In researching the recent fad of chocolate and Wine pairing, we became intrigued by a statement from one of its proponents stating that chocolate is a healthier choice than cheese to pair your favorite wine with. Obviously, we are big defenders of cheese here, but we did discover that chocolate has a lot of impressive health benefits.
Many of us were already aware that dark chocolate contains cancer-fighting anti-oxidants, but did you know that it contains more than red wine, tea, blueberries, or cranberries?
Chocolate is good for your heart too. The phenols in chocolate can help reduce the risk of heart disease and arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). The flavanols in chocolate help the body use nitric oxide, which is essential for healthy blood flow and blood pressure, so chocolate helps reduce high blood pressure as well. A study at the University of California Davis even determined that chocolate causes a reduction in blood platelet activity, which causes blood to clot. So eating chocolate can have an anti-clotting, blood thinning effect similar to low doses of aspirin that are very popular in the medical community these days.
Studies in the past have focused on the health benefits of dark chocolate, but Wheeling Jesuit University determined that consuming milk chocolate can benefit memory, attention span, reaction time, and cognitive problem solving ability. The increased mental performance is associated with theobromine and phenylethylamine, both of which are elements commonly found in Milk chocolate. So chocolate makes you smarter too!
Any chocolate lover knows that it makes you feel good. That may be one more reason many of us are prone to eat too much of it. But there is scientific evidence that eating chocolate stimulates the production of endorphins, which provide a pleasurable sensation similar to the one that runners get after jogging a few miles. (Eat chocolate or run? Hmmm…..) Chocolate even contains the neurotransmitter serotonin, that acts as an anti-depressant. A study in England also concluded that even just the smell of chocolate can lift your spirits. No wonder everyone who works in our store is always so happy!
So eating chocolate fights cancer, prevents heart disease, improves brain function, and makes you happy, and we have not even mentioned all of the vitamins and minerals it contains. But of course there is a caveat: the dreadful word that always pops up whenever we are discussing nutrition or healthy eating, “Moderation.” Consuming an overabundance of chocolate is not good for the waistline, which could defeat the purpose of all of the other health benefits outlined here. Too much sugar can also weaken the immune system and present risks for Diabetes if consumed regularly. So indulge in an amount that fits into a healthy daily calorie intake. Lastly, if you’re going to eat chocolate, make sure you indulge in the best. We recommend Heggys Chocolates.
Solving the American Obesity Epidemic Part II: The Secret to Lasting Weight Loss (Hint: It’s not Starving Yourself)
In order to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, we need to commit to permanently changing some of our deeply held beliefs, and thus our habits. But the changes need not be drastic. Anyone who has ever traveled to Continental Europe has seen that the obesity epidemic there is not nearly as bad as it is here in The U.S. Yet their lifestyles are not that different from ours. They enjoy fine foods including desserts, they consume even more beer and wine than we do, and they do not spend the majority of their day on a treadmill or lifting weights. Two major factors contribute to their ability to maintain healthy body weights:
- Portion Control
- A less sedentary lifestyle
The secret to permanent weight loss is really not a secret at all. Just as the experts have always said, the trick is to take in fewer calories than your body burns on a daily basis. Of course that is easier said than done, but it may not be as difficult as you think. The key is to rid yourself of the age-old assumptions that our culture has instilled in us. Hunger is your body’s way of telling you that it needs nourishment. Trying to ignore it may work temporarily, but only when conditions are ideal as mentioned in the first article in this series. The hunger will get progressively worse and lead to irrational eating, ultimately resulting in more weight gain. Your body also has mechanisms in place that will begin to protect your fat stores if it believes you are being starved. Limiting yourself to the traditional three meals per day can also lead to feeling hungry between meals. Then you will overeat when the time for a meal finally arrives. You need to have healthy snacks available throughout the day to keep your hunger in check. Then you will eat a controlled and reasonable portion at mealtime. You also need to control the portion sizes you eat during meals. Marketing giants like fast food restaurants have capitalized on formulating their meals to increase our appetites to make sure we order more and return more frequently. Restaurants in turn have increased their portion sizes to keep up with our perception of what constitutes proper meal sizes. But if you go to a European style or fine dining restaurant, you will notice the average portion size is much smaller. That is because we have developed the incorrect assumption that it takes a larger portion size to satisfy us. Portion sizes of certain courses (such as vegetables) can be larger, but our meals are typically focus on the wrong course.
The other factor that leads to achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight is a less sedentary lifestyle. Notice I did not say exercise. Most of us do not have the time or motivation to spend hours on end at the gym. Exercise has also been over-emphasized as a means to lose weight in the past, leading to disappointment and eventual failure. Just like changes to your diet, you must incorporate something you can live with and not overly disrupt your current routine. The Europeans are famous for not using their cars as much as we do and walking to more places. That is not often practical in The U.S., but you can incorporate an activity you enjoy into your routine like taking a walk after dinner or playing basketball with your kids. The trick is to make sure it is something you can live with on a daily basis.
Obviously, you cannot make an effective and lasting lifestyle change by just adjusting a few things here and there. You need a plan. Many are available, and books such as The Zone and The Abs Diet come highly recommended. But what has been most effective for me personally has been the Weight Watchers plan.
