated, which is the same healthy fat found in olive oil and avocados."

A Secret Chocolate Concoction
I make these truffles, along with many variations that include cinnamon (for insulin sensitivity), as a treat for many of my CrossFitting compadres. My recipe is based on Performance Menu's Chocolate Ball recipe which I've tweaked several times over depending on what I have for ingredients. This certainly offers all the health benefits of chocolate without the carb-coma and insulin spike of traditional chocolate concoctions. I've done my best to make these as healthy as possible and hopefully, my food processor will get a rest now that everyone has the recipe. For many of you, these will seem far too calorically dense because of the fat content.

Chocolate Espresso Truffles
1/2 Cup Almond Meal/Flour or Macadamia Nut Butter*
1/4 Cup Coconut Powder**
1/4 Cup Cocoa Nibs***
1/4 Cup good quality Cocoa
2 teaspoons Instant Espresso
2-3 Tablespoons Agave Nectar****

More Cocoa to coat

Put all ingredients except nibs in a small food processor and blend until combined. Add nibs and pulse quickly. The result should be a course meal that forms into balls. Use a tablespoon for even sizing and roll formed balls in cocoa to coat.

*You can buy Almond Meal by Red Mill in most stores. Remember that Almonds, though lower in fat, are higher in Omega-6. You can find Macadamia Nut Butter at Whole Foods but I haven't run across it anywhere else.

  • Stats on Almonds (100 gram serving) : Of the 52 grams of fat, 33 grams is in the form of monounsaturated fats, about 10 grams is a polyunsaturated omega-6 fat, almost half a gram is the desirable omega-3 polyunsaturated fat, and about 5 grams are saturated fats. No data is available for the last 4 grams
  • Stats on Macs (100 gram serving): 83% monounsaturated fatty acids, Only about 3% is omega-6 polyunsaturated, and 2% is omega-3 fatty acids; 69 grams of fat, 16 grams of carbohydrate, about 9 grams of protein

**I buy this in Central Market and the packaging leads me to believe it's one full coconut powdered with nothing else added. The nutritional information isn't in English so I'm only a little scared. Depending on the processing, it's possible that the fat oxidizes though it's saturated.

***"Nibs are tiny nuggets of roasted cocoa beans, not yet crushed or ground to homogeneity, not yet transformed into unsweetened chocolate or processed into smoother or more refined forms of sweetened chocolate. In short, nibs are cocoa beans on the brink of becoming chocolate and, as such, they are a unique and fascinating new ingredient," this from Scharffen Berger. You can spend a lot of money for their nibs but you can also find them in bulk these days.

****Agave syrup is a fructose syrup made from the Blue Agave plant. It has a glycemic index of 39 (Traditional sugar, which is almost completely sucrose, has a GI of approximately 110).