Vices, Virtues & Choice

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Vices, Virtues & Choice

You released the genie from his bottle and now he’ll grant you a wish: Your favorite vice will turn into a virtue…

Would you choose the transformation of an irresistible confection, lattes topped with whipped cream but free of all calories, or some other deep-secret guilty pleasure?

Ah, if only. There may be no genie on the horizon, but that doesn’t relegate you to a life of deprivation. According to Canyon Ranch Food Development Director Marilyn Majchrzak, even the most notorious foods can often offer some health benefits. “It’s all about moderation,” she says. “You don’t have to say ‘no’ every time. The idea is to have an occasional treat and really savor it.”

Cocoa loco
The good news is that studies are revealing more about chocolate’s health benefits. The other news is that you’d have to eat a lot of it to reap the rewards. So if you’re crazy about chocolate, eat it wisely and enjoy every mouthful.

“We recommend dark chocolate, which contains less sugar and at least 60 percent cocoa solids,” Marilyn says. “And we steer away from Dutch-processed chocolate, which is commonly used, especially in hot chocolate.” Dutch processing removes the natural flavonoids in cocoa, she notes, which are known to help reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, asthma and stroke.

You might dip a fresh fruit in melted chocolate or simply add a drizzle of it over strawberries or bananas to get the flavor you love. That way, the largest part of your treat is nutritious.

Caffeine nation
It’s hard to avoid caffeine in a culture that sometimes seems driven by its coffee and energy drinks. And it has some merit.

“Caffeine has gotten such a bad rap because it’s in too many things at very high levels,” Marilyn says. “In reasonable amounts, it can be a good mild stimulant, help you concentrate and may help relieve migraines.”

It’s wise to avoid the ultra-caffeinated products that give you more buzz than you can possibly need, so read the energy drink labels carefully. When choosing coffee, however, don’t assume that decaffeinated is always best.

“Coffee and tea are rich antioxidant sources,” Marilyn says, “but that benefit is lost in the decaffeination process, especially in tea. If you’re drinking caffeinated coffee or tea, we still recommend moderate amounts. And if you choose decaf, be aware that there’s usually a little caffeine left in it.”

Marilyn’s advice is to look for coffee that’s organic and processed with water (instead of chemicals) to preserve its benefits. Avoid all caffeinated products before bedtime and pay attention to how caffeine affects you personally.

Red wine is a part of some famously healthy diets. It provides resveratrol, with properties that may prevent cancer and heart disease. On the other hand, too much of even a fine wine is not a good thing.

“If you drink wine, we recommend a one-glass limit daily for women and two for men,” Marilyn says. “Reds have the most antioxidants, and the deeper the color the better.”

There are more nutritious ways to get your antioxidants, she says, but you can still enjoy the benefits of wine if you don’t overdo it. As for hard liquor, alas, the health benefits are minimal by comparison, and drinks are often combined with sweet mixers. “That can mean a lot of empty calories.”

Yummy oils
Preparing foods with your favorite oil will add to the taste and satiety. Your diet should include somewhere between 25 and 30 percent fats, mostly from plant sources, so choose the best oils and keep that healthful proportion in mind.

“Olive oil and canola oil are the healthiest choices,” Marilyn says. “They’re high in calories, however, so use them judiciously – one tablespoon has 15 grams of fat. You don’t need much high-quality olive oil to create amazing flavor.”

Pastries & more
When it comes to baked goods, size matters. “The typical bakery muffin is way more than one person needs,” Marilyn says. “If you choose to indulge, go for something with fruit in it, then split it with a friend or two. Or maybe just try the sample on the counter – it could be enough to satisfy your sweet tooth.”

Joy & sensibility
The Canyon Ranch philosophy has always been about moderation, not deprivation. We suggest you explore the incredible pleasures of healthy eating and find a sensible balance for special indulgences.

Chocolate Pudding Recipe


  • ⅔ cup brown sugar, packed
  • ¼ cup cocoa powder
  • 5 tablespoons cornstarch
  • ¼  teaspoon sea salt
  • 4 cups nonfat milk, divided
  • 1 vanilla bean, scraped
  • 4 tablespoons egg yolks (about 2 yolks)
  • 10 tablespoons whipped cream
  1. In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, cocoa powder, cornstarch, salt, and ½ cup of the nonfat milk. Whisk to combine.
  2. In a medium saucepan, add remaining 3½ cups of milk and scraped vanilla bean paste and hull. Cook, stirring over medium heat until the liquid reaches a low simmer. Pour in cocoa mixture and whisk until thickened, about 3 to 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low.
  3. Place egg yolks in a medium bowl and beat well by hand. Temper beaten egg yolks by adding a small amount of cocoa mixture to eggs, about ¼ cup. Stir gently to combine. Repeat process a few times and then add tempered egg mixture back to cocoa mixture. Cook for an additional minute on low.
  4. Take saucepan away from heat and remove vanilla bean hull. Serve warm or cold. Top each ½ cup serving with 1 tablespoon whipped cream.

Makes 10 (½ cup) servings, each containing approximately:
135 calories  |  19 g carbohydrate  |  5 g fat  |  87 mg cholesterol  |  5 g protein  |  89 mg sodium  |  1 g fiber


Chocolate Espresso Soda

Simple Syrup

3 tablespoons cane sugar
3 tablespoons water

In a small saucepan, bring evaporated cane juice and water to a boil and simmer until sugar dissolves.

Chocolate Espresso Syrup:

  • ½ cup espresso coffee
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon Simple Syrup (see recipe)
  • ¼ cup fat-free chocolate sauce
  • ¼ cup Simple Syrup
  • (see recipe)
  • 24-ounces club soda
  1. Combine all ingredients for Chocolate Espresso Syrup in a small bowl and mix well.
  2. Place 2 tablespoons Chocolate Espresso Syrup, 1 tablespoon Simple Syrup and ¾ cup club soda in a glass and stir until well combined. Add ice and serve.

Makes 4 (8 ounce) servings, each containing approximately:
80 calories  |  19 g carbohydrate  |  0 g fat  |  0 mg cholesterol  |  1 g protein  |  58 mg sodium  |  1 g fiber


Olive Salsa

Cook’s Notes

To roast fennel, cut bulb in half, spray lightly with canola oil and roast on a baking sheet at 350° for 25 minutes until golden. Add a little water to the pan, cover and  continue roasting for 20 more minutes or until soft.

  • 1 cup quartered grape tomatoes
  • ½ cup roasted, diced fennel
  • ½ cup chopped mixed olives
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind or zest
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly
  • ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley
  • ¼ teaspoon fresh oregano
  1. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients.
  2. Serve ⅓ cup olive salsa with grilled fish or chicken.

Makes 4 servings, each containing approximately:
40 calories  |  6 g carbohydrate  |  2 g fat  |  0 mg cholesterol  |  1 g protein  |  432 mg sodium  |  2 g fiber