Is It Spring?

Normally, I’m a red wine kind of gal, but National Margarita Day and unseasonably warm, spring-like weather has me craving cocktails and mixed drinks. I had set out to make a margarita one evening, but ended up making my favorite mojito instead. They are relatively low calorie and low carb. Not too much sugar and I use fresh ingredients. I have a weak spot for a well made mojito.

Muddle 1/4 lime wedges and 8 to 10 mint leaves in a glass.

Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of mint infused simple syrup,

1 to 1 and 1/2 shots of white rum and

a few dashes of Angostura Bitters (optional).

Fill glass 3/4 full with ice.

Top off with seltzer; then shake or stir well.

I’ve been experimenting with vanilla vodka. I bought some vanilla beans a few months ago to make my own vanilla extract and still have plenty leftover. I’ve been hearing a lot about vanilla vodka lately and thought I’d make my own. It’s the same method I use to make vanilla extract, only it takes a lot less vanilla and time. After a week to ten days it was ready for drinks, but two weeks later it was even better.

I have a long list of drinks I want to make with my vanilla vodka. I’m unsure about a few of them. I tried it with lightly sweetened tea. Not good. I rarely drink soda, but I have found a few small, local soda makers that use better ingredients. I mixed a shot of vanilla vodka with half a bottle of Uncle Scott’s Natural Root Beer (made in Mooresville, NC). Tasted like a root beer float and took me back to my first job at an ice cream shop in Eastland Mall. I also tried it with some old fashioned ginger ale (Blenheim, made in South Carolina, and Boylan made in NJ). Hello cream soda. Mmmmm… But because it’s so sugary, this drink is dessert. It’s a treat I won’t indulge in frequently.

Linsey had a request last week. She wanted barbecue and that was just fine with me. I couldn’t make it to the farmers market for our usual Grateful Growers pork shoulder, so I tried it with free range, organic chicken breasts from Trader Joe’s instead. I cooked it slow and low in lime juice, a little pomegranate juice, basil infused rum, garlic, salt and pepper. Then when it was fully cooked, I turned the heat up to let most of the liquid reduce down. The meat gets browned and caramelized and chewy on the outside. But after I used two forks to shred it, I knew it was too dry. Pork has lots more fat, and that’s why it makes such good barbecue. So I added several tablespoons of the pastured bacon lard, which I always have on hand and let it cook, low and covered for another fifteen minutes. The chicken was moist and tender, the way barbecue ought to be. It had a subtly different flavor which we all enjoyed. It was a nice change and a good experiment. I served it with roasted potatoes and cauliflower and my favorite sweet and sour slaw with fennel, onion, red peppers and cabbage.

Spring and warm weather makes me want to slow down. We’re not even into spring quite yet, and already I’m looking forward to long summer vacation days with no schedule to keep. The kids were out of school for two days a couple weeks ago. We spent one lazy evening making pasta, from scratch. Haleigh was bored and sulking because she’s grounded and couldn’t go with her sister and her father to run a few errands. Being a parent sucks sometimes. Even though the punishment was deserved, my heart hurt for her. So I let her roll out the pasta. I’ll admit that I didn’t think she’d have much success with this temperamental machine, but she cranked it out. She had fun. She got the hang of it quickly and had every right to be proud of that. And I was free to prepare the other ingredients. We enjoyed each others company. Cooking, talking and laughing with her in the kitchen like that was exactly how I envisioned it. There will be lots more meals prepared this way now that the girls are growing up.

This weekend time changes and the clocks spring forward. We’ll have another hour of sunlight in the evenings. It takes some getting used to. We’ll probably spend a lot of that time outdoors on sunny days, and we’ll inevitably lose track of time. I welcome those days.

Warm and Cozy Hot Chocolate

We have an icky bug floating around the house. It’s just a cold, but there are five of us. And when we have an icky bug, it can take weeks to run it’s course through our family. We still have a few sniffles, but we’re almost in the clear. The little one started it all. She missed school last Friday because of it. And of course they had something special planned that day. It breaks my heart when they’re sick. It’s worse when they miss an event they’ve been looking forward to all week because of it. This called for a little extra mommy lovin’.

So I had to re-create “warm and cozy day” at home. Especially since she was fighting a cold. We made hot chocolate from scratch. I haven’t bought that stuff in the packets in over a year.  We used to always have it around. So now when I make hot chocolate, it’s extra special.

