Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Juice. Chocolate. Moderate.

Sally said that eating right is confusing these days. To some degree, I agree with that assessment. The increased industrialization of our food supply combined with the extreme difficulty of trying to decipher various experts' opinions as to what constitutes a healthy diet only serve to confuse the hell out of anyone making an honest venture into healthy eating country. One person says that this food is healthy. The other likens it to slow poisoning to consume the same food. Milk, meat, soy, grains, peanuts, bread, fish... The list goes on and on about controversial foods.

This time around, I'm going to take a look at two foods. One has a reputation for being junk food. The other is renowned for being healthy. The truth is that they both have the potential to be complete garbage as much as they do to be a healthy addition to your diet.

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A century ago, Eugen Sandow, at the twilight of his strong man career but still very famous and popular, decided to spend some of his reputation and good name by packaging some of the super-cheap waste products from Cadbury's production line and labeling it as "Sandow's Health & Strength Cocoa." After he was forced out of the healthy chocolate business, everyone was happy to continue on with life, accepting chocolate as a sweet tooth indulgence and laughing at the notion that chocolate could somehow be good for your health.

That isn't quite right though. As we're starting to find out, chocolate actually has some health benefits. It's high in antioxidants (GOOD and USEFUL antioxidants). It's got a lot of the same phytochemicals as red wine, along with the same hearth-healthy benefits. People who consume some chocolate on a weekly basis live longer and there is even some evidence of improved brain health from chocolate.

Of course, we all know that this doesn't apply to these...
This isn't chocolate. This is a joke. For starters, you need to eat dark chocolate to get the health benefits that I'm talking about. When I say dark, I'm talking over 60% cocoa content. I much prefer 70-80%. Then, you need to watch the sugar content. Any health benefit can be quickly off-set by adding way too much sugar, the sin of the overwhelming majority of chocolate bars.

I didn't just drain all of the fun of eating chocolate though. What you have to do is get a better quality chocolate bar. Good quality cocoa doesn't need 30g of sugar per bar to taste good! Try some of the single origin bars from Lake Champlain Chocolates. Others have gotten very adept to adding other ingredients instead of the sugar to make the bar less bitter, such as Vosges does. Another addition back into the bar that I'm seeing is the Cacao nibs added back into the bar. I like it! It adds a nice crunch to the bar and it's loaded with fiber and other health benefits.

If you checked out the links then you probably noticed that such bars are really expensive compared to the Hershey bar. That's not a bad thing. It's just a way to teach moderation. Even with the health benefits of chocolate, this doesn't mean that you pound down a bar at a time. Whenever I enjoy a Vosges bar, I'll eat two or three squares at a time (maybe a quarter or a third of the bar, in other words. 3/4-1 ounce) along with some fruit and/or nuts. Moderated like this, and with the right bar in hand, chocolate can be good for you.

Chocolate had Sandow. Juice has Lalanne, and it's imposters. Juice, however, gets a much better rep than our previous food item since it comes from foods that we all know that we should be eating more of, right? If it came from a fruit or a vegetable, then it must be healthy.

Well, not so fast. The problem with many juices is that they're high in sugar. Often times, very high. That's a huge problem since many people forget that what they drink is as important as what they eat. The result of this lack of oversight is consuming far too many sugar-laden calories that end up on thier mid-section. When you extract the juice from either, you often times leave behind the fiber that moderates the effects of the sugar naturally occurring in the fruit/veggie. While some fruits and veggies aren't very high in sugar (which are usually way too thick to drink, even when juiced), the juice makers solve that "problem" by blending them with other juices (apple juice. Sometimes, white grape juice) that are high in sugar. Even worse, they'll add it in the form of corn syrup or other nasty stuff that, hopefully, you don't need me to tell you are very unhealthy.
The juice joke.

If you're going to do juice right, you have to be just as picky as you would be about chocolate. Supreme Fitness God Lalanne has the right idea with making your own, since you control the ingredients. For more convenience, you're better off buying the stuff located in the produce section of the grocery store. Yes, it's more expensive. Yes, this is another opportunity to learn to moderate. Chances are, you should only drink half of it in one sitting and save the rest for later. It would be a better idea to stick with the bottles labeled smoothies, or the stuff with pulp in it. It's got a little fiber and chances are, it won't be as high in sugar. Also, be on the lookout for added sugar and stay away from the stuff that has a lot of apple juice in it. One key ingredient that's been showing up in some juices which I love is coconut water. It's low in sugar and high in potassium. Plus, it just tastes good.

Has anyone caught the re-occurring theme of moderation yet in this entry? The western diet, particularly the American diet, suffers from a severe lack of moderation. The saying, "if a little is good then a lot is better," just doesn't apply here and never did. Food doesn't need to be consumed by the pound and liquids (other than water) need not be drunk one 20 oz serving at a time.

Another re-occurring the of the BW-Files is the role of the right exercise to determine what you should be eating. If you ever had any question about whether or not something is good for you, always remember my advice: Consume the item in question, wait 2 hours, then train. If you don't' feel right, then chances are that you shouldn't be consuming it in the first place. Healthy food should be energizing and 9 times out of 10, the exercise test will show you what you should eat.

The third and final point: watch out! Both of these items show how anyone can take a seemingly healthy item and by over-manufacturing it turn it into some kind of monster that has no business crossing your tongue. Don't be ashamed to be fussy, read labels, and do some research. It's your health and nobody else is more motivated or qualified to watch out for it than you.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

For a number of years, I made my own smoothies (which I shared with my young sons) in a blender. My standard was milk (until I realized my stomach didn't so much like milk anymore), yogurt, one apple, a frozen banana, some frozen grapes, frozen blue berries and sometimes one other random fruit. It made a thick, chunky shake that I and my sons always enjoyed. At some point, life got too hectic and I stopped making them so often. I have been thinking for a while now that I ought to start them up again.

Take it easy,