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, 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?

wellness

6 Immune-Boosting Supplements to Help You Thrive This Winter

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My son just got over a nasty upper respiratory infection/ear infection double-whammy, his first of this winter season. So far my husband has had a couple of minor colds, and I’ve managed to avoid being sick completely. This is such a huge change from last year, when it felt like all 3 of us were sick all winter.

In fact, my son had such a horrible, nagging cough last winter that I took him to the doctor several times. We did X-rays, allergy tests, and asthma tests, but all the tests came back negative. The cough didn’t clear up until spring.

I was determined not to let that happen again! Armed with nothing but my will to keep my family well (and the entire internet), I set out to find the most effective, research-backed supplements to add to our routine over the winter. My whole family has been taking these supplements since August and I feel like they’ve made a huge difference.

So, today I just want to share a peek into our winter supplement routine and some of the reasons I chose to add these specific supplements. I’ll also drop a link to my preferred brand for my 4-year old (I buy vitamins for my husband and I based 50% on quality, 50% on sale price). Anyway, on to the good stuff:

1. Elderberry

Elderberry is an immune powerhouse.

In a double-blinded, randomized controlled trial of over 300 people, elderberry reduced the incidence of colds, along with their severity and duration when compared to a placebo group.

Another clinical trial of 40 people with the flu found that taking elderberry syrup reduced the severity and duration of the illness compared to a placebo.

While these are not huge studies, they were both double-blinded, randomized controlled trials, which – as many of y’all already know – are the “gold standard” for health research.

We use Nature’s Way Sambucus for Kids syrup, which my son really likes. My husband and I take elderberry capsules because the syrups have way too much sugar for me.

2. Echinacea

Echinacea is one of my favorite smells on earth. Seriously, it smells so good.

Unfortunately, the research is a real mixed bag in regards to its effectiveness for treating colds and upper respiratory infections.

However, I choose to include echinacea in our routine because it’s a powerful immune mediator, meaning it beefs up your immune system.

While it may not be effective at treating sickness, it can help your body to more efficiently ward off those germs and viruses the next time they come around, and can decrease your risk of getting sick by about 10-20% based on the data pulled from available studies.

My son gets echinacea in his elderberry syrup, and my husband and I take echinacea capsules.

3. Vitamin D

When I was a young, bright-eyed dietetic intern (way back in 2012), I had the opportunity to meet a pediatric endocrinologist who was intensely obsessed with vitamin D. I also cried when he read The Velveteen Rabbit to a group of kids at diabetes camp, but that’s another story for another day.
Long story short, I now share this doctor’s passion for the sunshine vitamin. Vitamin D is an outstanding immune mediator and anti-inflammatory agent. I could go on and on about it all day, so one of these days it will get its own blog post.

In the meantime, here are the highlights:

  • Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to autoimmune conditions like lupus, type 1 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Vitamin D promotes the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut and helps heal leaky gut (BTW, your digestive system plays a HUGE role in immune function)
  • Your immune cells (and many other cells in the body) have vitamin D receptors

In my personal experience, during the periods in my life where I am consistently supplementing with vitamin D, I do not get sick nearly as often. Full disclosure: it definitely worked better before I had a toddler (AKA, a walking germ factory) in daycare (AKA, a germ factory full of walking germ factories).

My son takes Vitacost InfantHealth Liquid Vitamin D Drops for Kids, and my husband and I take 5000 IU gelcaps. This is one that we take year round.

4. Vitamin C

So, vitamin C has a reputation that is not quite…. accurate. Tons of people reach for vitamin C when they feel a cold coming on, but unfortunately by that point it’s too late for the supplement to do any good.

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, meaning that it pretty much just passes right through you and you will pee out any excess your body doesn’t use. Unfortunately, taking too much can also cause diarrhea, so if you’re unclear on the use of vitamin C for sickness you could end up with a cold, and diarrhea, and a bunch of useless vitamin C in your urine!

Here’s the deal: there is some evidence to show that supplementing regularly with adequate levels of vitamin C can decrease your risk of catching a cold and may make your cold less severe and shorter. The catch is, you have to be supplementing with it regularly, because starting when you’re already sick won’t help!

My son gets vitamin C from his Lil’ Critters Immune C + Zinc and Vitamin D gummies.

5. Probiotics

I hinted at this above when discussing vitamin D, but your gut health plays a HUGE role in your immune function. It is so easy for us to think about all of these different systems as being totally compartmentalized, but that is not the truth. All of these moving pieces fit together very intricately and are 100% interconnected, and it all starts with your gut and the food you eat – which provide the very building blocks for every cell, tissue, and hormone in your body.

Having an overgrowth of harmful gut bacteria can make you more susceptible to disease, while having a flourishing colony of healthy gut bacteria can strengthen your body’s defense against invaders.

Keeping your gut bugs healthy is key to keeping you healthy, which is why I’m including probiotics on this list of immune supplements.

My son takes NOW Supplements BerryDophilus Kids probiotic chewables.

6. Zinc

The last supplement I’m going to discuss in this post is zinc. Like vitamin C, the role of zinc in treating sickness is a bit misunderstood.

Supplementing with it can help decrease your risk of catching a cold.

But, several studies show that zinc has minimal or no effect on the length or severity of a cold. Some people recommend taking zinc within 24 hours of the onset of cold symptoms to possibly help decrease the length of the cold. Additionally, zinc lozenges may help you get over your cold faster as well.

The research is just too inconclusive to make any real claims about zinc, but I choose to include it because it does have a huge effect on the immune system. It helps to maintain the integrity of your mucous membranes, which can help prevent germs and viruses from weaseling their way in.

My son gets zinc in his Lil’ Critters immune gummies.

Bonus: Lifestyle

In conclusion, I want to add a brief list of other evidence-based things your family can do to help prevent the relentless onslaught of illness in your home this winter:

  • Get adequate sleep
  • Avoid highly processed foods and added sugars, which can disrupt your gut bacteria
  • Wash your hands regularly
  • Get a flu shot
  • Manage stress

Additionally, you can get vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, and probiotics from healthy foods like red meat (which is totally a health food), fatty fish, dark green leafy vegetables, and full-fat yogurt (sans sugar, preferably).

These six supplements seem to have really made a difference for my family. Have you found success with any immune supplements? Let me know in the comments!