The health benefits of consuming dark chocolate are becoming more well known; and the antioxidant makeup in chocolate is a great way to justify indulging in your sweet tooth (on occasion, of course). Furthermore, there is evidence that dark chocolate can also lower your blood pressure and help keep heart disease at bay. There’s more good news on the way now too, as a new report indicates that dark chocolate can also enhance your mood.
The report comes from NutraIngredients.com which found that “cocoa flavanols in dark chocolate may keep you calmer and content but no link has been established with enhanced cognitive performance.” The report found that “people consuming high cocoa flavanol dark chocolate reported more positive mood states.”
With regards to the study, “seventy-two healthy men and women aged 40-65 were asked to consume a 20 g dark chocolate drink mix with either 500 mg of cocoa flavanols, 250 mg or no cocoa flavanols for 30 day.” The participants didn’t know what drink they were consuming.
The report found that “the group consuming the most flavanols reported higher levels of calmness and contentedness than other groups after 30 days, but no changes in cognition were observed.” The researchers proclaimed that “this randomized controlled trial is perhaps the first to demonstrate the positive effects of cocoa polyphenols on mood in healthy participants.” They added that “this provides a rationale for exploring whether cocoa polyphenols can ameliorate the symptoms associated with clinical anxiety or depression.”
Dark chocolate is becoming more and more recognised for the health benefits it can provide and it looks like we’ve found another great reason to indulge.
Experts agree that we are eating too much sugar, which is contributing to obesity and other health problems. But in the rush to avoid sugar, many low-carb dieters and others are avoiding fruits. But fresh fruit should not become a casualty in the sugar wars, many nutrition experts say.
Dr. David Ludwig, the director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, said that sugar consumed in fruit is not linked to any adverse health effects, no matter how much you eat. In a recent perspective piece in The Journal of the American Medical Association, he cited observational studies that showed that increased fruit consumption is tied to lower body weight and a lower risk of obesity-associated diseases.
Whole fruits, he explained, contain a bounty of antioxidants and healthful nutrients, and their cellular scaffolding, made of fiber, makes us feel full and provides other metabolic benefits. When you bite into an apple, for example, the fruit’s fiber helps slow your absorption of fructose, the main sugar in most fruits. But fiber is not the full story.
“You can’t just take an 8-ounce glass of cola and add a serving of Metamucil and create a health food,” Dr. Ludwig said. “Even though the fructose-to-fiber ratio might be the same as an apple, the biological effects would be much different.”
Fiber provides “its greatest benefit when the cell walls that contain it remain intact,” he said. Sugars are effectively sequestered in the fruit’s cells, he explained, and it takes time for the digestive tract to break down those cells. The sugars therefore enter the bloodstream slowly, giving the liver more time to metabolize them. Four apples may contain the same amount of sugar as 24 ounces of soda, but the slow rate of absorption minimizes any surge in blood sugar. Repeated surges in blood sugar make the pancreas work harder and can contribute to insulin resistance, thereby increasing the risk for Type 2 diabetes.
“If we take a nutrient-centric approach, just looking at sugar grams on the label, none of this is evident,” Dr. Ludwig said. “So it really requires a whole foods view.”
Fruit can also help keep us from overeating, Dr. Ludwig said, by making us feel fuller. Unlike processed foods, which are usually digested in the first few feet of our intestines, fiber-rich fruit breaks down more slowly so it travels far longer through the digestive tract, triggering the satiety hormones that tend to cluster further down the small intestines.
Another nutrition expert, Dr. Robert Lustig, a professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, who has called sugar “toxic” at high doses and fructose the most “actionable” problem in our diet, is still a fan of fruit. “As far as I’m concerned, fiber is the reason to eat fruit,” since it promotes satiety and the slow release of sugar. He adds a third benefit from fiber: it changes our “intestinal flora,” or microbiome, by helping different species of healthy bacteria thrive.
Neither doctor favors certain fruits over others. But Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, said that “to maximize the benefit, you actually want a variety” of fruits. He advises “eating the rainbow,” since different colors signal different types of antioxidants and nutrients.
All three experts caution against choosing juice over whole fruit. While the best juice has nothing added, nothing subtracted, some important changes take place when you turn fruit into liquid. Chewing the whole fruit slows down consumption, Dr. Katz said, compared to when you “take an 8-ounce juice and just pour it down the hatch,” which not only makes it easier to ingest more calories, but releases fructose faster into the bloodstream.
Plus, he said, with juicing, “you reduce some of the metabolic benefit of the fiber by pulverizing it so fine; it changes the physical structure.” Commercially produced juices are particularly concerning since they are often filtered, removing fiber altogether. If you opt for juice, tossing whole fruit in a blender rather than squeezing it offers the best chance of retaining most of the fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Dried fruits also hold one of the main disadvantages of juices: volume. Dried fruit essentially concentrates the calories and sugar into smaller packets, making it easier to consume excess calories. But dried fruit is better than juice, Dr. Katz said, because it preserves the fruit’s cellular structure, along with the health assets that provides. And since dried fruit travels easily and does not rot, it can make the difference in eating any fruit at all.
Dr. Katz’s hierarchy? Fresh fruit, followed closely by dried fruit, with sweetened dried fruit a distant third, and juice in fourth place.
He said we should remember “a law we all learned from Aesop” and judge fructose “by the company it keeps,” fiber and all.
Yes, spring—and all its florid, hormonal charges—is in the air.
