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Friday, January 29, 2010

One moms "healthy snack" is this mom's nightmare

Today at the library after reading a story, the librarian handed out a snack. I always cringe inside when I know my kids are going to be given unhealthy food, but I try not to be a total food Nazi (outside the house). I figure if my kids are constantly feeling deprived when all the other kids are getting a treat, it will eventually backfire. Anyway, when they handed out the "fruit" snacks, I opened it for my 2 year old, but I couldn't help reading the ingredient list on the back. "This has a lot of sugar," I lamented to the mom next to me. Her answer? "But at least they're fat free."
As Americans we are so concerned about what's not in food, it almost seems like we don't care what is in it. In this case, what was in it included: juice from concentrate (this means fruit sugar), corn syrup (processed sugar from corn), sugar, modified corn starch, Fruit Puree, Gelatin, Citric Acid, Lactic Acid, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Alpha Tocopherol.
These particular fruit snacks say on the cover: "made with real fruit" and I think for a lot of parents, that's enough to convince them that it's healthy. We don't stop to think sometimes that "made with" is not the same as getting an actual piece of fruit. We've lost so much in the processing, and adding other ingredients, that we're not getting the benefits of fruit at all.
Most shocking to me was that this one toddler sized serving of fruit snacks contains 23 grams of sugar. In one teaspoon there are 4 grams of sugar, so in this one little fruit snack pack-- 5.75 teaspoons of sugar! And the fact that they are fat free, like the other mom was so relieved about, is actually worse. There is no fat, fiber (0 grams) and only minimal protein (1 gram) to slow down the rush of sugar into the bloodstream. In nourishing traditions, Sally Fallon explains, "In nature, sugars and carbohydrates...are linked together with vitamins, minerals, fat and fiber--the bodybuilding and digestion regulating components of the diet." Fruit snacks are about as far from nature as you can get.
This is one of those hard calls as a mom: risk a fit-throwing hungry toddler, who may grow up feeling deprived, or feed him processed sugar masquerading as a healthy snack.

This post is part of fight back friday at food renegade.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

One dish meals

Here are two easy skillet meals to make on those busy nights. Spanish rice can be a vegetarian main dish or brown some ground beef and leave it in the pan while you proceed with the other steps. Mexican potato frittata will take a separate bowl to mix the eggs and you'll need to cut the potatoes...but the total hands on prep time is only about 5 minutes, with about 15-20 to cook. These are great go-to meals for busy weeknights.

Spanish Rice

1 cup rice
3 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. cumin
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 cups water
1/4 cup onion
1/4 cup bell pepper
15 oz diced tomatoes, canned or fresh, with juice


Using a skillet, melt the butter on medium heat.
Add rice and saute until golden brown.
Add remaining ingredients.
Bring to a boil, stirring only once.
Cover and reduce heat to low simmer.
Allow to simmer for approximately 20 minutes or until rice is tender. Do not stir.
Fluff with a fork and serve.

Mexican Potato Fritatta

1 tsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter
12 oz red potatoes cut into 1/2 inch cubes
6 large eggs
1 cup salsa
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Sour cream (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 425. In a 10-12 inch skillet with oven safe handle (or you can cover your handle with foil), heat oil and butter over medium high heat. Add potatoes and cook, covered, until potatoes are tender and golden brown, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2. Meanwhile, in medium bowl, beat eggs with 1/4 cup salsa, salt and pepper. Stir in cheese.
3. Stir egg mixture into potatoes in skillet and cook over medium heat, covered, 3 minutes or until egg mixture begins to set around the edge. Remove cover and place skillet in the oven; bake 4 to 6 minutes, until frittata is set.
4. To serve, transfer frittata from skillet to cutting board. Cut into wedges and top with salsa and sour cream.
Makes 4 main dish servings.

