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Monthly Archives: August 2013

The Real Chocoholic

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Why is chocolate good for us? Well it depends on what kind of chocolate you go for but the theory goes the higher the Cacao percentage, the higher the health boosting properties will be.  A good quality dark chocolate can apparently boost your mood, boost your brain power, help prevent disease and alleviate age related problems, with the powerful flavonoids and antioxidants it contains.

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The things that will make your chocolate less healthy are to do with the processing and added ingredients that many companies put in to fill it out, making it cheaper for them to make and much less healthy for us to consume.  Ever heard the phrase:

“a second on the lips a lifetime on the hips!?”

I actually think you can eat a piece of cake, or some chocolate, or a couple of biscuits everyday and not ever have this phrase pass through your head again – if you choose to make these items from scratch, mind-fully selecting your chosen ingredients so that they are nutrient dense and not packed to the gunnels with sugar and other heavily processed nasties! 🙂

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If I do buy chocolate I tend to go for the highest Cacao percentage, and I also have a little look to see if there are any added ingredients beyond Cacao butter, Cacao and raw sugar – I don’t mind a little natural vanilla or chilli flavour.

Top tip if you’re not up for making your own: Willie’s 72% Cacao bars (Online or Waitrose/Selfridges/Liberties) are by far the best I have come across…

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But why not give the home-made chocs a go?  It’s really easy and fun! For the healthiest chocolates, personally I think it is best to go raw, as none of the nutritive value will be lost through heat treatment.

The basic ingredients you will need are:

Raw Cacao Butter

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Raw Cacao Powder

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You can get the best deals shopping around online, but you can also get these ingredients from health food shops too.  They may not seem cheap but remember you can eat less and get more, because the final result is more nutrient dense and satisfying! 🙂

Raw chocolate; if you have ever tried it, is naturally quite bitter.  For sweetening your chocolate there are many options.  One thing to consider: how much of a sweet tooth do you really have?  Many people don’t think they do have a sweet tooth until they cut out sugar completely for a few days. Try it – I dare you! That means eating no fruit too (“nature’s candy”) – just eat fish, chicken, meat, plain nuts, seeds and vegetables for three days and just drink water and see how you go.  The more you crave the sweet stuff the more of a sugar addict you probably are; but the interesting thing about this process is that you will be able to re-train your taste buds and in fact you will start to appreciate the sweetness of things like raw carrots.  But don’t worry I am not suggesting you sweeten your home-made chocolate with raw carrots!

Here are some of my sweetening suggestions:

Coconut Palm Sugar – OK, I know what I said about sugar but this is unprocessed and tastes delicious and although this type is still high GI it is quite a bit lower than the highly processed white stuff;  plus you can control how much you put it. 😉

Coconut Sugar

Dried Prunes or Dates: (for truffles) these work really well and again, although high GI, they have the added advantage of being high in fibre which I believe helps slow the sugar hit down.

Agave Syrup: Although advertised as a low GI sweetener that is a healthy alternative to sugar, Agave syrup is more a triumph of marketing over science. It is highly processed and it will raise your insulin levels in the same way high fructose corn syrup does. But remember you are in the driving seat when you make your own goodies, so you can control how much you put in!

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Honey: another option that is on the high GI side – so go easy… I think the milder tasting honey works the best.

Maple Syrup: A nice cold pressed maple syrup tastes wonderful and is full of lovely minerals but again, it is on the high GI side of the fence so less can be more!

Maple Syrup

Lucuma Powder: comes from the Peruvian Lucuma fruit.  Although it tastes really sweet and creamy it actually is a great Low GI alternative to sugar and the added plus point is, it contains Potassium, Iron, Calcium, Phosphorus, Fibre and lots of B vits.  Hoorah! Shop around for the best price online, or you can get it in health food shops. Outside of Peru, this is most commonly sold as a fine powder. The fruit is dried at low temperatures and milled into a fine powder, so dissolves really easily which makes it great to work with when making chocolate.

Lucuma Powder

Cashews: (For truffles) I find Cashews have a natural sweetness and Almonds do too. If you soak them over night in water you actually awaken the natural “live” properties of the nut making them more nutrient dense. After soaking you need to rinse them and then blitz them into a smooth paste in a food processor. They add a nice flavourful, sweet, protein-rich addition to truffles. If you have a nut allergy you can replace nuts with soaked and “blitzed” seeds like Sunflower or Hemp.