I am not employed by, nor am I paid to endorse Weight Watchers in any way. But I have now lost over 47 pounds on their plan in a few months and will reach my goal weight in less than a month. I can see myself maintaining the healthier eating habits I have learned from them for life, without ever feeling deprived. This may not sound like a very impressive accomplishment, but one factor made weight loss an ongoing and uphill battle for me. I am the owner of a gourmet food store that specializes in Cheese and Chocolate. I spend every day seeing and smelling a selection of culinary delights. It took us years to refine our selection to only the very best products we can offer. That presented quite a challenge, but it also helped me to discover a plan that even a passionate lover of fine gourmet foods could adhere to. I did become more sensitive to the needs of a healthy lifestyle and incorporated a “Skinny Alternatives” section to my store, stocked with lower calorie foods that were delicious alternatives to the fruits and vegetables I usually had for snacks. But given the proper portion size, nothing was off limits.
I am confident that with commitment and motivation, anyone can achieve and maintain a healthy weight the same way I did. I am not saying there will not be challenges. But I believe that if I was able to do it, anyone can.
We in the United States have set numerous precedents in our relatively short history, many of which the rest of the civilized world saw fit to follow. But there is one that we as Americans are not particularly proud of. We now hold the title of the world’s most obese nation. One in every three Americans is obese. We are not proud of that, and would not consider it a precedent the rest of the world should follow, but statistics show the rest of the world IS following.
Obesity is not just an undesirable way to look in most cultures. There are many health risks involved with being overweight including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, stroke, and of course diabetes. It is one more reason for health insurance premiums to increase.
So why do we keep packing on the pounds? Most of the experts say it is a combination of our crazy-busy, yet mostly sedentary lifestyle. Stay at home Moms that prepare meals for their families are becoming more and more rare. We all have to not just work these days, but work long hours and commit to a myriad of extra-curricular activities. We have become dependent on fast or over-processed foods that can be prepared quickly with little effort because we do not have time to prepare a well-balanced meal. Then we spend every spare minute trying to clear our minds with sedentary activities. Instead of taking a walk after dinner like our grandparents did, we plant ourselves in front of the TV, computer, or video games.
The obesity rate in the U.S. has doubled in the last ten years, and there is no evidence that we will correct our course any time soon. It is difficult to change the daily habits we develop. There is no shortage of diets, miracle pills, and even surgeries that promise rapid weight loss. But these are temporary (and sometimes risky) solutions to problems that were created by the habits of a lifetime. There is one common thread amongst obese people. They are procrastinators. They believe that some day soon there will be some miracle cure that will provide them with the perfect body overnight, with little or no effort on their part. Maybe they are just planning to start their diet next week. Maybe they tried diet and exercise for a period of time and were disappointed with the results. Maybe they are waiting until they get the big promotion at work and can afford the gastric bypass or one of the other bariatric surgeries that are becoming increasingly popular. The excuses are many, and marketers are capitalizing on that hope for a “miracle cure” for obesity.
Weight loss is now a billion dollar empire, but why is it that as the number of miracle weight loss products continues to grow, so do our waistlines? Professionally monitored diet plans like Jenny Craig and Nutrisystem promise great results if you can afford them, but how long do you plan to siphon a portion of your hard earned money into an advisor and their over-priced specialized foods? Do you think you can just stay on the program until you reach your goal weight and then maintain it on your own? Will you keep the weight off, or just return to your old habits as soon as there is no longer an advisor to hold you accountable? You would think Kirstie Alley would have been able to afford to stay on the Jenny Craig program indefinitely. What happened to her?
Pills, cookies, and smoothies also promise great results with little effort. But again, you must ask yourself how long you want to be dependent on those crutches to maintain a healthy weight, and what are the side effects?
You may even be willing to go under the knife in the name of weight loss. But elective surgeries are expensive and can be risky. Now that statistics are available on the long-term effects of the original gastric bypass performed in the 1970s, we know that the procedure was not just risky, but downright dangerous! What will the statistics show about the current bariatric procedures twenty years from now?
That leaves us with the ever-popular and ever-changing miracle diets. Low-carb diets like The Atkins Diet became so popular a few years ago that they almost put Krispy-Kreme donuts out of business in the middle of an economic boom! But while The Atkins Diet delivered rapid results, over time we found out the results were undone even more rapidly. The food selections were fairly limited, and were too far removed from our current eating habits, making us unable to enjoy meals with friends or at restaurants. Anything resembling a dessert was permanently off-limits. One slip could undo the effort and sacrifice of an entire week. So the market became flooded with imitators that promised a better selection of foods that were more conducive to our current lifestyles. But the very word “diet” implies a temporary sacrifice in our modern vocabulary. How can you achieve permanent results with a temporary sacrifice? Unless every condition in our lives is ideal, even the temporary sacrifice becomes too difficult to make. As soon as we become sick or stressed or have to deal with any adversity, we seek comfort in the old familiar foods we used to enjoy. So how will we maintain a healthy weight if we can not even maintain a temporary sacrifice long enough to get to our goal weight?
Making a temporary sacrifice will not permanently solve a problem. As soon as you fall back into your old habits, the weight will creep back up. We need to permanently change our habits.
Part II of this article outlines why the obesity epidemic is not prevalent in Europe, and how we can emulate their lifestyle differences for permanent results.