Happy Valentine’s Day! Bring on the Chocolate! Wait…is chocolate ok?

Valentine’s Day allows you permission to eat chocolate right?  Right!  And, chocolate is actually good for you, depending what type of chocolate you’re eating so, you can eat it guilt free.  Whew…  Chocolate got a bad rap due to it’s high calorie and fat content and its link to obesity, diabetes, acne and heart disease but recent studies show that chocolate actually has many health benefits.  This is due to cocoa, the key ingredient in chocolate.  Cacao contains biologically active ‘phenolic’ compounds, giving it a very high antioxidant profile.  Chocolate’s antioxidant potential may have a range of health benefits. The higher the cocoa content, (as in dark chocolate) the more benefits there are. Dark chocolate may also contain less fat and sugar, but it is important to check the label.  Look for dark chocolate with no less than 70% cacao but getting closer to 90% is even better.  Cacao can have a strong bitter taste so the higher the cacao content the more bitter it may be.  OR…you can make your own chocolate!  I have posted my chocolate recipe before but since it is Valentine’s Day, I thought I would post it again.  This is the yummiest, healthiest chocolate you could possibly eat and there are so many variations in making it to suite your taste buds.  So here is the basic recipe and some great ways to spice it up!  Go ahead and enjoy your chocolate, without the guilt!

KETO CHOCOLATE RECIPE:  

1 cup cacao powder

½ cup melted coconut oil

(This is the basic recipe but if you add the powders and other ingredients you will need to add more coconut oil)

½ cup powdered peanut butter

3 heaping Tbls greens powder (to make it even healthier)

3 Tbls phytoberry (this is what I use to sweeten it, if you don’t use this you can add stevia or xylitol or anything to taste)

½ cup Hemp seeds

Crushed nuts of your choice

½ tsp Cinnamon

½ tsp Cayenne (I add a bit more as it gives it a nice kick)

1/2 tsp salt (optional)

You can basically add anything you want….like fruit but it makes it chewy.

Melt the coconut oil, add the cacao powder and mix all ingredients together.

I put them in ice cube trays but you can pour it on wax or parchment paper on a cookie sheet

Freeze until firm and store in fridge or freezer as the coconut oil will melt if you don’t.

Thought:  Since it is Valentine’s day you can use a cookie cutter in the shape of a heart or buy a heart shaped ice cube tray and pour the chocolate in them to have heart shaped chocolates.

Top 10 Things to Keep in Mind When Grocery Shopping on a Keto and Low Carb Diet

Buying “Fake” food is a big no-no when grocery shopping.  I’m sure you’ve heard that you should stick to the parameter of the store.  It is in the center shelves that carry the pre-packaged foods.  Real food has only one ingredient.  Examples are eggs, fruits, vegetables, meat, butter, cheese and oils.  Heavily processed foods are fake foods, heavily processed.  These are the foods that are typically full of sugar, starch and bad fats and should be avoided at all costs.  To avoid these fake foods, know some of the rules:

