Category: Tips & Tricks Page 3 of 7

Join Me for Yummy Snacks for Healthy, Happy Kids on September 16th!

As a kid, I wasn’t the most adventurous eater.

I stuck to what was familiar and didn’t venture much beyond that.

I’ve always liked fruit and even liked quite a few less than popular veggies (including broccoli and Brussels sprouts…only if they were doused in Kraft parmesan cheese!).

But I also loved unhealthy snacks just as much as the next kid!

From Doritos and Cheetos to Dunkaroos, Gushers, Swiss Rolls, and Swedish Fish, I was in the same boat as just about any other kid my age growing up.

That’s why I’m SUPER excited to teach a workshop next Wednesday, September 16th at the Institute for Integrative Health about Yummy Snacks for Healthy, Happy Kids.

Kids Pics

If you join us for this workshop, you’ll get all of the following benefits:

  • Learn the secrets to inspiring healthy eating in kids and the whole family including some ideas for snacks for toddlers
  • Discover sweet and savory recipes, including dairy-free, gluten-free, and nut-free options
  • View recipe demonstrations, and sample the delicious results
  • Explore strategies to get your children involved in a healthy eating lifestyle
  • Learn the tips and tricks I live by, discovered by a couple who raised five kids on nourishing, whole foods
  • Receive a guide with easy recipes and top resources for feeding healthy kids

You’ll come away feeling energized and excited about trying new recipes with your whole family. Plus, you’ll connect with a new community of health-conscious parents, teachers, and other people who take care of children.

The workshop runs from 6:00-8:00pm and is $30 to attend, which includes everything outlined above. Click here to learn more and register.

Please forward this post to anyone you think would be interested in attending this workshop, especially anyone whose kids are dairy-free or gluten-free!

I look forward to seeing you next week! 🙂

No-Bake Pumpkin Raisin Oat Bars {Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Nut-Free}

If you missed two of my most recent posts about the love fest I’m having with sunflower seed butter, check them out here and here.

As I’ve been mentioning, I’m super excited to be teaching a workshop called Yummy Snacks for Healthy, Happy Kids on September 16th at the Institute for Integrative Health in Baltimore. The workshop is capped at 30 people, so make sure you sign up ASAP if you want to come!

It’s going to be awesome 🙂

One of the snacks  both kids and adults eat a lot of is granola bars. This recipe puts a spin on the traditional bars because you don’t have to bake them (huge time saver!) AND they’re nut-free, so they’re school-friendly.

Bonus!

I like to test out recipes with my friends and family, so I brought my first batch of these to my church small group and they were GONE by the time we left. I had a group of moms and their kids sample them a second time, and everyone loved them. Some people had seconds (always a good sign in my book!)

Sunbutter Oat BarsSunbutter Oat bar Sunbutter Bars

Yield: 16 bars

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups gluten-free rolled oats
  • 1 cup packed Medjool dates, soft and pitted
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seed butter
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup raisins

Directions

  1. Optional: Preheat oven to 350F and put oats on a baking sheet for 15 minutes until lightly toasted. If you’re short on time, skip this step, but it does add an extra crunch.
  2. Put dates and water in a food processor and pulse until dates combine into a paste. You may need to stop and scrape down the sides during the process. Roll into a ball (it’ll be sticky!) and set aside.
  3. Combine sunflower seed butter, honey, vanilla, cinnamon and salt in a small saucepan on low heat on the stove and stir until combined. You can add the date paste ball to the pot so it melts a bit or just add it in at the next step.
  4. Put oats, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and raisins in a large bowl. Add date paste ball and sunflower butter mix to bowl and mix with your hands until everything is combined. In an 8×8 dish lined with parchment paper, press oat mixture evenly and flatten on top. Put in fridge to set about for about 30 minutes.
  5. Remove bars from dish by pulling up on parchment paper. Cut into 16 squares. Enjoy!

Sunbutter Buckeyes {Nut-Free, Gluten-Free, Paleo}

When I was a kid, I loved everything about going back to school.

From our annual trip to JC Penney to buy fall clothes (which was kind of irrelevant because we wore uniforms) to hitting up Staples for our back-to-school supplies, I was in heaven.

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I was a picky eater as a kid, so I brought some interesting lunches to school like carrot sticks, yogurt, fruit and crackers or chips, since I didn’t like sandwiches.

I know other parents struggle with feeding their kids healthy food, so I’m here to give you options for them and you!

As I’ve been gearing up for a cooking class I’m teaching about Yummy Snacks for Healthy, Happy Kids on September 16th, I’ve been doing lots of research and recipe testing to make sure the workshop and recipes are awesome. Click here to register (we’re capping the class at 30 so make sure you sign up soon!).

After finding out that a lot of schools now have peanut and tree-nut restrictions these days due to increased concerns about food allergies, I started testing out more recipes made with seeds instead of nuts.

