Tag Archives: Chocolate

Craving Change? Your Sciencey Guide to Food Cravings

 

We all get food cravings every now and then right? That undeniable need for some overly salty, sugary or fatty food that you know isn’t good for you, but you just have to have. Even if you do manage to resist the initial urge, it’ll come back to you a few days later and you know that there’s just no hope. You have to have that triple chocolate chip cookie, warm, with ice cream and hot fudge sauce on top.  Mmm. Cravings.

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The problem is that you never crave something that is good for you. In fact cravings are usually for foods that you probably shouldn’t eat at all right? So why would our brain tell us that we need something that our body clearly doesn’t, it makes no sense!

Luckily scientists have been looking into the mysteries of cravings for a while now and can shed some light on the situation.

Cravings -- Do you want science with that

Why do we have cravings?

It’s a tricky question, and there isn’t a simple answer.

Sometimes if you’re craving something unusual it might be your body telling you that you need more of a particular nutrient found in that food. This is thought to be particularly true during pregnancy when women are craving all kinds of weird and wonderful things. But usually this isn’t the case and cravings are actually all in your head.

When you eat a delicious food like say, french fries or Russian fudge, your brain releases some wonderful chemicals called dopamine and seratonin. These chemicals make you feel good and are your body’s way of rewarding you for eating a high energy food like sugar or fat. This response dates back to cave man days when these foods were hard to come by and essential for survival. However these days it is much easier to load up on these energy dense foods, so much so that they are a health risk. But your body hasn’t caught up with the times yet and is still busy rewarding you every time you indulge.

Cravings are a product of this reward system. Your body feels sooo good when it gets a dose of dopamine or seratonin that it remembers that good feeling and gives you cravings to convince you to eat the foods that will make it happen again. Scumbag brain.

Can we resist them?

Probably, but it won’t be easy.

A French study in 2007 found that super sweet things like sugar and artificial sweeteners, are more appealing to lab rats than cocaine, even if the rats are already addicted! Then a study at the University of Florida found that commonly craved foods had the same effect on the brain as alcohol and other addictive substances. Eek.

So the happy juice that our brain feeds us when we eat delicious fatty and sugary foods is pretty strong and while the cravings might be all in our heads, there’s no doubt that they are there.

Is there any way to avoid cravings?

Not really, no, but there are ways to manage them.

The first tactic is simple; plan to give in every now and then. If you try to resist every craving you have you could end up pretty miserable and the more miserable you are the more cravings you will have.

The next tactic is sensible; make it healthier. If you’re craving french fries, don’t head straight to Burger King, bake your own hand cut oven fries for dinner instead.

The last tactic is super important; limit yourself. By all means give in every now and then, but don’t go overboard. Take three cookies out of the pack and put it back in the pantry, don’t sit on the couch with the entire packet while you watch Gossip Girl or you’ll have finished it before the first ad break.

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So science hasn’t succeeded yet in finding a way to trick your brain into craving carrots not caramel, but it has taught us one thing; it’s okay to give in. In fact, it’s pretty hard not to, but if you have some tactics up your sleeve you should be able to curb your food enthusiasm, but still have a fair amount of fun.

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The Forgotten Superfoods

It seems like there’s a new ‘superfood’ emerging every week.

Some exotic, hard to pronounce fruit or grain ancient cultures have been using for years that the Western world has just discovered. There are so many fad foods out there now that it’s super hard to decide what is and isn’t… super.

Plus we are so busy following the latest trend of the new abstract superfood that we tend to forget how amazing some of our less exciting foods are.

What about the hard-working, never tiring foods that are imparting huge nutritional benefit on us every day with no thanks at all? They don’t get to be the new health wonder-food that all the celebrities are being photographed eating, but they work tirelessly to improve the health of the everyday person. What about those guys?

So here is a list of the forgotten superfoods. Everyday foods which have huge nutritional benefit that we take for granted.

