Avoiding a meltdown: Balancing desire for chocolate, healthier products

Chocolate curl
Photo from Barry Callebaut.

Recently, a Financial Times article by Ralph Atkins — in timely seasonal fashion for Easter — suggested that Swiss chocolate, and chocolate consumption in general, may be losing its shine and, dare we say it, melting in popularity because of health concerns.

And although Atkins does quote several analysts and trots out dire statistics to make his case, this call to alarm could be called a bit of a stretch, somewhat akin to the sensational headlines last year indicating a looming chocolate shortage.

In this new era of opinionated reporting, stringing along several statistics and facts doesn’t always provide a complete picture. While recent reports do confirm a slowing in consumption, past history suggests this is a temporary holding pattern, one that will right itself as consumers determine which kinds of chocolate will meet their eating occasions and desires.

And it’s not as if cocoa and chocolate suppliers have buried their heads in banana leaves; they are very much attuned to current health trends affecting shopping cart decisions. Take sugar, for example, which continues to be “demonized” in the press and has become a major concern among certain shoppers, the demographics encompassing mothers and Millennials, Baby Boomers and bargain hunters.

As Mark Adriaenssens, v. p. of R&D for Barry Callebaut Americas, notes, the move toward less sugar hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“Yes, our customers are inquiring about products with less sugar in them,” he says. “We can meet these requests by replacing part of the sugar with an alternative in an individual recipe or by replacing all the sugar entirely with a substitute. We see also a surge in demand for newly trending alternative sugars as maple and coconut sugar. However, taste still remains a top priority and with some sugar replacers, this can become a concern. Overall, our customers and end consumers do not want to sacrifice the indulgent taste of chocolate for less sugar.”

Rinus Hemskeerk, Olam International’s global head of innovation, concurs.

“Helping our customers keep pace with consumers’ changing tastes for healthier options is incredibly important, and something we are well positioned to do,” he says. “Equally important is that the product must taste great, which is exactly why our Cocoa Innovation Centres develop high quality, delicious products such as a dark cocoa powder without added sodium that our Latin American customers can use to reformulate their products. This provides our customers with a powder that has the same flavor and color impact, but which allows them to reduce sugar in their own recipe.”

But it’s not just about reducing sugar anymore; fat content has also entered the picture.

“Here different solutions are also possible for reducing the amount of fat; however, some fat reduction solutions can affect the ‘cleanliness’ of a product label, which is also important to keep in mind,” Adriaenssens says. “Fat also has an important function in melt, texture, and flavor delivery of the chocolate, and for an indulgent item like chocolate, consumers generally don’t want to sacrifice taste for less fat.”

Moreover, with cocoa and chocolate there are several options to consider. Hemskeerk notes that Olam International produces a range of cocoa powders for its customers with varying levels of fat.

“As the level of fat required depends on what product is being produced, we leave the decision of what to use regarding their own formulations up to them,” he says. “However, as consumers are more health conscious, a driver for us is to make our products as ‘clean-labelled’ as possible. Here, our natural cocoa powders come to play; they are not alkalized, yet provide the same color, flavor and functionality in application.”

To address this niche, The Blommer Chocolate Co. developed the Wonder Line, indulgent and creamy white, milk, dark and yogurt coatings that have significantly reduced calories, fat and saturated fat. The reduction in calories ranges from 36-37 percent, the total fat is reduced by 60-63 percent and the total saturated fat is lowered by 63-66 percent, depending upon the type (i.e. white vs. dark).

According to the company, any number of claims may be made, depending on the application and what is being created. Low Fat, Reduced Calorie, Reduced Fat, Reduced Saturated Fat claims may be made depending on the application and usage level. It comes down to permissible…

How to: Making your own healthy salad dressings

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iStockphoto

Long gone are the days of hearty soups, stews, and roasted root vegetables that kept our souls warm and our bellies nourished all winter long. Spring and Summer mark a time to celebrate fresh, light, and vibrant vegetables. It’s salad season!

While salads are probably one of the healthiest meals of all, how we dress our salad can totally make or break our healthiest intentions. In fact, store bought dressings can oftentimes be what I call the “undo” button, capable of completely sabotaging what could have been a delicious and nourishing meal.