  1. Don’t buy foods that say anything like cereal, cake, cookie, bread, cracker or chips, even if it touts they are low carb as they are often full of fake ingredients like starch, artificial sweeteners and unknown additives.
  2. Not all packaged foods are fake but how do you know? Look for products with the fewest ingredients such as coleslaw, eggs, cheese, nut butters etc.  Even though they are packaged, they are healthy and safe.
  3. Be sure to check the NET carb amounts. Remember:  Take total carbs and subtract the fiber (and sugar alcohols if there is any).  If total carbs is 10, and fiber is 7 then the NET carb count is 3.  This is the amount of carbs that have a glycemic response.  Fiber has no glycemic response so you subtract it.  Be careful with the serving size when reading labels.  If you are calculating the NET carbs on a prepackaged item, look for the serving size.  One item which looks like it is one serving can actually be for 2-4 servings so you need to calculate NET carbs PER SERVING.
  4. Buy low carb vegetables, not the starchy ones. The rule of thumb is to stick to vegetables that grow above ground and avoid ones that grow below ground.  Stick to green leafy vegetables, asparagus, avocado and zucchini.  Other good choices are broccoli, cauliflower, green beans and brussels sprouts but these vegetables when eaten in excess can take you out of ketosis so be careful.  Avoid vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, onions and beet root.
  5. Buy less fruit, if any. Fruit is very high in carbs and will take you out of ketosis very quickly so there are really no fruits good for a keto diet.  If you MUST eat fruit stick to raspberries and blackberries.  Lemons and limes in small amounts in your water are fine too.
  6. Buy fewer nuts. Nuts are keto friendly in small amounts but the problem is that it is too easy to overeat them which can take you out of ketosis.
  7. Be careful with yogurt. Most yogurts, even Greek yogurt are high in carbs and will take you out of ketosis.
  8. Avoid anything that contains fructose, corn syrup and sugar…any kind of sugar. Anything that ends with “ose” is sugar such as fructose, glucose, lactose etc.  Avoid sugars such as syrup, malt or cane sugar, honey, dried fruit and fruit juice concentrates.
  9. Avoid grains. Most of the starch in our diets come from grains.  Wheat and corn are the main ones, but any kind of grain (and flours) add loads of carbs in our diet.  Avoid rice and all bread products.
  10. Eat good fats abundantly but avoid bad fats at all costs.  These would include hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats (trans fats), margarine, shortening and processed vegetable oils such as corn, canola, cottonseed, safflower and soybean oils.

20 Ways to Get More Fat in Your Keto Diet

If you’re on the keto diet (not just low carb), you have to eat a lot of good fats.  Whenever I talk to people about this diet they are concerned with the amount of fat you have to eat, however keep in mind that the fats you’re eating are healthy fats AND because you are starving your body of carbs, the fats you eat will be burned for energy and you will be producing ketones.  I find it a little hard to get enough fats in my diet, so I listed 20 ways to get more fats in your daily diet.  Here they are:

  1. Cook your foods in fats like butter or coconut oil.
  2. Top your meals with oils such as olive oil, coconut oil or MCT oil
  3. Add shredded cheddar cheese or other full fat cheese to your meals
  4. Add butter or coconut oil to your steamed veggies
  5. Eat fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel or herring
  6. Add Béarnaise sauce or Hollandaise sauce to meats or eggs
  7. Snack on a handful of macadamia nuts (or pecans and brazil) Be careful of other nuts which are higher in fat
  8. Snack on olives
  9. Snack on pork rinds
  10. Have an avocado with your meals
  11. If you like chocolate, make your own with cocao powder and coconut oil (my recipe for chocolate is in one of my earlier blogs)
  12. Make fat bombs (recipe in my earlier blog)
  13. Make sugar free desserts with cream cheese. There are many recipes for keto desserts on the internet
  14. Make a veggie dip with full fat sour cream and full fat mayo
  15. Have bacon and eggs for breakfast (without the toast) or a cheese omelette with bacon
  16. Add bacon to your salads and other dishes
  17. Add butter, cream or coconut oil to coffee
  18. Make high fat smoothies with cream or coconut milk and add MCT oil
  19. Use coconut milk as often as possible in your dishes
  20. Have a tablespoon of MCT oil with each meal

Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself

There is a low carb and gluten free alternative to pretty much every food you want, even junk food!  I have made low carb mashed potatoes, rice and pizza with cauliflower and my husband and family loves them all.  I have hamburgers made with almond flour and I even bring my own buns to a restaurant when I feel like a hamburger with a bun and not just lettuce.  I have the most moist banana bread and cheesecake or cookies, all low carb and gluten free.  My point is, don’t give up your favorite foods.  Take some time one day per week (or less) and make those buns or bread you want, pizza and whatever you crave.  It’s just a matter of not being lazy and preparing foods ahead of time.  You can do it!  I have posted all of my recipes on my blog so just scroll down to find them.  One of my favorite places to get recipes is on divalicious.com but there are so many sites that post recipes that are keto friendly and gluten free.