 

Potatoes

Okay, so maybe there’s a reason marketed superfoods are exotic end exciting, I mean potatoes seem so run of the mill, surely they can’t be super. But Spiderman was just a run of the mill photographer during the day right? potatoes are totally the spiderman of the food world.

Underneath their boring exterior, potatoes are packed full of nutritional punch. Your average potato contains vitamin C, iron, copper, potassium, magnesium, manganese and most of the B vitamins. Who’d have thought right?

These white wonders actually contain a wee bit of almost everything we need. As well as that, according to researchers they are one of the most filling foods, and if you cook them then let them cool they form lots of starch, a super healthy fiber-like substance.

Patates

Garlic

I love garlic. My motto in cooking is that you really can never have too much garlic. So no one wants to be near you because you smell like the stuff is seeping out of your pores? It’s okay, just think about how delicious your dinner was. Who needs human contact when you have garlic. Not me.

As well as being amazingly delicious, garlic is packed full of nutrients. It has lots of calcium, potassium, vitamin C, B1 and B6, copper, manganese and selenium.

Garlic also has a secret weapon called allicin. This is the active ingredient in garlic and has been shown to lower your blood pressure and cholesterol as well as having cancer fighting properties. Studies have shown that people who eat lots of garlic  are much less likely to get colon and stomach cancer particularly.

On top of all this garlic is super good at killing bacteria and fungi, meaning it can help us deal with everything from the common cold to athlete’s foot, horay!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Liver

I will admit, these days it seems a bit gross to have to eat the liver of an animal. From a nutritional point of view though, it is oodles more nutritious than the lowly muscle meat we eat today.

If you think about it though, it makes sense that the liver would be so nutritious, because one if its functions is to store nutrients for the body. That means that it is a treasure trove of nutrients in really concentrated levels.

A piece of liver the size of an egg actually contains 3 times your recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamin A, 3.5 times your RDI of copper, your entire RDI of vitamin B2, 6 times your RDI of vitamin B12 and a quarter of your RDI of vitamins B6, B5, niacin and folate. And just for good measure it contains a fair amount of selenium, zinc, phosphorous and iron.

On top of all that it also has about 15 grams of really good animal protein. Talk about the over-achieving food.

 

Shellfish

There must be something about spending your life surrounded by salt water that makes you hugely nutritious. Most of the animals and plants that come from the ocean have lovely health benefits, but of those shellfish really stand out.

Take clams for example. These shelly swimmers have outrageously high levels of vitamin B12, as well as iron, selenium, potassium, vitamin C, D and B vitamins.

Oysters are full of fabulous nutrients in super high levels too. One 50g oyster has all the copper you need for the day and three times the amount zinc you need. It also has lots of vitamin D, A, C, B6, B12, iron and calcium.

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Eggs

For years eggs have been the bad guys of the food world because of the amount of cholesterol they contain.

Scientists and doctors alike have come to their senses though and realised that eggs really aren’t as bad as they seem. This is because actual cholesterol ironically has very little effect on our bad blood cholesterol levels. The real bad guy when it comes to heart health is actually saturated fat.

Egg yolks are packed full of nutrients, containing vitamin A, D, B12 and B6 as well as iron, magnesium, calcium and potassium. On top of that they also have lutein and zeaxanthine which are antioxidants that improve your eye health, reducing the risk of you getting cataracts and macular degeneration. Plus they contain choline, a nutrient that helps improve brain function, and who wouldn’t like improved brain function huh?

Then there are egg whites. These contain super duper good protein. The protein in eggs is actually so good that nutritionists use it as the ‘gold standard’ against which they rate other proteins. Pretty impressive stuff.

 

Dark chocolate

I will finish on a personal favourite of mine, delicious dark chocolate.

We all know that chocolate isn’t the best food for you in the world, but it only gets that reputation because it has a high fat and sugar content. Strip those away though and at the base of chocolate there is a wonder ingredient; cocoa.

Cocoa is an amazingly rich source of antioxidants. In a study which tested different foods for antioxidant levels it was found that cocoa scored higher than anything else, even blueberries and acai berries!

