Motherhood, Marriage and Other Wild Rides

Health, Happiness and the Pursuit of Mommyhood

Healing gallstones naturally, a closer look April 16, 2010

Yesterday I posted my story of an emergency laparoscopic appendectomy that left me reeling with the news that I have large stones in my gallbladder. I saw them on my CT scan film, and of course my surgeon didn’t help when she said, “it could rupture tomorrow, or you may not feel symtoms for some time. Either way, it needs to come out.”

As I stated yesterday, I simply don’t accept this as the solution and I’m certain there are other ways to treat it. I announced immediately that I would undergo a gallstone flush using a fast, which clearly alarmed my husband. He called and had an earful for me about how there are dangers involved with such flushes, and that my gallstones have a lot of traveling to do before they are evacuated and there is a risk of pancreatitis–something that occurred to one of his employees’ relatives when she tried a similar measure.

All drama aside, I do need to approach my health rationally and thoughtfully. I’m still shocked that this could even happen to me. I have finally found an MD who shares my ideals for food as medicine, alternative natural treatments before pharmaceuticals and surgery. She is as surprised as I am to hear of my condition, and when we meet next week for the first time, we’ll be discussing other causes of gallstones, besides the usual suspects: high cholestral/high fat diets, multilple pregnancies, being over the age of sixty, being obese, etc. I am entirely atypical. There is a possibility I have too much estrogen? We’ll look into it.

As I recover from my appendectomy, I am resolute about this: I don’t want to have to recover from a similar surgery in the future. I am also suddenly, for the first time in my life, afraid of food. Not in the way one might be afraid after watching Food, Inc., Supersize Me, or Fast Food Nation, but genuinely afraid my gallstone might rupture if I eat the wrong thing. (My perforated appendix didn’t exactly tickle.) If you’ve read my other blog (UnassumingFoodie), you know how tragic this is for me. (As it would be for anyone.) I’ve spent half my life eating a highly nutritious, all natural diet, so I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I can adopt a new eating lifestyle. The first step is going to be to learn everything I can about a gallbladder-friendly diet and begin making changes.

A good, gallbladder-friendly diet includes:

  • A lacto-vegetarian diet is best: Only non- or low-fat dairy (Thank goodness I’ll be able to hold onto my favorite 0% fat Greek yogurt and non-fat frozen yogurt!). But, that means no eggs–and no other animal products, even lean chicken or pork. (If I have trouble in this area, I’ll just have to rewatch any of the movies mentioned above. That’ll crush my craving.)
  • Daily consumption of fresh veggie juices, 100 ml each of carrots, cucumbers and beets. Hmm.
  • Plenty of apples, pears, watercress, grapes, and oranges–YUM
  • Plenty of veggies–YUM
  • Nuts, lentils, beans, etc. No problem! Love it!

Things to avoid:

  • No animal products: No meat, chicken, pork, high-cholestral seafood, eggs
  • No high-fat dairy: butter, high fat cheeses, ice cream (may lose some tears over this)
  • No refined carbohydrates: No problem! I only eat super-high-fiber/high protein breads, tortillas and cereals. And then only in moderation.
  • No sugar: I don’t eat refined carbs, so this isn’t SO much of an issue… But what about birthday cakes? Christmas treats? Is anything sacred?
  • Processed or de-natured foods: Yuck, good riddance!

On the fence/Needs more investigation:

  • Chocolate. Well, let’s be serious now. I’ll need to talk to my doctor, but this is an area of highest importance to me. I love chocolate with 70% or more cacao, and I’m not about to wave bye-bye to it forever. I’ll have to investigate how much I can get away with, and how frequently.
  • Coffee. Some of the information I’ve read say that 2-3 cups per day help patients avoid the formation of stones. Other info states that coffee causes stones. Must do more research.
  • Alcohol. Same as above. Some information claims that half a glass of red daily should help. Others say that alcohol is a big no-no. I’m wondering if the “alcohol” that causes the problem is high-sugar alcoholic beverages such as white wine or mixed drinks, hard liquor, 0r malt/carb-laden beverages. Like the health properties of chocolate, red wine offers more than a complement to a good meal.

