June 26, 2010

It's NOT Your Mother's Chocolate!

With all the AMAZING benefits I’ve had with superfood eating the past year, I wanted to relay some highlights about chocolate! Chocolate meaning RAW cacao; this superfood is unbelievable, and as I’m devouring David Wolfe’s book Naked Chocolate for the second time, I must relay some highlights so that you understand how crucial raw chocolate is for your diet as a mom, a wife, female and human being.
That being said, get David Wolfe’s book, read it yourself, and consider checking out some other references as I have… you can actually find the studies he refers to, and if you are a real nerd like I am, you’ll want to see the science yourself, ha! =) Here are some of the highlights from David’s book and cross research I’ve done, that I think is so important, and why raw cacao is a daily part of my diet.


The main difference between raw chocolate and the bars you buy at the grocery store, such as milk chocolate etc., is that raw chocolate is in its most natural form, unprocessed without any additives. Processed chocolate is what causes many of the allergies that people have (mainly from the addition of pasteurized milk –which is what those “allergic” to chocolate are actually reacting to) and unnecessary cravings for more sugar. So, we know that cacao and dark chocolate boost antioxidants, however the addition of the dairy milk completely cancels out the effects of these antioxidants; studies have indicated that the addition of dairy products specifically block the absorption of all the great antioxidants in chocolate. Some studies you can check out to back up this statement are:

-“Plasma Antioxidants From Chocolate” Mauro Serafini, Rossana Bugianesi, Giuseppe Maiani, Silvia Valtuena, Simone De Santis & Alan Crozier
(The highlight of this study I think is that the effects of the antioxidants are markedly reduced when chocolate is consumed with milk or if milk is incorporated as milk chocolate. Milk may interfere with the absorption of the antioxidants and therefore negate the potential health benefits from consuming chocolate in the first place.)
-“Nutrition: Milk and Absorption of Dietary Flavanols” December 18, 2003 Nature 426, 788 (18 December 2003); doi:10.1038/426788a MauroSerafini and Alan Crozier
(The highlight of this study I would say is that pasteurized milk is the NUMBER ONE FOOD that CAUSES ALLERGIES)
-US Naval Academy concluded that there is NO evidence that chocolate causes or exacerbates acne, Acne is likely triggered by the refined sugars added to chocolates; refined sugar can cause hypoglycemia, hormone fluctuations, moodiness and skin outbreaks.

(Incan Warrior Hot Chocolate -I love to start my day with this tasty drink! See recipe at bottom of blog)

“In raw cacao, one essential component is magnesium. Magnesium is one of the most important of all the minerals in the world, and to our bodies. More than 80% of the US population is deficient in magnesium. What magnesium is responsible (of of the many things), is activating the enzyme D6D that converts omega 3 fatty acids into DHA. Deficiencies in DHA have been linked with many neurological disorders including ADD and ADHD, post partum depression, Alzheimer’s and more.
Magnesium and vitamin B deficiencies cause our levels of dopamine to tank. However, “Active vitamin B6 increases the cellular absorption of magnesium and therefore works in concert to increase the production of dopamine. Natural B6 (found in high concentrations in spirulina, goji berries, bee pollen) increases the cellular absorption of magnesium and therefore works in concert to increase the production of dopamine.” Magnesium is crucial to the pituitary gland, which is responsible for transmitting chemical messengers to hormones –hormones which directly influence the production of additional vital hormones. Cacao’s high magnesium levels thus have an amazing effect in supporting BALANCED HORMONE LEVELS. When the pituitary gland lacks magnesium, it causes the adrenal glands to overproduce, thus increasing the heart rate, causing excitability and an inability to cope comfortably with daily challenges, inevitably this leads to psychological, social, physical, emotional, mental and spiritual stress.”
Some other things magnesium is responsible for and helps with:
-Natural laxative
-Sooths menstruation
-Muscle relaxer
-Builds strong bones (Professor L. Kervan, in his book Biological Transmutations)