While I prepared the hot chocolate, she picked a spot and arranged our picnic blanket and her stuffed “aminals”. She came to the kitchen several times. She’d grab my hand and lead me into the living room and ask “Is this okay?” They are unbelievably cute when they’re three.

The cookies were Trader Joe’s Highbrow Chocolate Chips. We don’t normally have this kind of thing in the house, but they were leftover from an event over the holidays. I was saving them for an emergency, and this seemed like the right time. The warm, creamy hot chocolate and those crispy cookies were perfect together. She forgot all about school.

“Uh oh. I had a little accident Mommy.” No problem. I worried that the all that chocolate would keep her from napping, but she slept soundly. The fever never came back after that. I doubt it had much to do with our warm and cozy hot chocolate, but who knows. I let her believe it was the cure.

Warm and Cozy Hot Chocolate

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups organic whole milk
  • 1/4 cup organic sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • pinch of  sea salt
  • 2 ounces good quality dark chocolate (or 1 square)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon organic virgin coconut oil
  • splash of organic heavy cream or half and half (optional)
  • marshmallows are optional

Method:

  1. Heat milk in a small saucepan over low heat.
  2. Whisk in the sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla extract, coconut oil and salt until dissolved.
  3. Stir in the chocolate until melted.
  4. Remove saucepan from heat and allow to cool slightly or add a splash of cold heavy cream or half and half, or a dollop of whipped cream. Throw in a few marshmallows if desired. Makes 2 servings.

I decided to add the coconut oil not just for a little more flavor, but to make it a little extra nourishing for my feverish lil’ pumpkin. And to strengthen my immune system, just in case I was next… I was.

Coconut oil has been used for centuries to treat illnesses.

The human body converts lauric acid into monolaurin which is claimed to help in dealing with viruses and bacteria causing diseases such as herpes, influenza, cytomegalovirus, and even HIV. It helps in fighting harmful bacteria such as listeria monocytogenes and heliobacter pylori, and harmful protozoa such as giardia lamblia. As a result of these various health benefits of coconut oil, though its exact mechanism of action was unknown, it has been extensively used in Ayurveda, the traditional Indian medicinal system. (from organicfacts.net)

I also had some homemade almond flavored whipped cream leftover from the a few nights before. Whipped cream is ridiculously easy to make from scratch. A cup of organic heavy cream, a few tablespoons of confectioners sugar and some almond extract, all whipped together with a stand or handheld mixer on high speed until thick and creamy. You can substitute with whatever extract you prefer. Store bought whipped cream isn’t anywhere near this good.

I doubled the recipe so I’d have enough leftover for the other two when they came from school. Friday treat!!

A Week of Food (Sans Microwave)

I like to drink hot tea… a lot – maybe 2 to 4 cups a day. It’s a bit more difficult without a microwave. At first I was heating water in a sauce pan. Then I found a like-new Revere Copper Bottom Tea Kettle at a thrift store for a whopping $2.99. SOLD! (Thrift stores are my favorite these days. They are the ultimate way to recycle, re-purpose and reuse – and save a ton of money!)

Green tea infused with mint and rosemary.

This is my version of Olive Garden’s  “Zuppa Toscano”. I added kidney beans and used kale to make it nutrient dense. I also skipped the bacon this time. (It’s rich enough without it.) If you want to lighten this soup up, or prefer a little acidity, you can skip the heavy cream and stir in a quarter cup of red wine vinegar to the pot once it’s done cooking. It’s delicious both ways.

This week I made pasta salad for the girls’ lunches. I used several veggies and herbs from the garden: aji dulce peppers, fresh basil, parsley, oregano and some grape tomatoes (the only tomatoes left in the garden). I added chopped onions, kalamata olives and grated Pecorino Romano. I dressed it in olive oil, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, some of brine from the olives, black pepper, a few red pepper flakes and just a little salt. Pecorino Romano is quite salty.

We had pizza one night. The 100% whole wheat crust and sauce were made from scratch. For the sauce I used San Marzano tomatoes (only because they were on sale). Some cooks swear these are the best tasting canned tomatoes. I dunno. Raw, out of the can, they weren’t anything special. The sauce turned out wonderful, but I think the garlic, onions, sweet bell peppers, aji dulce peppers,  basil, oregano, thyme, sage, salt and pepper might have had something to do with it. I covered it with a splatter screen to keep the sauce in, but let it reduce down more quickly. Then I pureed it a little with an immersion blender. Homemade sauces for pasta and pizza are so easy, so much better tasting and way better for you. 

