Beverages, holidays, nutrition

Our founding fathers' favorite drink (& why we still love it almost 300 years later)

Although January felt like a decade in its own right, we’re over half-way through February in the blink of an eye and I really can’t handle it. 2020’s practically over already!

You may have noticed that I’m no longer doing a weekly blog post. Fortunately, I’m doing more client work so I have less time to dedicate to this little labor of love. I’ll be dropping back for the time being to one captivating, well-written, exquisitely researched blog post per month. 😉 Good problems!

So for the month of February, I want to tell y’all about the preferred beverage of our forefathers, the founders of this country. No, it wasn’t tea, and – shockingly, I know – it wasn’t even booze!

It was…

Hot chocolate.

In a 1785 letter penned to John Adams, Thomas Jefferson wrote:

Chocolate. this article when ready made, and also the Cacao becomes so soon rancid, and the difficulties of getting it fresh have been so great in America that it’s use has spread but little. the way to increase it’s consumption would be to permit it to be brought to us immediately from the country of it’s growth. by getting it good in quality, and cheap in price, the superiority of the article both for health and nourishment will soon give it the same preference over tea & coffee in America which it has in Spain where they can get it by a single voiage, & of course while it is sweet. the use of the sugars, coffee, & cotton of Brazil would also be much extended by a similar indulgence.

Source

Our former president Thomas Jefferson had high hopes for chocolate, predicting that it would soon overtake coffee and tea as America’s hot beverage of choice if we could only find a cheaper and faster way to import it. He makes this claim not only based on the purported health benefits of the chocolate, but also for its taste when sweetened.

And let’s be real here, the man was NOT wrong. America loves chocolate, to the tune of $27.5 million in chocolate candy sales in 2019 and an estimated 13 pounds of it consumed per year, per person.

Yet, although it’s ubiquitous, it’s not popular in quite the way our former president Thomas Jefferson predicted.

In this post I’m going to walk y’all through our colonial ancestors’ love affair with chocolate, how chocolate transformed into the sweet and smooth candy we know today, some of the health benefits of chocolate, and how to experience these benefits without all of the added sugar.

Chocolate in Colonial America (the 1700s)

In the 1700s, hot chocolate was the breakfast drink of choice for the rich. It had to be imported from the Caribbean or South America, so it was quite expensive. Very few people who lived at this time even got to taste chocolate.

However, for those who could afford it, it was a whole big to-do. They had specially-designed chocolate pots, which looked similar to tea and coffee pots, but had a hole in the top so that the beverage could be easily stirred to keep the chocolate from settling at the bottom.

This problem of hot chocolate settling has been an enduring one, that we still struggle with today every time we finish a mug of Swiss Miss only to realize all the good stuff is stuck to the bottom of the cup. Doesn’t it make you feel connected to the past??

George and Martha Washington, our first president and the very first first lady, were both big fans of chocolate. While George preferred a heartier breakfast drink called a “chocolate cream,” which is pretty close to the hot chocolate we know today, Martha liked cacao tea.

Cacao tea was made simply by brewing cacao shells in hot water, like tea. Others really enjoyed the tea as well, like the Washingtons’ niece Frances Ball. In a letter to George, her husband Burges Ball wrote “it agrees with her more than any other Breakfast.”

Want to try our closest approximation to authentic, Colonial-era chocolate? Check out the offerings from American Heritage Chocolate, which takes the recipes and flavor combinations popular in the 1700s and combines them with modern chocolate-making techniques.

A Booming Chocolate Industry (the 1800s and beyond)

So… how did chocolate go from expensive breakfast drink for the wealthy and well-connected, to a cheap sugary treat that anyone could afford?

Well, the 1800s were a BIG century for chocolate production.

It started in the early 1800s with the invention of cocoa powder, which was shelf stable – making it much easier to transport. With this invention, the price of chocolate began to decrease.

The first chocolate bar was invented in the mid-1800s, although it was probably nothing like the chocolate bars we’re used to today. It was made with sugar, chocolate liqueur, and cocoa butter.

However, we truly have the Swiss to thank for today’s smooth, creamy chocolate.

In the 1870s, Swiss chocolatier Daniel Peter created milk chocolate (with the help of Henri Nestle, whose name you may be familiar with) by adding powdered milk to his chocolate.

Around the same time, Swiss chocolatier Rodolphe Lindt developed a new process known as conching, which transformed the texture of chocolate from hard and crumbly to smooth and meltable, and helped remove some of the bitter taste.

