It's rare when we can report good news about foods everybody likes. But there's been more good news about the health benefits of a little chocolate, and some very good news about nuts. Unfortunately, the whole is not greater then the sum of its parts, and there's still no good news about nutty chocolate candy bars.
Because chocolate is a plant, it contains many beneficial plant chemicals, including powerful antioxidants like flavonoids that may actually reduce the harmful effects of LDL, the "bad" cholesterol. And according to a recent study in Germany, these flavonoids may also reduce blood pressure. There are even some animal studies that credit cocoa flavonoids with reducing the growth of cancer cells.
While the amount of flavonoids in 2 ounces of dark chocolate is about the same as that contained in a half cup of brewed black tea, those 2 ounces contain almost 300 calories and 20 grams of fat. Having said that, it's important to note that the fat in chocolate has little effect on blood cholesterol. (Though it is highly saturated, the fat is mostly stearic acid, which does not boost cholesterol.) Unfortunately, this logic only works if the fat you get from eating chocolate is a substitute for fat from some other source, not an addition to it.
Unsweetened cocoa powder, on the other hand, contains only 12 calories and 1.8 grams of fat. So while eating chocolate can pack on the pounds, cooking with cocoa powder can give you the flavor plus valuable nutrients without the fat and calories. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has stated that peanuts and other nuts (such as almonds, walnuts, pecans and pistachios) can now place the following government-approved message on their labels: "Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces of most nuts, such as peanuts, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease." The implication is that the FDA is convinced that peanuts and other nuts contain specific components, such as fiber, micronutrients and phytochemicals, that have been studied extensively and are thought to be important for chronic disease prevention. In practical terms, this has the biggest impact on the peanut industry; 68 percent of the nuts eaten in this country are peanuts, either in nut form or peanut butter. Another 6 percent are almonds, 6 percent coconuts, 5 percent are pecans, 5 percent walnuts, and 10 percent "other." Most nuts have 160-190 calories and 14-19 grams of fat per ounce; at least three-quarters of the calories come from fat. They are also among the best plant sources of protein. Nut butters have the same advantages and disadvantages that nuts do.
There are some nutritional differences between nuts; walnuts are richest in heart-healthy alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid similar to those in fish). Almonds are richest in calcium and vitamin E. Brazil nuts are the best source of selenium of any food. Macadamia nuts have the most calories and fat; chestnuts the least (just 70 calories and 1 gram of fat). And peanuts are not true nuts, but legumes (like dried beans). Similar nutritionally to nuts, peanuts contain some resveratrol, a beneficial compound found in grapes. According to some studies, nuts also help reduce hunger longer than many other foods. An ounce or two a day will give you the benefits and can easily be incorporated into a meal, instead of an extra snack. Chopped nuts are tasty in fruit or vegetable salads, yogurt, oatmeal, home-baked breads and muffins, pancakes, casseroles, breakfast cereal, chicken salad, rice dishes, and stir-fries. When possible, substitute nuts for foods rich in saturated fat. Peanut butter, for instance, is definitely a healthier choice for a sandwich than cheese or most meats. Here's a low-fat, relatively low-calorie recipe for fudgy pecan brownies that incorporates both nuts and chocolate. Note: Prune butter (pured dried plums) helps to make these brownies especially fudgy. Look for prune butter (also called lekvar) in the jams and jelly aisle of your market.
Fudgy Pecan Brownies1/3 cup pecans 2/3 cup flour 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder 2 tablespoons cornstarch 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/4 teaspoon baking soda 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 cup packed light brown sugar 1/3 cup prune butter 2 tablespoons extra light olive oil 2 large egg whites 1 tablespoon water1/4 cup dried cherries, coarsely chopped 1/4 cup mini chocolate chipsPreheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. On a roasting pan, toast the pecans in the oven until crisp and fragrant, about 7 minutes. Coarsely chop. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa powder, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda and salt. With an electric mixer, beat the brown sugar, prune butter, oil, egg whites and water until thick. Stir in the flour mixture until just combined. Gently fold in the pecans, cherries and chocolate chips. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for 15-18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out slightly wet and the sides of the brownies begin to pull away from the pan. Cool in the pan on a wire rack. Makes 12 brownies, each of which has 166 calories and 5.8 grams total fat. Sheldon Margen, M.D., is a professor of public health at the University of California at Berkeley. Dale A. Ogar is managing editor of the University of California at Berkeley "Wellness Letter." They are the authors of "Wellness Kitchen Cookbook," "The Simply Healthy Lowfat Cookbook," "The Wellness Lowfat Cookbook" and "The Wellness Encyclopedia of Food and Nutrition."Sign up for ThirdAge's Health and Wellness Newsletter here.
Source: Health & Wellness