Thursday Tips & Tricks

Snacking can be a recipe for disaster for me.  I often crave chocolate and thought that if I ate a protein bar it would be a better choice for a snack.  On days when I crave sweeter fare, I often grabbed a granola bar.  While these are better choices, if you spend some time reading the ingredients on many of these bars, you often find a long list of items.  Not all of these bars are healthy and many may contain processed foods and even fructose.

When I worked with a nutritionist during my last training cycle, she actually called out my habit of reaching for these bars.  She made me realize there are many other healthier choices available to me.  I began exploring with some of her recipes and even creating healthier versions at home.

This weeks tips is to try making your own bars and snacks at home for healthier versions.  These are my two favorite recipes which are both super easy to make and delicious to eat.

HEALTHY 5-INGREDIENT GRANOLA BARS
Prep time 10 mins
Cook time 5 mins
Total time 15 mins

Ingredients
1 heaping cup packed medjool dates, pitted
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup creamy salted natural sun butter or almond butter
1 cup roasted unsalted almonds, loosely chopped
1 1/2 cups rolled gluten free oats
optional additions: chocolate chips, dried fruit, nuts, banana chips, vanilla, etc.

Instructions

  1. Process dates in a food processor until small bits remain (about 1 minute). It should form a “dough” like consistency.
  2. Toast your oats (and almonds if raw) in a 350 degree F oven for 10-15 minutes or until slightly golden brown.
  3. Place oats, almonds and dates in a large mixing bowl – set aside.
  4. Warm maple syrup and sun butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir and pour over oat mixture and then mix, breaking up the dates to disperse throughout.
  5. Once thoroughly mixed, transfer to an 8×8-inch baking dish or other small pan lined with plastic wrap or parchment paper so they lift out easily.
  6. Press down firmly until uniformly flattened – I use something flat, like a drinking glass, to press down and really pack the bars, which helps them hold together better.
  7. Cover with parchment or plastic wrap, and let firm up in fridge or freezer for 15-20 minutes.
  8. Remove bars from pan and chop into 10 even bars (or 9 squares). Store in an airtight container for up to a few days. I kept mine in the freezer to keep them extra fresh, but it isn’t necessary.
    Notes
    *Although not ideal, if your dates don’t feel sticky and moist, you can soak them in water for 10 minutes then drain before processing. This will help them blend better and hold the bars together better. But ideally, you can find fresh, sticky moist dates.

Nutrition Information
Serving size: 1 bar Calories: 217 Fat: 8 g Saturated fat: 1 g Carbohydrates: 31 g Sugar: 19 g Fiber: 4 g Protein: 6 g

Author: Minimalist Baker

Pecan Butter Chocolate Truffles with Sea Salt

For the Pecan Butter

  • 2 cups pecans
  • 10 Deglet dates, pitted
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

For the Coating

  • 2 tbs virgin coconut oil
  • 3 tbs maple syrup
  • 3 tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp coarse sea salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. To make the pecan butter: Spread the pecans out on a baking sheet and roast in coven for 8 minutes, stir after 4 minutes.  Allow pecans to cool completely.
  3. In Vitamix or food processor, combine pecans, dates and cinnamon.  Pulse or blend on high until smooth.  Do not overprocess – should be thick.
  4. Use your hands to roll the pecan butter into bite size balls.  Place on baking sheet.
  5. To make the coating: Place the oil in a small saucepan over low heat until melted, stir in the maple syrup and cocoa powder until smooth.
  6. Drop one ball at a time in the chocolate coating, use a fork to lift out.  Return to the baking sheet.  Top each truffle with a pinch of salt.
  7. Place the baking sheet in the fridge for 10 – 15 minutes or until ready to eat.
  8. Store in airtight container, lined with parchment paper, in the fridge for up to one week, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

These are super delicious and make a wonderful bite size afternoon snack!

Author: Shalane Flanagan & Elyse Kopecky

These chocolate bites and many other healthy recipes can be found in one of my favorite cookbooks.  I highly recommend this book, even if you are not a runner.  Easy to cook meals and snacks can be found inside the pages of this book.

Run Fast. Eat Slow.: Nourishing Recipes for Athletes

Do you have a favorite recipe to share?  Please post it below in the comments.  If you try these, please post your thoughts below.  Enjoy!

Is Your Cookware Safe?

You go out of your way to eat clean, organically grown foods.  You even spend time cooking and preparing healthy food for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  You are well on your way to reclaiming your health and feeling pretty good about where you are right now.  You really think you’ve got a handle on this healthy lifestyle business.  I’ve just got one question for you to think about. What type of cookware are you preparing your healthy food in?