Xylitol: you know, the stuff they put in chewing gum & mints?…  So of course “Tooth friendly!” Bonus! It is naturally found in low concentrations in the fibres of many fruits and vegetables and is recommended as an alternative to sugar for diabetics, as it apparently does not contribute to high blood sugar levels.  It is not toxic to humans, but is however, highly toxic to dogs, so if you have any pooches in your house, please take care that they don’t get their paws on it!

Xylitol

As an aside: consume too much Xylitol and it can have a laxative effect, ‘nough said! Also I have found it works ok in hot/cold drinks and also chocolate truffles but not so well making things like custard or cakes… This is a much better alternative to artificial sweeteners, like Aspartame which has been linked to many health problems…

Additional Flavours:

The best thing about making your own chocolate is you can really experiment with flavours and sweetness.  I actually did a kind of spice “wheel” plate and had great fun playing around with the flavours:

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Vanilla Pod, Smoked Paprika, Curry Powder, Ginger, Lavender, Cinnamon, Coffee, Lime… Tequila (just a teeny tiny amount 😉 …)

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Coconut Manna (again shop online or from health food store) is great for making truffles as it has a really lovely, creamy texture. Coconut Manna is full of fibre, protein and healthy fats and makes a great alternative to milk or cream in recipes. It is also delicious added to fruit smoothies.

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Okay down to the biz:

You need to start by melting the Cacao butter very gently, you don’t want to “cook” it, you just want to gently loosen/ooze it into a liquid…

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See how I’ve put an upturned bowl in the water and placed the Cacao butter bowl on top of that, so it does not actually touch the water (less aggressive this way) and then a lid on top.  The slower & gentler this process, the better. Perhaps my drawing explains it better:

Choc making set up

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It gently melts into a lovely amber coloured liquid:

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For a basic white chocolate recipe you can play around with the flavours and amounts but this is a good start:

100g Raw Cacao Butter, slowly melted.

1-2 tsp Lucuma Powder

A touch of additional sweetener of your choice – (I would recommend a syrupy option for ease here but if you want to try using the coconut sugar or the Xylitol I would recommend stirring the mixture until it is it is fully disolved so you don’t get a grainy texture.

A little grated citrus rind (orange, Clementine or Mandarin work well)

A Squeeze of whichever citrus fruit you chose from above

Pinch of Cinnamon (slows the rate at which the sugars are metabolised – flavour and a bonus! 🙂 )

Pinch of Himalayan salt (contains 84 trace elements for an added health boost!)

A touch of vanilla – scrape a few seeds from a fresh pod or 1tsp natural vanilla essence

Once you have your melted Cacao butter add the remaining ingredients and stir well for about 3-5 minutes until you have a smooth consistency then pour into chocolate silicon moulds, rest for 10 minutes to cool a bit and then place in the fridge for at least one hour before turning out.

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For the darker chocolate version you do the same as above. But you also add 3-4 tbsp of raw Cacao powder (I found it was best to sieve it in to get rid of any lumps). This will make it a bit more bitter so you might need a touch more of your chosen sweetener.  I left out the citrus zest/juice and added a pinch of Cayenne pepper which added a subtle kick! I also tried a sprinkle of Lavender on some chocolates which added a little floral flourish!

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A little wonky on the fridge shelf and my chocs were tipsy! 😉

Truffles

To be honest though my favourites are the truffles as I feel you can be a little more robust with the flavours and textures.

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I used a basic prune or date paste base,  (basically the dried fruit is blitzed in the food processor to make a paste) I then added the melted Cacao butter, Cacao powder and any additional flavourings. So roughly the basic base recipe is:

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Basic Truffle recipe:

50g Prune paste or Date paste (Prune paste really compliments the chocolate flavours, Date paste does too, but is a lot sweeter)

4-6 tbsp (depending on how dark you want it) Cacao powder (plus a little extra for dusting)

2 tbsp Cacoa Butter (melted)

1 tbsp Coconut manna or Soaked nuts/seed paste

1-2tsp Lucuma powder to taste (optional)

Pinch of Himalayan salt

If you need a little help combining it all you can loosen the mixture further with a little more melted Cacao butter or if you prefer, a little melted coconut oil.

Party Truffles (additional flavours to add to basic recipe)

Zest of 1 lime (leave a little aside for decoration)

Juice of 1/2 lime

Pinch of Cayenne pepper

2 tsp Tequilla (cheeky!)

Finally, a little Coconut sugar and Cacao powder for dusting/rolling the truffles in which are then finished with a sliver of Lime zest on top. Place in the fridge for at least an hour to chill down and set.

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My second batch had the basic recipe above but I used Cinnamon as an additional flavour by rolling the truffles in this.

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For my third batch I used Date paste with Smoked paprika and finished with a good dusting of Cacao powder.