My friend, Missy, a rock star mama of three, tried the original version of these a couple of weeks ago. She loves sunflower seeds and since they’re made with sunbutter and sunflower seeds, she was a fan.

You can leave them as sunbutter bites, and they taste great!

But, she offered one suggestion to make them irresistible to kids.

Sunbutter Buckeyes

Dip them in chocolate.

That’s how I came up with these Sunbutter Buckeyes.

All they needed was a little hint of chocolate to turn them from Bites into Buckeyes 🙂

My friend Tim and Katie’s son, 20-month old son, Jack, tried these the other day and his smile afterward was all the approval I needed!

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I’ve since taste-tested them with over a dozen moms and kids (from 18 months to 8-years old), and they were a hit.

You’ll love them, too! 🙂

sunbutter buckeyes2Sunbutter Buckeyes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds, unsalted
  • 1/3 cup shredded coconut
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup Medjool dates, packed and pitted (about 10 dates)
  • 1/3 cup sunflower seed butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup Enjoy Life chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil

Directions

  1. Combine pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, coconut, salt and cinnamon in a food processor until it reaches a fine meal.
  2. Add dates, sunflower seed butter, and vanilla, and run food processor until all ingredients are combined.
  3. Roll dough into tablespoon-sized balls and put on parchment paper in refrigerator to chill.
  4. Make your own double burner to melt the chips. Fill a small saucepan with 1 inch water and place a small glass bowl on top. Set the burner to medium low heat. Put chocolate chips and coconut oil in the glass bowl and stir until melted.
  5. Remove bites from fridge and dip halfway into chocolate. Set on a sheet of parchment paper and put in fridge to harden (about 10 minutes).

If you haven’t already, make sure you sign up to come to the Yummy Snacks for Healthy, Happy Kids workshop in Baltimore on Wednesday, September 16th!

Easy Apple Sandwiches {Nut-Free, Paleo}

If you’ve been following me on Facebook and Instagram, you’ve probably caught on to the fact my go to ingredient at the moment is sunflower seed butter.

It’s the closest thing to peanut butter in terms of taste and texture and is school-friendly, since it’s peanut and tree-nut free.

As I’ve been preparing for the Yummy Snacks for Healthy Kids workshop in Baltimore on September 16th, two things I’ve been doing intentionally are making sure I have some allergy-friendly options AND recipes that kids can help make, too.

My friend and mother of three kiddos, Missy, told me that one of the keys to getting kids to eat food is to let them be a part of the process. All of the recipes I will make (including this one!) are recipes that kids can help prepare, too.

I saw lots of examples of this snack on Pinterest but wanted to make it nut-free and school-friendly and put my own spin on it.

Whether you leave it as a solo slice (pizza-style) or put two apple rings together (sandwich-style), this snack is easy to make and super versatile.

It could be made with nut butter instead of sunflower seed butter, and the possibilities for toppings (or fillings) are endless!

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Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup sunflower seed butter
  • 4 teaspoons hemp seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 apple, cored and sliced
  • Topping ideas: Blueberries, shredded coconut, Enjoy Life chocolate chips, chopped nuts, raisins, goji berries, etc.

Directions

  1. Combine sunflower butter, hemp seeds, and cinnamon in a small bowl.
  2. Remove core from apple and cut apple into 1/2 inch discs.
  3. Spread sunflower butter on each apple slice and put toppings on one slice. Make an apple “sandwich” by pressing the remaining slice on top. Repeat until the apple is gone! 🙂

If you haven’t already, make sure you sign up for the Yummy Snacks for Healthy Kids Workshop on September 16th!

Back-to-School Sunbutter Spread {Nut-Free, Paleo}

Now that I’m back from vacation and through the craziest part of the summer, I’ve been spending some time back in my happy place…my kitchen.

I’m gearing up to teach a cooking class in September called Yummy Snacks for Healthy, Happy Kids at the Institute for Integrative Health (click this link to register!) and have been doing lots of recipe testing and experimenting.

My friend, Lindsay, contacted me because she found out that her son’s kindergarten is completely peanut-free.

Like most kids, he loves PB&J, so she was looking for another option.

Meet sunflower seed butter AKA sunbutter :)

IMG_0739Just like its peanut and tree-nut cousins, sunflower seed butter is made by grinding up sunflower seeds until they’re smooth and creamy.

It tastes WAY more like peanut butter than almond butter does, so if you’re not a huge fan of almond butter, give sunflower seed butter a shot!

I decided to upgrade the basic sunbutter, as it’s commonly called, by adding in some hemp seeds and cinnamon.

Let’s take a look at each ingredient in this quick, easy, and tasty recipe.