When I first started researching Alzheimer’s disease, I was shocked to learn just how many toxins we are exposed to on a daily basis.  I began cleaning up my act literally.  One area I had not thought of, at that time, as a source of toxins was my cookware.  Thankfully, I didn’t have many nonstick pots, or teflon, in my possession as those are some of the worst offenders. I’d like to share with you what I learned about the hazards of using certain types of cookware.  Ease of clean up should most definitely not be the deciding factor when purchasing pots, including disposable versions.

Studies of various cookware options have shown that many can be dangerous to your health as they have been found to leach various toxins into your food and body.  You’ve taken proactive steps to remove toxins from your food, please don’t introduce them right back in through cooking in unsafe pots and pans.  The biggest offenders appear to be the nonstick lines of cookware.  Touted for their ease of cleanup and nonsticking properties, these pots are the most dangerous to use.  In fact, if you own them, I recommend you throw them out today.

According to studies, one of the biggest problems with non stick cookware comes from the chemical that creates the nonstick surface – perflurooctanoic acid (PFOA).  This chemical releases when heated and can potentially leach into the food you are cooking.  Further, if they are scratched or have breakage to the surface leaching potential increases.  I no longer have any nonstick cookware in my collection.  I have slowly replaced all my pots and pans, including the pan I cook my eggs in.  That pan is the most commonly used nonstick pan most people use and I’m betting you have one in your collection as well.  Please take some time to take stock of your pots and pans and bakeware.  I’m sure you will find nonstick versions, especially in your bakeware and frying collection.

When I first started looking at cookware I realized I needed to make some changes.  I wasn’t able to afford to replace all my pots, pans and bakeware at once as good quality pots are quite expensive.  I began researching and looking at the best options for safe, healthy cookware.  I then began purchasing literally one pot at a time.  Before you jump into purchasing, I suggest you spend some time reading and learning about the safest and healthiest cookware options.  Then select the options that works best for your lifestyle.

Here are the types of cookware that have been shown to leach dangerous toxins into our food during cooking.  I’m betting all of you have one of these five in your current collection:

Aluminum
Speckled Metal Bakeware (think Grandma’s roasting pan)
Non stick Anodized Aluminum
Ceramic Non Stick Aluminum Skillet
Non stick Glass Bakeware

I know I had many of them in my collection.  You’ll notice that aluminum is repeatedly on the list.  I wonder how many of you, like me, line your roasting pans in foil when cooking to make clean up easier.  Or how many of you wrap food in aluminum (think baked potatoes) when baking.  Aluminum is one of the worst offenders and an item I used most often during the cooking process.  Aluminum is a very soft metal and one that causes an extreme chemical reaction between food and the pan.  For example, all vegetables cooked in aluminum produce hydroxide poison.  I hope you keep this in mind next time you reach for those disposable aluminum pans.  People make fun of me on holidays because I cook for large crowds in pans that need to be washed.  I’d rather spend time cleaning my pan than being sick down the road.

Many people purchase stainless steel pots and think they are safe.  If you buy cheaper lines of stainless steel you can still face potential risks.  Cheaper stainless steel cookware is made from different alloys, including scrap metal.  Most of these lines can potentially allow chrome and nickel to bleed into food as the salts and acids of foods react with the pots.  When purchasing stainless steel you should only purchase high grade surgical stainless steel, even at the higher cost.

Another common line of cookware is cast iron.  Cast iron is a highly porous metal and grease can turn rancid in the pores.  My mother in law has many older cast iron pots and she says you’re not supposed to scrub them with soap or Brillo.  This totally grosses me out, but I have read these directions about cleaning cast iron pots during my research.

Now that I’ve got your attention and you’ve taken stock of your current cookware, let’s make a plan to replace then with safer, healthier versions.  My first two purchases when I began replacing mine were a roasting pan and a 6 quart pot.  Both of these are staples in my collection and ones I use most often.  I recommend you start with the pots you use most often to cook.  Then, look for sales and slowly replace the others.  I even put a pot I wanted on my birthday list one year and wouldn’t be offended if someone gave me one as a present.

Here are the safest options available when selecting cookware:

High Quality Surgical Grade Stainless Steel

This type of pot will be more expensive to purchase, but totally worth the cost.  Remember, you don’t need a full set of pots.  Start with the one or two you use most often and forget the rest for right now.  There are many brands that offer high grade surgical steel stainless pots.  Many have aluminum inside the steel metals to aid in heat distribution.  Don’t be alarmed by this, as the aluminum never comes into contact with your food and stays perfectly encased inside the stainless steel.  My personal choice are pots from the 360 Cookware line.  I like the vapor seal that allows me to use less oil in the cooking process.

