Monday, February 16, 2009

Is Dark Chocolate All It's Cracked Up to Be?

By Dr. Chistopher Mohr, RD

Got high blood pressure? Pop a bon bon. Pre-disposed to heart disease? Forget oats, reach for a candy bar. At least that’s what some may suggest.

Alright, that might be somewhat of a stretch, although sometimes we hear the message that “chocolate is healthy” and rationalize that chocolate bar or candy bar on a daily basis.

Research has shown, however, that dark chocolate – but not milk chocolate or white chocolate – has heart health properties.

February is heart health month, after all. But with Valentine’s Day comes the question of the health benefits of chocolate.

So the question is – does a chocolate a day really keep the doctor away?

Let’s take a look some of the data that are out there.

Research published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, and others have examined this question – and the answers are promising.

It starts with the antioxidant properties of dark chocolate. Antioxidants can be thought of as scavengers in the body that gobble up dangerous free radicals and other destructive molecules.

Think of antioxidants like Pac-Man – and the destructive molecules as the dots in the game that Pac-Man gobbles.

Of course antioxidants aren’t just in dark chocolate – fruits, veggies, tea, and other foods are all loaded, which is why we suggest you eat a varied diet, including those foods regularly. In fact, while dark chocolate is a great source of certain antioxidants, and one of the highest sources of flavonoids and catechins, other foods are better sources of other antioxidants. That’s why variety in the diet is king.

A recent study published in the Southern Medical Journal examined the effectS of dark chocolate on inflammation, lipid levels, and the stickiness of the blood (known as platelet reactivity) in 28 individuals.

They fed the individuals 1 oz of dark chocolate daily for 7 days. The results:

  • LDL (the bad cholesterol) dropped by 6%
  • HDL increased by 9%
  • hsCRP (inflammatory marker) decreased
While this was a short study, it can be combined with the other positive data that are available to support the inclusion of dark chocolate into the diet. Other studies suggest including dark chocolate into a varied diet lowers blood pressure too.

Take home points:

  • This isn’t a “free pass” to gorge on chocolate daily – it still contains lot of calories and fat, so if you want to include chocolate, keep those calories in check, but reducing your intake elsewhere.
  • Aim for chocolate that has at least 70% cacao (it will tell you this on the package). Our preference are 100% cacao nibs – add them to yogurt for added crunch and you’ve got a great treat that’s healthy, yet not loaded down with sugar.
  • Dark chocolate does not mean King Size Twix, Heath Bars, Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, etc. It means quality chocolate, without the added junk.
  • Limit that intake to about 1 oz per day.
  • Make sure the addition of chocolate is part of all the other heart health diet strategies we’ve talked about, including exercising daily as well.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

See it, Feel it, Achieve it!

Visualization is a great way tool to help you achieve your fitness goals, including weight loss. Here’s how it works – you develop a clear picture in your mind of how you want your body to look and feel, and you envision this for just a few minutes every day. This sets in motion a congruency that supports you toward achieving your goals, and much more quickly than without this process.

Sound hokie? Yeah, it did to me too the first time I heard it. How in the world could me imagining something I wanted to achieve in my mind translate into the real world?

Mainstream science does not totally understand it yet. But scientists can tell us that the subconscious mind drives much of our behavior. And the subconscious does not know the difference between something that is real and something that is vividly imagined, so whatever picture, image or visualization you consistently think about will drive us to create that exact reality.

So, all you have to do is concentrate on a picture in your mind of how you would like something to be, and it becomes your reality with rehearsal. So, to visualize losing weight, hold a picture in your mind of your ideal body. If you like, you can use an old photograph, or a magazine picture, to help you visualize. The clearer the picture, the more successful you will be.

Then, spend some time each day thinking of yourself as already having embodied this image – this new, improved you. Over time, this will bring you closer to your weight loss goals by working on your subconscious mind to achieve the desired results. Suddenly, desserts will seem less tempting, and exercise will seem more fun, because that's in line with the image you are picturing.

Interestingly, this process seems to work even for people who are very skeptical of it – and who wouldn’t be, at least at the beginning? The fact is, for many people it’s very hard to believe that what we think can affect reality in any way. Thoughts and concrete reality seem very different from one another. Yet, in every study of visualization that has been done, the results are pretty clear – what you visualize has a greater possibility of happening, and the more detailed your visualization is, the greater your chances of success in this and other ventures.

So, instead of putting negative thoughts into our head (like a typical newscast), let’s put positive, supportive images into our brains! Try it out and see how it works for you!

Monday, February 9, 2009

I’ve Finally Found the Missing Link!

Every other Saturday morning we offer a 90 minute nutrition workshop to help shed light on the importance of eating in a manner that supports our client’s health and fitness goals.