Don’t believe me? Head to your fridge or pantry, pick up a store-bought dressing, and take a glance at the list of ingredients. More times than not, you will find a long list of highly processed ingredients, including sneaky sugar, excess sodium, and highly refined oils, along with an assortment of artificial additives and preservatives.

So, how do we dress our salads for success? You can start by learning what to look for when reading the nutrition label of store-bought salad dressing, which I explained in detail here. And while there are a few good products currently on the market, such as Tessemae’s All Natural Dressings, the truth is, you’re better off making your own. DIY dressing is a no brainer – it’s healthier, more affordable, and puts you back in the driver’s seat.

The idea of making your own salad dressing may feel intimidating, but after a little practice, it becomes second nature. To make it extra simple, here’s a step-by-step guide to DIY salad dressings.

DIY DRESSING: A Step-by-Step Guide

When it comes to making a salad dressing, I follow a simple acronym: FASSS — Fat, Acid, Seasoning, Salt & Sweet. FASSS represents the 5 key components of a delicious and nutrient-rich salad dressing, with no recipe required! Let’s break it down:

  • Fat: Fat serves many purposes! It brings a creamy texture to your salad dressing and serves as an emulsifier that holds all the other ingredients together. Fat also acts as a chauffeur for your salad’s nutrients. Did you know that many of our nutrients are “fat soluble”? That means they need fat to help transport them from our GI tract to our cells. Without fat, our nutrients never reach our cells and we lose out on reaping their health benefits. This is why fat-free salad dressings are actually counterproductive. Try one of these high-quality fats: Olive oil, flax oil, nut and seed butters like tahini or almond butter, organic yogurt, hummus, or a mashed up avocado.
  • Acid: Acid brightens up your salad dressing, bringing a nice tang to every bite. Think: vinegars and citrus fruits. There are so many different vinegars to explore: red wine, white wine, apple cider, sherry, balsamic, white balsamic, rice vinegar – each of these has a unique flavor. You can also use lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruits .
  • Seasonings: Here’s where you get to add some personality to your dressing. Add garlic, some minced onions, scallions, or shallots, or mix it up with ginger or different herbs and spices. Think of what kind of flavor profile you’re craving — whether it’s Asian, Mexican, Italian, Mediterranean — and let that direct you towards seasoning combinations commonly used in these areas of the…

Side Orders: Fresh fruits burst with flavors

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Our local farmers markets are beginning to bloom, filling up with deliciously fresh fruits.

According to cookbook author, pastry chef and bakery owner Lei Shishak, there’s no better way to enjoy them than in a made-from-scratch dessert, such as one featured in her recently released cookbook, “Farm to Table Desserts: 80 Seasonal, Organic Recipes Made From Your Local Farmers Market” (Skyhorse Publishing, $23).

“I started gardening in 2015 and immediately fell in love with growing my own fruits and vegetables,” she says. “I learned a lot from a neighbor who stressed the importance of growing organically. It was really this personal love of gardening that prompted me to write a book focused on farm-to-table recipes.”

But she cannot grow everything, so she frequents her nearby farmers market, and early summer is her favorite time to do so, primarily, Shishak says, for the first crop of strawberries.

“Farmers markets are such a wonderful environment,” she notes. “I love talking to the farmers directly and hearing their passion for their offerings.”

Anyone who’s visited Chattanooga Market or any other farmers market in our area knows well of which she speaks. With each visit, Shishak says, she gets motivated to create new recipes around crops grown by people who put the time and effort into raising them and bringing them to market to share.

When we shop at farmers markets, we support our local economy and consume food that’s healthier, tastier and packed with essential nutrients specific to our local environment.

“I believe that interest in healthier foods will continue in people of all ages who care about what goes into their bodies,” she says. “More areas are increasing the number of organic options available to consumers, and that healthy trend should continue as the results of eating healthier are felt by more and more people.”

She’s hard-pressed to come up with any one favorite fruit, but strawberries are among her favorites, mainly because so many of her friends and bakery customers at Sugar Blossom Bake…

Raw Bar: 7 Healthier Snack Bars

Our favorite energy bars may be free of GMOs and gluten, but they are filled with flavor!