360 Cookware Premium Waterless Stainless Steel 6 Quart Stockpot with Cover

Ceramic Cookware

I am new to ceramic cookware and excited by its versatility.  Ceramic, or glass cookware, can be one of the best options out there to avoid toxins.  Additionally, it can be used in high heat and is dishwasher safe.  The downside of using ceramic cookware is that it is breakable, so you do have to be somewhat careful.  If you drop it on your ceramic floor, it will most definitely break.  I primarily use this type of cookware for cooking eggs and baking.  The line I use is Xtrema Ceramic Cookware and this is my egg pan.

Xtrema 7 Inch 100% Ceramic Skillet with Cover

Enameled Cast Iron

I am a long time fan of Le Creuset products.  The research, however, is mixed on using enameled cast iron as it has been found that heavy metals such as lead and cadmium found in the ceramic glazes can pose potential danger.  In researching this issue, I found that Le Creuset addressed these concerns and feel comfortable still using my two pieces from their line.  Basically, they stated that these chemicals were present only on the outside of the cookware and never touch the food.    These pans are very expensive.  I purchased mine at the Le Creuset outlet during their yearly sale.  Mine were also seconds, but you can’t see anything wrong with them and I was happy for the huge savings.

One final category of cookware worth mentioning, is slow cookers and crock pots.  Many of us use these cookers on a daily basis.  There is little information available about testing done on the safety of ceramic inserts found in many crock pots.  Also, I am not sure about the grade of stainless used in the stainless versions.  For this reason, I decided to take no chances for my slow cooking choice.  I purchased a very versatile slow cooker, which is actually a stand alone pot as well.  It is made by 360 and works beautifully.  Here is the link to check out this great option for a safer slow cooker.

360 Cookware Gourmet Slow Cooker and Stainless Steel Stock Pot with Cover, 4 Quart

I hope you will begin to think about cooking your food in three ways: 1) what you cook; 2) how you cook it, and; 3) what you cook it in.  Don’t overlook the importance of using safe, healthy cookware as part of your healthy lifestyle.

If you have already made this change, I’d seriously love to hear about it.  I am always looking for information on this topic and for new and healthier versions of cookware.  Please leave a comment below about what changes you have made to ensure you are using healthy cookware to prepare your meals.

Accountability

Personal success can be achieved through taking personal accountability for our actions. This shift takes time for many to achieve and is one I’m working toward.  It’s hard to accept that you and you alone are accountable for your success or failure on this journey. It’s often easier to blame genetics, health or other outside reasons for your failure to make progress. But, today I’d like to talk about taking control of your journey and accepting personal accountability for it.

Think about this, every single decision you make in a day is in your hands. You alone decide to sleep in, get up, work out, or to eat that cookie or apple. You alone must take responsibility for the things you do and don’t do in any given day. Recognizing and honoring this is a necessary first step toward making lasting changes in your health. It can also be a powerful tool toward changing unwanted behaviors and ways of thinking about yourself.

Many of us spend our days drowning in negative self talk, blame and procrastination. On this journey toward reclaiming our health, we first need to address the elephant in the room – blame and excuses. Yes, it is far easier to say I’m still overweight because I’m a middle aged woman, or my parents were overweight, or, or, or. Accepting these excuses and reasons for our struggle is like giving ourselves a free pass. Further, accepting these reasons can lead to accepting where we are and giving up on trying to change our way of life.

Personal accountability is not meant to be a way to blame yourself for all that’s wrong in your life right now. Rather, it is meant to be a means to accept that despite where you are right now on your journey, including the reasons for being there, you have the power and responsibility to improve your health and make lasting changes.

Two of the most common reasons for not achieving our goals can be tied to making excuses and not having strong enough reason for doing something. Excuses can often lead to loss of motivation in any endeavor we take on. Motivation will quickly fade over time, especially as we begin to make excuses for our failures. Once we begin to blame outside sources for our lack of progress, we begin to lose our focus and drive. Having  strong reasons for getting healthy can help improve your focus and drive. Losing weight for a special event, while motivating in the short term, won’t sustain you over the long haul. Generally after the event is over, so is your motivation and drive to continue. Centering your why around longer term goals can keep you move forward when the going gets tough. In my case, my why is to maintain optimum health as I move into the next phase of my life. Seeking to avoid getting a disease such as Alzheimers keeps me focused and on track, even when I fall off the wagon for a few weeks here and there.