Lower risk of heart disease with dark chocolate. Done! April 11, 2010

According to research published in the European Heart Journal last month just one small square of chocolate a day can lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart disease. The study is

Researchers in Germany followed 19,357 people, aged between 35 and 65, for at least ten years and found that those who ate the most amount of chocolate — an average of 7.5 grams a day — had lower blood pressure and a 39% lower risk of having a heart attack or stroke compared to those who ate the least amount of chocolate — an average of 1.7 grams a day. The difference between the two groups amounts to six grams of chocolate: the equivalent of less than one small square of a 100g bar.

Dr Brian Buijsse, a nutritional epidemiologist at the German Institute of Human Nutrition, Nuthetal, Germany, who led the research said: “People who ate the most amount of chocolate were at a 39% lower risk than those with the lowest chocolate intakes. To put it in terms of absolute risk, if people in the group eating the least amount of chocolate (of whom 219 per 10,000 had a heart attack or stroke) increased their chocolate intake by six grams a day, 85 fewer heart attacks and strokes per 10,000 people could be expected to occur over a period of about ten years. If the 39% lower risk is generalised to the general population, the number of avoidable heart attacks and strokes could be higher because the absolute risk in the general population is higher.”

However, he warned that it was important people ensured that eating chocolate did not increase their overall intake of calories or reduce their consumption of healthy foods. “Small amounts of chocolate may help to prevent heart disease, but only if it replaces other energy-dense food, such as snacks, in order to keep body weight stable,” he said.

The researchers allocated the participants to four groups (quartiles) according to their level of chocolate consumption. Those in the top quartile, eating around 7.5g of chocolate a day, had blood pressure that was about 1mm Hg (systolic) and 0.9mm Hg (diastolic) lower than those in the bottom quartile. [2]

“Our hypothesis was that because chocolate appears to have a pronounced effect on blood pressure, therefore chocolate consumption would lower the risk of strokes and heart attacks, with a stronger effect being seen for stroke,” explained Dr Buijsse.

The researchers found lower blood pressure due to chocolate consumption at the start of the study explained 12% of the reduced risk of heart attacks and strokes, but even after taking this into account, those in the top quartile still had their risk reduced by a third (32%) compared to those in the bottom quartile over the duration of the study.

Although more research needs to be carried out, the researchers believe that flavanols in cocoa may be the reason why chocolate seems to be good for people’s blood pressure and heart health; and since there is more cocoa in dark chocolate, dark chocolate may have a greater effect.

“Flavanols appear to be the substances in cocoa that are responsible for improving the bioavailability of nitric oxide from the cells that line the inner wall of blood vessels — vascular endothelial cells,” said Dr Buijsse. “Nitric oxide is a gas that, once released, causes the smooth muscle cells of the blood vessels to relax and widen; this may contribute to lower blood pressure. Nitric oxide also improves platelet function, making the blood less sticky, and makes the vascular endothelium less attractive for white blood cells to attach and stick around.”


Product Review – Theo Chocolate 75% Blend May 30, 2008

Filed under: Chocolate,Food & Recipes,product reviews — rjlacko @ 8:10 pm
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I’ve been curious about Seattle-based Theo Chocolate. I’ll admit that attractive packaging can pique my curiosity, and Theo’s enthusiastic commitment to green initiatives, organic farming and fair trade make a product purchase an act of moral justice. (One can never be too dramatic when justifying a chocolate obsession.) The company is the first North American roaster of organic fair-trade cacao. Founder Joseph Whinney pioneered the manufacture and supply of organic chocolate products, importing organic cocoa beans into the US in 1994. Notably, every product is made with “Fair Trade certified cocoa beans,” according to the company’s website.

The packaging is indeed alluring. In April 2008, Theo’s array of gorgeous packaging made Time magazine’s Design 100.

I selected the Ghana-Panama-Ecuador 75% Cacao bar (3oz), a combination of Ghanese cacao, Panamanian cacao from the remote rainforest of Bocas del Toro, and Ecuadorian Arriba cacao. Theo’s Ivory Coast bar sat next to it on the shelf, and when I compared the two, the Ivory smelled infinitely more intriguing; I chose the blend because there were very few left and I felt it was time to break my single-origin habit.