Need something on the run? Make the calories count with these nutritious, organic and (mostly) raw powerbars

We’re big proponents of fresh food. But sometimes on the go, you need something quick and easy, like a snack bar. Some are frankly no better than candy bars, but others can be nutrient powerhouses. At the last Natural Products Expo West, the world’s largest natural and organic products trade show, we hand-picked a selection of bars that are organic, raw, non-GMO, gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, wheat-free, trans fat-free, and with little to no added sugars:

  1. BluePrintBar. The makers of the celeb-favorite fresh-pressed juice cleanse have created a line of rich, chewy bars. Our editors loved the Cashew Date and the Lemon Almond Cashew Date bars. They’re made with fruits, nuts, and nothing else.
  2. Bites of Bliss Superfood Bites. We enjoyed the…

9 Deliciously Sweet Summer Treats Even Diabetics Can Enjoy

Homemade frozen yogurt

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Courtesy ChobaniThe best part of a froyo cup is usually the sweet toppings like crushed cookies, gummy worms, or chopped candy bars you can pile on top. Unfortunately, they add more than a fun twist to dessert—extra calories, carbs, fat, and sugar can quickly add up to unhealthy levels, especially for people with diabetes who need to be critically mindful of what they’re putting in their body in order to keep blood glucose levels in a safe range. “People with diabetes can still enjoy a sweet treat on occasion when their blood sugar levels are well controlled. Try to keep portions small and limited to 15 to 30 grams of carbohydrate per serving,” says Melissa Matteo, MSRD, LD, CDE, a certified diabetes educator and registered dietician at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. Instead, freeze Chobani’s blended Greek yogurt, which comes in seasonal flavors like watermelon and kiwi. Each cup has about 13 grams of sugar, 12 grams of protein, and just 15 grams of carbs, the nutrient that raises blood sugar levels the most. Choose healthy toppings like a small handful of chopped nuts, which are filled with healthy fats, fiber, and protein; a small square of crushed antioxidant rich dark chocolate; or a sprinkle of sugar-free cocoa powder.

Pie pops

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The tasty JC’s Pie Pops may have been created by accident (a bowl of Italian custard accidentally froze solid instead of setting), but turns out they’re a sweet treat even diabetics can eat. The line of “nudies” are the best option, with just 18 grams of carbs, four grams of fat, and 120 calories a pop. If you’re indulging in a sweet treat, be sure to monitor your blood sugar levels extra carefully and keep careful track of your sugar and carbohydrate intake to ensure you’re not overdoing it the rest of the day or week.

Granita

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Oksana Mizina/ShutterstockA balanced diet is important for everyone to follow, but especially for people with diabetes. Keep things under control by turning your daily serving of fruit into a refreshing frozen treat. “Make a granita…

This Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie is So Good It Stops Time (Almost!)

cookie skillet

There is nothing better than pulling a warm tray of cookies out of the oven – with the exception, maybe, of pulling one giant warm cookie out of the oven. This skillet cookie is not only a delicious new way to get your cookie on, it’s also a gluten-free and Paleo-friendly treat that’s made with seriously wholesome ingredients.

With just a handful of pantry staples (like dark chocolate, duh) and roughly thirty minutes, this big warm cookie is all yours. All of it!

Buying the Ingredients

Traditional chocolate chip cookies are made with white flour, loads of white and brown sugar, and butter. Although as soul soothing as those cookies may be (especially if made by your grandma), there’s a more nutritious way to make them.

This skillet cookie is made with almond flour, maple syrup, nut butter, coconut oil, and dark chocolate – all very delicious (and healthy) ingredients.

Almond flour is made by blanched and finely ground almonds and is a rich source of protein, healthy fats, and vitamin E. As opposed to almond meal, almond flour has a finer and less gritty consistency. Make sure to use the latter in this recipe.

Maple syrup is a deliciously sweet alternative to white sugar. In small amounts, maple syrup does contain nutrients such as iron, calcium, and zinc. Look for a 100 percent pure organic maple syrup, without any added coloring or sugars. Maple syrup impostors such as those often labeled as “pancake syrup” are made with mostly high fructose corn sup and artificial flavorings and are not what you should be baking with — or pouring on pancakes.