Now that chocolate was both cheap and delicious, its popularity boomed – especially in the early 1900s. As an inexpensive, calorie-dense food, chocolate candy bars were included in rations for American soldiers in World War II.

By the mid-1900s, chocolate was firmly cemented in American food culture. And based on sales numbers (which are in the billions and steadily growing year-over-year), it’s not going anywhere any time soon.

Thomas Jefferson was (mostly) right. Chocolate, beloved worldwide, is an American institution.

Health Benefits of Chocolate

Unfortunately, President Jefferson probably never would have guessed that chocolate – a drink he considered healthier than coffee and tea – would be junk food today.

In his day, chocolate was a health food, and as late as the late 1800s was still being used as medicine.

Unprocessed chocolate – without all the extras we’re used to, particularly sugar – is actually pretty good for you. And you can even argue that modern chocolate, as a rare treat, is good for the soul. To this, I would agree.

In fact, one recent study found that mindfully eating chocolate was a mood booster.

Here are just a handful of the other health benefits of chocolate:

Rich in antioxidants

Antioxidants are powerful compounds that can prevent and reverse damage to your cells caused by unstable free radicals.

They may benefit your health in a variety of ways, from giving you glowing skin to improving your immune health to decreasing your risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Chocolate contains several different antioxidants, but is particularly high in resveratrol – the same anti-inflammatory, potentially anti-aging antioxidant that’s found in red wine.

High in healthy fats

Cocoa is an excellent source of healthy fats, particularly oleic acid, stearic acid, and palmitic acid.

Oleic acid is a monounsaturated fatty acid, the same type that is predominant in olive oil. It’s highly anti-inflammatory and heart healthy.

Stearic acid and palmitic acid, on the other hand, are saturated fats. Nothing to fear, though! They don’t deserve their bad reputation.

Contains fiber

Unprocessed cocoa is also a great way to boost your fiber intake. About a third of the carbs in cocoa powder come from fiber.

Eating enough fiber can help improve your digestive health by serving as a food source for your healthy gut bacteria and keeping you nice and regular.

In addition to these benefits, cocoa also contains a wide variety of minerals, like iron, magnesium, and potassium.

This dietitian’s conclusion? Cocoa’s totally a health food. 😉

Making Chocolate a Healthy Part of Your Diet

I’m gonna say it just in case this essay isn’t proof enough: I love chocolate.

Unfortunately, most of it is just too high in sugar for me to make it a part of my diet regularly.

Over the years, I’ve developed a taste for super-dark chocolate (like 85% cocoa or more), which is low in sugar and naturally contains fiber and healthy fat. One or two squares always satisfies a chocolate craving for me.

However, when I’ve really got a taste for the sweet stuff, I reach for Lily’s baking chips. They are sweetened with stevia and erythritol, and their milk chocolate flavored ones taste just like a Hershey’s bar.

To use chocolate in something other than a dessert, try making Mexican mole sauce for enchiladas, or use unsweetened cocoa powder in chili.

And finally: there’s nothing wrong with having the full sugar stuff as a treat. I’ve got my sugar-free and low-sugar alternatives that I love, but if you want a slice of chocolate cake at a birthday party, some of your grandma’s chocolate chip cookies at Christmas, or “Death by Chocolate” at a nice restaurant for a special occasion, GO FOR IT.

In summary,

Happy Valentine’s Day and (early) President’s Day, friends! Enjoy some chocolate on both days… it’s downright patriotic!

Beverages, Recipes

10 dietitian-approved, alcohol-free drinks for your red & gold Super Bowl party

Today I’m bringing you some healthy red and gold drink recipes created by my fellow dietitians that are PERFECT for a Super Bowl party crowd. I’ll also share some easy ways you can even further reduce the sugar in these recipes.

Here we go!

1. Spicy kombucha margaritas

I absolutely love this recipe by Leanne Ray because every. single. ingredient. is a nutrition powerhouse. Combining lime, blackberries, and jalapenos – all rich sources of antioxidants – with kombucha – a good-for-your-gut fermented tea that I’ve talked about before – practically makes this drink a health tonic.

It also sounds delicious, and like it would be a perfect contrast to rich, fatty Super Bowl party snacks like wings, jalapeno poppers, and chips and dip.