And if this isn’t enough, dark chocolate is also full of fiber, iron, manganese, magnesium and copper.

Lots of studies on people have shown that dark chocolate can have lots of benefits like better brain function, lower blood pressure and better blood flow.

The key is to choose chocolate with a really high cocoa content and avoid the fattier milk chocolate varieties.

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There you have it. Superfoods you probably already have sitting in your pantry. So next time you’re complaining about your boring mashed potatoes and garlic bread take a minute to think about these wonderful forgotten foods. They might not look like much, but they are likely the reason you have that spring in your step.

 

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Fudgey, Cakey or Chewy? The Science of Brownie Baking

You’re getting all dribbly just from reading the title aren’t you?

 

The Ultimate Brownie - Do You Want Science With That

The humble brownie. There’s just something about it.

A wee while back I wrote a post about baking chocolate chip cookies and how to use science to make them crunchier or chewier. It was pretty popular, so I thought, why not make another baking “how to” post! So here it is, how to make your brownie fudgier, cakier or chewier.

It’s all about proportions

Just like crafting cookie, brownie baking takes some careful measurements, and changing the amount of each ingredient that you use will change the final brownie outcome.

There are three main ingredients that you can alter to make your brownie fudgier, cakier or chewier and they are chocolate, butter & sugar and flour. So lets get started!

Fudgier

For an intensely dense chocolate hit

Chocolate: The more the merrier! The fudgey texture of your brownie is amplified by the fats in your chocolate so more chocolate will result in a fudgier brownie.

Butter and sugar: Melt and mix. Like I said in my cookies post, melting the butter before adding the sugar stops air bubbles from forming and making your brownie fluffy. So don’t cream your butter and sugar, gently melt your butter on the stove with your sugar instead.

Flour: Less is more. When flour is mixed with wet ingredients it forms gluten. Gluten is what makes baking tall and crunchy, which is the exact opposite of what you want in a fudgey brownie, so keep the flour to a minimum.

Cakier

For those who like them light and fluffy

Chocolate: Don’t overdo it. Chocolate is full of fats which will weigh your batter down. If you want a lovely cakey brownie limit your chocolate so that your batter will be able to rise.

Butter and sugar: Beat them into cream-mission! To create a truly cakey brownie you need to get some air bubbles into the batter. You can do this by softening your butter instead of melting it and then whipping the sugar in. The sugar will forge little holes in the butter which trap air and leave your brownie feeling light as a feather.

Flour: Less is again more. While you want your brownie to be nice and cakey, you don’t want it to be crunchy like a cookie. Since you’ve creamed the butter and sugar you have already got some air bubbles into the mixture so your brownie will be fluffy. The gluten formed by flour can turn this cakeness into crunchiness and that just isn’t what you want.

Chewier

For those who crave the chew

Chocolate: Take it out alltogether. It sounds like a bad idea, but trust me, it isn’t. Cocoa actually contains more pure chocolate liquor than chocolate anyway because it isn’t diluted with milk and sugar, so your brownie won’t be any less deliciously rich. By taking out the chocolate though, you’re removing fats and allowing for a chewier, more delicious brownie.

Butter and sugar: Melt and mix. You want chewy, not fluffy, so the melt on the stove option is the way to go for those after a chewy treat.

Flour: Go for gold! Flour is the key to a good chewy brownie. Adding more four will transform your brownie from a flat fudge to a cheerful chewy by creating some glutenous support during baking.

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Two more tips before you hit the mixing bowl

For maximum chocolate flavour: The secret to a super chocolatey brownie is in how you treat the cocoa. You want to really release the delicious flavour, and you can do this with heat. If you pour boiling water over your cocoa, or add it to your butter as you’re cooking it on the stove, the lovely flavour molecules will be broken free from their protein confines and your brownie will be all the chocolatier.

For a crunchy top: There’s nothing like a little texture contrast in food, and brownie is no exception. I love a good fudgey brownie with a crunchy top, it’s just so satisfying. And easy to achieve! The crunch is all in the sugar. You want o use white sugar, not brown. The granulated white sugar will rise to the surface as your batter bakes and dry out, creating a delightfully crunchy crust. Yum!

