TIME TO GO DARK
● A little bit of dark chocolate goes a long way
● Dark chocolate as a means to harm reduction
Thanks to the Mayans for the discovery of the cacao plant that birthed the delectable decadence of… chocolate!
From as early as 1900 BC, cacao beans were recorded to have been consumed as a bitter concoction at royal Aztec feasts, utilised as a form of currency, and even used as an element at spiritual rituals - all of which indicates its highly sought-after value.
But ever since, cacao beans have evolved into a sweet, insatiable, delicious delicacy - a worldwide phenomenon, if you may - that has rendered it easily accessible to many in a variety of forms: dark, milk, and white chocolate.
From chocolate candy bars to cakes, mousse, fudge, truffles, alcohol, milkshakes and so on, it’s no wonder why chocolate has a strong foothold over the lives of many today.
Among all, one serves to be the less harmful alternative to satiate your chocolate cravings. Before we get into that, let’s first take a step back and ask the “whys” and the “hows”.
THE SCIENCE BEHIND THE CRAVINGS
The answer in a nutshell boils down to the sugar and fat content contained in chocolate.
Many people turn to chocolate for that instant boost of external gratification when we’re feeling down or hungry. This is especially true for women whose chocolate cravings tend to heighten at a certain time of the month, coinciding with their monthly pre-menstrual cycle when blood sugars levels are low and hormones are askew.
According to research, people who claim to be addicted to chocolate are more inclined to be addicted to alcohol, smoking, sex and gambling.
While it is irrevocably challenging to deny or go straight cold turkey with this sweet, velvety goodness, your solution lies in…
...THE “DARK” SIDE
Also known as “dark chocolate”!
But how is dark chocolate any different from milk or white chocolate? Well, the distinction between these different types of chocolates lies in its chemistry of sugar, milk, cocoa powder and cocoa butter concentration.
|Type of Chocolate||Composition||Amount of Cocoa Solids|
|White chocolate||milk + sugar + cocoa butter||None|
|Milk chocolate||milk + sugar + cocoa butter + cocoa powder||20% - 30%|
|Dark chocolate||sugar + cocoa butter + cocoa powder||More than 35%|
White chocolate is notoriously coined as “faux” chocolate for lacking the key ingredient that defines a “true” chocolate - ie. cocoa. It contains a solid amount of cocoa butter which amplifies its creamy “chocolatey” texture, but relies heavily on sugar for its sweetness.
Meanwhile, milk chocolate, “the sweet middle child” that forms the basis for most popular sweet treats, combines cocoa solids diluted with milk solids, cream and sugar to give it a smooth and creamy taste.
And then there’s our protagonist - dark chocolate. Dark chocolate inherently contains a higher concentration of cocoa solids which makes for its relatively bitter taste, as a result of lower sugar levels.
THE LIGHT IN THE “DARK”
Contrary to popular belief, not all chocolates are all bad. Dark chocolate has been proven to contain a handful of undeniable health benefits, with one of its star players being… flavanol.
Below are a few of the benefits of consuming dark chocolate:
RICH IN ANTIOXIDANTS
Flavanol and polyphenols found in dark chocolate are potent antioxidant properties which are crucial in neutralising free radicals and reducing the risks of oxidative stress. These qualities of dark chocolate are to thank for lowering inflammation in the body, protecting you from potential diseases, and enabling healthier aging.
REDUCES THE RISKS OF CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASES
Flavanols in dark chocolate is also a major player in improving blood flow and lowering blood pressure as it stimulates nitric oxide which causes the dilation of blood vessels. Additionally, polyphenols and theobromine compounds in dark chocolate also work to reduce levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (aka “bad” cholesterol), while raising the levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (aka “good” cholesterol).
IMPROVES BRAIN FUNCTION
In a small study conducted in 2018, consuming dark chocolate may better brain function and help in the prevention of neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, as flavanols are suggested to enhance the brain’s ability to grow and reorganise.
JAM-PACKED WITH MINERALS & VITAMINS
Yes, you read that right! To name just a few, dark chocolate contains calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, omega-6 fatty acids, riboflavin and more, making it an absolute treat for one’s immune system.
These are just the tip of the iceberg for the wonders of dark chocolate.
While there is evidence proving the powerful health benefits of dark chocolate, it’s important to remember that moderation is still key as dark chocolate does carry a huge load of calories and can easily contribute to weight gain.