I shouldn’t have. The blended bar seemed fresh, it had no signs of bloom and had a good snap, but the scent and flavor fell flat. Subtle to the point of uninspiring, the bar lacked personality and the finish was uneventful. A beautiful chocolate keeps me ooh-ing and ah-ing long after I’ve finished a single bite. There was nothing to savor with this bar, although searching and hoping I tasted and tested longer than necessary.

I ought to have known better. One of my benchmarks for chocolate tasting is how long it lasts in the pantry. If it goes fast, I note its “Mediocrity Paradox”. Seem contradictory? Therein lies the paradox: more bites than necessary are taken while chasing an expectation of flavor, of satisfaction, a gustatory reward, but the product’s poor quality fails to deliver. Anyone who has eaten a large portion of “fat-free” anything, only to be left stuffed and unsatisfied, understands. I’m willing to argue that all foodies agree that a few bites of something sublime always surpasses a larger portion of any mediocre dish.

That said, the very scent of the Ivory Coast bar, (even through the packaging!) was memorable enough for me to give Theo another shot. And, the next time I’m in Seattle, I will certainly stop by for a factory visit.

If love good food as much as I do, check out my other blog, the Unnassuming Foodie!


I’m Not Afraid of Fearless Chocolate May 14, 2008

Want to put a smile on my face? Hand me a dark-chocolate bar I’ve never tried before. Better yet, a quirky raw, organic bar like this 72% Midnight from Fearless Chocolate. That’s just what my husband did when he returned from a business trip to Vegas, where he enjoyed lunch at GoRaw Cafe, purveyor of Fearless Chocolate.

Company owner Jordan Schuster founded Fearless Chocolate only a few years ago, in San Francisco–a neighbor to our beloved Scharffen Berger and the popular Ghirardelli. What makes Fearless Chocolate different is that it is made with raw cacao—aka unroasted. The package states that the cacao is prepared at a low heat (under 118 degrees), “preserving the natural nutrients, enzymes, amino acids and antioxidents.” It is also sweetened with rapadura, essentially pure dried sugarcane juice, a traditional sweetener common in Latin American countries such as Brazil and Venezuela (where it is known as papelón) and the Caribbean.

What’s odder (and irresistibly charming) is that the packaging (and website) appear as nothing fancier than chalkboard drawings, underscoring the bar’s back-to-basics organic nature.

When I opened it, I noticed the bar is die-cut to suggest a bite has taken from it. The idea behind this is explained as follows: “this bite is given to folks who need to eat chocolate as much as you.” When I checked the website, it would seem that no giving has been done to date, although the company requests recipient nominations. Hmm, maybe locate pre-menstrual tension sufferers who would/could never pay $5.98 for a single chocolate bar? (Yes, you read that correctly. SIX bucks!) Or maybe package up those little bites for wee trick-or-treaters on a raw diet, who are never able to enjoy even a fraction of their loot?

But what does it taste like? It tastes like raw cacao, folks, and that’s a big compliment. My bar had no signs of bloom. It did not snap as sharply as a fine, roasted counterpart might, however. Its scent is earthy and nutty, and I could detect its included cinnamon, sea salt and vanilla. The texture is very grainy, from start to finish; This is to be expected, considering its production process.

Only a few squares in, and I am delighted by its wholesomeness and balanced composition. I am a person who keeps a bag of raw, organic cacao powder in the fridge, stirring it into plain yogurt with agave nectar at alarmingly frequent rates, so perhaps I am biased.  My overall impression is that is a wonderfully delicious and nutritious treat. Surprisingly low in calories and sugar content, I daresay it’s pretty low-glycemic, although bars sweetened with agave are available by special order. Fearless Chocolate also offers the following varieties: Nice Rice Milk, Mynt, and Baanaanaa Waalnut, but for some mysterious reason, you can’t order from the Fearless website! And, it’s worthwhile to note that the company blog is powered by WordPress.

If love good food as much as I do, check out my other blog, the Unnassuming Foodie!


Product Review – Single Origin Chocolate May 9, 2008

Mother’s Day “week”, the last few days before mommy’s most hallowed day, are typically a time of fret and worry for me.