 

Okay so it’s finally time. I am going to share with you my absolute favourite brownie recipe. I am a huge fan of the chewy brownie, and this is hands down the best chewy brownie I have ever made. It is just so delicious!

 

Amazing Brownie - Do You Want Science With That

 

The Unbeatable Brownie Recipe

  • 140g butter
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 2 large, cold eggs
  • 1/2 cup flour

Preheat your oven to 160°C and line a 20cm square pan with baking paper.

Fill a fairly large pot with water and bring to a gentle simmer. Put the butter, sugar, cocoa powder and salt into a heatproof bowl and put it into/sit it on top of the pot. Stir while the butter melts. Once the mixture is hot and the butter is melted, take it off the pot and let it cool.

Once cool, stir in the vanilla, then the eggs, one a time. Stir vigorously until the batter looks shiny and well-blended. Stir in the flour until no streaks remain and then beat the batter for about a minute more.

Pour the batter into your lined pan and bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpic comes out of the middle with just a little bit of batter on it.

Ultimate Brownie - Do You Want Science With That

 

Mmm Brooownie…

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Super Easy Peanut Butter Easter Eggs

Peanut butter Easter eggs

 

Chocolate, bunnies and hot cross buns. Easter is totally my favourite holiday. 

For weeks in advance shops start filling up with foil wrapped goodies and smiling cardboard bunnies. Seasonal delicacies like marshmallow eggs and how cross buns lure you in every time you go to the supermarket because, well, it’s only Easter once a year right, you have to take advantage!

Crunchy Peabut butter Easter eggs

You can get easter eggs in all sorts of shapes and sizes which are filled with all kinds of fun and wrapped in all the colours of the rainbow. Aaand the internet starts getting filled up with photos of melted chocolate and outrageously delicious home made Easter treat recipes. 

Like I said, Easter is my favourite holiday.

Which is why I would like to share with you a wee recipe I recently dreamed up which uses only four simple ingredients and makes outrageously delicious eggs! As an added bonus the eggs are gluten free and are just as delicious without the chocolate coating which makes them a great option for those who are dairy free as well. 

Plus one of the main ingredients is peanut butter which has some lovely sciencey health benefits!

How is peanut butter healthy? You ask. Well, here are a few ways…

It’s full of good stuff: Peanut butter is full of protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals which are all essential for good health and successful bodily functions. Which is really what we all want. 

It’s good for your heart: In 2003 the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) backed the claim that eating 2 and a half tablespoons of peanut butter a day may reduce your risk of getting heart disease. Wohoo!

It might help keep the cancer away: Peanuts contain a chemical called resveratrol which is also found in grape skins and red wine. A German study on this chemical found that it might be reducing your chances of getting cancer. 

It might help with Alzheimer’s detection: In very exciting science news recently, researchers have figured out that the part of the brain that can smell peanut butter is very close to the part which is affected in those with Alzheimer’s disease. Basically if a person with Alzheimer’s disease sniffed a tub of peanut butter with their left nostril they wouldn’t be able to smell it as well as someone without the disease. This means that peanut butter could be a cheap, easy, non-invasive Alzheimer’s detection method. So cool!

 

So what are you waiting for? Scroll down and start making these magic balls of magnificence already!

Chocolate dipping

Ali’s Excellent Easter Eggs

Gluten free and dairy free if you skip the chocolate coating

  • 2 cups Peanut butter
  • 1 cup Icing sugar
  • 4 cupsCornflakes
  • Chocolate melts

Makes 28

Soften the peanut butter in the microwave and add the icing sugar and cornflakes. Mix until combined.

Roll the mixture into easter egg sized balls. Eat a couple of these eggs with a nice cup of tea and refrigerate the rest for half an hour.

Melt your chocolate melts and dip each ball into the molten chocolate and then place it on a sheet of baking paper.

Refrigerate until hard.

 

Gluten free Easter eggs

Try not to eat them all at once!