Creamy Keto Hot Cocoa

Who doesn’t love a nice cup of hot cocoa especially in this cold, snowy winter to soothe and relax you?  Cacao is loaded with antioxidants which helps to protect your body, especially during the cold and flu season.  Try this recipe from Dr. Mercola and share it with your family.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup organic full fat coconut milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 heaping tablespoon raw cacao powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon MCT oil
  • 1 teaspoon xylitol or other sugar substitute

Procedure

  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend for three minutes.
  2. Place cocoa mixture in a small saucepan and warm the mixture over low heat. Be sure to whisk often to ensure all the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.
  3. If you’d like to, add coconut whipped cream or cacao nibs.

Almond Sesame Low Carb Buns

Have you given up bread in order to stick to your low carb diet?  You don’t have to with recipes like this.  I have been making low carb almond buns for months now and not only are they only 2 NET carbs per bun, they are also gluten free and high in fiber so they will fill you up.  They literally take only 10 minutes to make so take some time this weekend and do a few batches and then freeze them individually so you have them handy at all times.  Summer is coming up (not soon enough) and we will be BBQing again and who doesn’t love a big fat juicy burger on a bun?  You can even make them into sausage or hot dog buns depending on how you shape them.  Be creative and add garlic or olives to your recipe.  Add cheese on top…whatever you want!  This recipe is a little different from mine.  I got it from the Diet Doctor web site and it is my weekend project as I just ran out of my other buns.  Personally I like to have toast with my eggs or a sandwich for lunch so I need to make some more.  My family loves my bread so much I have made it for them as well!  Give it a try…you won’t be disappointed!

2 NET CARB KETO ALMOND BUNS

Ingredients

  • 1¼ cups almond flour
  • 5 Tbls Psyllium powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons cider vinegar
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 3 egg whites
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl.
  2. Bring the water to a boil and add it, the vinegar and egg whites to the bowl, while beating with a hand mixer for about 30 seconds. Don’t over mix the dough, the consistency should resemble Play-Doh.
  3. Moisten hands and form dough into 4 or 8 pieces of bread. You can also make hot dog or hamburger buns. Place on parchment paper so it doesn’t stick.
  4. Bake for 50–60 minutes, depending on the size of your bread. They’re done when you hear a hollow sound when tapping the bottom of the bun.
  5. Serve with butter and toppings of your choice. Store the bread in the fridge or freezer.

Artificial vs. Natural Sweeteners

Have you ever read the back of a package of sweeteners found on the dining table in restaurants and coffee shops?  These are the little blue, pink and yellow packages?  Some of them have warning labels that say “This product contains 28% sodium cyclamate.  Cyclamates should be used only on the advice of a physician.”  Some others say “Use under medical supervision.”  Have you ever read that?  I have to wonder why they would put these warnings on the packages.  How do we know which sweeteners are safe and which ones aren’t?  People are often surprised at how often dangerous artificial sweeteners are included in prepared foods, medications and beverages.  Here are a few surprising examples of where to check for the dangerous sweeteners: chewing gum, cough syrup, no-calorie drinks, breakfast cereals, yogurt, frozen yogurt and other frozen deserts, candies, baked goods, toothpaste and mouthwash and medications, to name a few.  If you want to learn more about any one of these sweeteners, you will have to research them individually.  There are tons of information on each one listed below.  I will also help you decide which ones are the safest to take, in my humble opinion.  Let’s look at some of them briefly but before we do, know that there are plenty of natural, healthy sweeteners available that provide essential nutrients and taste great which I will also list below.

Aspartame:  Aspartame is currently used in more than 6,000 consumer foods and drinks, and over 500 prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications.  Some health professionals say this is the most dangerous sweetener on the market.  Some of the technical names for aspartame are NutraSweet and Equal.   Aspartame accounts for over 75% of the adverse reactions to food additives reported to the FDA.  Aspartame is comprised of approximately 50% phenylalanine, 40% aspartic acid, and 10% methanol.  Aspartic Acid (Aspartate) which acts as neurotransmitters in the brain by facilitating the transmission of information from neuron to neuron. Too much aspartate in the brain kills certain neurons by allowing the influx of too much calcium into the cells. This influx triggers excessive amounts of free radicals, which kill the cells. The neural cell damage that can be caused by excessive aspartate is why they are referred to as “excitotoxins.” They “excite” or stimulate the neural cells to death.  Some side effects of aspartame include headaches/migraines, anxiety, dizziness, rashes, heart palpitations, joint pain, vision problems, seizures and much more.