If you need more easy, one dish recipes, head over to Kitchen Stewardship for a list of ideas.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Martha Stewart's thoughts on cholesterol

In Martha Stewart's "Living" this month, there is an article on heart disease. It starts with this intro:

For years, few women realized the dangers of heart disease. But the dark ages are over. "We've finally gotten the message across," says Ellen Gordon, a cardiologist and clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa. "Women know the risks, and they also know what to do about them, from exercising and eating a healthy diet to keeping an eye on cholesterol and blood pressure." There have been some real payoffs. The number of women (and men) with a dangerously high level of the "bad" cholesterol- a key trigger of cardiovascular disease- fell by about a third between 1999 and 2006, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Prevention published in November. Smoking rates continue to decline. Yet there's still progress to be made: Heart attacks have become more common in women under 55 in the past two decades, according to a recent study conducted by the University of Southern California and the University of California- Los Angeles. 

Does anyone else see a problem here? We did it, we lowered cholesterol! But, oops, heart attacks have become MORE common in younger women for the past twenty years or so.

Sign vs. Cause
My favorite thought on cholesterol comes from Sally Fallon, where she compares cholesterol to police in a high crime area. In areas where crime is higher, the police force is larger. However, the police are a sign that something is wrong, not the cause of it.

So what exactly is cholesterol, and why are we all so afraid of it? Cholesterol is the body's healing substance. When there is damage in the body,  cholesterol is what our body sends in to fix it up.
People who have suffered from heart attacks often DO have higher cholesterol. And that makes sense. There was damage in the body that led to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), so the body sent cholesterol to help repair the damage.

When people use cholesterol lowering drugs and other methods to lower their cholesterol, they are lowering one factor that shows up in people who have had heart attacks. But if they are just lowering the sign that something is wrong, and not the cause, then heart attacks will continue occur.

Cholesterol in Food
Another confusion comes in because cholesterol is a substance that is found in our food. Eggs and meat, for example, are a source of cholesterol. It's easy to worry that if you eat cholesterol, it may end up in your blood. This is not the case however. Chris Masterjohn says, "There is no direct connection between the amount of cholesterol you eat and the concentration of cholesterol in your blood." For me, something that really hit home when I was studying about cholesterol and its role in the body was this: mother's milk, that perfect food we feed our babies to help them grow and thrive, has high concentrations of cholesterol. Our bodies are able to digest cholesterol from food without significantly increasing cholesterol in the bloodstream.

So, what does all this mean? The medical community is focusing on the wrong thing here. That's how we can end up doing everything "right"- lowering our cholesterol, and still end up with heart disease and heart attacks.

For further reading on this subject, check out these sources:
Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon
Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes
Real Food by Nina Planck
In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

This post is part of real food wednesdays.

Monday, January 25, 2010

"What's so bad about sugar, anyway?"

A friend asked me this question today. It's easier to understand in the context of what sugar is, and how it affects our body and digestion.

What is sugar?

First of all, when we talk about sugar, what exactly are we talking about? Sugar comes in lots of forms, such as milk sugar (lactose), but generally, when we talked about sugar, we're referring to refined table sugar. Sugar comes from sugar cane or sugar beets. When in their whole form, these have things like fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Refining sugar is the process of boiling it down, removing the solids and color, until all that's left is sweet tasting little sugar crystals. So, problem number one is that we remove all the "good stuff." One rule I try to follow is to eat food in its natural state as much as possible.

Enzymes and Digestion

One of the good things we remove from refined sugar is enzymes. Dr. Edward Howell, a food enzyme researcher says this:

"If enzymes were in the food we eat, they would do some or even a considerable part of the work of digestion by themselves. However, when you eat cooked, enzyme-free food, this forces the body itself to make the enzymes needed for digestion. This depletes the body's limited enzyme capacity." (Click here for the complete interview)

So what does that mean? Basically, when we eat refined sugar we aren't eating any of the components of food that help digest it. Our bodies CAN digest refined food, but since the food is enzyme free, the body must rely on our limited stores of enzymes to do the job.

Blood Sugar and Insulin

Next, we come to the topic of blood sugar. While blood sugar goes up and down, our body's job is to try to keep our blood sugar from spiking too high or too low. There are many processes in our body that are dedicated to doing just that. 

