Monday, 3 February 2014

For the love of chocolate – November 2013

I love, love, love chocolate and I know I’m not the only one that feels this way about the tantalisingly silky-smooth, melt-in-your-mouth decadent treat. It’s of little wonder why the Greeks termed it the “Food of the Gods.” What I don’t like is the dose of sweetness that comes with it because of its devastating effects on my heart, teeth, immune system, mood, waistline and skin. It’s not even nutritious! We’ve all been hearing of late how this chemically-infused food additive has been linked to obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer and why we should eliminate it from our diet.

Years ago, in a bid to be my healthiest self, I reduced my intake of sugar and after reading David Gillespie’s Sweet Poison in April 2012, I closely monitored the amount I put into my body. (I am referring to refined sugars. Fructose, a natural sugar present in fruit and some vegetables is vital for proper body function and optimum health, so I keep to the recommended 2 servings of fruit and 5 servings of vegetables per day, and a handful of berries and a drizzle of honey on toast or yoghurt is beneficial). The one indulgence I couldn’t give up was chocolate and I didn’t feel I needed to given my penchant for the dark variety, specifically 85% cocoa. I believed I was actually doing myself good. I mean, dark chocolate is a super food as it contains anti-oxidants right? And don’t studies show it helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels? Oh, and I’m positive I’ve read somewhere that it’s an aphrodisiac… so guiltlessly I looked forward to devouring the delicious delicacy. Just one piece was enough to satiate my appetite but, after years of consumption my body had become immune to the intense flavour and admittedly, addicted to the sweet toxin. I found myself craving the bitter sweet taste daily and more often than not, one piece too easily became a few. Sure, I tried 99% cocoa but it was virtually inedible. I knew I was eating too much for my own good and jeopardising my balanced diet but the imbalance in my blood sugar levels was making my body demand more of the sweet stuff to restore equilibrium and although I was over on the dark side, the processing reduced any nutrients so essentially I was consuming excess sugar and fats. Plus, since I was indulging after dinner it would take me some time to fall asleep and I frequently awoke feeling exhausted and sluggish.

It wasn’t until one night in early October when I took to the chocolate and ravenously consumed half a 100g block in one sitting that I decided something had to give. I was out of control! As I don’t regularly eat that much sugar, the effects were immediate and hard hitting. Initially, I experienced a boost of energy, then soon enough I had sharp stomach pains and felt lethargic and miserable. Wait, isn’t chocolate meant to lift my mood? Yes, in moderate quantities! Feeling ill and bloated I skipped on dinner. I had difficulty not only falling asleep but staying asleep; I couldn’t switch off. Needless to say, it was a long, restless night. I awoke the next morning with a splitting headache, feeling fatigued and equally looked the part. Throughout the day I was irritable and found it hard to concentrate though the extent of my antics didn’t fully hit me until I ventured out for my midday run. Less than ten minutes into it I was forced to stop. My body couldn’t go on; I was simply too weak so I walked back, dejectedly. Physically, mentally and emotionally I couldn’t endure another day like this. I had to regain control and put an end to the vicious cycle of upswings and downswings. So, what to do? Quit chocolate, forever?
I shared my concerns with my sister-in-law and voiced my desire for a nutritious snack that satisfied my hunger pang and chocolate craving. With her extensive work experience in the weight loss management field and studies in nutrition, she got to work and created these scrumptious cacao protein balls. Made with quality, raw cacao powder, derived from cacao beans, this is the real deal - the stuff chocolate and all chocolaty products are made from. It’s in its unmodified form before being heated and processed with sugar, dairy and other fats and developed into cocoa, where the goodness exists. Cacao is chock-full of flavonoids – anti-oxidants found in plants which protect the body by neutralising free radicals that cause ageing and cell and tissue damage exposing us to threatening diseases. Research shows that raw cacao powder contains the highest amount of anti-oxidants, higher than green tea and is a rich source of magnesium which is essential for a healthy heart. It also protects against hypertension (high blood pressure) and is an excellent source of neurotransmitters - the brain chemicals: serotonin, dopamine and PEA to name a few which are associated with emotional well-being and happiness and affect our mood, behaviour, concentration and strengthen our immune system. The cacao is combined with dates, almonds, cashews and protein powder then rolled in shredded coconut – each ingredient carefully chosen to excite the palate and provide a range of essential minerals and vitamins making this treat both tasty and healthy.
It’s been seven weeks since I’ve incorporated these bite-sized cacao balls into my diet and not only have they helped me conquer my chocolate cravings but also severed my dependency on sugar once and for all. I have noticed so many improvements, namely:

- Stabilisation in my blood sugar levels: I no longer experience huge energy spikes and slumps. The balance in my insulin levels has decreased my constant urges for chocolate thereby removing my ‘sweet tooth’. As a result, I am eating nourishing foods and drinking more water where I would otherwise be chomping chocolate.

- Helped control my hunger and appetite: the inclusion of the protein powder makes this a sustaining snack keeping me fuller for longer so I am not overeating but adhering to eating three main meals and two snacks per day.

- The potent flavour of the cacao quenches my desire for chocolate and doesn’t allow me to over-indulge so I am not eating as much chocolate as I used to, only small portions as you should be. The few times I have eaten chocolate it has tasted so sickly sweet and induced mild headaches that I've regretted eating it!

- Regulated digestion: the extra fibre in my diet has regulated digestion so my body is properly breaking down the food into nutrients to be absorbed thereby fully obtaining the benefits from my food as well as ensuring efficient operation, leading to better health generally.

- Regulated my hormones: resulting in a steady temperament which has levelled my mood (a positive for all around me!). This has led to less breakouts, completely clearing my complexion leaving me with healthy-looking, glowing skin. In fact, I am wearing less foundation and at times none at all and am loving flaunting my flawless face and  appreciating the upsurge in my self-esteem.  In addition, the fewer impurities in my body and increased hydration has reduced dryness which has been a blessing to my overly-sensitive skin. I've also noticed my hair is softer and shinier.
- Further increase in energy: which has improved my stamina resulting in an increase in my fitness levels making my workouts more effective. 
- Leaner and greater muscle definition: due to a reduction in my body fat, my muscles are more defined making me look slender and shapely.

- Restful sleep: the switch to a treat after lunch as opposed to after dinner means I am not fuelling my body with a stimulant late at night so, I am able to fall asleep faster and easier and am awaking feeling rested and full of vitality. What’s more, the uninterrupted sleep and reduced toxins in my body have erased the dark shadows under my eyes and I am actually looking healthier and I dare, say younger!  

Overall, I feel revitalised, enthusiastic and cheerful. Best of all, I am emotionally balanced; much calmer and composed and this has allowed for a clear mind and sharper focus enabling effective thinking and in turn, sound decision making.

For more information on these yummy protein balls, visit the Conquer Cravings Facebook page.

“All you need is love. But a little chocolate every now and then doesn’t hurt.” ~ Charles M. Schulz

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