^^^This is why I’m putting aji dulce peppers in everything! This pepper plant is quite prolific! We also stuffed some with a mixture of goat cheese, cream cheese and bacon, then roasted them at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.

Halloween has officially hit our house. This was not my idea, nor my recommendation, but I did get caught up in the spirit.

Not sure what was happening when I broke down and bought these. I hardly ever buy candy, unless it’s made with dark chocolate. Nostalgia? That’s probably also what caused me to eat one after taking this photo. Disgustingly sweet (each one is about 82% sugar)… but it didn’t stop me from eating two more.

I tried to take this picture without alerting the kids, but I got caught.

So I gave her a few too. London: “Thank you Mommy! I love you.”

London: “Can I just have one more… please?”

Me: “No.”

Fall Food

Less than a week until Autumn. This is a bitter sweet time of year for me. I love the festivities – the new school year, Halloween and Thanksgiving, festivals or outings planned nearly every weekend, farm tours, pumpkin patches and then carvings, warm, spicy apple cider, football, slightly cooler weather… But the cold, the darkness and the lack of fresh produce are only a couple months away now. There is less variety at the farmers market and some vendors appear to be taking time off – much needed I’m sure, and well deserved. Or maybe it’s the lack of produce and the need to plant fall and winter crops.

Spaghetti squash was my “something new” for this week.

I didn’t think the two small, yellow ones from the farmers market would be enough, so I bought another one from the grocery store. There was little difference in taste.

This is a great low carb alternative to regular pasta. We were all skeptical, but once we started eating it was easy to forget that it was squash and not noodles of some sort. We topped it with a leftover meat sauce, sliced Italian sausage from Grateful Growers, Parmesan and parsley. Linsey even asked for seconds. London wouldn’t touch it (as usual).

Now that the weather is cooling off I find myself craving warm herbal teas. I had never thought to put rosemary in tea, and can’t remember where I got the idea, but I should have known. I love rosemary in everything else. And now I love it in tea. It’s so good for you. So’s mint. I made an herbal infusion of white tea with mint, rosemary and stevia. Sadly my mint isn’t doing well (which is a bit weird since it’s supposed to be so hardy, sometimes even invasive). Or maybe I just need to leave it alone for awhile. But this tea was so comforting.

I steeped the mint, stevia and rosemary first, until it cooled completely. Then I warmed it again and let the tea steep for a couple of minutes. Di-vine. I grew my own chamomile in the spring. It wasn’t very hardy and I only managed to dry enough buds for one cup of tea. I was surprised how much they smelled like apples. And that’s the flavor they impart in tea. I’m feeling inspired. There’s an herbal tea garden in my future – one with stevia, violets, lemon thyme, lemon verbena, more chamomile, mint and rosemary. Maybe jasmine and lavender.

Another highlight of fall – chestnuts! One of my favorite foods of all time. And my dear, sweet, very generous mother hooked me up! I’m feeling a bit gluttonous at the moment. Good thing they are so nutritious and low in calories compared to other nuts. Walnuts, for instance, have about four times the calories as chestnuts. There are about 170 calories in 100 grams of chestnuts. Chestnuts have more fiber, less fat and are loaded with vitamin C.  In fact, eating 3 ounces will supply you with almost half the daily recommendation. They’re also a good source of vitamin B, copper, folate, magnesium and manganese.

^^The girls sharing an after school snack – warm chestnuts.

I also find myself craving Korean food lately. I’ve been watching the Kimchi Chronicles on PBS. This show makes my mouth water. Also makes me want to visit my mother’s home land. One day…

^^Somen noodles cooked in chicken broth, garlic and green onions with turnip kimchi.

^^ Mandu soup again with chicken broth, garlic and green onions. Also fried egg and toasted seaweed.

My Two Cents About Metabolic Syndrome

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that approximately 75 million Americans suffer from Metabolic Syndrome. That adds up to roughly 1 in 4 individuals. And the prevalence is increasing significantly for adults and adolescents. Metabolic Syndrome increases risks for diabetes, heart disease and strokes. The Standard American Diet, which is high in carbohydrates and high glycemic foods (especially refined sugar) and low in nutrient dense foods (especially fruits and vegetables) is likely a major cause.