And occasionally a clients might say, “oh, thanks, but I already eat healthy”, declining to attend the presentation. So I usually ask, what do you typically eat?

And the answers are so varied that it’s impossible to capture them in a single blog posting, but they often reflect the massive confusion about “eating healthy”.

And let’s assume that someone is consuming the right foods. Is it possible to eat the right stuff and not achieve your health, fitness and weight loss goals?

Absolutely. In fact, I see it all the time.

Where did we learn our eating skills? Mom & dad? Advertisers selling food? From a friend who lost tons of weight? News reports that consistently contradict? From a book that told us to eliminate carbs, eat cabbage soup, eat a special berry, eat for our blood type or to just get into the “Zone”?

Nutrition is critically important to your health and fitness success. And the application of proper nutrition is the missing link.

Although I tirelessly tout the never-ending array of incredible benefits to regular exercise, people often find themselves frustrated without a system to eat in a way that allows them to achieve their goals.

Yes, you can be fit and healthy by consistently following a progressive exercise routine while not having much concern for nutrition.

However, people who exercise consistently yet fail to achieve their weight loss targets, do so because they are poorly equipped to accurately monitor what goes in their mouths. That’s not a judgment on my part, it’s the sobering reality in our culture.

And often these are the same people who work hard with their trainer, at boot camp, in the gym or on their own. I have total compassion for the effort; it's just that we were never taught healthy eating skills in school, and as a culture we just don’t have a clear understanding of what and how much to eat.

Here’s a quick example: Last year I had the rare pleasure of watching a good friend complete an Iron Man event where he had to swim 2.4 miles, cycle 112 miles, and then finish this grueling affair by running 26.2 miles. Ouch! And cool enough for me, my friend just happens to be a Ph.D. dietitian, so he thoroughly understands the whole calories in, calories out thing.

To complete the Iron Man, you use approximately 14,000 calories!! That’s enough calories for an entire week!

Here’s what struck me as extremely intriguing: About 25% of the IronMan competitors were overweight! I couldn’t believe it. These athletes are fit enough to swim, bike and run hard for 15 straight hours, yet they have a significant amount of excess body fat! How could this be, I remember thinking?

Simple. If these athletes were burning 7000 calories in a day, they’re eating 7500.

I then recounted the hundreds of conversations I’ve had with clients that have been working hard with their exercise, yet disappointed with their fat loss results. Then it hit me, out-eating your exercise can happen to anyone.

Hey, if it can happen to a guy that burns 14,000 calories in a single day, it can certainly happen to you! I know it's happened to me. I’ve watched it happen to way too many well-intentioned exercise enthusiasts.

Nutrition application has been that proverbial “sword in my side” over the years. As a trainer dedicated to our clients' success, I can teach others everything they need to master their health, fitness and body, but I cannot monitor what and how much a person consumes.

Until now…

In December I stumbled upon Stacey, a very cool, high energy woman who lost a lot of weight recently.

Of course, I asked her how she lost so much weight. No surprise to me, she said that she’s been working with a personal trainer.

But she admitted, even though she knew what types of foods to eat, she had know way of knowing when she consumed more calories than she expended.

The key to losing weight is understanding when and how much of a caloric deficit your body is in. It wasn’t until she got a cool device called the bodybugg that she knew exactly where she stood on her weight loss journey.

A bodybugg?

After picking Stacey’s brain, I was very intrigued. I learned more. And I have been truly impressed! In fact, the bodybugg is being used right now with the participants on the Biggest Loser and last week it was featured on Oprah.

We’ve been so impressed that Leigh in our office became a certified practitioner of the bodybugg. We were compelled to bring this cool device to Cincinnati (as of right now, HealthStyle Fitness is the only licensed practitioner in Ohio) in an effort to support our clients. This is the missing link I’ve been searching for.

The bodybug tells you exactly where you are, all the time. How many calories you’ve burned, how many you’ve consumed, and whether you’re on track to achieve your goals (whatever they may be). It’s by far the greatest gadget I’ve ever found when it comes to health and fitness (with the heart rate monitor and my Garmin running computer a very close second).

I can tell you with 100% confidence, if you are exercising consistently and not achieving your body fat reduction goals, you’re eating in a manner that is sabotaging, or at the least, minimizing your success. Eating the wrong foods or eating too much, or a combination of both happens to all of us.

If you’re serious about losing unwanted body fat, the bodybugg will give you the missing piece.

It’s like having a dietitian and trainer with you 24 hours a day. Yes, it’s that good in terms of what to do and what to eat to achieve your goals.

Check out the bodybugg here – you can watch a short video showing you this incredible new tool.

Click here for a related article: Calories and Fat Loss!

Your friend in fitness,
Brian Calkins - Cincinnati's HealthStyle Fitness, Inc