January 19th, 2011

can't take the sky from me

Health Update, or How You Can Still Drink Chocolate While Avoiding Sugar.

I've reported how I've changed my diet over the past year and the health progress that followed, right? About this time last year, I weighed 25-30 pounds more, had way less stamina, was weaker, and endured sore joints like you wouldn't believe - especially the injured shoulder. After assurance from my doctor that I could resume full-on exercise "as long as it doesn't hurt; sore is okay," I shifted from recuperation and maintenance to a strengthening program. At the same time, I cut out sugar from my diet - something that I had been eating far too often and in far too much volume. Hence the weight and blood-sugar swings. It also was doing me no good in the feeling-sorry-for-myself category.

Zoom ahead a month, and ten pounds fall away. This encouraged me to continue this process, and avoiding sugar was now easy because it no longer tastes good. I'd dropped my sugar addiction in a month and grew physically stronger, too, from upping the workouts. No longer do I experience any knee pain, either, despite a diversity of prior damage: Paleo-diet proponents suggest that eating grains contributes to joint and other inflammation. I suspect losing weight is a part of it, too.

Positive results reinforce good behavior, so I started dropping more processed carbs from my diet and adding more strengthening exercises, until over-doing things without assistance from a physical therapist derailed the strengthening part a couple of months ago (working on that now - almost done with Physical Therapy: The Sequel). Oh, and I've also stopped taking the 800mg x2 of ibuprofen daily that my doctor prescribed last year, because it was damaging my mucous membranes (noticeable as a sore mouth and stomach); I've also dropped sodium lauryl sulfate (in most toothpaste, for Pete's sake!), and since then no more irritated mouth or tum. If you'd like to stop putting SLS into your mouth, I suggest either the old-fashioned route of baking soda or, if you want to keep fluoride (as I do), the only toothpaste I could find that doesn't use SLS (or sweeteners) in an extensive search is Jason (with macron over the A and umlaut over the O), and only Sea Fresh is available in Lawrence (at the Merc, natch). Good stuff, dumb name.

Other benefits: I need less sleep, I'm hungry much less, I have steady energy during the day, and I'm a cheap drunk - re: the last, it seems I can only consume about two drinks before feeling tipsy. Not sure if the latter is necessarily a benefit, but you get the idea.

Drawbacks of this diet? Well, good luck finding ANY pre-packaged or restaurant food that doesn't include sugar. I was at the grocery store recently and decided to do a survey: Not a single packaged "food" that I examined was free of sugar, mostly high fructose corn syrup. Seriously? Stove Top Stuffing needs corn syrup? Unless you're looking at single-ingredient tins (canned carrots or something), you'll find a long list of not-food in the ingredients - and often, even canned veggies are loaded with sugar. WTF?

So that's one drawback. Another is not being able to have chocolate. Now we get around to the point of this entry. I was a true addict, like so many, but last time I tried conventional chocolate since altering my taste, chocolate just tasted bitterly sweet, sickeningly sweet. So I figured I was done for in this arena.

Then along comes Dutch process cocoa.

OMG yum. In case you haven't yet explored the wonderfulness that is Dutch process cocoa in milk, let me just say: DO IT. This concoction is pure delight. DPC is just cocoa and nothing but cocoa, ground fine. Mine comes from Penzy's, who describes it thus:

"Dutch cocoa is processed to temper the natural acidity of the cocoa bean, yielding a smooth, rich, and slightly less strong cocoa that mixes more freely with liquid. Dutch cocoa has long been the cocoa of choice for hot chocolate and flavored coffee. Cocoa can easily replace unsweetened baking chocolate."

Unsweetened Hot Cocoa recipe:

4-5 shakes Dutch process cocoa (use a shaker bottle to get just the right amount, way less than a teaspoon).
1/2 cup hot water.
1/2 cup whole milk (hot or cold, to taste; use quality, local, non-homogenized milk if possible).

Shake the cocoa into hot water, stir, top off with milk, and stir again.


Milk adds all the mildness needed to make the unsweetened cocoa drinkable, and the concoction tastes like fine hot cocoa. Well, I guess it is, really, isn't it? Think hybrid milk chocolate and dark chocolate in beverage form, but without the tooth-coating aftertaste or sugary tongue-burn. Yum.

Sugar-free yet retains all the joy of chocolate. That's what I'm talking about.

Chris