2. Non-alcoholic pomegranate mocktail

This super-easy pomegranate mocktail recipe comes from Laura Yautz. Throw all the ingredients in a punch bowl and you’re all set – it’s pretty, tasty, and bubbly, too!

Pomegranate makes a bold and unexpected punch flavor and gives this drink its deep red color. Because of its antioxidant content, pomegranate juice can actually help lessen the blood sugar impact of high-carb foods like white bread.

Scroll to the end of the article for some handy tips on how to further reduce the sugar in this recipe to make it work for a low-sugar lifestyle!

3. Strawberry-rhubarb syrup

I love the combo of strawberry and rhubarb, and now thanks to Judy Barbe I am craving some strawberry-rhubarb pie. With the addition of balsamic vinegar and black pepper, this simple syrup is perfectly tangy-sweet.

This easy-breezy recipe can be used in so many different ways to make a tasty Super Bowl drink. However, the minimal-effort, maximal-flavor way – as Judy suggests – is to simply pour some sparkling water over the syrup and serve cold. Sounds great to me!

Also, rhubarb and strawberry are naturally lower in carbs than some other fruits and veggies, so it’s really easy to make this recipe sugar-free: just replace the sugar with your preferred sweetener. I recommend Natural Mate Monk Fruit (a monk fruit-erythritol blend), but many people like Swerve (100% erythritol) or Pyure (a stevia-erythritol blend).

4. Refreshing beet lemonade

To be quite honest, I am NOT a beet person. (Please don’t beet me up over it!) But this beet lemonade recipe from Chrissy Carroll looks so good and would be such a great way to sneak some veggies into your Super Bowl party – because we know no one’s gonna touch the veggie tray, let’s be real.

According to Chrissy, the nitrates found in beets can even help increase blood flow and oxygen to your muscles, so this lemonade can boost your physical endurance. If you’re doing a lot of jumping up and down and screaming at the TV, this could definitely come in handy.

5. Rosemary-pomegranate spritzer

This recipe comes from a fellow Chiefs fan, Bethany Frazier. Clearly, she has excellent tastes. I never would have thought to put rosemary and pomegranate together, but the combo sounds super dreamy.

Rosemary is a really powerful aromatic herb that has a ton of health benefits. It’s antioxidant, antifungal and antibacterial, and may also kill cancer cells and help protect your liver from oxidative damage. It also tastes really good, although I’m a chump who’s only ever used it to make French fry aioli. No longer!

As with Judy’s strawberry-rhubarb syrup recipe, you can easily replace the sugar in this recipe with stevia, erythritol, or monk fruit.

6. Tropical green tea-sangria mocktail

Amy Gorin is coming in clutch with one of only two gold-hued drinks on my red-and-gold drink round-up. Thanks Amy! These tropical flavors have got me ready to plant my butt on the beach (with a cup of this drink in my hand, of course).

Green tea is insanely good for you. Because of its high catechin content, it’s highly anti-inflammatory, helping to prevent and treat problems of pretty much every organ and organ system in your body – including your brain.

The bromelain found in pineapple is similarly anti-inflammatory and health-promoting, so this punch really delivers a one-two punch (ha).

7. Tart cherry spritzer

Rebecca Clyde is behind this simple but stunningly elegant 3-ingredient drink.

It contains Montmorency cherry, a tart cherry that is being studied for a whole host of potential benefits like decreasing blood pressure, improving post-exercise muscle recovery, physical AND cognitive performance, preventing bone loss from aging, preserving vascular function, and promoting autophagy.

I’ll drink to that!

8. Non-alcoholic holiday sangria

This beautiful punch recipe is brought to us by Melissa Nieves. It’s an alcohol-free take on a traditional Spanish drink, sangria – which is usually made with red wine.

This one instead is sweetened with 100% fruit juice and loaded with fresh fruit and star anise – which gives it a little hint of a licorice taste. The cranberries that star in this drink are loaded with antioxidant proanthocyanidins, which can help treat and prevent urinary tract infections, gastric infections, and oral infections.

9. Ginger-lemon kombucha cocktail

This cocktail from Chelsea Amer is actually made with vodka, but you can easily replace it with tea or sparkling water for a dazzling mocktail.

Like Leanne’s margarita recipe above, it features kombucha – a fermented tea full of healthy gut bugs. Paired with ginger, a scientifically-proven stomach settler, this drink may just be the perfect antidote to an upset stomach after over-indulging on party snacks.