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Ginger and Lime anyone? I used Date paste for these and finished them off with some pumpkin seeds to decorate.

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One of my favourite combos was Garam Masala, I used a pinch with the prune paste and topped with mint.  Sounds kind of wrong doesn’t it? Curry and Chocolate… but it really works! IMG_3311

I also tried some prune paste based truffles, dusting/rolling them in a little ground coffee and cinnamon  – go easy if you are caffeine sensitive.

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All these chocolates and truffles actually freeze really well so you can put some batches aside for a rainy day and a little “mood food” pick me up! They also make a great end to a dinner party!

There are endless possibilities with home-made chocolates, that are not only fun but also full of health giving wonders! Enjoy! 🙂

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Mood Food

Well if you haven’t realised by now, I am all about eating foods that are joyous, indulgent,  as natural as can be and abundant in health giving properties.  I truly believe that eating the right kinds of foods can have a massive impact on how you feel both physically, mentally and even emotionally.

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Prawns fried in Coconut oil and Garlic, finished with Hot Smoked Paprika and served with Avocado

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Orgnanic Chicken Liver Pate on Almond crackers

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Free-Range Ham with Rhubarb & Apple Sauce with a Baby Tomato Spinach Salad

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Crispy Fried (organic, free-range) Chicken with a herby garlic butter (goat butter) dressing, served with mixed salad and mixed sprouted beans and lentils.

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Buckwheat, Hemp and Coconut pancakes…

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Bella’s Banana Bread…

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Chocolate and Beetroot cake…

Many people suffer from depression and while this can be for a multitude of reasons, there are certain things that can be done to help pull a person out of that mental ditch.  It is incredibly hard in a depressive state to do some of the simplest of tasks, but I know from personal experience the things that can help move you in the right direction are quite simple too.

First up a person has to want to help themselves and they might also need the help and support of friends, family and or a therapist.

On a more practical level I’ve found getting organised and planning my days/weeks can really help, as tough as it sometimes can be, if you force yourself to do stuff and get stuff done, it helps give you a sense of achievement, however small that might be.

Getting out of bed, getting dressed and making yourself presentable to the outside world even if you may not be planning to “see” anyone – can really get your mind in a better state.

A bit of exercise everyday can also really help even if it is just a 20 minute walk or 10 minutes of yoga and building up to a bit more can obviously help in boosting those Endorphins – brain producing chemicals that make you feel good :-).  Also Meditation can really help calm the mind and reset your consciousness.

All these routines can really compliment eating the right kinds of foods and the effects build up over time to really give you a positive outlook and a body that sings with health and vitality.

Believe me, I know life throws us some curve balls from time to time and to put all these things into practice on a daily basis can really be challenging.  I actually read somewhere once, that to form a habit it takes 21 consecutive days – and so to break one I imagine… I’m the kind of person who enjoys a bit of a challenge; so 21 days of putting good mood/health practices into place sounds pretty cool to me, especially if it will make a person feel better – Anyone fancy giving it a go?

Now onto the food side of things – certain foods can really bring a person’s mood down and also affect hormonal balance which in turn can make you feel really depressed, aside from or on top of any circumstantial things going on in your life.  So why eat those foods that make you feel crappy at all!?  Why not always eat the foods that are going to help make you feel fantastic!?

Here is the list of food/drinks that can make you feel rubbish:

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Enemy number one: SUGAR!!!! Gives you that upward zip and makes you buzz right before your body crashes into a depressive slump and then leading you to crave more of the sugary stuff sending you on a roller-coaster that ultimately is heading for a big crash.  The more processed it is the worse off you will be.  Not to mention increasing your likely hood of having weight problems and potentially some pretty serious health conditions.  Even diet soda after a time, starts to trick your body into thinking it is having sugar not to mention the links that artificial sweeteners have to cancer – in my opinion Coca Cola, Pepsi and all the other “drink giants” have a lot to answer for!  Top tip: Coca Cola makes a good toilet cleaner… 😉

Alongside sugar are High GI foods – that is food that releases energy into your blood very quickly – it has the same effect as pure sugar.  This includes: white rice, white potatoes, white bread, white pasta and corn (see a theme here? All heavily processed and colour bleached away). Sugary fruits/juices like Melon, Oranges, Grapes even dried fruits etc can have the same effect although perhaps with a few more Vits thrown in.