CHOOSE THE LESSER EVIL
When seen in the grander scale of all things chocolate, dark chocolate is still the lesser evil. The higher the cocoa content in the chocolate you consume, the higher the antioxidants and the lower the sugar content it contains - and that is a good thing! Having said that, it’s important to always check the labels on the back of your chocolate bar before making any chocolate purchases, just to be doubly sure of its true contents and quality.
So, the next time you’ve got that chocolate itch creeping on, choose the lesser evil and switch to a bar of dark chocolate instead.
SALT VS HYPERTENSION
High blood pressure or hypertension in Malaysia is getting more and more concerning these days. 1 in every 3 of Malaysians above the age of 18 suffers from hypertension, without even realising as it is symptomless. Hypertension is when your blood pressure reads 140 over 90 mmHg, higher than the normal 120 over 80 mmHg. It leads to many major illnesses such as heart attack, stroke and end stage kidney disease – among Malaysia’s “top killers” to-date.
One of its main contributing factors is high intake of salt in our daily diets, so the best way to reduce harm would be cutting down your salt intake. According to the NHS United Kingdom, an adult person should eat no more than 6g of salt a day, which is equivalent to 1 teaspoon. But of course, it is easier said than done.
How do we know the amount of salt a food product has? The rule of thumb is simple; if it’s packaged, it contains salt. Reading the label might give you a little idea on its salt content, but you might want to take it with a pinch of salt, as it is not directly written, unlike sugar. Generally, only the content of sodium will be stated.
Therefore, to calculate the exact amount of salt in a product, you need to see the content of sodium first, and then multiply it by 2.54 and divide the subtotal with 1000. Well, there’s a more thorough explanation behind this formula, involving the atomic mass for all its chemical components, which could potentially drive your blood pressure up, so it is best to just remember this equation:
Sodium (mg) x 2.54 ÷ 1000.
Processed food said to contain higher amount of salt, so reducing such food would be a good first step. Avoid especially the ‘salty six’ – breads and rolls, processed meats, processed or non-organic poultry, canned soups, pizza, and sandwiches or burgers from fast-food restaurants. Instead, eat more fruits and vegetables, and drink whole lot more plain water.
You might also want to try replacing salt in your cooking with herbs, spices or condiments that could deliver the same taste but with better nutrients such as garlic, lemon juice, ginger, balsamic vinegar and many others. Most natural ingredients are already tasty on their own, so these herbs would just help raise their flavour, not your blood pressure.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Malaysians and food are inseparable. We eat literally all the time, for any occasion. In consequence, we topped among the South East Asian countries for obesity rate among adults at a whopping 15.6% (or 1 in every 7 adults), putting us in danger of numerous critical illnesses especially heart diseases, diabetes, hypertension and many others. But is there a way for us to keep enjoying the food we love, while reducing the risk of getting sick from it? Yes, by applying moderation on our plate.
One of the most popular ways to reduce such harm from bad eating habit is through Intermittent Fasting. Many have done it, and succeeded, including famous celebrities like Lisa Surihani, who gained weight after delivering her second child, but managed to get her old body shape and weight back in mere months while staying healthy.
What is Intermittent Fasting, and how does it help Lisa lose weight so dramatically?
In short, intermittent fasting or IF requires you to fast for a certain number of hours (usually 16 hours or longer, or what we call the ‘fasting window’), and only eat within the remaining hours (or the ‘eating window’). It is different from the other type of diets like Atkins that restricts carbs, or Paleo that forbids processed food, or keto that involves consuming more fat. IF is less strict. It allows you to consume ANY TYPE of food within your ‘eating window’. You can even drink during your fasting hours, but only NO SUGAR.
For newbies, you may start with the LeanGains method, which requires you to fast for 16 hours and eat within an 8-hours window (or 16:8 in short). Once you get used to it, you may level up to the 19:5 method or 'The Fast 5 Diet' approach. You may also go a level higher with the 20:4 method aka 'The Warrior Diet'. Nevertheless, if you think 16 hours of fasting is too challenging (as our normal fasting for Muslims in Malaysia usually lasts for just 12-13 hours max), it is okay to start with much simpler methods, like a 12:12 or 14:10, just to get a taste of it. You may add up the hours gradually. Do not worry too much about the fixation of hours, just make sure your body is comfortable with the ratio. This might also stop you from quitting prematurely and get caught in the ‘Yo-Yo dieting’.
Intermittent fasting is not only a good and safe way to achieving your dream shape and weight, but it also helps you save money, as most ‘lepaking sessions’ would have happened within your fasting window at night. But remember - don't misuse the 'eating window' as your 'revenge window'. Who are you fighting against; YOURSELF?