"I saw few die of hunger; of eating, a hundred thousand." -Ben Franklin

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A (Re)Introduction to Nuts and Dark Chocolate

I've been eating Paleo/Primal/Caveman for a little over thirteen months now. For the first twelve of those months, however, I was absolutely terrified of eating certain foods that, even though considered to be okay to eat, were thought to cause weight gain or that I associated with non-Paleo foods. In the last few weeks, however, I re-introduced two of these foods back into my lifestyle: nuts and dark chocolate.

I stopped eating nuts within my first few weeks of this lifestyle because I was trying to lose weight. While there's no doubt that they're a fantastic source of protein, they ruined any weight loss (SO addicting-- I'd just eat them all day!), so they went on my "Absolutely do not eat unless you're stranded on an island and have no other food source" list. I avoided nuts like they were bread or cookies or some other evil food source-- even after I reached my goal weight/size (and have maintained it!), I still refused to eat them. Since networking with other Paleo/Primal enthusiasts in the last few months, however, I slowly became more and more okay with the idea of eating nuts, so I reintroduced them a few weeks ago. Are they still addicting? Absolutely. But in moderation, they're great-- they're filling, are wonderful on-the-go snacks, add a nice crunch to salads, and are good for making crusts. While there's certainly a lot of debate about nuts, I think the health benefits outweigh everything else (unless you're easily addicted and are trying to lose weight). Like seeds, however, nuts should only be consumed raw-- don't buy anything salted or with added sugar/questionable ingredients. You can always toast them yourself on the stove and add some cinnamon or other spice if you want some added flavor.

So what are some of these health benefits? Nuts* are full of nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids**, manganese, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, copper, selenium, and fiber. They also contain Vitamin E, thiamin, riboflavin, Vitamin B6, tryptophan, Vitamin K, and other essential amino acids. Studies show that eating nuts lower cholesterol, decrease the risk of Type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, help prevent gallstones, and have anti-inflammatory properties that are extremely beneficial to cardiovascular health. So enjoy in moderation!
*Note 1: Peanuts aren't nuts. They're legumes. Avoid them. (Read this article by Loren Cordain, author of The Paleo Diet.)
**Note 2: Many nuts (particularly walnuts) contain high omega-6 fatty acids as well, which aren't good. Moderation here is key: eat nuts as a snack, not a meal replacement, and be sure to get omega-3s somewhere else (fish oil, perhaps?) to balance out the omega-6s.

Here are some really great nut-related links to check out:
-"Dear Mark: Nuts and Omega-6s" at Mark's Daily Apple
-"I Go Nuts for Nuts" at Liver Specialists of Texas
-"I Am Going Nuts about Nuts: Part 1 and Part 2" at Primal Toad's blog

Dark Chocolate
I started eating dark chocolate again a few days ago. I had avoided it for so long because chocolate-- no matter the kind-- was always associated with unhealthy eating, sugar, and weight gain and, therefore, should not be eaten at all. Yes, I've read the countless studies on the benefits of dark chocolate. However, the "chocolate = bad" mindset was hard to break-- would eating dark chocolate pull me back over to the Dark Side (a.k.a. the Standard American Diet)? Would months of perfectly Paleo/Primal eating be unraveled with one bite of Lindt?

The answer, as I found out a few days ago, is absolutely not because A) Paleo is a permanent lifestyle and there's no way in hell I'm going back to the SAD, and B) Not all chocolates are created equal. A bar of 85% cacao-content Lindt is not the same as eating a milk chocolate Hershey bar-- the 3.5oz Lindt bar yields only 12.5 net carbs, whereas the milk chocolate Hershey bar of the same size yields 57.5! Whoa! Dark chocolate is also a lot richer, so it makes you feel full after just a small bite or two-- there's no way I'd be able to finish an entire bar! Also, the ingredient list for Lindt is: chocolate, cocoa powder, cocoa butter, sugar, vanilla. The ingredients for the Hershey bar, however, looks like a chemistry vocabulary list: milk chocolate (sugar; milk; chocolate; cocoa butter; lactose; milk fat; soy lecithin; PGPR, emulsifier; vanillin, artificial flavor). What the hell is vanillin? Or PGPR? Congratulations, Hershey, you just broke Michael Pollan's "Avoid products containing ingredients that are A) Unfamiliar, B) Unpronounceable, C) More than five in number" rule.

So let's discuss some health benefits of dark chocolate*. Dark chocolate is full of antioxidants and contains copper, magnesium, potassium, calcium, and iron. It lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, improves blood circulation, boosts the immune system and cognitive function, protects against cardiovascular disease, has anti-inflammatory and anti-aging properties, contains serotonin (which helps with fighting depression), improves digestion, and is used to treat patients with anemia, kidney stones, and poor appetites. Like anything else, dark chocolate should be consumed in moderation-- a small piece or two is plenty, especially of the higher cacao-content, high-quality kinds.
*Note: The higher the cacao content, the better. Stick to 70% and higher, and buy the high-quality stuff.

Not sure what type of dark chocolate to buy? Want to bake with dark chocolate? Check out these sites:
-Chocolate reviews at Modern Paleo
-"The infamous Paleo Brownie recipe" at Crossfit South Philly
-"Chocolate and hazelnut pavlova" and "Chocolate mousse" at Not Just a Man's World
-Member Paleo Desserts at Crossfit El Paso

Quote of the Day:
-"It should be a matter not only of concern but deep alarm that human beings can degenerate physically so rapidly by the use of a certain type of nutrition, particularly the dietary products used so generally by modern civilization." -Weston A. Price, author of Nutrition and Physical Degeneration

The aforementioned foods:


  1. I really love the benefits of dark chocolates and nuts. They are both good for our health. Thanks for sharing your insights.

  2. Good Post. Two things to remember about nuts and chocolate...

    Peanuts are not a nut; nuts grow on trees, peanuts grow in the dirt. Eating too many peanuts can sabotage some folks weight loss plans.

    The Darker the chocolate the better for you. All the chocolate companies are jumping on the "chocolate is good for you" caravan, you really want to stick with a 70% or higher chocolate for best health benefits.

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