According to research cited in The New York Times, raw cacao beans are super-rich in antioxidant flavonols. Cacao beans contain 10,000 mg per 100 grams of flavonol antioxidants. This is 10% antioxidant concentration level, making cacao one of the RICHEST sources of antioxidants of any food! Cornell University food scientists found that cocoa powder has nearly twice the antioxidants of red wine and up to three times what is found in green tea, for example (you can check this out in the article “Cocoa Has More Phenolic Phytochemicals and a Highter Antioxidant Capacity than Teas and Red Wine” found in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry).
Other important components of raw cacao are:
Methylxanthines: Theobromine & Caffeine
-“Cacao increases your energy intensely. Theobromine and caffeine are very different in their raw forms vs. cooked. Their effects are much milder. Theobromine is milder than caffeine and has about a quarter of the stimulating power of caffeine. Theobromine gently stimulates the central nervous system, relaxes smooth muscles and dilates blood vessels. Theobromine is also a mild diuretic, a cardiac stimulant (in a GOOD way!) and has been used to treat high blood pressure.
As far as caffeine, a 1.4oz serving of chocolate contains the same amount of caffeine as one cup of decaffeinated coffee, approx 5mg.”
Phenylethylamine (PEA)
-The “love” chemical! When we fall in love our PEA levels rise and we become HAPPY and optimistic. PEA is noticeably abundant in the brains of happy people. Those suffering from depression have markedly lower levels of PEA. Raw cacao seems to keep our PEA levels high no matter what is happening around us. From a scientific perspective, PEA is the structural molecule behind catecholamine neurotransmitters such as dopamine, epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline). “PEA increases the activity of brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) in parts of the brain that control our ability to pay attention and stay alert. When the brain is flooded with PEA, the presynaptic vesicles will pull in PEA in preference to the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is then blocked from being deactivated and dopamine levels rise. Elevated dopamine levels are associated with increasing mental concentration and a positive attitude. PEA also increases the effectiveness of norepinephrine, which increases feelings of JOY. PEA is found pre-made in abundance in RAW CACAO and BLUE-GREEN ALGEA. These two foods can elevate the presence of PEA in our brain. Blue-green algae works with cacao to help us focus, staying the moment and pay attention even if you suffer from ADD. These foods also help us to be more absorbed by whatever we are doing, and thus is suspected this si part of what makes these foods an excellent appetite suppressant.”
-“Once in our bodies, tryptophan reacts with vitamins B6 and B3, in the presence of magnesium, to produce serotonin; serotonin function diminishes anxiety and increases our ability to fend off stress. Tryptophan also helps produce melatonin and dimethltryptamine, both associated with sleep (raw cacao typically does not cause insomnia and can be taken in the evening).
So we see that cacao is “one of nature’s richest sources of magnesium, the brain mineral. Cacao is also a great source of serotonin, dopamine and PEA, three well-studied neurotransmitters which help alleviate depression and are associated with feelings of well-being. Cacao contains nutrients and types of neurotransmitter modulating agents which allow serotonin and dopamine to remain in the bloodstream longer without being broken down. This increases feelings of well-being and helps one become younger. Cacao contains anadamide which delivers blissful feelings and anadamide inhibitors which keep the bliss chemical from being prematurely broken down. Cacao also contains a host of B vitamins which are associated with brain health. All this makes cacao a natural Prozac!” Who wouldn’t want to have this product as a part of their daily diet?! I sure do, and it is!
“Chocolate is a perfect food as wholesome as it is delicious, a beneficent restorer of exhausted power, but its quality must be good, and it must be carefully prepared. It is highly nourishing and easily digested, and it is fitted to repair wasted strength, preserve health, and prolong life. It agrees with dry temperaments and convalescents; with mothers who nurse their children; with those whose occupations oblige them to undergo severe mental strains; with public speakers, and with all those who give to work a portion of the time needed for sleep. It soothes both stomach and brain, and for this reason , as well as others, it is the best friend of those engaged in literary pursuits.” –German chemist Baron von Liebig (as quoted by the American Walter Baker & Company in the mid-nineteenth century).