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These little guys don’t get enough love, but they should! Here’s why…

  • Good source of magnesium to calm our nerves, muscles and blood vessels
  • Anti-inflammatory, containing heart healthy fats and vitamins
  • The detoxifying and cancer preventive mineral selenium
  • Rich in compounds called phytosterols that promote healthy cholesterol levels

You can find sunflower seed butter at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Wegmans, MOMs Organic Market, most Giants, The Fresh Market, and any natural food store. It’s also sold online at Amazon and Thrive Market.

Hemp Seeds

In case it’s crossing your mind, these hemp seeds won’t give you the “high” you’re thinking of, but they DO have lots of other benefits. They’re a great source of plant-based protein, high in healthy fats that naturally balance hormones and promote heart health, and rich in  fiber to keep us feeling full and satisfied.

For more benefits of hemp seeds, click here.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is a naturally sweet tasting spice that helps us regulate our blood sugar, which is key for sustained energy. Check out the top 10 proven health benefits of this super spice from the folks over at Authority Nutrition.

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Servings: 2

Ingredients*

  • 1/4 cup sunflower seed butter
  • 4 teaspoons shelled hemp seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (add more to taste)

Note: If your sunflower seed butter is salt-free and sugar-free, add a pinch of fine grain sea salt and 1 teaspoon of maple syrup for a touch of sweetness.

Directions

Stir all ingredients in a bowl with a spoon until combined. Use as a spread or dip for celery, apples, pears, Mary’s Gone Crackers pretzel sticks or sandwiches. It’s versatile and delicious! Make a double or quadruple batch to have on hand throughout the week.

The next post will cover another fun way to use this dip, so stay tuned!

**Remember, if you want one of the 30 slots for the Yummy Snacks for Healthy, Happy Kids workshop, click here to register and get more info!**

I’d love to hear from you! What was YOUR favorite snack at school when you were a kid?

Sweet Tooth Truths Part 4: The Best Choices for Natural Sweeteners

In this fourth and final post of the Sweet Tooth Truths series, I’m going to give you the scoop on natural sweeteners. From agave to yacon syrup, we’re going to take a look at some of the most common natural sweeteners and what we know about how they impact our bodies.

One of the common questions that stood out during the Sweet Confessions talk was, “How much sugar should/can we eat?”

The reality is that even the experts can’t seem to agree on a magic number. The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests no more than about 12 teaspoons per day, while the American Heart Association (AHA) says 6 teaspoons for women and 9 teaspoons for men.

Regardless of whom you ask, the main thing to keep in mind is that we don’t want to eat a lot of sweeteners, even if they are from natural sources. They’re meant to be used in moderation but aren’t an essential part of our diet.

They just happen to taste really good and make food more enjoyable 🙂

Dr. D’Adamo rounded out his presentation making this point about sweeteners in general:

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So keep that in mind as you read through this list of sweeteners and what’s recommended for each.

If you want to get even more detailed information about each of these sweeteners and others not covered in this post, check out this website. It’s an excellent resource!

Agave

The Basics: Indigenous to Mexico & South America, agave is the slow boil of sap of the agave plant. There are many species, but it’s usually derived from “Blue Agave.” Tequila is fermented agave. Agave is marketed as a “low glycemic” sweetener because its glycemic index (GI, which measures the impact of a carbohydrate on our blood sugar) is 15, but it’s primarily made up of fructose, which can be tough on our liver and favors fat storage.

agaveWhere to Find It: Syrups, cereals, nutrition bars

The Controversy: Most modern agave is highly refined, full of pesticides, genetically-modified and has minimal antioxidant content. “Raw” & organic agave is less refined and likely more nutritious but we want to limit consumption even if it is raw and organic for a number of reasons:

  • Very high in fructose (up to 90% fructose compared to HIGH fructose corn syrup which is 55% fructose!), which is primarily metabolized in the liver
  • Increases triglycerides (fat in our blood) and VLDL (dangerous cholesterol)
  • Increases appetite

Stevia

The Basics: Obtained from South American shrub yerba dulce, stevia is an herb that has been used for thousands of years for sweetening. It’s nearly calorie-free and is 100 times sweeter than sugar but can have a slightly bitter aftertaste.

Where to Find It: Truvia, PureVia, SweetLeaf, stevia extracts, flavored water, diet soda, yogurts

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The Controversy: In the 1990s, it was rejected by the FDA, Canada and Europe for use as a sweetener because of concerns over reproductive problems in rats and hamsters, but it has been used in South America and Japan for many years. In 2008, the FDA classified stevia as GRAS (“Generally Regarded as Safe”), and the food industry started including it in beverages and marketed it heavily as a natural alternative to artificial sweeteners.

The other compound in stevia has not been linked to tumors or reproductive problems in rats over several generations. However, those studies were funded by the food industry and can be found here and here.

There have been few independently-funded human studies on stevia, but those that have been done have found it does not increase blood sugar more than placebo and lowers blood pressure.

