Love chocolate

Published by Manila Bulletin, September 16, 2014

I grew up associating chocolate with the expression of love. Blame it on the chocolates selling like hotcakes during Valentine’s day. A book suggested that this connection started with Emperor Montezuma who drank 50 golden cups of chocolate every day as an aphrodisiac before going to his wives. Could there be a scientific explanation for this?

16ChocolateResearch studies have shown that chocolate goes beyond matters of the heart to health. It contains flavanols which are phytonutrients derived from plants. You see, chocolates are plant-based and can be eaten by vegans or vegetarians. The flavanols act as antioxidants that fight off free radicals. Think of free radicals as highly charged molecules that damage cells in the body. The flavanols block the damaging effects of free radicals by neutralizing them. Put more simply, free radicals are like terrorists in our body and the flavanols are the soldiers that protect our body cells from the terrorist attacks. Free radicals have been linked to cancer and other diseases.

Flavanols improve blood pressure and enhances blood circulation by preventing platelets (blood cells) from clumping together and becoming sticky which could block the flow of blood, oxygen, and nutrients in the body. This blood flow enhancing effect may have been the basis for Emperor Montezuma’s ritual of drinking rich chocolate before lovemaking after all.

By promoting blood flow, flavanols also enhance brain function. In 2006, Harvard University did a study among elderly subjects on the effect of daily consumption of 900 mg of flavanols for one week. Results showed an increase in blood flow to the brain. Patients with dementia have decreased brain blood flow therefore flavonols may be potentially beneficial in reducing the risk of dementia.

Flavanols also play a great role in keeping the immune system healthy by suppressing compounds that causes inflammation. An inflammation causes an immune response and too much of which are responsible for arthritis, heart diseases and autoimmune diseases like Type I Diabetes Mellitus. Instead of protecting the body, the immune system attacks the healthy cells.

Despite the many health benefits of chocolates, be mindful of the amount that you eat. After all, chocolates contain calories, sugar and fat. Portion control is key!

If you want to know more about the benefits of chocolates and how to make them, fulfill your chocolate dreams at The Chocolatier hands on workshop by A-List Professional Health Consulting Co which will be held on September 28, 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at The Den, Marriott Manila. Call 586 3194 or email for inquiries and reservations. Limited slots available.

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Aging with taste

When my maternal grandmother was still living, I used to visit her whenever I can. We would eat lunch or dinner together. However, as she got older, I found her taste preference quite “revolting.” She sprinkled large amounts of sugar on her rice! She also ate mango with rice! I asked her several times why she ate that way and each time she would just answer: “My food tastes bland.” I didn’t understand what she was going through until I got into college and studied nutrition and dietetics for mature or older adults.

According to Paul Y. Takahasi, M.D. of Mayo Clinic, “Some loss of taste and smell is natural with aging, especially after age 60.” Poor nutrition, deficiencies in Vitamin A, zinc, folate and Vitamin B12, medications, chronic illnesses, and diminished sense of smell greatly affect taste acuity. Decline in taste and smell sensitivity may lead to decreased appetite, decreased food intake, and eventually, malnutrition and weight loss. Although, food intake may also be affected by factors other than just taste sensitivity according to a study on Taste Acuity and Aging conducted by Savitri K. Kamath, PhD, RD published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. We have about 2,000 to 9,000 taste buds on our tongue but at the age of 70, studies suggest a 70 percent decrease.

Eating at any age should be both nutritious and pleasurable. But how can we meet both requirements among the elderly? If you belong to this age group or if you are taking care of a mature adult, take charge of your meals and say no to bland and unpalatable dishes by applying these simple tips:

9grandmotherFLAVOR AND AROMA

It is common to just add more sugar and salt to enhance the flavor of food. However, this practice may wreak havoc with one’s blood sugar level and blood pressure.

Intensify flavor and aroma by using herbs, spices, lemon or lime, flavor extracts, strong flavored ingredients like onion, garlic, ginger, chili, pepper, sharp and flavored low fat cheeses, flavored vinegar, and oils. While oils like olive oil, sesame oil and nut butters add flavor, remember to use sparingly because these are after all, fats. Use two to three times the amount of herbs and spices. These do not contain calories, sodium and sugar so they are safe to add to dishes.

Condiments like soy sauce, fish sauce, bagoong (shrimp paste), monosodium glutamate (vetsin), ketchup, and powdered mixes contain sodium. Too much sodium intake could affect blood pressure.

Avoid the strong bitter taste of caffeinated beverages like coffee which could temporarily diminish taste sensitivity.


