This post is adapted from my guest post on Stone Soup, the blog of Food and Nutrition Magazine, which is a publication of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Just the word conjures up the taste of rich hot cocoa and the snap of a pure chocolate bar. For some, it is tied to the memory of a favorite birthday cake or the fluttering nerves of a first Valentine’s Day date. For others, it’s an everyday treat to be slowly savored with a mug of coffee.
We often think of chocolate only in the context of a sweet dessert. Yet, the chocolate we know today is quite different from how it was consumed originally. Did you know that during the vast majority of chocolate’s 2000-year history it was enjoyed as a beverage—and not even a sweet one? As far back as 1400 B.C.E., chocolate was prepared as a bitter drink that was sometimes fermented. It wasn’t until after Europeans set foot in the Americas that chocolate was sweetened. The first chocolate bar was created hundreds of years later, in the mid-19th century.
Today, chocolate is big business, with Americans buying more than $345 million in chocolate candy during Valentine’s week, making up 5.1 percent of annual sales. How much chocolate do people eat around the world?
With the abundance of chocolate in stores across the U.S., we may think we eat the most of anyone. Not true! People in Germany, Switzerland, and the U.K. eat about twice as much chocolate per year as those in the U.S. Europeans consume nearly half the world’s cocoa, while Americans consume just over 20 percent.
Enough statistics. How about nutrition? Cocoa contains vitamin E and some of the B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin and niacin), as well as minerals such as magnesium, copper, phosphorus and zinc. Check out the chart below for a breakdown of macro nutrients in different types of chocolate:
Suprisingly (for me, at least), dark chocolate tends to have a higher percentage of calories from fat than milk or white chocolate. This trend is due to the fact that dark chocolate tends to have more cocoa butter added to it to help it flow better. I would not have know this before we got our own chocolate temping machine and struggled with stiff dark chocolate. Notice that as you move from dark chocolate to white chocolate, the percentage of calories from sugar increases. This makes sense: if you take away the cocoa, you need to replace it with something. Sugar to the rescue! Finally, note the percentages don’t add up to 100 percent. This is partly due to rounding and mostly due to the other things in chocolate, such as fiber.
Chocolate is also rich in flavanols, a substance that protects the body against oxidative damage and may help improve blood flow to the brain and heart. To benefit from these flavanols, choose dark chocolate over highly processed milk chocolate and cocoa powder that has not undergone Dutch processing. Enjoying an ounce of chocolate once in a while is something to which I can raise my glass!
While I had my open hours at Strawberry Fields last weekend, I offered these chocolate-dipped apricots for customers to nibble on while they asked me questions. They were a universal hit with everyone (well, except the kiddie who swallowed the chocolate and spat out the apricot. Can’t get them all, I guess.)
Looking for more chocolate recipes? Give these a try!
Wedding Chocolate Drops (fudgy chocolate cookies)
Fluffy Chocolate Ricotta Cookies
Vegetarian Chocolate Chili
Chocolate BBQ Sauce
Spiced Chocolate Tea
Q: Any special plans for Valentine’s Day? What’s your favorite chocolate recipe?
P.S. No post this Friday – I’m flying to Colorado for a lovely long weekend with my dad and sister.
“But, wait!” you cry. “Weren’t you just there?”
Why yes, yes I was. I’m going again because (a) I have a few extra days off between large projects, and (b) plane tickets are so darn cheap from here. Who knew?
See you on Monday, dear reader!
International Cocoa Organization: World Consumption of Chocolate/Annual Per Capita Consumption of Chocolate
International Cocoa Organization: Inventory of Health and Nutritional Attributes of Cocoa
Nielsen: U.S. Consumers Show Their Love for Chocolate on Valentine’s Day
USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference
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By now, many of you have heard of MyPlate, the USDA‘s newest healthy eating guide.
For the first time in nearly 20 years, this food guide is not in the shape of a pyramid (for a fascinating look at the evolution of the USDA’s food guides, check out this link). I completed my dietetic internship at the height of MyPlate’s predecessor, MyPyramid, and let me tell you: MyPyramid had a lot of haters. Frequent complaints I heard:
* Discretionary calories what?