Success on this journey will require action. This action includes accepting personal responsibility for actions and not allowing yourself to make excuses when you fail to follow through.

Here are a few of the ways I have been holding myself accountable:

Planning

They say a goal without a plan is just a dream. That definitely applies to any health journey you are on. Planning is the biggest key to success. When I fail to plan I always end up on a bender. Planning includes shopping for healthy food, meal planning and scheduling workouts. Using a calendar and developing a schedule is the easiest way I get my daily workouts in. Blocking out a time to do it is critical. I am a morning person and I know that excuses will get the best of me if I try to workout at night. Knowing this, I plan my day around my workout. I get up early enough to fit it in each morning.

Menu planning and food shopping go hand in hand. If I don’t plan out my meals I end up cooking whatever is easy – pasta, junk food, etc. Whenever I am off target I know that it means I haven’t been diligent about shopping and planning. This is your best line of defense for success.

Share the Journey

For me, writing has allowed me to share my journey. It also holds me accountable. I find writing this blog very therapeutic as I work through issues I am facing myself. Making my journey public has also provided a means to hold myself personally accountable for my actions. I can’t sit here and write about things others should do if I don’t believe in them, or do them myself. This blog helps remind me of my why and keeps my focus on my goals strong. You don’t have to blog to share your journey. I imagine you all have people in your life that are on a similar journey. One of the best ways to stay strong and focused is to share your journey with a friend or loved one. Find yourself a partner and support each other along the way.

Positive Self Talk

Blame, negativity and excuses are hard to stave off. I’m working hard on using positive self talk to replace them whenever they rear their ugly heads. Find yourself a means to use positivity and gratitude to keep your spirits up. This will be a difficult journey and there will be times when your emotions take over. Having an outlet, or means to keep it positive will go a long way towards keeping you moving forward.

Tracking Progress

At the gym I always hear this, “What get’s measured gets improved.” It was on a radio playback. This is so true. Tracking progress will greatly improve your motivation and drive. Don’t just weigh yourself and lament over lack of weight loss. Measure all progress – This week I worked out six out of seven days, Today I ate three healthy meals, I slept through the night, etc. There are so many areas of our life that we can look to for progress. The scale is only one way to track our progress. In past blogs I’ve talked about taking your measurements as an alternative to the scale. Taking photographs is another positive way to see progress. Recognizing the daily and weekly successes to change our thinking is also a great place to celebrate process.

What are some ways you hold yourself accountable?  How do you maintain your positivity?  I’d love to hear some of your thoughts on this as it surely can be a struggle for me.  Please take a moment to share your ideas in the comments below.  Also, consider sharing this blog with a friend who is on this path with you.

Lighten Up

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Purchasing healthy food is really just the entry point to healthy eating.   Think about it.  You purchase beautiful, organic zucchini at your local green market.  What a healthy decision that was.  Then you go home, batter it up and fry it, or fry then douse in mozzarella cheese for zucchini parmesan.  Kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?  Does that mean eating delicious zucchini parmesan is out for life?  Certainly not!  How we cook our food makes all the difference when it comes to healthy living.  But, that doesn’t mean our favorite foods should be completely off limit.  Learning how to lighten up your recipes is the best way to keep your comfort foods in your rotation.

Paula Deen was often criticized for her love of butter.  I can still recall her clearly saying “add two sticks of butter”, as she seemingly thumbed her nose up at her critics.  We all know what happened to her.  Now, Paula has changed her views and revamped her recipes to create healthier versions without sacrificing taste.  She’s lost weight and reclaimed her health without giving up the food she loves.  That’s the key really, learning to revamp recipes and looking for excess additions that are not needed, like two sticks of butter.

Before I start cooking any recipe, I preview it looking for excess oils, butter, sugar or cheeses.  These are often the easiest thing to substitute out or modify.  Other areas are the methods of cooking,  for example, sautéed lightly in olive oil vs battered and deep fried.  For example, I like to bake my meatballs and chicken cutlets in place of frying them in oil.

Here are some tips you can use to modify your favorite recipes to create healthier delicious versions.

Bake Don’t Fry

I don’t fry meatballs or chicken cutlets anymore, especially if they are going into a sauce for further cooking.  This saves me the unnecessary calories and fat from the oil and produces a delicious lighter version of this staple Sunday dinner.  For my meatballs, I still use meat, but have substituted ground bison as a healthier option.  My family really hasn’t caught on as the taste is similar.  I have also used ground turkey, but when I do I don’t bake the meatballs prior to entering the sauce.  I just roll them and place them in.  This keeps them moister as baking seems to dry them out.