(Mini Dark Chocolate Squares with Raw Cacao)

Now for you pregnant gals, go for it! Finnish research indicates that “eating chocolate is good for the baby. Scientists at the University of Helsinki, who asked 300 pregnant women to record their chocolate consumption and stress levels, found that daily chocolate treats had a positive impact on the unborn baby’s behavior. Six months after the infants were born the mothers who had eaten chocolate reported more reactions such as smiling and laughter in their offspring” (my daughter Mia first started smiling at 2 days old; I ate raw cacao throughout my pregnancy on a daily basis, and have continued eating it daily as I am nursing, and she is now 18 weeks and the happiest, smiling, giggling baby I’ve met).
“And the babies of stressed women who had regularly consumed chocolate showed less fear of new situations than babies of stressed women who had abstained,” reported New Science magazine. Katri Raikkanen and her colleagues who conducted the research speculate that the effects they observed could result from chemicals in chocolate associated with positive moods being passed on to the baby in the womb. Nevertheless, high doses of chocolate (i.e. binge eating) should be avoided whild pregnant based on research done on reproductive and developmental risks introduced by caffeine.”
And for us yogi’s (especially Bikram practitioners like myself):
“The magnesium and the MAO inhibitors increase physical flexibility and the methylxanthine stimulants add several hours of additional power and strength (to your yoga practice). Cacao drinks allow the digestive system to relax and the entire body becomes more flexible.”
So there you have it ladies… a million and one reasons to start adding raw cacao to your daily diet!!! I love the benefits and see the results on a daily basis, especially in the sweet and joyful temperament of my daughter (still exclusively breastfed).
You can find raw cacao powder, nibs and beans in many health food stores, including Whole Foods. Or you can order directly from two of my favorite companies, www.NavitasNaturals.com and www.UltimateSuperfoods.com. Navitas Naturals, along with David Wolfe’s books “Naked Chocolate” and “Superfoods” have tons of great recipes for adding cacao into your diet. And once again, I’ve barely chipped the iceberg of information about raw cacao/chocolate… I strongly encourage you to purchase David Wolfe’s book ‘Naked Chocolate’, ‘Superfoods’ and ‘Eating for Beauty’. =)

Recipe: Incan Warrior "Hot Chocolate"

1 Cup Almond Milk (I love the Silk brand, but Almond Breeze is good, any brand you prefer)
1 Cup Yerba Mate Tea, brewed 4 minutes (for lactating Mama's, sub Tazo Decaf Chai Tea)
1 Dropperful Stevia (more to taste)
1 Scoop Amazing Grass Chocolate Green Powder
1-2 Scoops Raw Cacao Powder (to personal preference, I use 2)
1-2 Scoops Raw Maca Powder
1/2 tsp Organic Gluten Free Vanilla

Pour all ingredients into blender, blend, pour, enjoy! (If you'd like to heat the beverage slightly, you may do so in a saucepan on low heat... if you over heat/bring to a boil, you are losing out on the raw benefits of the superfoods).

June 11, 2010

Work It In, Work It Out

The first month of my daughter’s life was so wonderful, and at the same time very challenging. My cesarean was very rough on my body. It was a solid week before I hobble around the house, but things like going to the bathroom and showering seemed to take five times longer than normal, and I still stayed in bed or out on the couch all of the time. I had NO idea the recovery was going to be this rough or the pain this bad. But after about 2 weeks I started moving a little easier, and taking short little walks around the house.

So I waited about 4 weeks to begin working out again. Mia was just a tiny little one still, and I was still pretty sore and suffering on a regular basis. But I had the itch and couldn’t help but scratch. I’d seen my OB for the 2 week check, and she’d given me the go-ahead for walks, and even told me I could lift the weight of my daughter, but nothing over 15lbs, and “no crunches!”. That was all I needed to hear.

(On vacation with my daughter, 3 months old, my girlfriend and our husbands)