The texture of food adds to the mouthfeel and overall eating experience which makes up for the loss of taste or smell.

Mature adults can have a variety of texture on their food—soft, smooth, chunky, chewy, crunchy, or a combination of all these. For example, crushed crackers can be added on smooth soups. Top salads, oatmeal, yogurt, low fat ice cream, and pudding with chopped nuts and sliced fruits. Add crunchy vegetables to rice. The trick is to combine and make sure that ingredients can be easily chewed, swallowed and not cause choking.

If chewing or tooth loss is a problem, visit a dentist be given proper dental care.


Serve hot food to enhance flavor followed by something cold to refresh the taste buds. Be cautious about serving food with extreme temperatures because it will decrease the flavor or worse cause burning sensation and damage to the lining of the mouth and tongue. Extremely cold foods can also cause numbness or painful sensations in the mouth.


Serve colorful meals by adding garnishes, fruits, and vegetables. Variety is the key! A simple yet attractive plating would make meals more appealing. Add fresh tomatoes, parsley, basil, or other fresh herbs. This will surely brighten up a boring meal.

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Food and Mood

Over a decade ago, I went through a debilitating condition that resulted from a bad breakup, a business failure, betrayal of friends which led to court cases, and a diagnosis of anemia with unknown origin. I was 22, broken and severely depressed. I was put on medication which was eventually tapered down and discontinued. I thank God for healing me after six months. However, there are countless people silently suffering from this condition for far too long—slowly dying from the inside out.

Depression is a mood disorder that is caused by many factors such as imbalance in brain chemicals, hormonal imbalance, nutritional deficiencies, genetics, and traumatic life events. Symptoms include changes in sleep patterns, guilt/hopelessness, lack of energy, loss of interest, changes in concentration, appetite changes, psychomotor changes, anxiety, and sometimes, suicidal thoughts and attempts. Treatment includes medications, psychotherapy or counseling, and monitoring physical health which includes nutrition therapy.

Serotonin controls mood, sleep and appetite

chocolateIn cases of depression, it is important to take note that serotonin, melatonin, norepinephrine, epinephrine, and dopamine are neurotransmitters or brain chemicals that act as “telecommunications network” inside the body. They facilitate communication from the “cell site” which is the brain, to all the body parts. In many depressed individuals, the neurotransmitter serotonin which also regulates mood, sleep, and appetite may be deficient.

Serotonin is derived from an amino acid called tryptophan. Tryptophan is abundant in protein rich food like milk, dairy products, egg whites, chocolates, soybeans, salmon, sunflower seeds, poultry, pork, beef, lamb, rice, quinoa, and bananas. Eating carbohydrate food also increases the availability of tryptophan for the formation of serotonin.

More carbs and sugar, less irritability

It is important to eat carbohydrates from whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and milk in adequate amounts throughout the day to keep the blood sugar level consistent and normal. People who have lower blood glucose levels tend to be more irritable and experience poor moods.

In case you are wondering how chocolates, ice cream, sweets, or a plateful of rice can elevate your mood when you feel emotionally low, here is the reason behind it. Consumption of carbohydrates or anything that has sugar stimulates the release of the body’s natural pain killer called endorphins. Endorphins increase the sense of well-being. Cayenne pepper, strawberries, grapes oranges, and other Vitamin C-rich citrus fruits also stimulate the release of endorphins as well as exercise.

Calcium combats emotional stress

Emotional stress, on the other hand, decreases the nitrogen and calcium levels in the body. Therefore, high biologic value protein from animal sources are needed in the diet. This includes egg, meat, fish, seafood, poultry, milk, cheese, and yogurt. To increase calcium stores, consume dairy products, calcium-fortified products, and dark green leafy vegetables.

Although low levels of omega-3 fatty acids do not cause depression, individuals suffering from major depression have significantly low levels. Rich sources of omega 3 are tuna, sardines, salmon and other fatty fishes, soybeans, tofu, walnuts, and flax seeds.

Depression is a silent killer. It is a serious medical condition that have led many people to take their own lives. It is not something you could just snap out of without the help of God, family, friends, and medical professionals.

If you have symptoms of depression, talk to someone you trust or a spiritual leader. If you are close to someone manifesting signs of depression, don’t be indifferent rather engage that person and encourage communication. Be empathic by sincerely listening and not be judgmental.

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Will yoga make you lose weight?

