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Stroke Smart Magazine

May/June 2007

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Forbidden Foods?

By Jean Stork,
Registered Dietician

We all have a list of foods that we avoid because we've heard they are bad for us. But now there's good news about some of the foods we love. Many “forbidden foods” can be good for you.

Researchers have found that dark chocolate and nuts contain antioxidants, which can help maintain the healthy, youthful functioning of the whole body. Cardiovascular disease, cancer and cataracts are less likely to occur in people who eat food that is high in antioxidants.

A certain number of antioxidants occur naturally in the body. We can get even more antioxidants with a plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables, tea, spices, herbs and dried beans. Remember that cocoa beans and nuts are fruits, too! They are a rich source of an antioxidant called flavanol. Flavanol decreases the risk of heart attack and stroke, in part because it helps keep blood vessel walls free of plaque. The build-up of plaque can decrease blood flow to the heart and brain. Cocoa and nuts also contain heart-healthy fats. In addition, nuts are loaded with fiber, vitamins and minerals that also offer protection to the cardiovascular system.

Because antioxidants in supplement form can be ineffective and even harmful, they are not recommended. On the other hand, whole fruits and vegetables provide a balanced mixture of antioxidants as well as a variety of other health-promoting agents. In practice, a diet high in antioxidants could include a few meals made with dried beans each week and a little more than a one-cup serving of fruits or vegetables with breakfast, lunch and dinner each day.

And don't forget to season with spices and herbs; they have antioxidants too! Fresh herbs have the most but even dried spices and herbs have antioxidants. And, spices and herbs have the power to bring the flavor of food to life — tomatoes with basil and garlic, apples with cinnamon and a fresh green salad sprinkled with lemon and dried oregano.

A handful of nuts and an ounce of dark chocolate are good replacements for the cakes and cookies you may snack on now. Be conscious of how much food you eat overall, since eating too many calories is counterproductive to the benefits of an antioxidant-rich diet.

Now, the fun part of antioxidants — eating delicious foods. Here are a few suggestions for your shopping list:


  • Pure dark chocolate (more than 70% cocoa) is your best choice. Milk chocolate does not offer the same health benefits.
  • Avoid cream fillings or caramel.
  • Try Ghirardelli Twilight Delight™ or Lindt Excellence 70% or 85% Cocoa.


  • When shopping for nuts, look for nuts that are unsalted, with no added fat.
  • Pecans and walnuts are especially high in antioxidants.
  • Look for nut butters that contain only the nuts and nothing extra, such as Smucker's® Natural Peanut Butter.


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