Very carefully I started out slowly, using my 8lb hand weights doing recorded FitTV episodes to give myself some structure. I would do my 100/100/100 (leaving out the abs of course) and walked at least 45 min – 1 hr every day. I would put Mia into her stroller, put the dog on his leash, fill up a water bottle and walk as swiftly as my tender abdomen would allow. I was exhausted from lack of sleep, but as soon as I started this routine my energy levels came soaring back, and the superfoods went into high effect. It was hard to fit in, of course, but I was determined as you too will have to be. I would work in my 4 sets of 25 squats while I was soothing Mia before naps or bed, or even as I was interacting with her. I’d make goofy noises, drop down, smile, and then slowly rise. She just stared at me and occasionally smiled, but I worked it in, which is the point.
Work it in when you can, however you can. I would do the pushups (modified for ease, from the knees) while Mia was in her crib fussing, so that I could make sure she was okay by being in the room, and still getting something done. Either that or I would put a blanket on the floor, and do the pushups literally over her, smiling as I came close to her face, so she would start thinking it was a game. We still do this, at three months, and she is now so responsive she just laughs and smiles each time I say “woo!” as I lower myself towards her.
Now I am back to full-throttle working out. I’ve returned rejoicing to Bikram yoga, and the very last 5lbs of baby weight came flying off in just 3 weeks. I know it isn’t that way for everyone, but being in the hot sweaty room, cleansing, twisting, shedding all that water weight, built up toxins and hormones, just things your body needs to let go of, it felt amazing. Everything slowly has tightened back up, and it will for you too. If I can’t make it to yoga I am still doing my 100/100/100, and all of my FitTV recorded exercise shows, and every once in a while I actually make it outside or to the gym for a run. The point is, just like through the pregnancy, it is equally as important to continue to make sure you do SOMETHING every single day. Make the time, if it is important to you. You will feel better, healthier, be able to sleep at night or when the baby sleeps, you will feel more confident to take on the challenges that new motherhood is presenting. And even though you haven’t gotten much sleep and you have “no energy to work out right now!” do it anyway, because by exerting energy your body will take care of you and give you energy back.
It will balance out hormones; regulate your sleep/wake cycles get blood pumping so there will be fat flushing; give you a rush of serotonin and make you feel like you actually can make it through the day/night.
If you need resources for help losing the baby weight, there are great websites out there, tons in fact, such as http://www.pregnancywithoutpounds.com/
But the bottom line is it is just going to take you getting motivated enough to do something, anything, every single day. Load up your water bottle with lemon water, a few drops of liquid stevia, and hit the floor, pavement, or yoga mat. You can do this!!!

June 9, 2010

Caught Up in the Crazy

My precious little daughter is already 16 weeks old! I can’t believe it, time really does fly, its unbelievable. Some days I wonder how to get it all done, and I have to keep reminding myself that its okay to be superwoman only every other day.

Starting right at week 6 I went back to yoga. It was amazing to finally be back in my hot, humid sanctuary of sweat and release. I felt like a million bucks, even though it was hard, and I certainly had lost a bit of flexibility after six weeks of hobbling around with stitches. By the way, I’ve spoken with several mom’s who have had c-sections, and not all of them had as painful of an experience as I had. My experience seemed very painful, and upon watching the video of Mia being born, I can see why. There was quite a bit of pulling and stretching that my doctor did, which would account for the seeming obscene amount of bruising I felt for so many weeks. Anyway, where was I… oh yes. Well thank God for muscle memory! In 3 short classes I was back into my groove, and at 6 weeks every pound I’d gained during my pregnancy was gone… at 8 weeks, I was 2 pounds below my pre-pregnancy weight. A big “woo-hoo!” for superfoods, a big “woo-hoo!” for my 100/100/100 and an even bigger “woo-hoo!” for my Bikram yoga practice.
During the past 8 weeks things have changed constantly. Mia is just an amazing little soul, full of sugar and fire, with a personality three times her size and joy that seems everlasting. She keeps me busy, and as my husband as recently moved companies, I am not getting to yoga as often as I’d like. In fact, in the past 3 weeks since he started his new job, I’ve only made it to class about 6 times. Which has me feeling kind of horrible, honestly. I was in such a groove, really feeling strong and capable, and then WHAM, I’m suddenly stuck at home a LOT more than I was, and feeling a little bit blue as the summer weather started in (AZ summers are HOT!)

So what do you do then when you really are a Mom “stuck” at home, possibly because you don’t have relatives nearby you feel comfortable leaving baby with, or because you have another tot running around in addition to baby? You make it work! IT IS POSSIBLE! Keep thinking that to yourself… if you don’t like what you see, CHANGE IT. You can do this. Make sure you have baby on a schedule. I don’t care what kind of a schedule it is, but make sure s/he is on a schedule. That way you can guarantee that you can get in some time for yourself during the day, to shave those legs in a shower, and do your at home version of kicking your own butt to keep your body going in the direction you want (in, not out!)

Schedule wise, I recommend what I fondly call the 3 hour block method (this can easily be moved to a 4+ hour block method when baby is older). This consists of baby eating, having anywhere from 45-90 or 120 minutes of awake time (where you interact with baby by reading, playing with toys, singing to them, going on a walk, etc.) followed by nap time.