Recommendation

Choose your stevia wisely. As always, read labels, choose organic if possible, avoid additional ingredients (for instance, Truvia contains erythritol and natural flavors and Stevia in the Raw contains dextrose and maltodextrin), and use stevia in moderation until more is known.

Honey

The Basics: Honey is made when bees collect flower nectar, combine it with salivary enzymes, and store it in their hives. Honey has been used as food & medicine in Ayurveda, traditional Chinese Medicine, and by the Greeks for over 5,000 years.

There are many varieties of honey, including clover, buckwheat, manuka, thyme, lavender, etc. The color varies by the nectar of different plant sources. There are also several forms of honey, including liquid, creamed and honeycomb.

Where to Find It: Cereal, granola, yogurt, nut butters, nutrition bars

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What Science Says

Honey has multiple health benefits, including the following:

Reasons for Concern

Recommendations

  • Use in moderation because it’s high in sugar (GI = 50, but relatively high in fructose)
  • Best choice: organic (less exposure to pesticides), local (likely to benefit seasonal allergies), raw honey (more enzymes, nutrients)
  • Darker honey has more nutrients (include buckwheat, honeydew, manuka)
  • Traditional or creamed is not likely to have any health difference but is traditionally easier for teas, and creamed honey is easier for spreading

Other Natural Sweeteners

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Blackstrap Molasses

“Unsulphured” blackstrap molasses has the most antioxidants and potassium of any natural sweetener and come from cane sugar manufacturing. It’s also very high in iron, so it’s sometimes used as a supplement for people who have anemia—Phillips (2009) J Am Diet Assoc. 109(1):64-71. Be aware that, despite its health benefits, it has a GI of 55 and is 30% fructose, so it’s not suitable for diabetics and should be used in moderation, as with all other sweeteners.

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Maple Syrup

This natural sweetener comes from the sap of maple trees. Rich in antioxidants and high polyphenol (protective nutrients in plants) content. Dark maple syrup is high in magnesium, potassium, etc. (Theriault (2006) Food Chem 98:490–501). Its GI is 54, and it is about 35% fructose, so use it in moderation.

Make sure you are buying PURE maple syrup (not Log Cabin or Aunt Jemima, which are usually full of high fructose corn syrup). We prefer Grade B maple syrup, as it’s darker and richer than Grade A.

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Coconut Palm Sugar

With a look similar to brown sugar, coconut palm sugar comes from the flower blossoms growing on palm trees, which produce a liquid nectar. It has a low GI (35) and low fructose content (<30%), so its use is encouraging but does not yet have much supporting science. Also, even though it contains more vitamins and minerals than white sugar, it doesn’t contain any fiber and is essentially pure sugar, so enjoy it in moderation.

I use coconut sugar in my Snickerdoodle bites and this fruit crumble.
Snickerdoodle Bites

Luo Han Guo (Monk Fruit)

The plant is native to southwestern China, where it has been known for hundreds of years and used for medicinal purposes. It’s used as a natural, zero-calorie sweetener with a glycemic index of 0, so it’s suitable for diabetics. It’s about 300 times sweeter than sugar.

Here is a site with more info about Monk Fruit.

Yacon Syrup 

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A natural sweetener made from the root of the Yacon plant in South America. It contains fructooligosaccharides, which promote the creation of beneficial bacteria in our digestive system, and helps to “bulk up” our stool to remove waste from the body.

Several studies have shown Yacon syrup to be effective as a weight loss tool, but it’s very expensive (about 30 times as much as sugar!), so it’s not widely used.

Dates

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Usually dried or in the form of date sugar or date paste. They’re a better option than other sweeteners because they are a whole food and are high in tannin antioxidants. Like most dried fruit, they are high in fructose, so moderate your consumption. I prefer Medjool dates to Deglet dates because they have more of a caramel texture and work better in recipes.

Berries

The best “sweetener” for many health benefits, including fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Enjoy a variety because different berries have different nutrients.

So, there you have it! Those are some of the top natural sweeteners to include in your diet. It’s ideal to eat them in moderation, but food is meant to be enjoyed, and they make food more enjoyable for sure 🙂 Didn’t see a sweetener you’re curious about on the list? Check out this guide or a FULL list.

If you want to go back and check out the previous posts in this series, here they are!

Sweet Tooth Truths Part 3: The Skinny on Artificial Sweeteners

In Part 1 of this series, we learned why we can’t get enough of sugar and just how much we’re eating. In Part 2, we talked about the secret to cutting sugar cravings and having all-day energy, something most of us have struggled to do in the past.

Today, we’re going to take a closer look at artificial sweeteners, so we can get clear on why so many people are concerned about consuming them.