Yoga studios or shalas have sprouted just about everywhere. People practice yoga for spirituality, physical, and mental wellbeing, or weight management. In one of the conferences of the Nutritionist-Dietitians’ Association of the Philippines, a speaker talked about yoga and how some poses or asanas can stimulate our internal organs to secrete hormones that help keep our blood glucose (sugar) levels low but not to the point of experiencing hypoglycemia (very low blood glucose level).

Jonathan Cagas doing a handstand.

Jonathan Cagas doing a handstand.

Can yoga make you lose weight? Can it help improve some medical conditions? It takes a yoga expert to answer these questions.

I met Jonathan Cagas in 2011 when I started my Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga practice at Yoga Manila. He patiently guided me until I evolved from being an awkward yoga student who didn’t know what she was doing, to a more confident one who could do “not so perfect” headstands.

In 2007, Jonathan completed a 200-hour teacher training certificate and a 100-hour advanced studies in yoga and philosophy from the Centered Yoga Institute in Thailand and obtained a certificate in pranayama from the Kaivalyadham Yoga Institute in India. On top of his yoga education, he has earned three masters degrees on Physical Education from the University of the Philippines (UP), Diliman in 2005, Sports Science major in Sport and Exercise Psychology from the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, and Sports Science major in Diagnostics and Intervention from the Leipzig University in Germany. The last two degrees were earned as part of the Erasmus Mundus European Masters in Sport and Exercise Psychology program. He is currently an assistant professor at the Department of Sports Science of the UP Diliman College of Human Kinetics.

Jonathan defines yoga as a holistic mind and body system that leads one to take care of the mental and physical aspects therefore promoting overall wellbeing. It all starts with Kriyas or cleansing techniques of the breathing system or nasal passages to remove excess mucus that blocks the flow of prana or breath.

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is a popular gymnastic type of yoga developed by K. Pattabhi Jois focusing on asanas that first cleanse the body to make it healthy and strong. According to Jonathan, this practice was designed for regular people since it involves all the elements of breathing, asanas, and meditative. It is a low-moderate exercise that promotes flexibility and strength. Yoga is not aerobic, it will not make you burn as much calories compared to other types of exercises. “You can burn around three to four calories per minute,” Jonathan says. That’s at least 270 to 360 kcal in 90 minutes of practice. Not much right? So how can yoga make you lose weight?

“Yoga can make you burn around three to four calories compared to other types of exercises,” – Jonathan Cagas, Yoga guru

“Yoga can make you burn around three to four calories compared to other types of exercises,” – Jonathan Cagas, Yoga guru

Since yoga is a holistic system, the discipline encourages a plant-based diet. Jonathan used to be a lacto-ovo-vegetarian (consumes milk and eggs) for a long time and is now a pesco-vegetarian or pescetarian (includes fish). As you get deeper into the practice, you will learn to eat properly by making healthier choices and observing proper meal timing. In the early phases of my practice, I ate an entire chicken gyro sandwich and went straight to my class. I almost doubled over during practice.

The meditative aspect of yoga causes a down regulation of the brain’s hypothalamic system. The hypothalamus controls many metabolic processes including hunger and thirst. Stimulation of this part of the brain causes increased food intake and yoga causes an opposite reaction.

A study done by Alyson Ross, MSN, RN and Sue Thomas, FAAN, PhD, RN on The Health Benefits of Yoga and Exercise: A Review of Comparison Studies published at The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine concludes that yoga may be as effective or even better than exercise in improving a variety of health-related outcome measures including heart rate variability, blood glucose, blood lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides), salivary cortisol (stress hormone), and oxidative stress (which causes the formation of free radicals). More studies are needed to examine the health benefits of the various types of yoga.

If you are contemplating on trying out yoga, here are some tips from Jonathan:

• Talk to the teacher and voice out concerns;

• Know the method and type of practice;

• Take Yin classes for relaxation; and

• Take Vinyasa classes for a more holistic approach.

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Are you a couch champion?

It takes more than just dieting to lose weight. It takes more than just eating right to be healthy. We need to move! Let’s face it! Exercising is challenging for most people. I myself have to exert extra effort just to practice ashtanga vinyasa yoga and run on the treadmill whenever I can.
We all know that being physically active has a lot of health benefits and can decrease the risk of developing lifestyle related diseases. However, statistics show that 92.7 percent of Filipinos do not exercise regularly. Why? What prevents us from exercising or being physically active? What turns us into couch champions?

These are some of the reasons I have heard for the past 12 years of being a dietitian consultant:

I don’t have time.
I am not a gym person.
I don’t have the budget to pay for an exercise program.
I don’t have enough energy.
I am too lazy.
Exercising is no fun.
I have an injury or medical condition that prevents me from exercising.