I have always yearned to have children, but as life unfolded they didn’t arrive until my mid-thirties. (At just the right time, with the perfect partner for me, as it turns out.) And so their mere existence should be gift enough, right? But like the little girl who always dreamed of a Barbie-esque white fluffy wedding only to grow up to become Bridezilla, Mother’s Day brings out some emotionally-charged, well, expectations, that I try ever so hard to quash. My husband is a giver by nature, my kids are beyond fantastic, requisite brunch reservations are arranged, so I should need nothing more than a handmade card. Which, by the way, I know I’m getting because I already saw what little Joseph made in nursery school and it’s nothing short of perfection!

Nonetheless, my husband Joseph has made a kind offering to soothe and appease, in the form of two single-origin dark chocolate bars. One is Santander’s 70% cacao Colombian, and the other is Chuao’s 74%, made in Todasana, Venezuela. Interestingly, they both have natural vanilla added; I wonder if that has anything to do with being single-origin. Perhaps, without a blend of crops, a flavor boost was needed.

The Santander 70% Colombian smells mellow and rich, and has nice snap. It was fresh-looking in the package, without bloom. The company promises a “robust” flavor, even suggesting it will be “bitter” at first, and it’s true, my first impression was that it seemed nutty and even masculine, like tobacco or strong coffee, but without being overly bold. Overall, this is an energetic bar, and remains rich at the finish. The Santander company proudly states on its website that they pay fair prices and cash payments to growers, maintain good working conditions for personnel, promote sustainable and friendly agricultural practices, and sponsor Colombian educational programs.

The Chuao 74% smells sweet and fruity, and is configured in smaller squares, which I prefer. It has a good snap. My bar had only the slightest bloom, which of course does not affect flavor. If I am allowed to consider the Santander masculine, this most certainly is it’s female counterpart, evoking a lazy, breezy, tropical afternoon. Although this dark chocolate has 4% more cacao than the Santander and only 1% more sugar, the finish seemed much sweeter.
In many ways, the Chuao is “local” to me. The company was founded by two Venezuelan brothers who opened their first chocolate boutique in San Diego (where I lived for 8 years), naming it Chuao Chocolatier after the well-known cacao-producing region of Chuao located in central Venezuela. 

If love good food as much as I do, check out my other blog, the Unnassuming Foodie!


Can’t Get Enough Raw Chocolate Brownies May 2, 2008

For website dedicated to motherhood and health, she sure does talk a lot about eating chocolate… Huh, what? You would too, when you’ve reached the point when you can no longer count the number of days since your last real shower (the kind that allows you enough time to shave your legs and maybe even exfoliate, just a little?) Or when “going out dancing” means a Disney Sing-Along Songs CD piped into the backyard? Oh wait, maybe you know all too well and that’s why you’re here.

This raw brownie recipe is sticky and fudgey and oh-so-yummy—and kid-friendly, of course! To be honest, I haven’t shared even a square of my latest batch with my boys. They get to eat all sorts of things that mommy can’t have without losing her waistline in the process—namely gluten. This lovely little recipe is gloriously low-glycemic, made with only “good” fats, and is gluten-free, flourless and vegan. And so easy!

Get out your food processor, and toss in
1 cup pitted prunes
1 cup almonds
1/3 cup cocoa powder
Special note: Good food requires good ingredients. I love this item, perfect for both the raw purist and chocolate connoisseur. Or, treat yourself to some Scharffen Berger cocoa powder. Green and Black’s makes a nice organic one. (The extra cost for your luxury cocoa splurge is justified by your savings in flour, eggs, butter and milk!)
1/2 avocado
1/3 cup agave nectar (or to taste)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
dash salt
cinnamon to taste

Grind all ingredients, then pat firmly into an 8×8 pan and place in the freezer to set (1 hour.) If you like a fruit and nut chocolate bar, this will certainly satisfy.

Food Fact! Almonds reduce your risk for heart attack and heart disease. A Loma Linda School of Public Health study showed those who consumed nuts five times a week had a 50% reduction in risk of heart attack. Further, some varieties contain rhizveritrol (the anti-inflammatory agent found in red wines and thought to be responsible decreasing instances of heart disease even among those with diets rich in animal fats—sometimes referred to as the French Paradox.) The fat in nuts is unsaturated, “good” fat and there is no cholesterol in these fats.

Food Fact! Diabetes and Hypertension suffers rejoice! Cocoa is rich in flavanols, which are one class of polyphenols; The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that eating dark chocolate (with 70% or greater cocoa offers 500mg polyphenols) is associated with improved insulin resistance and sensitivity and decreased systolic blood pressure, whereas white chocolate (offering 0mg polyphenols) has no effect.