Gluten is also apparently on the hit list: there was a huge population study that found Coeliac disease was associated with an 80% increased risk of depression.  Given that there is a massive proportion of the population who have Coeliac disease but have not officially been diagnosed that is a pretty massive fact, especially when you consider there is around 3 million people suffering from depression in the UK alone. In fact you can have mood debilitating symptoms relating to Gluten without even having Coeliac Disease. Maybe worth looking into…

Caffeine: while initially it might give you a buzz it also causes dehydration which can later lead to irritability, withdrawal headaches and can sometimes affect your sleep quality.  I find I am best off sticking to having my caffeine in the mornings or having a cut off point no later than say 4pm.  But  perhaps worth cutting down altogether on the amount of caffeine is worth looking at.  Green tea is quite a good alternative to Coffee and Breakfast tea as it has less caffeine and is also packed with antioxidants. (An antioxidant is a molecule that inhibits the oxidation of other molecules – so in theory helps slow down the ageing process and prevents diseases…)

Alcohol: is a known depressant.  Initially it might relax and mellow you out, but chances are it will make you feel worse particularly the next day – imagine the build up if you drink alcohol everyday.  Your Liver has to work overtime to clear the toxins, which is why it can drain your energy and also affect the quality of your sleep – everyone needs to achieve some REM (deep sleep cycle) during the night in order to feel refreshed the next day.  Of course the other thing about alcohol is, it contains enemy number 1 Sugar not to mention a tonne of negative calories with no nutritive benefit.  Of course socially it is nice to join in with other people and a have a drink occasionally – you have to enjoy yourself too!  I have found if I have a glass of wine it is best to have it with a meal as it slows the sugar rush affects down.  Also a lower sugar alcoholic drink, that is gluten-free is sipping Tequila – on the rocks with freshly squeezed lime juice and a splash of soda water.  I wouldn’t recommend more than 2 of an evening, if you really want a balanced mood and good night’s sleep… Also best to have lots of water to counteract the dehydration effects of the alcohol.

Now let’s get onto the good stuff! The things that will really help pick your mood up.

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A lack of Omega 3 essential fatty acids can really have an effect on us and so many people don’t have enough in their diets! You can find sources in oily fish like Sardines, Mackerel, and Salmon.

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Smoked Mackerel with Bella’s Powerkraut

IMG_2663 Smokin’ Meatballs…

A lack of B & D Vitamins, Folate and minerals like Magnesium and Selenium can also account for lower moods. To get good sources of these eat plenty of good quality proteins such as:

Eggs, Pork, Chicken, Turkey, lean Beef, Fish, Seafood, Quinoa. Where possible go free-range and organic for added health benefits (no anti-biotics or growth hormones) and peace of mind that any animals have been treated well…

IMG_2476 Coconut oil Scambled eggs served with Quinoa and toasted seeds

Prawns & Samphire

Prawns in Coconut Oil, Garlic and Samphire

Crab Salad

Crab & Asparagus Salad

Natural Sheep and Goat Yoghurt

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Nuts (Brazil nuts are particularly good apparently) and Seeds – also soaking your nuts (not your privates gentleman) overnight (then rinsing in the morning) actually awakens the live properties in the nuts and makes them even more nutrient dense and powerful, so in theory you can eat less and get more – Bonus!

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And of course green leafy vegetables like Spinach, Kale and Brocoli.

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Kale, Feta & Apricot salad with toasted Pine nuts

Can you see the theme with the “good stuff?”  It’s colourful and unprocessed!  I find personally the best way to maintain my energy and keep my mood balanced is to make sure that every meal I have, contains a good source of protein and my carbs come from Low GI sources, like vegetables, some fruits, a little Buckwheat or Quinoa.  I also try to keep my sugar content low and balance out any sugars with protein and fibre. Try it (21 days) and see if you feel better too!

Finally how could I forget: CHOCOLATE – OH YEAH BABY!

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I have met an enormous amount of people who profess to being Chocoholics over the years.  I’ll ask them what is your favourite chocolate? 9 times out of 10 they will list off something from the Cadbury’s range of milk chocolates or similar highly over marketed brand.  I’m afraid to say but anyone of you that professes to be a chocoholic based on eating Cadbury’s is sorely mistaken.  Perhaps a more accurate description of your habit might be: “a sugar junky that likes watered down chocolate with all the goodness extracted from it and with a good dollop of genetically modified Soy lecithin in it for good measure!” Sorry if this sounds harsh but ever read the back of a chocolate wrapper to see what they put in there…?  If you really are looking to get some of the great benefits of eating chocolate then a good quality dark chocolate is the way to go and the higher the Cacao value the better. Watch out for the added Soy crap and really if you are going to have sugar see if you can get one with raw unprocessed sugar in there.  But if you really want to get a handle on what you are putting into your body have a go at making it yourself!

The Real Chocoholic post to follow shortly 🙂 …

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