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The truth about chocolate
By, Nancy Gal, Extension Agent IV Health, Nutrition and Food Safety
Reviewed by, Wendy Dahl, Ph.D. Associate Professor
Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, UF/IFAS Extension 
                                            February, 2016


Celebrating Heart Health in February couldn’t get any healthier or sweeter than with a delicious heart-healthy brownie. By now, you already know that almost any recipe can be made healthier with a few substitutions. But, chocolate is one ingredient you don’t need to eliminate. It’s really healthy when eaten in moderation. But, not all chocolate is created equal.  Let’s take a closer look.

Chocolate, specifically the dark type, is one “sweet treat” that you can feel good about eating for your heart. Dark chocolate contains flavan- 3-ols, a type of flavonoid. Flavonoids are organic compounds found in plants shown to have potential health benefits. There are six major categories of flavonoids in food: flavonols, anthocyanidins, isoflavones, flavan- 3-ols, flavones, and flavonones. The flavan- 3-ols in dark chocolate contain powerful antioxidant compounds that may help protect cells from damage which can reduce risk of certain cancers as well as promote heart health. Dark chocolate, fresh blueberries, black tea, and red wine are the most commonly known sources of flavan-3-ols.

Flavan-3-ols Content of Four Select Foods

Food Source

Flavan-3-ols (mg/serving)

Black tea, brewed 1 cup


Blueberries, fresh, 1 cup


Dark chocolate, 1 ounce


Red wine, (Cabernet Sauvignon), 5 ounces


USDA Database for the Flavonoid Content of Selected Foods, Release 3.1

But, before you head out for the chocolate aisle, remember the rule of “moderation.” While dark chocolate is rich in flavonoids, it is high in fat and calories. The calories in a one-ounce serving of dark chocolate depends on the percent of cacao solids: 45 - 59% = 155 calories; 60 - 69% = 164 calories; and 70 - 85% = 170 calories.  Furthermore, because of the caffeine content in tea and alcohol levels in wine, it is recommended to check with your health care provider before adding or increasing these items to your diet.

Now back to reality – Chocolate is not a food group, no matter if it is dark chocolate.  However, fruits and vegetables are two food groups that contain many choices rich in flavonoids.  A healthful approach to increasing flavonoids in your diet would be to design your daily eating pattern around a variety of fruits and vegetables according to the new USDA 2015- 2020 Dietary Guidelines.   

So, if you are a chocolate lover, (and who isn’t), savor dark chocolate, but limit yourself to an occasional small piece as part of a healthful eating pattern. Beyond that small tasty bite, look for other healthful dark chocolate recipes such as this black bean brownie recipe from the American Institute For Cancer Research. 

Facts about Flavonoids
UF/IFAS Extension EDIS

4 steps to food safety
 By, Nancy Gal, Extension Agent IV Health, Nutrition and Food Safety            Dec. 16, 2015

You probably have a long to-do list for the holidays. But, is food safety on that list? For many people, food safety is not a thought until they or someone they know gets foodborne illness from consuming contaminated food or beverages. Classic symptoms of foodborne illness are vomiting, diarrhea, and flu-like symptoms which can begin hours or days after contaminated food or beverages are consumed.

The good news is that there are four basic steps of food safety – clean, separate, cook and chill – that can help prevent foodborne illness.  

Cleanliness is the foundation of safe food preparation in the home.


Prevent cross-contamination of bacteria from one food to another by keeping raw and cooked food separate.

Make sure food is thoroughly cooked to the proper minimum internal temperature to destroy harmful bacteria. For safety it is recommended to use a food thermometer to check doneness.

Refrigerate foods promptly to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria that can multiply at room temperature.

Check out the simple tips for practicing each step at Food Safety Tips for the Holidays

Use a plate to moderate: understanding serving sizes
 By, Nancy Gal, Extension Agent IV Health, Nutrition and Food Safety            Nov. 25, 2015

You know you need lots of servings of fruits and vegetables and fewer servings of sweets and desserts. But what exactly is a serving? And how many servings is right for you?

Serving sizes
Your idea of a serving of orange juice might be whatever fits in your glass at home. According to today’s standard beverage glass size, that’s about 16 ounces. Since one cup of juice is a serving, that is actually two servings. Or you might think a 6-inch whole-grain roll is one serving, when in reality it is almost three grain servings. Both foods are nutrient-rich, but certainly more than one serving each. Though we all need different amounts of food depending on our individual requirements, you can see how the calories can get away from us really fast.

Listed below are the five food groups and the amount of food for one serving.
- Fruit Group: 1 cup of fruit or 100% fruit juice, or ½ cup dried fruit
- Vegetable Group: 1cup raw or cooked vegetables or vegetable juice, or 2 cups raw leafy greens
- Grain Group: 1 slice of bread, 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal, or ½ cup of cooked rice, cooked pasta, or cooked cereal.
- Protein group: 1 ounce of meat, poultry or fish, ¼ cup cooked beans, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, or ½ ounce of nuts or seeds.
- Dairy Group: 1 cup of milk, yogurt, or soymilk (soy beverage), 1 ½ ounces of natural cheese, or 2 ounces of processed cheese.

How many servings? Use a plate - MyPlate.
The number of servings you need daily from each food group depends on your calorie needs. Visit the USDA Choose MyPlate website to build YOUR plate; the site is an excellent resource for all ages that provides practical information on how to create your own healthy plate, featuring a variety of information and interactive tools.

Simply select healthful food choices within each food group and fill the sections with your favorite foods.  The plate size and sections help to moderate food portions. It also helps you consume a variety of nutrients from all the food groups, since not one food group provides all the nutrients we need every day.

Ready to set up YOUR Plate? SuperTracker can help you plan, analyze, and track your diet using MyPlate.

Tips for Eating Healthy on Thanksgiving
Fall squash in a line iso 
 By, Nancy Gal, Extension Agent IV Health, Nutrition and Food Safety            Nov. 18, 2015

Can you believe the average American eats 4,500 calories and 229 grams of fat during a traditional Thanksgiving meal? That’s more than two times the calories and three times the amount of fat an adult should eat in one day.

If that is a bit too much for you to swallow, consider a few subtle changes to your menu that can make a difference in reducing calories and fat and help you avoid the typical holiday “weight gain.” Below are a few simple tips to help you prepare more healthful foods for Thanksgiving.

Turkey: Select skinless roasted turkey breast and save 11 grams of saturated fat per three-ounce serving compared to other parts of the turkey.

Stuffing: The trick is to go heavy on vegetables such as onions, garlic, celery, mushrooms and yellow squash, and light on the bread, meat and added fat. Consider adding a bit of sweet to the savory by mixing in fruit such as cranberries, apples or apricots.

Gravy: Pan drippings are loaded with fat. Refrigerate the pan drippings to solidify and remove the fat before making the gravy. That will save about 56 grams of fat per cup of gravy.

Vegetables: Serve a colorful assortment of lightly seasoned roasted vegetables. Consider broccoli, carrots, Brussel sprouts, butternut and yellow squash, leafy greens, rutabagas, turnips, parsnip and sweet potato.

Mashed Potatoes: Use fat-free milk or low-sodium chicken broth instead of whole milk and butter.

Got a recipe you just love, but needs a little tweaking to make healthier? Give me a call at 352-671-8400.