In the final post (yup, I had to add a Part 4!), we’ll focus on the best options for natural sweeteners. These are the types of sweeteners that I use in sweet treat recipes featured on my blog, so many of them will be familiar to you 🙂

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After I finished my portion of the Sweet Confessions presentation, Dr. Chris D’Adamo, an epidemiologist and nutrition researcher, who serves as the director of research at the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine, taught us all about the skinny on artificial and natural sweeteners.

He started off his talk explaining that the hormone insulin is secreted by the pancreas soon after the sweet taste is experienced on the tongue, whether the substance contains calories or not.

In other words, the body is fooled.

It expects glucose (energy!) to hit the bloodstream, but it gets none. This may result in increased appetite soon after.

So, despite our best efforts, when we’re ordering diet sodas, teas and juices, we’re not doing ourselves any favors.

As Dr. D’Adamo was presenting information about artificial and natural sweeteners, one of the phrases he said throughout his portion of the talk that I thought was key was this:

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Keep that in mind as you read about these sweeteners.

Our goal is to minimize and, ideally, remove these artificial chemicals from our diet because they don’t support health, but Dr. D’Adamo stressed the importance of not letting an occasional ingestion make you feel like you’re doomed.

That’s not the goal!

He walked us through each of the most common artificial sweeteners and why we want to be aware of and concerned about them. For each sweetener, I’ve included what it is, where we often find it, and why it’s controversial.

Feel free to share this information with anyone you think would benefit!

Acesulfame Potassium (AKA Ace-K)

The Basics: FDA-approved in 1988 and 200 times sweeter than sugar.

Where to Find It: In thousands of products, including sodas, fruit juices, sports drinks, alcoholic beverages, dairy products, ice cream, desserts, gelatins, jams & jellies, baked goods, chewing gums, toothpaste, mouthwash, pharmaceuticals, yogurt, cereals, processed fruits & vegetables, salad dressings & sauces, condiments & relishes

The Controversy: Most safety testing was done in the 1970s but was poor quality. The mice studies haven’t been of sufficient length, and the minimum toxic dose and maximum tolerable dose haven’t been evaluated. Ace-K hasn’t been thoroughly tested in humans.

Two rat studies suggested that it might cause cancer. It was for those reasons that in 1996 the Center for Science in the Public Interest urged the FDA to require better testing before permitting ace-K in soft drinks. In addition, large doses of acetoacetamide, a breakdown product of ace-K, have been shown to affect the thyroid in rats, rabbits, and dogs.

Aspartame

The Basics: —Discovered in 1965, it’s nearly calorie-free and about 200 times sweeter than sugar.

Where to Find It: —Thousands of foods, including Nutrasweet, Equal, diet soda, “sugar-free” products, cereals, low-calorie drinks, etc.

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The Controversy: The FDA concluded there was no conclusive evidence of human harm and approved it in 1981. Yet 75% of food additive-adverse events (the most common of which is headaches) reported to FDA are linked to aspartame.

The source of the information is super important.  —100% of studies funded by aspartame manufacturers have found aspartame to be “safe” BUT —92% of independently-funded studies found that aspartame has adverse effects.

Yikes!

The health concerns linked to aspartame consumption are pretty unsettling:

Because consumers have caught on to the dangers of aspartame, the food industry has been renaming it, so make sure you read your labels!

  • “Neotame”: FDA-approved in 2002 and 13,000 times sweeter than sugar
  • “Advantame”: —FDA-approved in 2014 and —20,000 times sweeter than sugar (!)

For more info about aspartame and its impact on our health (so important to share with anyone drinking diet sodas or juices!), check out this free documentary on YouTube:

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

The Basics: There’s a lot of controversy around this man-made liquid sweetener extracted from corn stalks that has been added to our food since the 1970s. Many have identified HFCS as one of the drivers of the obesity epidemic. It’s a very economic sweetener, about half the price of sugar. It tastes just like sugar, browns when heated and provides color in baked foods, thickens and stabilizes processed food and extends shelf life. It’s great for the food industry, but not so great for us.

Where to Find It: Soda, juices, salad dressings, bread, candy, ketchup, syrup, snack foods

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The Controversy: The debate includes one group of people who advocate for banning HFCS entirely because of concerns about it being a poison to the body. The Corn Refiner’s Association argues that HFCS is “natural,” since it is originally derived from corn and, therefore, safe. But Robert Lustig and other researchers say, “It’s terrible, but so is all added sugar.”

HFCS consumption is concerning for the following reasons:

Fructose is also the primary sugar in fruit, but, unlike HFCS, the fructose in fruit is packaged in the presence of other nutrients like fiber, vitamins and minerals, and water, so our body responds to eating a handful of berries differently than drinking a can of Coke. Fructose is more concentrated in dried fruit, so pick fresh fruit as often as possible, especially berries, stone fruits (apricots, peaches, cherries), and citrus as your preferred fruits.