The vernal, or spring equinox, on March 20, is basically an astronomical phenomenon, occurring when the sun is at its zenith above the equator. At that instant, the tilt of Earth’s axis neither inclines away from nor toward the Sun. On the day of the equinox, the center of the Sun roughly spends an equal amount of time above and below the horizon, so that night and day are about the same length. The word equinox derives from the Latin words aequus(equal) and nox (night).
Science aside, it’s also considered a powerful time of regrowth and renewal—and it has been since the dawn of recorded history. Many early peoples celebrated for the basic reason that their food supplies would soon be restored. The monoliths at Stonehenge mark the position of the rising sun on the vernal equinox. Early Egyptians built the Great Sphinx so that it pointed directly toward the rising sun on that day. (Some view this transition as a victory of a god of light/life/rebirth/resurrection over the powers of darkness and death.)
Rituals honoring the equinox have varied from culture to culture, but all involved fertility and rebirth. In India, it was once believed that a fertile marriage would result if virgins were first deflowered by means of the lingam, a stone phallus symbolizing the god Shiva. In Rome, the equinox was marked by sacrifices to celebrate the death and rebirth of Attis, the god of vegetation. Goddesses of fertility—the Greeks’ Aphrodite, the Native Americans’ Spider Woman, Mexico’s Tonantizin, Africa’s Oshun, Northern Europe’s Freya, and Rome’s Flora—were all honored in the spring.
Rituals used in Europe of recent centuries to enhance a woman’s chances of conception included drinking potions of powdered hare’s womb, or sparrow’s brain, by wearing amulets of lodestone or quail’s heart, or by simply walking in the shadow of a “lusty” woman.
Spring fever indeed.
The vernal equinox is also significant in Christianity because Easter always falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the equinox. Amusingly, our Easter traditions were wrought from pagan rituals. The egg, rabbits, even egg coloring, were all ways of inviting fertility and renewal.
But the equinox is no longer recognized as an important celebration, save perhaps by Wiccans, who create altars, burn herbs, and chant to the Goddess. As E.B. White wrote in 1944, “The first day of spring was once the time for taking the young virgins into the fields, there in dalliance to set an example in fertility for nature to follow. Now we just set the clocks an hour ahead and change the oil in the crankcase.”
And this is a loss, as the onset of spring can resonate powerfully on a spiritual level. It’s a time of renewal and rebirth, a time of transition when the soul lets go of the old and plants symbolic new seeds. The soul awakens from its sleepy (even depressed) state of winter and seeks nourishment on many levels. The warmth of the sun awakens something within us, and a new quest generally begins, as if by synchronicity. More hours of daylight propel most souls to move forward, to make needed changes.
Seattle-based progressive astrologer Steven Shroyer writes in his blog that the power of the spring equinox is the flipping of the dominance of darkness to the dominance of light. “One of the important aspects of light is that it supports individualised growth. Light illuminates so that each person can see their own path in the world.”
For many, the cosmic reboot of the spring equinox translates to a desire not only for new experience, but for love with a capital L. More than any other time in the year (other than, perhaps, New Year’s Eve) singles begin to feel restless to connect. According to a poll done by Sparkology.com, an online dating website for young professionals, 81 percent date more often in the spring. And given a cosmic climate that fosters new beginnings, make the most of it.
Consider writing down your wish list for love. Make a list of attributes your perfect lover would have. Meditate right at the moment of the equinox. Tell yourself you are worthy of unconditional love and your deepest desires. Let yourself feel this reality. And then watch and see if the “seeds” of your ideas sprout during the next three months, come into bloom during the summer solstice period, and are harvested in the fall.
We can all agree that having fresh flowers all around the house would be a treat. They smell great and look beautiful, but as much as we love a good bouquet of flowers, the expense sometimes seems unjustifiable. Why purchase something that will die within a week or two? Even knowing that, we still find ourselves walking by the flower section in our grocery stores, eyeing the brightly coloured blooms and having a small internal battle with whether or not we should get them. After doing a bit of research on the health benefits of fresh flowers, we’ve decided that they might just be worth the splurge!
A recent study done by Rutdgers University revealed that displaying fresh flowers and other plants can actually improve your general well-being. They’re associated with positive energy and can increase happiness, reduce depression and anxiety. Pretty powerful, right? Even smelling fresh flowers can instantly turn your mood!
So why is it that we shy away from purchasing them? If you’re like us, sometimes it’s hard to spend extra money on yourself. Sometimes it feels silly to buy flowers for yourself, rather than waiting for someone else to send them, but we think investing in your own happiness is pretty important, and if it’s in your budget, why not?
Everyone has their own favourite blooms, but did you know that specific colours and shapes can also affect your mood? Less saturated colours and softer shaped flowers will generally make you feel more relaxed, while bright coloured flowers with sharper angles will energize you.
To get the most out of your flowers, display them in places where you spend the most time. The kitchen and living room are great spots since that’s where people tend to gather and relax at the end of the day. The nightstand is also a great spot since because your flowers be the first thing you see when you wake up. We like the idea of putting them on our desk for a nice calming addition to a hectic work schedule, plus a Texas A&M study discovered that flowers can improve your problem-solving skills and increase your creativity, so even your boss will be happy!
If you’ve considered buying fresh blooms for yourself, but decided not to, we urge you to try it and see how it makes you feel. We think it’s empowering to take control of your happiness and in this case, gorgeous too!