Being Present

HappyFamily2Red hearts are ubiquitous this month intending to focus our minds on those we love. This translates into purchases of flowers, jewelry and chocolate meant to show the people we love how we feel about them. But what are the most important ways we express our love?

Often, we are not our best selves when interacting with the people who mean the most to us. We wouldn’t even think of being curt with the drycleaner or the grocery store clerk but we’ll snap at our spouses or our children. We feel secure enough to do this but it’s also a release – after all, we can’t be nice all the time!

When we are busy with the task at hand we are frequently surprised by requests or interruptions from family members. We don’t always stop what we are doing and give our full attention to that person. What would happen if we did?

Making eye contact or listening intently on the phone are ways that show the people we love that we are really interested. Being listened to is a gift we can all use.

We all need time to ourselves when we can be off limits to everyone – even our family. When these boundaries are communicated clearly and respected by others we can blow off steam harmlessly and recharge ourselves in the process.

Taking some time to listen to music, exercise, or anything else that helps you relax and unwind can ease transitions from work to home and allow you to be more present for the people you love.

So, instead of giving one of your warmest, brightest smiles to your coworker or your waiter, try reserving a few for the ones you love the most. It’s the little things we do every day that nourish and transform the people and relationships that are most important to us.

Food Focus: Chocolate

CacaoBeans2This is dedicated to all you chocolate lovers, especially the ones who emailed me last year to protest when beans were February’s food focus! The good news is that besides being possibly the world’s most perfect food, chocolate really is good for you! Chocolate is a superfood that’s been adored by women and men since the Mayan and Aztec civilizations and its power to combat stress and pms, and bring on a sense pleasure and fulfillment is widely understood, especially by women.

But how much chocolate and what kind? There are many qualitative differences in the types of chocolate available and what they bring to the table in terms of nutrition. The variety starts with the very spelling of the word. “Cacao” is the proper spelling for raw chocolate according to David Wolfe, raw foodist and author of the book “Naked Chocolate” but you will see the spellings “cacao” and “cocoa” used interchangeably. Irradiation and spraying of chemicals are standard practice in growing cacao beans, so it’s important to buy certified raw, organic cacao.

In its raw form, chocolate is a nut, called a cacao bean. Cacao beans contain protein, fat, carbohydrates, fiber, iron, zinc, chromium, copper, calcium, magnesium and much more. It’s interesting to note that cacao has the highest magnesium content of any food and magnesium is the number one mineral deficiency today. Additionally, cacao has the highest chromium content of any food and chromium is the number one trace mineral deficiency. Cacao contains the “bliss chemicals” phenylethylamine (PEA) and anandamide (a natural endorphin) that can cause changes in blood pressure and blood sugar levels and lead to feelings of excitement (like falling in love).

Fresh cacao beans are super-rich in antioxidant flavanols. Cornell University food scientists found that cocoa powder has nearly twice the antioxidants of red wine and up to three times what is found in green tea.1 A growing body of research has suggested that chocolate has beneficial effects on the heart and circulatory system. This has been born out in studies where participants who ate just a few squares a day of dark chocolate rich in flavonoids, (1.6 ounces) for two weeks showed improved endothelial function, the ability of the artery to dialate, which is indicative of improved vascular health. Sadly, you only have to consume a small quantity of dark chocolate to reap the benefits!

Studies indicate that dairy products block the absorption of all those great antioxidants in chocolate so if you’re a milk chocolate lover indulge sparingly and experiment with the darker chocolates. The percentage on chocolate labels represents the percent of cacao (mixture of cacao mass, cocoa butter and cocoa powder) contained in each serving. Milk chocolate contains about 37% cacao whereas dark chocolate ranges from 59 – 87%. The greatest health benefits are seen at 70% cacao and higher.

ChocolateStackedDark chocolate is cooked and contains varying amounts of sugar. For a lot of people, this type of chocolate is a “trigger food” making it hard to eat just a little bit. Raw chocolate doesn’t contain any sugar and adding it in to your diet can provide the health benefits of cacao and the joy of chocolate without putting you on the blood sugar roller coaster.

What are some of the ways you can enjoy raw chocolate?

Whole cacao beans are available for purchase and are fabulous dipped in honey, maple syrup or agave nectar. Whole cacao beans work well in homemade trail mix with dried fruits like goji berries. Because of their high antioxidant content, whole cacao beans resist oxidation better than any other nut or seed. Cacao nibs, peeled, raw organic cacao bean pieces, have a shorter shelf life but are easy to use in many recipes like the one below. Lastly cacao powder lends itself to baking and chocolate drinks.

Raw cacao powder is available from companies like Dagoba. Processed, or “dutched” cacao powder (cacao that’s been processed with alkali to cut acidity) can be purchased from Green and Blacks. Dutch process cacao is neutral and doesn’t react with baking soda. Recipes using baking powder generally call for dutched cocoa powder. Natural cacao powder has higher antioxidant levels and you can substitute it in recipes calling for dutched cocoa powder by adding 1/8 teaspoon of baking soda for every 3 Tablespoons of natural cacao powder. I love to put 1 heaping teaspoon of raw cacao powder and 1 teaspoon of maple syrup into my morning cup of grain coffee for a delicious and healthy alternative to the milk and sugar thing.

Sharing your chocolate with your sweetie is enthusiastically encouraged but please don’t share it with your four legged valentine. Chocolate contains theobromine, a central nervous system stimulant and dogs lack the enzymes necessary to metabolize it. Raw cacao contains the highest percentage of theobromine (1 – 2 % of the cacao bean) and caution should be taken to keep it away from your dog as it can cause cardiac arrest in sufficient quantities.

Although chocolate is a miraculous food it’s worth noting that frequent chocolate cravings are usually a sign of imbalance and simple diet and lifestyle changes can reduce or eliminate such cravings, particularly around the moon cycle when many women’s desire for chocolate peaks. Still, chocolate remains one of life’s sensual pleasures and this Valentine’s Day consider experimenting with chocolate in a new way. Enjoy.

Recipe of the Month

EnergyBallsBalls of Energy

These are calorie dense, raw, homemade energy snacks that are a perfect pick me up before or after sports. I make them a lot during basketball season in our house and they are great for taking on the road, providing you with long lasting energy when a sit down meal will be hard to come by.

2 cups rolled oats (Old fashioned) If you wish, you may put the oats in a food processor and pulse until oats become powdery – this changes the texture of the raw oats and makes them more digestible for some people.
1/2 cup cranberries (dried)
1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/4 cup cacao nibs
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup raw organic almond butter
1/3 cup agave nectar
1/4 cup brown rice syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cacao powder to coat balls

1. Combine oats, cranberries, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, cacao nibs and cinnamon in large bowl.
2. Combine almond butter, agave nectar, brown rice syrup, and vanilla until well mixed. Pour wet mixture into dry ingredients and stir well.
3. Moisten hands, and roll dough into 1-inch balls. Coat balls in cacao powder (they will look like truffles!). Store in the fridge. If you can wait, they taste better the next day! You can also freeze and have it handy, they take 15 minutes to defrost.

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