* I honestly don’t think I’ll be measuring out 5.5 ounces of meat ‘n’ beans.
* How am I supposed to separate oils from the rest of the categories?
* The thickness of the bars is supposed to represent something? Really?
* Why is there a cartoon of a guy running up the side?
* And so on.
Hungry readers, I hear you. MyPyramid had its flaws. As its successor, MyPlate is far from perfect. HOWEVER, I am on board with the direction in which these food guides have moved. Anecdotal evidence suggests that MyPlate is easier to understand, and I can see why: a simple visual we see several times a day (i.e. a plate of food) is more effective than a pyramid that requires tons of explanation.
MyPlate is far from new, however. I even wrote about something called The New American Plate in 2010. Look familiar?
The UK has something called The Eatwell Plate, which, while not constructed exactly the same as MyPlate, does use a plate as a visual:
The basic idea behind MyPlate is that by filling your plate with foods in the proportions suggested, you’ll eat plenty of nutrient-packed fruits and veggies and less proteins and grain-based carbohydrates. Following MyPlate will also check the amount of food energy you eat (i.e. calories). Of course, if you eat more than one MyPlate in a single meal, or eat from a 15-inch serving platter, you’ll defeat the purpose here.
What happened to all the confusion behind cups, calories, oils, discretionary calories, and physical activity? These factors still count, but they’re not front and center in the general MyPlate graphic. The USDA still recommends certain amounts per day of the different food groups, and they give guidelines for oils and discretionary calories. See here for more info.
Personally, I’m thrilled the MyPlate graphic is so clean and simple. Some people love counting up cups, calories, ounces, etc., but many people don’t.* Giving someone a task they don’t enjoy makes them less likely to do it, and more likely to say “Heck with it, I’m done”. It’s ironic given my quantitative background, but I think separating the numbers from the food is more in line with how we used to eat before we needed professionals to tell us how to eat.
*Some people need to count, i.e. those with diabetes who count carbohydrates, those with fluid restrictions who must keep track of their fluid intake, etc.
All right. All this discussion is getting a little boring. WAKE UP!
I thought long and hard (i.e. for ten seconds) about how best to illustrate what MyPlate means to me as a dietitian. I could go for hours about whole grains this, lean proteins that, but really, who wants that? I’ll sneak it in later, don’t you worry :D
Thus, I’ll illustrate through pictures instead. For example, a typical lunch, served on a 12-inch plate (I usually use a 9-inch plate, but the bread was hanging off the 9-inch plate in a rather unattractive manner. In cases like these, I aim to keep the food within the center circle. Approximately.):
Let’s divide that puppy up.
Hmm, not quite. Notice I didn’t divide the plate into “quarters” like MyPlate. I chose to combine fruits and vegetables, because it’s common to have one or the either at meals (e.g. just fruit at breakfast and just vegetables at dinner).
So, how do I update my plate? For starters, that’s a lot of salmon salad. I made it from 1-6 oz. can salmon, mashed with Greek yogurt, mayo, and rinsed capers, and topped with a spoonful of pesto (I’ve been doing that a lot lately!). I don’t need 6 oz. of protein at lunch, so I’ll take away about a third of it.
Next, the veggies are skimpy. I can’t imagine eating half a plateful of carrots, so how about another veggie to round out the plate, such as these beautiful purple beans from the local farmer’s market?
Divided up, with a totally realistic-looking cup of skim milk Powerpointed into the picture because I forgot to photograph it:
That’ll do nicely.
“But, wait!” I hear you cry. “I have so many questions! What about if you go out to eat? Or if you have a casserole or — gracious — even a smoothie? How do I choose what type of grains, or proteins, or — ?”
Patience, dear reader. To keep this post from becoming unwieldy in length, I’ll continue to feature “Update Your Plate”s that will help answer all your questions. I’m a believer in visual learning.
So, until the next “Update Your Plate”, please feel free to ask me questions, either in the comments or through email or by owl.
Happy Friday, everyone!
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