Time is our number one obstacle. If we don’t find time, we will never be able to start anything. If you have been sedentary for a long time and keep a very busy schedule, it would be unrealistic to plan to exercise one hour every day, right? Begin by planning 10 minutes of physical activity (ex. brisk walking or going up and down the stairs) per day. As your mind and body gets conditioned and your schedule permits, gradually increase the duration until you reach a minimum of 30 minutes per day for five days a week. That is a total of 2 1/2 hours a week.

Going to the gym and having a structured program is very good but if you’re not a gym person or you want to save money, you can start by choosing an activity that you can do at home. If you like to dance, go ahead and use dance videos. Play interactive video games with your kids. Make use of the swimming pool in your area. There are so many enjoyable things you can do to burn energy at home.

It is important to eat right to fuel your body with energy when exercising. Don’t expect to be able to dance or brisk walk for an hour if you haven’t eaten anything. Some people say, eating something before and after exercising will defeat its purpose because you will just eat the calories which you have burned. This is so wrong! You need energy to endure the physical activity. If you are physically active then your metabolism increases which makes your body more efficient in burning calories not just during exercise but throughout the day. However, you should eat the right amount of food that your body needs because if you consume more, anything in excess will be turned into fat and make you gain weight despite exercise. Consult with a registered dietitian for your daily caloric requirement that is based on your physical activity.

Here’s a good opportunity to try and move those muscles and burn all that extra energy. Human Nature in cooperation with Gawad Kalinga presents #100andRising: Goodness Rising Zumba House Party. Get your most vibrant Zumba outfits ready and dance like no one’s watching. Not only will you be burning calories as you shake, shimmy, and sway for an hour and a half to high energy music, you’ll also be helping others as 100 percent of the proceeds will go to building concrete hope and homes for families in Ormoc, Leyte, and a new site in Barangay Cadiz Viejo, Cadiz, Negros Occidental. So make your way over to the Quezon Memorial Circle Covered Basketball Courts on August 2, 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., and be one with Human Nature as they build, dance, party, Zumba! Tickets are available at Human Nature Metro Manila / Luzon Branch or online at

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Fast Fat Facts

Our forebears used to have a very healthy diet derived from organically grown fresh produce and free range livestock. In those days words like cholesterol was uncommon. Then the Filipino diet was influenced by many cultures: Chinese, Spanish, Malay, and American.

Fast food restaurants and convenient stores are everywhere. Almost every household has canned and processed foods in the pantry and refrigerator. More Filipinos are developing heart diseases, diabetes, cancers, and other lifestyle related illnesses.
Nowadays, it is no longer unusual for people to talk about how high their cholesterol or blood pressures are. Eighty percent of my patients have at least one condition that increases their risk of developing heart diseases. And just like a death sentence, being told to avoid fatty foods is enough to make someone feel depressed.

Aside from enhancing food flavors and promoting satiety, fat is needed to cushion and position our vital organs, and protect bones from injury. It protects our body from strong blows and impact and acts as an insulation to keep our body warm in cold temperatures. It is needed for the absorption of fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. It is a concentrated form of energy which provides nine calories per gram.

Despite the health benefits of fat, everyone should consciously limit their amount of fat consumption as well as choose the type of fat included in their diet.

Fat comes from two sources: animal and plants. Animal sources contain fat, triglycerides, and cholesterol. Triglycerides are stored fat and cholesterol is a fat-like substance that is part of cells and hormones like sex hormones. Excessive amount of fat, triglycerides, and cholesterol in the body will cause high blood pressure and heart diseases.

Fat or fatty acids were not created equal.

Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) when substituted for saturated fats in the diet can lower total cholesterol. Canola, nuts, and olive oil are high in MUFAs.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) lower total cholesterol and are found in corn, safflower, soybean, sesame, sunflower oils, and seafood.

There are two essential fatty acids which cannot be produced in the body. Omega 3 which is found in fatty fish (e.g. salmon, tuna, sardines, trout), walnuts, flaxseed oil, canola oil, and soybean oil keeps the brain and nerves healthy, lowers triglycerides, and total cholesterol. Omega 6 also lowers total cholesterol. It is found in dairy foods, sunflower oil, corn oil, beef, and lamb.

Saturated fat increases total cholesterol specifically the bad cholesterol. Sources are meat, poultry, butter, whole milk, dairy products, palm oil, and coconut oil. However, coconut oil is a medium chain triglyceride which is a type of fat that is easily metabolized by the body therefore consumption in small amounts may be beneficial.