"But", says Sally Fallon, "when we consume refined carbohydrates, especially alone, without fats or proteins, they enter the bloodstream in a rush, causing a sudden increase in blood sugar. The body's regulation mechanism kicks into high gear, flooding the bloodstream with insulin and other hormones to bring blood sugar down to acceptable levels. Repeated onslaughts of sugar will eventually disrupt this finely tuned process, causing some elements to remain in a constant state of activity and others to become worn out and inadequate to do the job. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that a diet high in refined carbohydrates will also be deficient in vitamins, minerals and enzymes, those bodybuilding elements that keep the glands and organs in good repair. When the endocrine system thus becomes disturbed, numerous other pathological conditions soon manifest--degenerative disease, allergies, obesity, alcoholism, drug addiction, depression, learning disabilities and behavioral problems."

Here's a clip from the movie Fat Head that gives you a visual on how this all works.

You may come to the conclusion that refined sugar is evil and you should avoid it at all costs. If you have the willpower to do that, it probably is better for your health. But for our family, sugar is a sometimes food. 

Ways to cut down on sugar

1. Avoid packaged foods. Or, at the very least, read the labels. Sugar has many names in the ingredient list: high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, maltose, lactose, evaporated cane juice, and many more. SO many packaged foods have high fructose corn syrup. Start by avoiding that one, as it is definitely a processed, refined sugar and in so many foods.
2. Start slowly to cut the sugar down. If you're used to using 2 Tablespoons of sugar on your oatmeal, try cutting it in half. If only one Tablespoon seems too little, try 1 1/2 Tablespoons. It won't take too long to get used to it, and then in the future you can cut back a little more. If you do it slowly, you won't even miss it.
3. Ask yourself if you really need to add sugar. A few recipes I have really don't- like the 2 Tbsp. called for in my pancake recipe or the recipe for wheat bread that calls for brown sugar.
4. In baking, reduce the sugar by about half. You may have to play around with certain recipes, and reduce more or leave more in, but I find that half is usually a good place to start in most baked goods.
5. Use extra virgin coconut oil in place of butter. Extra virgin coconut oil has a sweet flavor, so you won't need as much added sweetener.
6. Try using a sugar that is less refined: raw honey and pure maple syrup are good ones to try. They are both sugars, but still have nutrients that our bodies can use.

So, what is so bad about sugar? Probably the worst thing about it is its prevalence in our food. Try one of the above tips or one of your own to cut back on the sugar in your diet.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Free coconut oil!

Tropical Traditions is looking for new recipes using virgin coconut oil. When you go online and successfully enter your recipe, you will receive a free quart of Gold Label virgin coconut oil. Don't have a coconut oil recipe to share? They are also looking for pictures to go with their current recipes.

Successful recipes submitted through our recipe submission form earn coupons for FREE

Gold Label Virgin Coconut Oil! Do you have a favorite coconut recipe that you have

created and used successfully? Or do you have a picture of one of our recipes that you

made? You could earn a free quart (per recipe) of Gold Label Virgin Coconut Oil by

submitting it here:

Why would you want coconut oil (besides the fact that it's free)?
~Coconut oil is made of 92% saturated fat. Saturated fat is the most stable kind of fat. Unlike other fats, it won't go rancid when it is cooked.
~Coconut oil contains lauric acid. Sally Fallon says that lauric acid has"antimicrobrial, antitumor and immune-system supporting properties." The two best sources for lauric acid are coconut oil and mothers milk.
~The Journal of the American Medical Association reported, "Populations that consume coconut oil have low rates of heart disease."
~Coconut oil is a good source of omega 3 fatty acids. The ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids is 3:1.

How do you use coconut oil?
I love to use it to pop popcorn, and instead of butter in cookies (you can cut the sugar in half because the coconut oil is naturally sweet!) But my favorite use is probably in this granola recipe.