Are you concerned you might be consuming too much fructose? Ask your doctor to order a serum uric acid test. If you’re above 300 µmol/L (5 mg/dL), consider lowering fructose intake and retest. This test is also used to diagnose gout.

Saccharin

The Basics: Discovered in 1878 as a coal tar derivative (serious yuck), it’s nearly calorie-free and 300 times sweeter than sugar.

Where To Find It: Sweet ‘N Low, cookies and baked products (heat-stable), diet soda, jams and jellies, —toothpaste

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The Controversy: It’s been under scrutiny since it was introduced in the early 1900s. The main controversy was in 1972, when a study linked it to causing cancer in lab animals. The FDA removed the warning label in 2000 and removed it from the U.S. carcinogen list in 2010, but saccharin is still banned in Canada.

Other reasons for concern include:

Sucralose

The Basics: FDA-approved in 1998 and 600 times sweeter than sugar. Its claim is that it’s “Made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar.” It’s often used interchangeably with “Splenda,” but they’re not the same thing. Sucralose itself is essentially calorie-free, but —99% of Splenda packets contain dextrose and maltodextrin, which are sugars that negatively impact our blood sugar. So, technically, Splenda is not calorie-free or sugar-free.

Where to Find It: Splenda, foods with Splenda label, baked goods, sugar-free candy, chewing gum, diet soda, low-sugar nutrition/snack bars, pharmaceuticals

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The Controversy: Since it’s one of the newer sweeteners to hit the market, it doesn’t have many human studies and there are no long-term human studies. In a Splenda-manufacturer-funded study, which reviewed over 100 studies, the FDA determined no conclusive evidence of human harm.

Here are some of the reasons you may want to think twice about that yellow packet:

Sugar Alcohols

The Basics: Occur naturally in some fruits. On the label as maltitol, erythritol, xylitol, sorbitol, mannitol, isomalt, etc.

Where to Find Them: Sugar-free candies, chewing gum, low-carb & diabetic-marketed foods, baked goods, toothpaste, etc.

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The Controversy: Overall, they are less risky than artificial sweeteners, but often have laxative effects. Most increase blood sugar and may damage gut bacteria that’s essential for optimal health.

The best options for sugar alcohols are erythritol (no impact on blood sugar and only 60% as sweet as sugar) and xylitol (inhibits oral bacteria growth, protects against cavities BUT is lethal to dogs in small amounts). Make sure you check labels because they are often combined with other more harmful artificial sweeteners.

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In the fourth and final post of this series, we’ll take a look at natural sweeteners, which ones are the best choices, and why. I learned a lot and know you will, too 🙂

Resources to Learn More About Artificial Sweeteners

The Secret to Eating for Energy and Cutting Sugar Cravings

In the first post in this series all about sugar, I shared what we’ve learned about how much sugar we’re eating, how it’s hidden in many of our favorite “healthy” foods, and why so many of us are addicted to it. If you missed it, check it out here!

If our drive to eat these foods is so strong, how do we overcome it? How can we eat for energy instead of always turning to sugar or caffeine to pick us up?

How do we set ourselves up to reduce sugar cravings? 

The good news is that our taste buds are highly adaptable. They can change over time. It’s important to know that the more sugar we eat, the more sugar we crave.

If we give our body a break from artificial sweeteners and refined sugar and eat naturally sweet foods (like berries), then when we do eat a sweetened food, it may taste too sweet to us!

Aside from eating less sugar, one of the keys to cutting sugar cravings and eating for energy is to eat satiating meals and snacks that stabilize our blood sugar. To do this, we’ll want to include a combination of protein, fiber and fat…PFF for short.

PFF

The most satiating macronutrient we can eat is PROTEIN.

Protein isn’t just for building muscles either.

The building blocks of protein (amino acids) are the foundation of everything from tissues like muscles to neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, hormones, and enzymes. Protein keeps us full and is key to controlling our energy and weight. Check out this article all about protein and why we need it.

Here are a few of my favorite sources of protein (seeds, nuts, lentils, peas, beans, wild caught fish, grass-fed beef, pasture-raised and cage-free eggs and poultry).

protein

You can find sustainably raised animals products near where you live by searching the website LocalHarvest.org.

For me, one of the most filling sources of protein is lentils. They’re packed with protein AND fiber, so they really fill me up for a long time. One of my favorite lentil dishes to make when the weather cools down is this Crock Pot Lentil Chili. Check out 11 recipes that will make you fall in love with lentils.

Another blood sugar-stabilizer is FIBER.

Fiber is only found in plants and helps our blood sugar release more slowly over time, so it keeps us feeling full and helps us get off of the blood sugar roller coaster. By doing that, we will feel better and have more sustained energy.