Trans fat is produced by processing fat which makes it more saturated. Trans fat increases total cholesterol. It may lower the good cholesterol thus increasing the bad cholesterol. Naturally occurring trans fat in beef, pork, lamb, butter, and milk don’t have the same effect on cholesterol levels compared to processed food and some baked goods.

It is important to combine the different types of fats in the diet and to consume them in moderation. Limit intake of high fat foods like processed meat products, deep-fried foods, fries, pizza, burgers, chips, baked products, instant, and convenient foods to less than once a week. Try foods that are prepared with less fat and flavored naturally.

This July, The Marriott Manila features authentic American cuisines that are way different from the usual high-fat fast food items we are so used to. Chef John Havens created menus that have been flavored using herbs and spices like Marriott Cafe 13 Spice rub, herbs spice, and Cajun spice and healthy unsaturated fats like rosemary oil, truffle oil, and pomace olive oil. The All-American Buffet Dinner at Marriott Cafe is available from Sundays to Thursdays.

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Go Green

The Vegetarian Lifestyle

I believe that God has initially intended for men to be vegetarians. As I quote from the book of Genesis 1:29, Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.” During those times, men lived up to almost a thousand years old.

Then came the great flood during Noah’s time and after the flood, God had allowed men to eat meat as written in Genesis 9:3, “Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.” During that time until today, man’s lifespan has decreased probably and partly due to the excessive consumption of meat.
Being a dietitian consultant for the past 12 years, it’s not uncommon for me to have people asking if they should adapt a vegetarian lifestyle. You might be asking the same question in your minds right now, too! Well, should we all switch to vegetarianism?

People choose to become vegetarian for religious beliefs, health, philosophical, and ethical reasons. What we need to understand is this: Being a vegetarian is not all about eating vegetables only. It is a complex way of eating that has tremendous health benefits but also poses serious health risks when done the wrong way. The vegetarian way of eating helps in weight management, reduce risk of heart diseases, and lower blood pressure.

There are several types of vegetarian:

Strict vegetarian or vegan excludes all animal products such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, and other dairy products from the diet. Honey is also not included.

Lacto-vegetarian excludes meat, poultry, fish, and eggs but includes milk and dairy products in the diet.

Lacto-ovo-vegetarian excludes meat, poultry, and fish but includes eggs, milk, and dairy products.

Flexitarian is a semi-vegetarian diet with occasional consumption of meat, poultry, or fish.

A vegetarian diet is sufficient to meet nutrient requirements however when done incorrectly will lead to nutrient deficiencies of protein, iron, calcium, vitamin B12, and vitamin D.

Protein needs can be met by eating whole grains, vegetables, beans, soy products, nuts, and seeds, dairy products, and eggs.

Iron can be obtained by eating green leafy vegetables, fortified cereals, enriched bread, and whole grains, beans, eggs, and peanut butter. It is important to eat vitamin C-rich foods like citrus fruits and tomatoes to enhance the absorption of iron.

Calcium daily requirements can be met by eating broccoli, green leafy vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, calcium fortified soy milk, rice milk, almond milk, low fat milk, yogurt, and cheese.

Vitamin B12 is abundant in meat, eggs, and dairy products that is why strict vegetarians or vegans need to put more effort in meeting their daily requirement by eating cereals, soy milk, meat analogs, and foods that have been fortified with Vitamin B12 (cobalamin).

Vitamin D deficiency is common among people who do not get sufficient daily exposure to sunlight. Vegetarians can get Vitamin D from eggs and products fortified with Vitamin D such as soy milk, dairy products, orange juice, and breakfast cereals. Exposing your hands to sunlight for 10 to 15 minutes everyday can also help.

Now then, should we all become vegetarian? Eating lean meat in moderation has health benefits as well as making eating pleasurable too. Being a flexitarian myself, I suggest that you carefully think about the reasons why you want to adapt a vegetarian lifestyle and how committed you are. Do not turn yourself into a vegetarian overnight. Gradual transition is important in order to sustain this type of eating lifestyle. Do not do it on your own. Consult a registered nutritionist-dietitian who can guide you and help you ensure that all your nutritional requirements are met.

Lastly, learn how to read nutrition labels. Just a little precaution. Not all products labeled vegan or vegetarian are healthy. Some of them may be high in sugar or fat which we all know increases caloric intake and may wreak havoc with health.

(,, Twitter:CheshireQue)

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