For chicken cutlets, I place them in egg and then bread crumbs.  I make my own bread crumbs to ensure quality ingredients, but store bought could work as well.  To make bread crumbs, I personally use gluten free bread.  I slightly toast it in the oven on a cookie sheet then place into my food processor  (I use this in my meatballs as well).  You can season the crumbs anyway you wish.  I keep it simple and just use some aged parmesan cheese and Italian flavored seasoning.  Once the chicken has been dipped, it goes onto a cookie sheet which has been sprayed lightly with avocado oil.  I bake it for no more than 20 minutes (depending on thickness) if eating as is.  If you spray the top with a mist of avocado oil it will brown nicely.  If I am using in a chicken parmesan dish, I cook for 15 minutes then top with cheese and small amount of sauce.  No longer do I drown my chicken in sauce as it’s totally not necessary.

Grill don’t Fry

Rarely will I sauté my vegetables in oil anymore.  I have an Optigrill that I purchased after a sleepless night watching infomercials.  It was the best investment ever as I use it for almost everything.  As a reformed vegetable hater, I have come to love the simplistic flavoring of vegetables. In the past I would douse my vegetables in sauces and cheeses and cook them to the point of mush to get them down.  All this just added necessary calories and fat and likely destroyed any health benefits found in the vegetables.  When cooking eggplant parmesan, a favorite addition to Sunday meals, I stopped frying the eggplant.  I don’t dip them in flour or egg anymore either.  Overhaul of that recipe included grilling the eggplant (no oil required) , then just adding a small amount of sauce and cheese.  I leave mine right on the cookie sheet and personally love it this way.  If I eat the fried version now I find it often repeats on me.  Try it out and I think you will be pleasantly surprised.  If cooking for a crowd, you can assemble in the pan just like you would after frying.

Here’s the link to see the Optigrill.  What I love about this is the ease of cleaning.  The whole thing comes apart and goes in the dishwasher, unlike the Foreman grill that I never used due to my inability to properly clean it.  Additionally, this grill has automatic settings so you literally set it and it tells you when it is done.  No more cutting into things to see if they are cooked, or dried out overcooked food.  I’ve never had a bad steak on it.  No, I am not a dealer, nor do I make any commission on this item.  Just love it.

T-fal GC704 OptiGrill Stainless Steel Indoor Electric Grill with Removable and Dishwasher Safe plates,1800-watt, Silver

Use Broth instead of Oil

When stir frying quick meals, you can use a couple of tablespoons of low-sodium vegetable broth in place of oil or butter.  This method adds a nice flavor to your food as well as moisture.  You will save calories and fat from the oil during the cooking process.  Since we know that healthy fats are an integral part of our diets, when eating you can serve these broth sautéed vegetables with a salad.  I like to use avocado oil and lemon juice as a nice dressing over the top.  Since I cooked it in broth, I don’t have to worry about having too much fat in one serving and can add a drizzle of oil to the salad.

Be Choosy about Cheese

Cheese is something I love, but don’t often cook with.  For those recipes that call for cheese, I’ve learned to substitute healthier options.  No, I don’t buy low fat, part skim cheese.  Not only is regular cheese not that bad for you, the reduced-fat version has several drawbacks to it.   Low fat cheese has a very high sodium count (20% more) and the taste and meltability are just plain awful.  Next time you are buying something labeled low fat, I beg you to read the label.  You will see a long list of ingredients and that’s really not cheese in my book.  Truly sounds more like genetically modified fake food.

One of my favorite choices is Cabot cheddar cheese. It has four ingredients: pasteurized milk, cheese cultures, salt, and enzymes.   When using mildly flavored cheese, you need to add more cheese to taste it. Instead, choose a cheese with intense flavor like feta, sharp Cheddar or aged Parmesan.  Try mixing one of these soft cheeses on your chicken parmesan instead of shredded mozzarella.  With the sauce and cheese combination you likely won’t notice the difference. Since I don’t eat parmesan often, I stick with the mozzarella, but purchase freshly made mozzarella from my local store.