The nut butter in this recipe is a creamy and nutritious way to reap healthy fats and a soft cookie texture. Any sort of creamy nut butter will do in this skillet cookie recipe including almond, peanut, sunflower, and cashew butter.

Using a bar of high quality dark chocolate, at least 70 percent cacao solids or higher, provides hearty chocolate chunks and a heavenly flavor to this skillet cookie. Unlike milk chocolate, dark chocolate contains more of the beneficial nutrients (including antioxidants to support…

So long, sugar coma: healthy Easter options outsell traditional treats

Rebecca Kerswell, from Coco Chocolate, makes sugar-free eggs.
Rebecca Kerswell, from Coco Chocolate, makes sugar-free eggs.

Watch out Easter bunny, the sugar-free craze is coming for you.

Traditional chocolatiers are reporting a massive swing towards sugar- and sweetener-free Easter confections, as consumers look for healthy and more ethical options.

Rebecca Kerswell, of Kirribilli’s Coco Chocolate, makes an extensive range of European-style chocolate treats, using hand-tempered organic chocolate, but said that her sugar-free Easter egg, made from cocoa mass, vanilla and freeze-dried raspberries, outsold every other product in her online store.

The shop's sugar-free Easter egg has been their biggest seller.
The shop’s sugar-free Easter egg has been their biggest seller. Photo: Edwina Pickles

“It’s unbelievable, ever since it launched three years ago, the audience jumped on it straight away, and it’s still consistently been our biggest seller,” Kerswell said. “People want something without palm oil, high sugar or high fat content, and they know that the higher the cocoa mass, the higher the flavour.”

Kerswell, who hosted a private class for superstar Adele during her Australian tour last month, has now developed five other flavours in her sugar-free range, including blackberry and lime, and…

Is Gatorade’s new G Organic drink actually healthy?

G Organic Pin It
Photo: Gatorade

Gatorade made headlines last week by releasing G Organic, its first certified organic beverage, which reportedly took two years to formulate, according to Bloomberg. But what does that actually mean? Is it actually healthy? And does the new drink have less sugar than the original, which packs 14 grams in an 8-ounce bottle? The in-house senior scientist for the mega brand (which controls 70 percent of the sports drink market) gave us the lowdown.

“We know that athletes have unique sports fuel preferences, and one of those includes buying organic products,” says Lisa Heaton MS, RD, CSSD. “We created G Organic for those athletes looking for an organic hydration and fueling option that is USDA-certified, while still providing the proven fueling benefits found in Gatorade Thirst Quencher.”

In order to be USDA-certified organic, nothing artificial can be…

Here’s How Much Sodium And Additives Are In Pre-Cooked Hams

A Smithfield spiral sliced ham

After Christmas, Easter is the biggest time of year for ham. A look at the increased number of giant hams at the supermarket is a testament to this fact. If you’re planning on buying a ham this year, there’s something you should think about first: what exactly is in that pre-cooked, store-bought ham? The ingredient list is longer than you might expect.

We got to the bottom of this for you. Here are the lists of ingredients for three common store-bought brands of ham. They have varying lengths of ingredient lists. Take a look:

Ingredients: Water, Contains 2% or less Dextrose, Salt, Potassium Lactate, Corn Syrup, Sodium Phosphates, Brown Sugar, Sodium Diacetate, Sodium Erythorbate, Sodium Nitrite.

A 3-ounce serving contains 760 mg of sodium. That’s 32 percent of our daily intake value (DV). The DV sets limits and recommendations on what constitutes a healthy intake based on a 2,000-calorie diet.

Ingredients: Cured with Water, Salt, Potassium Lactate, Dextrose, Modified Potato Starch, Dehydrated Pork Stock (Dehydrated Pork Stock, Natural Flavors), Sodium Phosphates, Sodium Erythorbate, Sodium Nitrite.

A 3-ounce serving contains 820 mg of sodium. That’s 34 percent of our DV.