 

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Aphrodisiacs: Natural Viagra?

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We humans have been trying to get attractive members of the opposite sex into the sack since the beginning of time, and in the art of seduction food plays a huge role.

The seductive power of certain foods was discovered thousands of years ago, and we have been sensually feeding them to our potential bed partners ever since. These wonderful foods are called aphrodisiacs, named after that gorgeous hussy of a Greek goddess Aphrodite, and are said to magically increase the likelihood of your romantic candle-lit dinner having a “happy ending“.

But is this possible? Can a mouthful of slimy raw oysters really increase your libido, or act like a natural Viagra?

First things first, what is sexual arousal?

When you see, feel or think something that turns you on, it starts a chain reaction in your body. First your brain sends some saucy messages to your nether regions which make the blood vessels down there dilate. This allows more blood flow and causes an erection in both men and women. The blood vessels then close up again, making sure the party stays in your pants for a while. At the same time your brain is busy releasing norepinephrine and dopamine which are chemicals that make us super duper happy.

So what do aphrodisiacs do?

These alleged wonder foods can affect either your body or your brain.

What do liquourice, red hot chillis and cucumber all have in common? They all increase your blood flow. This is one of the most common effects aphrodisiacs are said to have on your body to increase sex drive. This is because a rush of blood to your genitals is exactly what happens during intercourse, so in simulating the real thing, these foods make you want to do the dirty for real.

On the other hand, some aphrodisiacs have a less physical way of making you want to get physical. They do this by making you produce hormones which tell your brain that a good time is on the way. For example chocolate is known to make you produce dopamine, the hormone that makes you feel oh so good, while asparagus is said to affect the production of histamine, the chemical which is released during an orgasm.

Is there any science to back it up though?

A study published in Nature showed that for chocolate to affect your mood the average person would have to eat 17kg of the stuff, or 1/5 of your body weight. And I don’t know about you, but I definitely wouldn’t be in the mood after 77 blocks of chocolate.

As far as blood flow goes, in 2008 Dr. Bhimu Patil, director of a Texas university’s Fruit and Vegetable Improvement Center, claimed that watermelon could have similar effects to viagra. This is because of a bioactive compound they contain called citrulline which is able to relax blood vessels, much like viagra. Sadly though, this chemical is much more concentrated in the green rind of the watermellon, a part we just don’t usually eat. Plus viagra is a strong and specialized drug which specifically effects your genitals, whereas citrulline is much weaker and relaxes all of your blood vessels, not just the ones you want it to.

These findings are pretty much the norm when it comes to aphrodisiac research. Sex drive is a difficult thing to measure in humans, but most scientists agree that while aphrodisiac foods  do affect the parts of your brain and body that deal with sex, the effect is probably too small to make a difference.

But there is hope!

All the hype about aphrodisiacs can’t be for nothing though right?

It is completely scientifically possible that just thinking that a food will increase your sex drive might be enough to do the job. In science we call this the “placebo effect” and it is a completely real and legitimate thing.

What is a placebo you ask? Well, if a scientist wanted to figure out how good his new medicine was at curing headaches he would make a simple experiment. He would gather a group of people with headaches and give half of them a spoonful of his medicine and the other half a spoonful of sugar water, which he knew wouldn’t affect the headaches. The sugar water is a placebo. Nobody in the group knows whether they have the medicine or the placebo, so the scientist can see how effective his medicine really is.

Hundreds of these studies have been carried out over the centuries and since the beginning one thing has been clear, a placebo can make a huge difference to a person’s health. Just by thinking they are getting a miracle cure, many many people actually have been magically cured.

So if a placebo has been shown to ease the effects of everything from stomach ulcers to Parkinson’s disease, it should be able to increase sex drive right? Of course! Just the process of eating a sexy food which claims to be an aphrodisiac really is enough to get you and your partner in the mood.

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So next time you’re sharing a delicious block of sensual dark chocolate with your significant other, lean over and whisper seductively about the powers of chocolate as an aphrodisiac so you can watch the placebo effect in action.

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