Good Chocolate Choices for Autoimmune Health

In honor of Halloween, which is tomorrow, I wanted to share with you my favorite finds for healthier chocolate choices. As far as candy goes, dark Chocolate Barchocolate is probably your most healthy option. And while I’m a firm advocate for eliminating as much added sugar as possible, I find that sometimes I just want that square or two of dark chocolate after dinner to finish off my meal and tell my body that it’s done eating, which is much better than a big dessert!

And there are some health benefits to chocolate, including it being a powerful source of antioxidants; raising good HDL cholesterol; and possibly reducing heart disease risk, improving blood flow and lowering blood pressure. And dark chocolate is a great source of fiber! But let’s not kid ourselves, at the end of the day, it’s still candy and has added sugars, so the key is moderation, and if you can’t limit yourself to two or three squares, best to abstain completely.

And if you suffer from autoimmune disorders like I do and have to avoid dairy or soy like me (or are lactose-intolerant or vegan), you’ll find that most brands of chocolate contain soy lecithin and many contain milk, especially for lower percentage cacao bars (I usually shoot for at least 70% cacao, although the dark chocolate mint one below is 67%). So two of my current favorites that have no soy or dairy (or gluten) are the Theo’s Sea Salt 70% Dark Chocolate Salted Almond and the Equal Exchange Dark Chocolate Mint bars. Both are organic, fair trade, rich and delicious.

If you’re doing the auto-immune protocol (AIP) and are avoiding chocolate altogether, you could try this carob-based bar.

In terms of sugar-free chocolate, I tried one bar made with xylitol, but it just didn’t have the rich quality that makes chocolate so irresistible. There is one brand of chocolate that is made with steevia and no sugar, Lily’s, but I’m not a huge fan of steevia due to the aftertaste and they have soy. But for those of you who like steevia and have no issue with soy, these bars or chocolate chips are a great choices.


And my favorite gluten-, soy- and dairy-free chocolate chips are the Enjoy Life dark chocolate chips:

So on Halloween if you go ahead and indulge, indulge responsibly on high quality, delicious chocolate. Don’t waste your stomach space or the calories on low quality, oversweetened, cheap candy!

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Sugar is the Enemy

SugarIf you’ve been struggling to lose weight and keep it off, sugar is most likely the enemy.

One study found that people whose urine tests showed higher sugar consumption levels over three years were 54% more likely to be overweight than those who were objectively shown to be eating the least sugar in their diet.

The crazy thing is that you may not even realize you’re eating it. A University of North Carolina study found that 60% of packaged foods bought in the U.S. contained added sugar.

How to avoid added sugar?

  1. Check labels closely – first for the amount of total sugars, then the ingredients list (see list of sugar names below).
  2. Try to choose foods with no or negligible amounts of sugar (1-2 grams) unless the food contains dairy or large amounts of fruit, both of which contain naturally occurring sugars.
  3. For sweetened foods like cereals or granola bars:
    grams of sugar – grams of fiber should be < 3 grams of sugar
  4. Check online menus of favorite restaurants to pick lowest sugar options.

Here are some common names for sugar you may not be familiar with:

Agave nectar
Barley malt
Beet sugar
Blackstrap molasses
Brown rice syrup
Brown sugar
Buttered syrup
Cane juice crystals
Cane sugar
Carob syrup
Castor sugar
Coconut sugar
Confectioner’s sugar (powdered sugar)
Corn syrup
Corn syrup solids
Date sugar
Demerara sugar
Diastatic malt
Ethyl maltol
Evaporated cane juice
Florida crystals
Fruit juice
Fruit juice concentrate
Golden sugar
Golden syrup
Grape sugar
High-fructose corn syrup
Icing sugar
Invert sugar
Malt syrup
Maple syrup
Muscovado sugar
Panela sugar
Raw sugar
Refiner’s syrup
Rice syrup
Sorghum syrup
Treacle sugar
Turbinado sugar
Yellow sugar

If you’re struggling to kick the sugar habit, I’d love to help you! Set up a free 60-minute consultation to help you understand what’s keeping you from kicking the sugar habit and/or meeting your weight loss goals. I meet with clients in person in Tucson, Arizona or online from anywhere!

If you’d like to reduce your business’ health care costs by helping your employees kick the sugar habit, I’d love to give a free talk at your Tucson workplace on “How and Why to Kick the Sugar Habit“.​

Gluten-Free Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins – Healthy, moist and delicious!

Gluten, dairy, soy and guilt free (and very low in sugar). Makes 12-14 small muffins. 

Gluten, sugar, dairy and soy are 4 of the most common irritants to people Autoimmune Banana Chocolate Chip Muffinssuffering from Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and other autoimmune conditions. This recipe is designed to be very low in added sugar (about 2 grams per muffin) and is free of the main ingredients that irritate the guts and brains of people with autoimmune conditions.