Not only that, but fiber-filled foods are nutrient-rich foods (packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals) that nourish and satisfy our bodies at a biochemical level. Instead of being overfed and undernourished, we’re giving our body all of the goodness it needs to feel awesomely energized.

Some of my favorite sources of fiber include the foods below (leafy green vegetables, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, root vegetables like sweet potatoes, squashes, berries, stone fruits like cherries and peaches, lentils, peas, and beans)

Fiber

As you start eating more fiber, do so slowly and increase your water intake at the same time to support your body in getting rid of waste. That way, you can feel your best and reduce some of the common side effects of adding in more fiber (such as gas and bloating) to an otherwise low-fiber diet.

Incorporating enough fiber in our diet is one of the keys to eating for energy.

Last but not least, we can recover from the advice given to us by the dietary guidelines and…

Stop fearing FAT.

Remember this chart from the first post in this series?

low-fat-guidelines

We need dietary fat for a number of reasons.

For starters, 60% of our brain is made up of fat, so healthy fats like the ones below are essential for brain health and functioning and also play a key role in satiety.

I like to think of fat as a condiment, with most of my meals consisting of fiber and protein. It’s especially important to eat fats when we eat plants containing vitamins that need fat to be absorbed (like the vitamin K in kale). I focus on eating whole food sources of fats as much as possible vs. oils.

Here are just a few of my favorite fats (avocados, flax seeds, hemp seeds, nuts and seeds, pasture-raised cage-free eggs, grass-fed ghee (clarified butter), coconut, and wild caught salmon.

fats

When we include Protein, Fiber and Fat in our meals (PFF for short), we give our body a better chance of controlling our blood sugar, stabilizing our energy and weight AND cutting cravings.

Eating this way has significantly impacted my energy level and has helped me cut cravings, too. Give it a try for yourself, and see what happens.

In the third post in this series, we’ll take a look at the concerns about artificial sweeteners. We’ll wrap up with a bonus 4th post about the BEST natural sweeteners to use and why!

Sweet Tooth Truths Part 1: Why We Can’t Get Enough of Sugar

This is the first part of a 4-part series recapping the recent Sweet Confessions event I was part of at the Institute for Integrative Health in Baltimore! Part 2 will take us through how to cut cravings and eat for energy, and in Part 3 we’ll cover which sweeteners to avoid or minimize and which ones are the best choices.

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Earlier this year, I wrote in my journal that one of my goals this year was: To speak at the Institute for Integrative Health.

This past Thursday, I had the honor and privilege to do just that!

The night started with a Healthy Happy Hour and was supported by some of my favorite food vendors, including Zia’s Cafe/Plantbar, Jinji Chocolates, Mamma Chia, and KIND, as well as other local advocates of wholesome food and health education, such as Real Food Farm and Mission Thrive.

Tiih picstiih eventTIIH

I had my own Rachel’s Nourishing Kitchen table and was giving out samples of my homemade Snickerdoodle Cookie Dough Bites, which were a HUGE hit!

A little 3-year-old girl came back for thirds 🙂

They’re made without refined sugar and use natural sweeteners, including Medjool dates and raw coconut palm sugar.

They also contain blood-sugar stabilizing cinnamon and satiating sources of protein and healthy fats. We’ll talk more about why that’s important in the second post in this series!

me table tiihdonutholes tiihSnickerdoodle Bites

You could feel the energy in the room as everyone mingled and sampled the delicious eats.

We made our way into the main room for the Sweet Confessions presentation with Dr. D’Adamo. I was excited to see friends, clients, and peers there!

I started off talking about how I’ve always had a sweet tooth and grew up loving Sour Patch Kids, Swedish Fish, Fruit by the Foot, Gushers, Mike & Ikes, and everything in between.

I had fruit snacks in my lunch box, Little Debbie treats as part of an after-school snack, and loads of candy for every holiday.

We watched a funny clip from the Jimmy Kimmel show that shows just how strong our emotional connection to sweets is.

Check it out for a laugh 🙂

We love sweets because they taste good and make us feel good. But most of us don’t realize how biologically wired that preference is!

Our taste system has an important job – to decide whether to accept a food; it serves as the gatekeeper. Michael Moss writes about this in his book Salt Sugar Fat (a highly recommended read!).

Our hunter-gatherer ancestors had very little access to sweet foods, but “sweet” meant that a food was safe to eat and would provide energy, something that was unpredictable and hard to come by at that time.

The sweetest thing they likely had access to were berries – a far cry from the Sour Patch Kids and fruit snacks I loved so much as a kid. In our talk, our goal wasn’t to vilify sugar. We simply wanted to raise awareness around how much most of us are eating and to consider how it might be impacting our health and how we feel. Rather than “telling” everyone to avoid sugar entirely, we talked about how to make the best choices when it comes to sweeteners, so we can still enjoy them.

So, how much sugar are we eating? Let’s take a look.