Looking for more great recipes like this one? Check out my other blog, the Unassuming Foodie!


Appreciating Dark Chocolate April 23, 2008

Planning a Chocolate Tasting Party? Or maybe, like me, your passion for good chocolate borders on religious fervor. (TGiC? Or how about, WWCD?) This info is complete and perhaps overly-detailed; as a busy mom of two boys aged one and three, it is difficult to find a moment without background noise (particularly of the “crying baby” variety.) Does it stop me from enjoying my choccy? Hardly. I also like the notes about allowing the piece to slowly melt in your mouth. It’s so Paul McKenna, but also may be eye-opening. Just how fast do we eat our food, especially when it’s a treat? Or when chasing babies? Ok, Dig in!

  1. Find a location free from background noise, such as television, music, a crying baby, road traffic noise or just talkative friends etc. Being able to concentrate as intently as possible will facilitate flavor detection.
  2. Clear your palate. This means that your mouth should not contain residual flavors from a previous meal. Eat a wedge of apple if necessary. This is crucial in order to taste the subtleties of chocolate’s complex flavor.
  3. Make sure that the piece of chocolate is large enough to accommodate full evolution of the flavor profile. A piece too small may not allow you to detect every subtle nuance as the chocolate slowly melts. The important thing to remember is that flavor notes gradually evolve and unfold on the tongue rather than open up in one large package. So remember, don’t think small here. 10g should be a minimum starting point.
  4. Allow the chocolate to rest at room temperature before tasting. Cold temperatures will hinder your ability to detect the flavors. Some even advise that you rub the chocolate briefly between your fingers to coax the flavor. This procedure is optional.
  5. Look at the chocolate. The surface should be free of blemishes such as white marks (called bloom). Observe the color and manufacturer’s job at molding and tempering. Does the chocolate appear to have been crafted carefully? The bar should have a radiant sheen. Chocolate comes in a multifarious brown rainbow with various tints, such as pinks, purples, reds, and oranges. What do you see?
  6. Break the piece in half. It should resonate with a resounding “SNAP!” and exhibit a fine gradient along the broken edge. This is quality stuff!
  7. Smell the chocolate, especially at the break point. The aroma is an important component of flavor. Inhaling will prime the tongue for the incoming chocolate. It also gives you a chance to pick up the various nuances of the aroma.
  8. Place the chocolate on the tongue and allow it to arrive at body temperature. Let it melt. Chew it only to break it into small enough pieces that it begins to melt on its own. After all, we’re tasting and not eating! This step is crucial, for it allows the cocoa butter to distribute evenly in the mouth, which mutes any astringencies or bitterness in the chocolate.
  9. Observe the taste and texture. As the chocolate melts, concentrate on the flavors that are enveloping your tongue. Melting will release more volatile compounds for you to smell. Close your eyes, take notes, enjoy this moment of bliss, and bask in contentment. Texture can be the most obvious clue about the quality of a chocolate. Low quality chocolates will have a grainy almost cement-like texture.
  10. Now the chocolate is nearing its finish. How has the flavor evolved? Is the chocolate bitter? Heavy? Light? Was the texture smooth or grainy? Do any changes in texture and flavor occur? Take note of how the chocolate leaves the palate. Is there a strong reminder lingering in your mouth, or does it quickly vanish? Note any metallic or unpleasant flavors in the finish. This is a sign of stale or lower quality chocolate.
  11. Repeat the process with a different chocolate. The comparison will highlight the subtle flavor notes in each chocolate. By sure to cleanse your palate thoroughly before tasting each different chocolate.

Notes on bloom:

  • The formation of whitish spots, or bloom, on chocolate is due to a separation of some of the fat in the chocolate. While it affects the aesthetics of the chocolate somewhat, it isn’t harmful to eat or use chocolate that has bloomed. Bloom is related to heat and humidity, so store chocolate in a cool, dry place free of odors.

The above is adapted from’s article, “How to Taste Dark Chocolate.”

Visit my page Chocolate Resources and Info! for a list of dark chocolate tasting recommendations. For more info and recipes on appreciating dark chocolate, please click on the Chocolate  or Food & Recipes category of this blog.