10. Watermelon-mojito kombucha mocktail

The final drink I’m sharing with y’all today is this mondo-refreshing, low-sugar mocktail from Julie Harrington.

Made with watermelon kombucha, lime, and mint, it’s bright and punchy and bursting with good-for-you nutrients and health-promoting gut-bacteria. You could also make endless variations by simply choosing new kombucha flavors!

Huge thanks to the 10 lovely dietitians who contributed to this post!

Easy Ways to Reduce Sugar in Drink Recipes

You’ll notice that many of the recipes above use 100% fruit juice as a sweetener as opposed to sugar, which is definitely commendable! However, if you follow a low-carb lifestyle like me, even fruit juice is too sugary. Here are some easy swaps to replace the fruit juice and drastically decrease the sugar in these recipes:

  • Flavored sparkling water or a naturally sweetened soda like Zevia
  • Water lightly sweetened with erythritol, stevia, or monkfruit – with a couple drops of a fruity flavor extract if you have one on hand
  • Herbal or fruit-flavored tea, brewed strong and lightly sweetened with one of the sweeteners above, like Great White Grape (for grape juice), Pineapple Waikiki Black Tea (for pineapple juice), or good old Red Zinger.

Key Takeaways

Three key takeaways here: (1) There are plenty of crowd-pleasing, healthy, and alcohol-free drink options for your Super Bowl party, (2) it’s really easy to even further decrease the sugar in these recipes, and (3) GO CHIEFS!!!!!

Beverages, nutrition

6 Healthy Drinks (Other Than Water)

What you drink can have a HUGE impact on your health. I mean, think about it: how much fluid do you drink per day? It adds up pretty quickly, so if you’re drink choices are less than ideal… well, that can add up quickly too!

Luckily, there are plenty of healthy options other than plain ol’ water (although I think you should get your body used to the taste of plain ol’ water, also)!

What makes a drink healthy?

Before we start our list of healthy drinks, we first have to figure out what exactly makes a drink “healthy.” If you’ve read my nutrition philosophy, you know that I follow a low-carb lifestyle (most of the time, haha), and so my definition of healthy may be different from some other folks’ definitions, although I think there are some universal things we can all agree on.

Here are my criteria for a healthy beverage:

  • Contains no artificial sweeteners or added sugars
  • Is not a less nutrient dense form of another food (bye-bye, fruit juice!)
  • Does not contain food dyes, additives, or artificial flavors
  • Is not a reduced-fat version (reduced fat = more sugar)
  • Conditional: low in calories (ex, I’m trying to lose some weight so I’m leaning towards low- or no-calorie beverages; however, my hyperactive 4-year-old has more wiggle room)

So, let’s get into our list!

1. Coffee

Coffee is magic, and we all know it. Something about that first sip in the morning is just… perfection.

Luckily, coffee is actually pretty great for you too, as long as you’re not mainlining it or adding tons of sugar or coffee creamer.

Along with the caffeine – which can actually have some beneficial effects in small doses, like perking you up and slightly boosting your metabolism – coffee contains polyphenols (plant antioxidants), which can help neutralize unstable compounds in your body and decrease your risk of certain chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The sweet spot seems to be about 3-4 cups per day, as one large study found that those who drank 3-4 cups of coffee per day had the largest reduction in risk of heart attack, heart-related death, and death from any cause. However, this research was mostly based on observational data, so you have to take it with a grain of salt.

I typically drink two (admittedly large) cups a day and start to feel gross if I have any more than that, but the takeaway here is that your morning brew is good for you!

2. Tea

Tea is another super-healthy drink. There are three main types here in the States, but the varieties are literally endless. Here are the 3 types:

  • Green: Green tea is made from fresh tea leaves (no further processing beyond drying) and has a light, floral flavor
  • Black: Black tea is made from tea leaves that have been oxidized, resulting in a darker color and stronger flavor
  • Herbal: Herbal teas are made from things other than tea leaves, such as herbs, spices, and fruits

Like coffee, all of these teas are generally great for you if you’re not adding a bunch of extras. Bubble tea and chai lattes and matcha frappes are great and all, but they are LOADED with sugar. There’s no pretending they’re healthy.

Tea, green tea in particular, contains compounds called catechins which are highly anti-inflammatory. A quick PubMed search shows me that they’re being studied for cancer prevention, infectious diseases, infertility, and anti-aging.