½ cup xylitol (low-calorie, low-glycemic sweetener)
½ cup avocado oil
2 eggs
2 mashed ripe bananas
½ cup coconut cream or full fat coconut milk (from a can, not milk for drinking)
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 cup almond flour
3/4 cup gluten-free flour
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1/3 bag Enjoy Life dark chocolate chips
2 tbsp. chia seeds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray muffin tins with oil. Beat sugar and oil. Add eggs, bananas, coconut milk or cream and vanilla and mix with beaters. Mix flours, baking soda, and salt then add. Beat just until dry ingredients are moistened. Stir in chocolate chips. Pour batter into muffin tins then sprinkle each one with chia seeds. Cook for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Enjoy guilt-free – just don’t overindulge – xylitol can have a mild laxative effect at high doses.

How long can you last on your own?

In 2013, the Daily Mail reported that the average woman’s diet (in the U.K.) lasted five weeks, two days and 43 minutes. That was the point at which most women gave up.

I’ve tried dieting and also gave up. The longest probably lasted about 2 months. The depressing thing was that with each successive diet, the weight Dietseemed to come back on more quickly than the previous time and I ended up weighing more each time! Then research came out indicating that the reason you gain back more weight is that your body readjusts its baseline and requires not just fewer calories because it’s maintaining a smaller body, but even fewer than that because it wants to protect itself from loss. I finally realized the damage I was doing with dieting.

What I needed was permanent lifestyle and diet changes, not a diet. It took the support of my partner from my health coaching program to plan for, implement and follow through on those changes in a way I never could before. It took more than 5 weeks. When I did, the baby belly I had held onto since the birth of my son (in 2003) melted away (14 years later) without any effort and without restricting calories. I always eat now until I’m satisfied and love the food I eat. I no longer crave sugar. I can look a piece of commercial white flour, sugar-laden, gluten-filled cake in the eye and feel no regret whatsoever about not eating it. I still enjoy sweets – but sweets I bake at home with healthy ingredients and safe sweeteners that won’t raise my blood sugar or put me at risk of cancer.

Habit change is difficult in the context of a busy life and other priorities. Investing in health coaching is not just about information, although that is important. It’s investing in someone to keep you accountable over an extended period of time as you make those permanent changes. Many of us try but fail on our own. This recent article on Medium: “I Lost 86 Pounds and Learned a Few Things” supports that conclusion. In that case, it was a personal trainer that keep him accountable. The important part was that someone was keeping the author accountable.

If you think you may need help staying accountable as you make the changes that will lead to permanent weight loss,  please reach out and set up a free 1-hour consultation. I meet with clients in Tucson, AZ or online from anywhere. We can talk about whether health coaching may be a solution to your problems. You have nothing to lose . . . but weight.

Should I give up gluten or is it just a fad?

First, not everyone should give up gluten – for many it is a fad! There are many good reasons to give it up, however.Bread photo

The single most important would be if you tested positive for celiac disease. However, that’s only a very small percentage of people (about 1%).

The second would be if you notice a sensitivity to it. Common symptoms include foggy brain, depression, ADHD-like behavior, abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, headaches, bone or joint pain and chronic fatigue. If you have these symptoms, a guided elimination diet (of gluten and other foods) is one tool I use to help my clients determine if food sensitivities may be at the root of their symptoms.

Another important reason to give up gluten is if you have an autoimmune condition such as Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Hashimoto’s, Multiple Sclerosis or many others. Gluten triggers the release of zonulin, which causes a loosening of the tight junctions in your intestinal wall to, creating intestinal permeability or leaky gut. This allows proteins, toxins, partially digested food and microbes to pass out of your intestines and into your bloodstream, triggering an immune reaction. Gluten also causes inflammation, which is a precursor to autoimmune diseases. When your system is overloaded with inflammation and frequent overstimulation of your immune system, it begins to attack indiscriminately, often targeting your own tissues, which is what autoimmune diseases are.

In addition, the gluten molecule resembles your body’s own tissues, particularly your thyroid, confusing your immune system. So when gluten is eaten, it attacks both the gluten and your own cells. Casein, the protein in dairy, is also similar in form to gluten and can also trigger similar confusion and autoimmune disease.

Giving up a food that forms the base of your diet can seem impossible, scary or just not fun. Part of my work is to help you determine the foods and recipes that you both love and that help you feel your best so that you can focus more on what you can eat rather than what you can’t eat.

If you need help with an elimination diet to find the root cause of your unexplained symptoms, or you want help reversing your autoimmune condition naturally, I can set up an individualized program for you. E-mail me for more information. I work with clients in person in Tucson, Arizona and all over the country via videochat or phone.