Ingredients: Glazed with water, brown sugar, yellow corn meal, xanthan gum, spices, caramel color. Cured with water, brown sugar, contains 2% or less of: salt, sodium lactate, sodium phosphate, sodium diacetate, natural flavors, modified corn starch, spice extractives, sodium erythorbate, sodium nitrite.

A 3-ounce serving contains 1,050 mg of sodium. That’s 44 percent of our DV and more than a Big Mac, which contains 950 mg.

Now that you’ve seen them all listed out, let’s get to the bottom of what’s what. The first three ingredients below are found in all of the hams listed above. The next four ingredients are…

Good Trip Coffee Co. Unveils New Line of Ready-to-Brew Craft Cold Brews

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With the weather heating up, your coffee routine is about to get colder.

Good Trip Coffee Co., a Denver-based specialty coffee company, has introduced a new line of Cold Brew Coffees available online in six varieties. Launching into the booming cold brew category, Good Trip Coffee Co. stands out with ethical sourcing, eye-catching packaging, and one of the only ready-to-brew cold brew products on the market.

Their compostable Brew Bag, called Brew Bags, contain signature recipes for making batches of craft cold brew coffee at home without special equipment.

“Compared to bottled cold brews at the grocery store, making cold brew at home is fresher, more flavorful, often healthier, and tailored to you,” said Angela Oehlerking, co-founder of Good Trip Coffee Co. “Our cold brew recipes are made with exceptional coffees and whole, organic ingredients, free of chemical flavorings and sugars. You get fresh, full-flavored, naturally sweet cold brew, in flavors that are truly unique– think café-inspired cold brew mixology, served straight from your fridge.”

The company is especially proud of their coffee origins, and is committed to sourcing exclusively from women-owned cooperatives through partnerships with Vega…

12 Pumpkin Spice Foods You Didn’t Know Existed

Admit it, you get at least a tiny bit giddy when pumpkin spice season (otherwise known as fall) rolls around. But Starbucks is far from the only company featuring the flavor—many brands have jumped on the pumpkin bandwagon and created their own seasonally spiced treats. Many make us wonder why someone didn’t think of it sooner (hello, pumpkin-spice oatmeal), but some, well…we’ll let you be your own judge. If you’re feeling adventurous, try these seasonal (and sometimes strange) pumpkin-flavored foods.

RELATED: 17 Delicious Pumpkin Recipes

We’re big fans of starting the morning with a heart-healthy bowl of oatmeal. For a fast, easy, and seasonal take on this fiber-filled breakfast, Quaker has rolled out a pumpkin spice version of its convenient instant packets. Quaker Pumpkin Spice Limited Edition Instant Oatmeal ($8, amazon.com)

For another way to begin your day, chow down on a bowl of Frosted Mini Wheats layered with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and ginger. Though this cereal is high in fiber, at 6 grams per serving, watch your portions—it’s also fairly high in sugar. Kellogg’s Frosted Mini Wheats Pumpkin Spice ($11, amazon.com)

Get a healthy serving of protein-packed Greek yogurt AND your pumpkin fix in one sitting with Chobani’s latest seasonal option. Oh and don’t worry, the fall flavor invasion doesn’t stop with the pumpkin yogurt—Chobani’s grab-and-go cup also comes with piecrust crumbles, crunchy pecans & salty-sweet glazed pumpkin seeds. Chobani Flip Limited Batch Pumpkin Harvest Crisp ($2, freshdirect.com) RELATED: 4 Things You Can Make With Greek Yogurt

Just in case…

Lower-Fat, Lower-Calorie, and Just-as-Delicious Buffalo Wings

Between all the butter and frying, many recipes for buffalo wings boast as much as 800 calories per serving. For a version that doesn’t compromise flavor or texture — but cuts back on the fat — cook up these baked buffalo wings. After taking one of these spicy, juicy wings for a quick dip in a blue cheese bath, you’ll never go back to the old-fashioned method again. Skip the frying, pop them in the oven, and focus on enjoying the game.

Healthy Chicken Wing Recipe
Healthy Chicken Wing Recipe
  1. 3 pounds drumettes and wings
  2. Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  3. 1 tablespoon butter
  4. 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  5. 10 garlic cloves, crushed
  6. 3/4 cup hot…