Substitute Ingredients

When a recipe calls for a significant amount of ricotta cheese, you can substitute half the amount with cottage cheese.  This will retain taste and texture while reducing some of the fat and calories.  This works really well in baked ziti and lasagna.  When making cream based recipes, you can substitute half and half for heavy cream.  You will still get the same creamy taste with half the fat found in heavy cream.  For any recipe that calls for mayonnaise, you can substitute a homemade dressing made from Greek yogurt and dijon mustard.  When mixed properly it tastes like mayonnaise and is far more healthier.  I use this all the time on my tuna salad.  Lastly, substitute out any pre-made salad dressing or marinade.  They are all laden with chemicals and sodium and totally unnecessary.  For salad dressing, I am a big fan of avocado or olive oil with lemon juice or vinegar.  Simple, easy and healthy.  For marinades, I use wine or vinegar and lemon juice with spices.  They contain far less sodium, yet they tenderize and flavor just as well.

I’ve talked about giving up coffee creamer. My recipe for coffee includes ingredients that are similar to Bullet Coffee. I’ve substituted out my sugar filled creamer with healthy superfoods. You can see my coffee recipe in many of my past posts, or email me directly for it. Here’s the link to the site where I purchase my coffee, Ghee and collagen protein.

Bullet Proof Coffee

There’s something about eating clean delicious food that is not laden with unnecessary oils, cheeses or spices.  I’ve become a minimalist when cooking these days and have come to truly love the taste of my food.  I used to add so much salt to my food and now find it not needed.  It didn’t happen overnight, but making these simple changes to my cooking over time have allowed me to wake up my taste buds.  Why would anyone need to add sugar to a dish of fruit?  The fruit alone is sweet and delicious.  I’ve only shared a few of the many ways you can revamp some of your favorite recipes.  Thankfully, the internet offers many ways to search for healthier recipes.  Cooking Light is a great magazine that carries many simple to cook, healthy dinner options.  Have fun with your menu planning and be brave.  Be willing to try new things and be open to experimenting with food.  I am willing to bet you too will come to love the new versions of your recipes.

If you have healthier versions of your favorite food, please consider sharing. I’m always looking for new ideas.  Here are two of my favorite cookbooks for light, healthy meals.

5 Ingredient Fix: Easy, Elegant, and Irresistible Recipes Clean Eats: Over 200 Delicious Recipes to Reset Your Body’s Natural Balance and Discover What It Means to Be Truly Healthy

Sugar & Spice

Those of you who know me well know my love affair with coffee began only two short years ago.  My dear friend Donna is actually to blame, though Bonny tried for years during our many Dunkin and Starbucks runs enroute to visit our horses.  On this day, Donna offered me a pumpkin spice latte and I decided to try it.  Wow, what a sugary delight that was.  She clearly told me to, “go easy” on them because they are loaded with sugar and calories.

Of course, as we all know one sip of that sugary delight and you are hooked and craving more.  I began having a daily cup of coffee, or should I say sugar.  I purchased sweetened, chemical laden creamer and began my love affair with coffee.  My daily cup at that time consisted of half a cup of creamer (yikes) and half a cup of coffee.  My husband didn’t care how much creamer we went through, he was just thrilled that I was making the coffee after 30 years of marriage.  I tried to wean off the creamer a little each day, but never fully got it under 1/3 cup of creamer.  I was addicted to the sweet, sugary taste and couldn’t take the taste of coffee without it.

Many people told me how they sweetened their coffee to avoid the chemicals in the creamer.  Some used powdered creamer, but most used what I call “fake” sugar.  Yes, they thought it was healthier to use Sweet n Low and Splenda in place of creamer.  I did try that, but was not comfortable with the fake sugar as I now full well the consequences of long term use.  But, when looking at the creamers I was using, I realized they weren’t any better.  What’s a newly addicted coffee addict to do?  Look for healthier sweeteners of course.  This week, I ‘d like to share what I learned in my quest to replace the coffee creamers I used to sweeten my morning coffee.

When I first made the change, I was using organic, hormone free dairy cream with stevia.  This was a good alternative, but I wasn’t happy about how much cream I was still adding to my coffee.  Here’s what I learned about stevia and other healthier options for sugar replacement.

Stevia

Stevia is a plant based, natural sweetener that contains zero calories.  It is perhaps the safest sugar alternative on the market today.  All types of stevia are extracted from the leaves of the stevia plant.  It’s not great for baking, but is delicious in tea and coffee.  This is my go to coffee sweetener these days, along with raw honey.  All Stevia is not created the same, so please be careful and read labels.  For example, Truvia, a commonly sold version is really a sweetener that is only in part made with stevia.  It’s actually made from stevia extract and a sugar alcohol.  Further, some of the ingredients in it are made from genetically engineered crops.   I only use organic stevia drops that I purchase online, but if you read labels you can find healthy versions in any supermarket.  I recommend using liquid stevia over the readily available powdered versions.  Just a few drops go a long way!

