Living Well and Loving Chocolate

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Perspectives from a Health Coach

Writer / Cindy Argentine

Dawn Parker is a Zionsville health coach who helps clients discover the best nutrition for their unique needs, whether they have a food intolerance or other concerns. She initially worked in pharmaceutical sales but made a career change after discovering a passion for holistic nutrition. I spoke with her recently to learn more about what healthy living, and particularly healthy eating, should look like for all of us.

You’ve written a book called “The Healthy Chocoholic.” Does that title describe you?

I am a chocolate lover – I eat it every single day. I’m also a healthy eater, so I guess it does!

Is chocolate good for us?

It can be. It depends on what is done to it. Chocolate comes from the cacao bean, and in its whole form, it’s healthy – full of antioxidants and minerals. It’s what most companies do to cacao that makes it unhealthy, like removing nutritious elements and adding refined sugar.

Many people think healthy food and delicious food are not the same thing. What do you say to that?

There is that misconception. Interestingly, a client just texted me about this. I had introduced her to a new snack, and she said, “I think I need to stop myself, or I’ll eat this whole bag!” It was a really healthy food, and she was surprised to find it was absolutely delicious.

What other health myths have you uncovered?

One of the biggest myths is that people think they are going to get a certain disease because it runs in their family. The good news is that genetics is only a small part of it. You can make changes to reduce your risk of whatever your family is facing.

You place a high value on the role of nutrition in being healthy. What’s the biggest problem: eating too much in general, eating too many unhealthy foods or not eating enough of the healthiest choices?

It’s mostly the last one. People can make one small change at a time, adding in more healthy foods and swapping out unhealthy foods, and over time, the good foods crowd out the unhealthy ones.

How often do people not even realize that a health problem may be related to food?

Very often! Most clients aren’t coming to me saying, “I know I have a food intolerance. Help me find it.” They’re saying, “I have this issue…,” and oftentimes, I’ll uncover a food intolerance as I work with them.

What are the most common food intolerances you see?

Gluten and dairy. Nuts are another big one, but that’s more of a true allergy than an intolerance.

Should everyone avoid gluten?

Not everybody has a problem with gluten. But wheat is very different than it was in years past. And gluten is much more prevalent in our food supply. It’s added to foods that don’t normally have it. Those two things have made it a bigger issue recently.

What’s the best way to go about making the needed changes?

I recommend revising one meal at a time, starting with breakfast. Try new breakfast options for a couple of weeks. Once that is working, move on to lunch, then dinner and then snacks. It’s hard for most people to makes complete changes overnight.

You offer classes in how to shop for healthy food. The recommendations I hear are (1) focus on the perimeter of the store where the fresh produce, meat and dairy are; (2) limit saturated and trans fats and sugars; and (3) avoid synthetic substances such as pesticides, preservatives and artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners. Do you agree with this?

I agree with most of it. Even when shopping the perimeter though, you can make a lot of upgrades, like buying organic produce, especially for the “dirty dozen.” (Those are the fruits and vegetables with the most residual pesticides, including apples, grapes and celery.) In the meat and dairy departments, I recommend buying grass-fed versus conventionally-raised meat.

I agree with cutting out artificial ingredients and trans fats and lowering sugar. Sugar is a real problem for some; it’s inflammatory and can cause joint pain, fatigue and other issues.

Isn’t shopping that way going to be more expensive?

Many people wonder why healthy food is so expensive, but what we really should be wondering is why regular food is so cheap.

Valentine’s Day is coming up soon. What will you be serving?

Oh my gosh, I don’t know! My husband doesn’t really like chocolate! Luckily, both of my sons do.

You know, a lot of people are afraid I’ll tell them to take out everything good, but you don’t have to take every food you like out of your life. It’s about making small upgrades. The more of those you make, the more you are continually moving towards better health.