Acesulfame potassium (acesulfame-K):  This is a potassium salt containing methylene chloride, a known carcinogen. Long term exposure to methylene chloride can cause headaches, nausea, emotional imbalances, and damage to the liver and kidneys.  Acesulfame-K has been shown to produce breast tumors, lung tumors, and other types of tumors, leukemia, and chronic respiratory disease in rodents.

Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low):  In the 1970s, saccharin and other sulfa-based sweeteners were believed to possibly cause bladder cancer, and it was required to carry the following warning label: “Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin, which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals.”   The FDA removed this warning, but many studies continue to link saccharin to serious health conditions. Sadly, it’s the primary sweetener for children’s medications, including chewable aspirin, cough syrup, and other over-the-counter and prescription medications. It’s believed that saccharin contributes to photosensitivity, nausea, digestive upset, tachycardia and some types of cancer.

Sucralose (Splenda): Sucralose, derived from sugar, was originally introduced as a natural sugar substitute. However, in reality, it’s a chlorinated sucrose derivative. Yes, chlorine, one of the most toxic chemicals on the planet. Sucralose was originally found through the development of a new insecticide compound and wasn’t originally intended to be consumed.  It’s uncertain as to why the FDA approved sucralose knowing the nature of chlorine. You should know too that it was approved even though the pre-approval research revealed possible toxicity of the substance.  Some of the side effects some people experience with sucralose include migraines, intestinal cramping, rashes, dizziness, bloating, acne and chest pain to name a few.

Agave: Agave is a sweetener commercially produced from several species of the agave plant. This sweetener has more concentrated fructose than high fructose corn syrup and has been shown to alter liver function, promote obesity, and increase insulin resistance for both diabetics and non-diabetics.

There are many more sweeteners that are possibly dangerous…too many to mention but know that there are also some sweeteners that are ok to have.  Here are some of them:

Stevia:  Stevia is not an artificial sweetener but actually a plant which happens to taste 200-300 times sweeter than sugar.  It has been used for hundreds of years in South America to support healthy blood sugar levels and prompt weight loss.  Today, stevia is available in liquid drops, packets, dissolvable tablets and baking blends. It has zero calories, zero carbohydrates and none of the nasty side effects of artificial sweeteners, making it an ideal natural sweetener.  You can even buy diet pop which is sweetened with stevia called Zevia.  I buy it myself and they have some great flavors to choose from and taste great.

Raw Honey:  Raw honey is a true superfood.   It’s packed with enzymes, antioxidants, iron, zinc, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, vitamin B6, riboflavin and niacin. Together, these essential nutrients help to neutralize free radicals while promoting the growth of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract.

One tablespoon of raw honey has 64 calories and has less impact on the glycemic load than a single banana. It’s important to note that these are the benefits of raw honey. Once honey has been pasteurized, it loses the many of the health benefits that raw honey brings to the table.  Look for local raw honey at farmer markets and directly from local beekeepers.   Also, the darker the honey, the richer the flavor and the greater the health benefits.

Sugar alcohols:  Sugar alcohols like xylitol, erythritol, sorbitol and mannitol have been around for decades without safety problems. But some people do experience stomach discomfort or diarrhea after eating sugar alcohols. If they give you trouble, try sticking with only erythritol, which research shows is not fermented by gut bacteria, meaning it may cause fewer digestive woes.

Coconut Sugar:  Most people have heard about the benefits of coconut water, coconut oil, coconut milk, coconut flour and, of course, fresh coconut.  Now, more and more people are using coconut sugar as their natural sweetener of choice because of its low glycemic load and rich mineral content.  Packed with polyphenols, iron, zinc, calcium, potassium, antioxidants, phosphorous and other phytonutrients, coconut sugar is versatile and now readily available. Coconut sugar is extracted sap from the blooms of the coconut and then heated. Next, through evaporation, we get coconut sugar.

There are other natural sweeteners available but the ones listed above are my personal favorites.  Give some of them a try and see how you like them too!