SweetLeaf Sweet Drops Liquid Stevia Sweetener, Vanilla Creme, 2 Ounce

Honey

Honey has a low glycemic index, so it won’t lead to the dreaded sugar crash.  It does have a higher fructose level, so please go easy on it.  It’s easy to overindulge in the decadence of it’s sweetness, but I caution against over doing it.  Also, not all honey is created equally so please read the labels carefully.  I use only local, raw honey.  When not available locally, I source my honey online.  Side benefits of using honey as part of your health regimen are that it is contains cancer defending antioxidants and has healing properties when applied to cuts and burns.  Lastly, it is thought to help alleviate some allergy symptoms.  This is the honey that I use and love.  I add one teaspoon per day to my morning coffee.  That’s it, not a drop more, though I could just eat it right out of the jar!

Madhava Natural Sweeteners Organic Raw Honey, 22-Ounce

 

I don’t do a lot of baking, but when making any healthy treats, I use natural sweeteners such as coconut sugar, molasses or pure maple syrup.  These have all the benefits of sweetening your treats without the damaging effects of sugar.  When the recipe calls for sugar, you can always substitute that with a healthier sweetener.  When I am unsure of the conversion amounts, I simply google it.

I don’t advocate consuming large quantities of any of these natural sweeteners.  They are meant to be a simple change you can make to modify your daily habits.  These changes have helped me totally eliminate unhealthy flavored coffee creamers.  I don’t even use creamer at all anymore.  My philosophy has always been, small changes toward a healthier lifestyle.  Total avoidance of food groups has never worked for me.  Revising recipes and substituting healthier versions of foods is an alternative approach that has worked for me over time.  Remember, I’m in this to become healthy, not just lose weight.  Becoming aware of healthier alternatives was the first step for me.

What substitutions have you made in your life to make healthier choices?  Please share in the comments section below.

Craving Something?

I am an emotional eater.  I eat when I’m happy, stressed, sad or mad.  Basically I just love food and what I eat is always strongly tied to my current emotional state.  This time of year is always stressful for me in my work place.  It’s no wonder I’ve been craving chocolate daily and my carb intake (mainly pasta) has increased.  It’s a cycle that we’ve all faced in our lives.  In fact the term “Comfort Food”, in my opinion, plays on our inner need to soothe our souls with food.

My cravings are pretty typical and don’t often change.  I crave chocolate after I eat, especially after lunch.  Lucky for me I work in a school and even luckier I’m the Principal.  One of the perks of my job are birthday cupcakes and many weeks they come daily.  Most times I can limit myself to a bite of the delicious chocolate icing as the rest of the cupcake drops into the pail.  But, during periods of high stress, all bets are off.  My other strong cravings are for salty food, specifically Ruffles Potato Chips.  Darn those ridges do me in every time.  This is easier to avoid, as I don’t often have them in the house.

My comfort foods are also simple.  When I need to soothe my soul with food, I’m craving pasta and pizza.  Simple to get and even simpler to make.  Don’t you wish you craved broccoli when stressed or emotionally drained?  Life sure would be easier if that were the case.  Heck, I’m not even picky about the pasta menu. It could be with sauce, cheese, butter, who really cares just cook some.  My other craving when I’m stressing is wine.  It is so comforting to have that glass of wine after a long, hard day.  It also pairs so well with the pasta and/or pizza.

I often wondered, aside from stress, what do my food cravings really mean.  I’ve read a lot about it and there are many opinions on that topic.  Today, I wanted to share my takeaways from my reading, as they connect to me.  Of course, you may have a different take based on the cravings and emotional issues you are facing.  I’d like to share the scientific explanation, as well as the emotional based one.

Cravings can be thought of as the way our body tells us what it needs.  If you have been eating an unbalanced diet lacking in key food groups, or nutrients, your body could be signaling this need through cravings of certain foods.  Cravings can also be linked to your desire to fill emotional unbalances in your life.  In both cases, they are your body’s way of telling you it needs your attention.  Many cravings could be tied to thirst, hunger, exhaustion and stress.  It’s our job then to learn to listen to our body signals and respond appropriately, meaning not with a bag of Ruffles.

Let’s take a look at some common cravings and what your body might really be asking for.

Sweets

Wait, are you telling me I really don’t want the delicious piece of chocolate?  I’m going to have a hard time buying into this one.