In 1822, we consumed an average of 45 grams of soda every 5 days – that’s about the amount of sugar in one 12-ounce can of Coke.

coke

Fast forward to 2010, and the average American is eating 765 grams of sugar every 5 days – the amount of sugar in 17 cans of Coke! That’s about 22 teaspoons a day or 130 pounds of sugar per yeara person worth of sugar.

Our bodies haven’t adapted to how much sugar we’re pouring in on a daily basis. And it’s not just in the form of sugary candy. Sugar is hiding in foods we may not even suspect.

One of the most helpful tips I’ve learned about how to spot sugar in food is to memorize this simple stat:

day-6-tsp-to-grams

Once I started paying attention to that, it totally changed how I shopped for any packaged foods.

I was shocked to find out how much sugar was in seemingly “healthy” foods like yogurt, granola bars, and even smoothies.

Take a look at one of the comparisons below and find many more on the Sugar Stacks website.

FedUp-Fact7

WHOA!

Yogurt and a pack of Gushers fruit snacks have the same amount of sugar?

What’s going on?

How did we get here?

A lot of our current eating habits can be traced back to the introduction of the first dietary guidelines in the U.S. in the late 1970s.

The initial recommendations that were set to be released were to significantly reduce sugar intake along with consumption of red meat and dairy products. The sugar, meat, and dairy industries were infuriated by these recommendations and lobbied to have them softened, which is exactly what happened.

So, instead of cutting back on sugar, the release of the McGovern report villainized saturated (and ultimately ALL) fat.

The result was that our intake of refined, enriched and processed carbohydrates skyrocketed beyond anything we’d ever seen with the introduction of low-fat, no fat, fat-free, and lite products.

We stopped eating fat, starting eating refined flour and sugar, and we started gaining weight.

low-fat-guidelines

It’s not just that we’re now suddenly weak and don’t have the willpower to resist sweet temptations that seem to surround us at all times. It’s that we’re trying to resist a biochemical drive on a daily basis, especially when it comes to foods like sugar.

One study done in rats was designed to test their preference for sugar-sweetened water compared to intravenous cocaine. 94% of the rats preferred the sugar-water, suggesting that rats can become sugar dependent under certain circumstances, which may translate to human conditions.

Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist and founder of the Institute for Responsible Nutrition, explains how this process of dopamine release happens in the human brain.

When we eat sugary foods, the brain gets flooded with the pleasure chemical – dopamine – and starts reducing its number of dopamine receptors in order to keep things balanced. This is called downregulation. In other words, we need MORE to get the same effect or “high.” This is known as tolerance.

When drug addicts become tolerant to the effects of a drug, they start increasing the dosage to get the same effect. Lustig suggests we’re doing the same thing with food in this video.

Many of us experience sugar highs and lows throughout the day that affect everything from our energy levels to mood and even weight.

So, if this drive to eat these foods is so strong, how do we address it in a way that doesn’t center around deprivation and dieting?

In the next post, we’ll take a look at the secret to cutting cravings and controlling blood sugar instead of letting it control us!

Stretch Your Fresh Food Dollars: How to Properly Store Fruits & Veggies

I’ve been pretty busy lately spending most Tuesdays, Wednesday and Thursdays at client sites doing nutrition workshops and cooking demos.

I LOVE having the opportunity to interact with so many people, hear their stories, and spread the message about eating real, whole food in a way that is refreshing, energizing, inspiring and FUN from Dover, Delaware to Washington, DC.

Earlier this week, I was teaching a cooking class for a client, and one of the attendees asked about proper food storage tips.

It’s something that most of us don’t know much about, so I thought I’d use this post to clear up the confusion, especially since so many fruits and veggies are in season, and we want to make the most of them!

For starters, I found this brief recommendation about cooked food storage and this post about dry pantry goods storage on one of my favorite websites – The Kitchn. I also wanted to share the info below about how to properly store fruits and veggies, since many of us are unclear about where to put them once we bring them home.

What goes in the fridge?

What can be left out on the counter?

What should you store in your pantry?

Many people may not give a second thought about where to store their food, but in some circumstances, knowing what to store where could be particularly important when it comes to the outcome. For example, if you are hosting a party and you want to make sure that your food stays nice and fresh for the duration, wouldn’t it be best to hire a fridge trailer that can be placed in your garden for easy access? I’ve heard of many people doing this before, and it could be a good idea if you need a short-term solution. But when it comes to the long run, knowing this information could be important going forward. Wouldn’t you agree?

If you want to get the most out of your produce budget, make sure you store fruits and vegetables properly. Use this handy infographic to learn how! Then you might want to look into products such as these Food crates for sale from PHS Teacrate.

fruit veggies - how to store

For more tips about how to stretch your fresh food dollars, check out this post for 5 additional tips!

Looking to eat healthy without going broke? Check out this post!

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