In addition, black tea (like my favorite hot teas, Constant Comment and Earl Grey, as well as the quintessential iced tea here in the South) contains antioxidants called theaflavins and thearubigins and has exhibited strong anti-cancer effects in non-human trials.

Herbal teas can also have a variety of health benefits, depending on the ingredients they’re made with. I recently wrote an article for Healthline Nutrition about the benefits of sage tea.

My recommendation for a dreary day: a homemade London Fog, which is a strong-brewed cup of Earl Grey with milk or cream, along with a little bit of sweetener (I recommend stevia or monk fruit) and vanilla.

3. Kombucha

Kombucha has gotten really popular over the past several years. It is made from green or black tea, but I felt that it deserved its own category because it is fermented.

Fermented foods and drinks really don’t get enough love, but they are so great for you. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t incorporate enough fermented foods into my diet.

Kombucha is a great way to get them in though! Kombucha contains a very small amount of alcohol (a result of the fermentation) and sugar, which serves as the food source for the bacteria and mold that ferment the tea. This bacteria is known as a SCOBY: symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. Sounds appetizing, huh?

Luckily, the fermentation process also provides some natural carbonation. And many people actually really enjoy the taste of kombucha. There are PLENTY of options on the market in a million different flavors too, so you’re sure to find one that you like.

Kombucha is rich in probiotics, or healthy bacteria that can colonize in your gut. Little research has been done on the effects of kombucha in humans, but animal trials have found numerous anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits.

4. Full-fat and fermented dairy

Yes, unless you are lactose intolerant or have a milk allergy, FULL-FAT dairy is good for you.

An observational study in over 9,000 people found that full-fat dairy intake was associated with a 12% lower risk of metabolic syndrome (a precursor to type 2 diabetes and heart disease), while low-fat dairy intake didn’t decrease a person’s risk of developing metabolic syndrome at all.

Now we’ve discussed the drawbacks of observational studies before, so we have to approach these findings with some healthy skepticism. However, other studies have found similar results. Full-fat dairy appears to be healthier than low-fat dairy.

But let’s be real, we don’t need studies to confirm common sense: milk is naturally high in fat, and removing the fat (along with a good chunk of the nutrients) does not improve its health profile. In fact, low-fat milks are higher in sugar, which can cause an larger insulin response – potentially leading to weight gain!

Fermented dairy products like kefir (which is a drink you can now buy at most grocery stores) and Greek yogurt can also help improve your gut health because – like kombucha – they contain healthy bacteria. Be careful here: choose the full-fat version and avoid the sugary ones! Shockingly, most of the yogurt you can get at the grocery store is an absolute sugar-bomb (and better suited for the ice cream case than the yogurt section)!

If you’re trying to lose weight you may want to take it easy on the dairy, as it is very calorie-dense. Additionally, research points to a link between dairy intake and acne, so you may want to limit it if you’re trying to clear up your skin.

5. Plant milks

Soy, coconut, almond, macadamia, flax, oat… the plant milk options are becoming endless.

I personally like plant milks, except a lot of them are – again – loaded with sugar and less-than-ideal ingredients. I would also recommend everyone – low-carb, vegan, normal (;D), or none of the above – avoid soy milk because it is full of hormone-disrupting phytoestrogens.

My favorite is unsweetened almond milk. Macadamia nut milk is fantastic, but also really expensive! Luckily, these nut milks are also low in carbs and calories – making them the perfect substitute to a glass of milk for those of us who are trying to lose some weight.

Caveat: You may have recently read that almond milk production is killing bees. This is making me rethink my love affair with almond milk, because bees are awesome and important. I am still mulling this over and will definitely keep you updated. Luckily there are several “bee-friendly” brands on the rise!

6. Sparkling water

My last recommendation for a healthy drink other than water is, technically, still water. But it’s got BUBBLES! There are SO many sparkling waters on the market today, it’s really easy to find one that is either completely unsweetened or one that is sweetened with natural sweeteners rather than the artificial stuff.

I definitely recommend sparkling water if you’re trying to kick a soda habit too. Gotta get those bubbles somehow!

Key message

Plain water is great, and by far the healthiest drink you can choose. BUT there are plenty of other healthy drink options too!

Be sure to avoid added sugars and artificial sweeteners, as they can do more harm than good. In the case of dairy, you don’t have to fear the full-fat versions either.

What’s your favorite healthy drink? (Mine’s coffee… no question.) Do you have any other suggestions for healthy drinks besides water?