Nap time is non-optional. During every 3-4 hour segment/block, there needs to be a nap time inserted. This is crucial for baby to start learning how to fall asleep on his/her own, in his/her own bed, and to gear up for sleeping through the nights (if they aren’t already). During baby’s nap time is when you are going to get your time, even if you do have another tot. You can schedule the two little ones together for optimum alone time, or if your tot is not taking those long naps anymore, you can incorporate him/her into your work out time. This is commonly referred to as “Mommy & Me” working out, or similar, but the way I look at is, is your tot gets to play around you while you are working out, and can join in if they want to.

Chances are, if they see Mommy on the floor doing crunches, push-ups, squats, they are going to try and mimic mommy, or will just sit there flipping through a book if uninterested. But since I do not currently have a tot, only my first baby, that isn’t my focus right now. Right now, as soon as I lay my daughter all swaddled up in her crib, I am down the hallway with my yoga mat, a towel two 8lb hand weights, an 8lb medicine ball, and my iPod.
I have a constant library of recorded fitness programs from FitTV recorded on my television, so that I can press play and get in some direction for hand weights, new ideas for quick routines, and some yoga, and then I do my 100/100/100 if I have time, and believe me, even if I hear my little pumpkin starting to fuss, ready to get up, I hold out and take the time I need to get in my minimum 30 minute workout EVERY SINGLE DAY. You HAVE to do this for yourself girls.

Pregnant or not, baby or not, DO IT. It is crucial to our mental -state, our hormone balance, and our positive thinking. You will not feel good about yourself if you don’t get your heart pounding at least once per day. Hey, maybe you make your house cleaning day a workout! Be vigorous! =)
So what do you do on days when you’re so busy, out and about, and you don’t have time to get in front of the television or on the living room floor to bust this out? Go for a walk! Put baby in her stroller, get your iPod going (always with volume low enough to clearly hear baby) and do lunges for every other block. When you get home, before you even get baby out of the stroller, bust out at least 25-50 push-ups. You can do this. If you don’t have time to even do that? Do squats while you’re brushing your teeth that night. Do push-ups when you are letting baby fuss herself to sleep (in her room, next to her crib, while you are letting her learn to fall asleep in her crib on her own, you can do your push-ups on the floor). There is ALWAYS a way to get SOMETHING in.

One of the other major things I’ve been forced to work on is letting go of my clean-freakedness. I am not sure if freakedness is a word, in fact I’m sure it’s not, but I’m using it anyway. I like to have everything SPOTLESS in my house. It gives me a feeling of being in control of my environment when I feeling like everything around me, everything in my life is out of control. And by out of control, I just mean life happening, nothing tragic (necessarily). Since having my daughter, this is obviously not possible. On any given day we have the choice… “Am I going to scrub toilets, Swiffer the floor one more time, or lay on the ground and coo with my child…” I like to refer back to a needlepoint hanging that was on my bedroom wall growing up, someone made it for my mother. It said simply:
“Cleaning and scrubbing can wait ‘til tomorrow, for babies grow up, we’ve learned to our sorrow. So quiet down cobwebs and dust go to sleep, I’m rocking by baby and babies don’t keep.”

I have to remind myself of this constantly, especially when I get caught up in the crazy; and trust me, I’m an EXPERT at getting caught up in the crazy. It just not worth having perfectly spotless countertops to miss out on any moment of my daughter’s awake time; and that’s not to say that I haven’t nestled her into her Baby Bijorn front carrier and vacuumed the floors, because I have. And it can actually be quite soothing for a fussy baby… she loves it. But that is just not the norm. Try and make cleaning while baby is awake and happy an exception, not the rule. No woman on her death bed ever said, “I wish I’d cleaned more.” =)

But when you do need to get some things done, don’t feel guilty for putting baby down. S/he need their alone time too. Learning to play by themselves, and entertain themselves is crucial for their development. Go ahead and put them in their “Under the Sea” Baby Einstein toy, in a swing, bouncy chair, Pack ‘N Play, or Bumbo seat with a toy and let them be for a bit, and move them from station to station when they get bored. Because we all need to get things done… switch a load of laundry, make dinner, superfood snacks!!! So don’t feel guilty. It’s all for their good in the long run. And remember, don’t get too caught up in the crazy.