When craving sweets, you actually could be dehydrated or thirsty.  Hmm, considering my craving for chocolate returned these past two weeks when I stopped drinking water, I might have to pause and think about this one. Craving sweets can be tied to dehydration, so the first response should be to drink.  Sip some water, preferably warm as it washes away toxins, before reaching for that cake or chocolate.  Give yourself a half hour of sipping before eating.  If you still want the sweets after that it could be a different signal.

You may be craving sweets because you are emotionally unhappy.  Your body might be trying to cheer you up.  Sugar is known to release endorphins, much like exercise, that make you feel a sense of euphoria.  This is why you feel satisfied after you eat the chocolate, beside the fact that it is just plain delicious.  To offset this type of craving, move! Go for a walk around your building, block or neighborhood,  change your scenery and your mood and see if that improves the craving.

Further, try to incorporate more sweet foods in your daily diet such as, fruits and vegetables.  Instead of chocolate try a small cup of red grapes, or strawberries when in season.  Another good choice would be slices of apples drizzled with raw organic honey.  Since I get the craving after lunch, I’m going to try eating sweet potatoes with my salad and see if that helps, followed by a walk to distract myself from my chocolate thoughts.

Salt

My dear friend Bonny always said you have to follow your sweets with salt.  Of course she always said this as we ate Dunkin Donuts and headed to the deli to buy some chips.  Hence the popularity of sea salt chocolate and salt/vinegar chips,  kill two cravings with one food.

In reality, cravings for salt can be a signal that your body is missing some minerals found in natural salt.  Many table salts used today are stripped of certain minerals due to processing.  One possible fix is to use quality salts such as unrefined mineral or sea salt.  I use Himalayan Sea Salt in a salt grinder.  One issue with this change, though, is the lack of iodine in many sea salt products.  Be sure to read the labels and look for a sea salt that has been fortified with iodine as there are studies indicating adverse effects from lack of iodine.

On the emotional side, salt is thought to be a means of helping people “go with the flow” and relax.  Salt attracts water, as well as movement and flow.  When craving salty foods, try to do something to relax as your body could be reacting to the stressors in your life.  Go for a run, walk or simply meditate.  Find an alternative way to not eat the Ruffles and whatever you do avoid the grocery story in those moments.

Pasta, or Carbs

Carbs are sugars in disguise, so the same things we discussed under sugar cravings apply here.  You may simply be dehydrated.  For me, this one is all about emotion and comfort.  Bread, pasta and pizza are staples in my emotional diet.  I eat them when really what I need is a hug, or the warmth of family time and a simpler life.  They evoke so many happy memories of eating back in the day.  In our family we had bread at every meal and pasta was a fan favorite for me as a kid, as well as for my kids.  Seriously, what kid doesn’t love macaroni and cheese and no, we don’t do the blue box in this house.  Homemade was always served, albeit dripping in processed Kraft American cheese.  Anyway, the best possible emotional meal for me would be fried chicken cutlets with a side of mac and cheese.  On a side note, cravings for cheese are thought to be for those who have “mother” issues in their life.  It could be you feel you need some mothering, miss your mother’s comfort or even had an overbearing mother.

The only way for me to change the channel on this craving has been to cook healthier versions of these meals.  Though it is recommended that you have a wonderful conversation with a dear friend and enjoy belly laughs, that’s not always a fast enough fix to stave this off.  I’ve learned to use whole grain products, hormone free cheeses that are not individually wrapped in large cardboard boxes and baked chicken cutlets in place of fried.  This has been equally effective in providing me comfort in times of need.  Just trying to keep it real!

Emotional eating is one of the main reasons many of us overeat.  In the short term, it fulfills our basic needs, but in the long term it causes feelings of guilt and negative self talk.  Rather than expressing our emotions and dealing with our real needs, we tend to soothe our emotions with food.  Pushing back those feelings and providing comfort to ourselves with food can quickly become a habit, as food becomes the first thing we reach for.

I wish I could sit here and tell you I’ve got this covered, but I don’t.  The only advice I can give is to not let it go too far.  Becoming aware of what you are doing and why is always the first step.  Then make this simple changes to how you approach your cravings.  1) Portion control can also help.  If you really need the chocolate, the Hershey kiss size is far better than the extra large Hershey bar.  Buy the smaller size always helps me.  2) Make healthier versions of your comfort food.  There are tons of recipes online that have taken favorite comfort foods and made them healthier.  In many cases they are just as good and do the trick.  3) Finally, going for a walk or run can be one of the best ways to offset the craving.  Put some great music on and go.  Fill your head with sights and songs and distract your mind from the cravings.

What do you crave and how do you offset the craving?  I’d love to hear your ideas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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