This post is part of Fight Back Friday.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Coconut Granola Recipe

One of the first steps on my real food journey was getting rid of packaged processed breakfast cereal. But once we cleared that out, breakfast was a little more time consuming. I try to do as much as I can ahead of time, but some mornings we still need something quick as the kids are heading off to school. This granola is delicious and full of nutrients, and best of all- quick!

You can make it even more digestible by soaking the oats the night before. Drain in a colander for a few hours, and then proceed with the recipe below. I have had limited success with soaking the oats. If you have a food dehydrator, it makes this process much easier! Without, it can be a little hard to tell just when it's done. You can also lower the temperature on the oven to preserve even more of the nutrients.


3 cups rolled oats
1 cup crispy walnuts or pecans
1 cup chopped almonds
3/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup coconut oil
3/4 tsp. salt
1 cup raisins (optional)


Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
In a large bowl, combine the oats, nuts and coconut.
In a separate bowl, combine maple syrup, oil, and salt. Combine both mixtures and pour onto 2 sheet pans. Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes for even coloring.
Remove from oven. When cooled, add raisins if desired.
Serve with milk or yogurt.

I usually double this recipe because it goes fast around here! If your baking sheets are large, it may take under the recommended time, so be sure to check. You'll know it's done when the shredded coconut starts to turn golden brown.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Homemade Wheat Bagels and REAL Sweet Cream Cheese Spread

For breakfast this morning, my family had homemade bagels with homemade honey and cream cheese spread. These bagels turned out great! This is one of those store foods that we miss having around, but I hadn't learned how to do yet. Next time, I am going to try sprouting some wheat and making sprouted wheat bagels. The kids helped me shape the bagels, and we all had a lot of fun working together.

Wheat Bagels


4 tsp. active dry yeast
2 cups warm water, divided
2 Tbsp. melted butter
1 Tbsp. salt
3 cups wheat flour
2 1/2 cups bread flour, plus extra as needed
2 Tbsp. vital wheat gluten
1 Tbsp. baking soda
1 egg, beaten with water until foamy
Optional toppings: sesame seeds, poppy seeds, caraway seeds, coarse sea salt, minced garlic or onion, or a combination


In a bowl sprinkle the yeast over 1/2 cup of the warm water and stir to dissolve. Let stand 10 minutes until foamy.

In a heavy duty mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the remaining water, the butter, salt, 2 cups of the wheat flour and the gluten. Beat 1 minute. Add yeast mixture and 1 cup of the flour. Beat 1 minute. Beat in the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until the dough pulls away from the bowl sides.

Switch to the dough hook. Knead on low speed, adding flour 1 Tbsp. at a time if the dough sticks, about 6 minutes. Cover the bowl loosely and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

Grease 2 baking sheets. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board and divide into 4 portions. Divide each portion into 3 pieces. Shape each piece into a smooth, round ball. Flatten the ball with your palm.
Poke a hole in the center and roll your finger inside the hole to make it larger, until about 1 inch in diameter.

Place on prepared baking sheets, spacing the bagels about 2 inches apart. Let rise until puffy, about 30 minutes.

While the bagels are rising, prepare the water bath. In a large, wide pot, bring 4-6 quarts of water to a boil over high heat. Add the baking soda and reduce the heat to medium to maintain a gentle boil. Preheat the oven to 425.

Gently lower 3 or 4 bagels into the water (use a skimmer if you have one). After they rise to the top, turn each bagel and boil for 2 minutes on the opposite side.

Transfer to a dry kitchen towel to drain, then return to prepared baking sheets. Brush with egg mixture and sprinkle on desired toppings. Bake until deep golden brown, 16-20 minutes.

Makes 1 dozen large bagels.

I make my own cream cheese and whey using the Nourishing Traditions recipe (step by step directions from Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship can be found here). This cream cheese is good, but a little tart for my family when eaten plain on top of bagels. To sweeten it up, we use this recipe below.

Sweet Cream Cheese Spread

1 cup cream cheese (yogurt cheese)
1 1/2 Tbsp. raw honey
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
chopped dried fruit (optional)

Mix all together and spread on a warm toasted bagel.

This post is part of Real Food Wednesdays at Cheeseslave.