Metabolic Syndrome, if I understand correctly, is the bodies failure to metabolize food properly due to cell damage from eating too many unhealthy, high carb, high glycemic foods and from a generally unhealthy lifestyle. Cells become damaged and unable to absorb glucose which causes a rise in blood sugar. Insulin is the hormone that essentially allows cells to absorb glucose. The pancreas goes into overdrive and produces more insulin to compensate. The increased insulin affects the body’s ability to burn fat and can cause weight gain and obesity. The increased triglycerides (fat) in the blood stream cause arterial plaque to form. As a result arteries harden and narrow and that leads to hypertension (high blood pressure) and heart disease. Eventually cells become insulin resistant and the body stops producing it (Type 2 Diabetes).

Here are the risk factors according to the National Institute of Health:

  • A large waistline. This also is called abdominal obesity or “having an apple shape.” Excess fat in the abdominal area is a greater risk factor for heart disease than excess fat in other parts of the body, such as on the hips.
  • A high triglyceride level (or you’re on medicine to treat high triglycerides). Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood. A low HDL cholesterol level (or you’re on medicine to treat low HDL cholesterol). HDL sometimes is called “good” cholesterol. This is because it helps remove cholesterol from your arteries. A low HDL cholesterol level raises your risk for heart disease.
  • High blood pressure (or you’re on medicine to treat high blood pressure). Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps blood. If this pressure rises and stays high over time, it can damage your heart and lead to plaque buildup.
  • High fasting blood sugar (or you’re on medicine to treat high blood sugar). Mildly high blood sugar may be an early sign of diabetes.

What is interesting to me is that the disease is most common in people who are overweight. However, if you have it, then losing weight becomes more difficult. I sympathize with individuals who try really hard to lose weight. They exercise more, eat better, but still they struggle to lose a pound. It may help to shift the focus away from the scale and place it on health instead. Learn to eat more nutrient dense foods – foods high in vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, essential fatty acids, fiber – rich with  antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and immune boosting properties.  Understand that even if you aren’t losing weight, you are repairing your body. Once it’s working like a well oiled machine again, the pounds should come off. Don’t despair and don’t give up.

Here’s a list of some high carb/high glycemic foods to avoid:

  • soft drinks and other sugary beverages and foods
  • honey
  • refined grains (white bread, white rice)
  • potatoes (excluding sweet potatoes)
  • watermelon, pineapple and cantaloupe (Uh, oh!)
  • dried dates
  • over ripe bananas
  • broad beans (What? It’s true.)
  • baked beans
  • parsnips
  • cakes, cookies, doughnuts (duh)
  • pretzels, saltine crackers, chips
  • popcorn
  • pasta
  • cold cereals and cereal bars
  • beer
  • orange juice

It’s probably not necessary to eliminate these foods completely, but rather consume them in moderation. And when you do eat them, pair them with foods that have a low glycemic index, like fats and proteins. (Fats like olive oil, real butter, coconut oil are all good.) Also eat those high glycemic foods in their whole form whenever possible, i.e baked or mashed potatoes with the skin along with some butter (fat) and a dollop of plain Greek yogurt (protein). Switch to whole grains instead of refined ones – whole wheat bread, brown rice, etc.

Here’s a list of some nutrient dense super foods you should try to incorporate into your diet:

  • green tea
  • strawberries
  • blueberries
  • cherries
  • peaches
  • dried apricots
  • pomegranate
  • cranberries
  • tomatoes
  • kale
  • broccoli
  • spinach
  • avocado
  • garlic
  • onions
  • spices like cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, oregano, rosemary, cayenne
  • lentils
  • kidney beans and black beans
  • chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
  • quinoa
  • nuts like almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios and Brazil nut
  • mushrooms like maitakes, shitakes, cremini and portabello
  • Greek yogurt (plain, or sweetened with low glycemic fruit)
  • cottage cheese
  • seafood rich in Omega 3’s, like salmon

DISCAIMER: You should talk your doctor if you think this may be what’s preventing you from losing weight. This is just my $0.02 about Metabolic Syndrome!

Standard American Approach to Weight Loss Isn’t Working

I haven’t posted in a few weeks and every few days I come up with what I think is a great idea, but right now none of them seem that interesting to me. They all seem to be centered around weight loss, even though I hate the pressure that it puts on us – and even though I advocate eating for health and not necessarily weight loss. However, if we’re eating and living well, our appearance, which includes our weight, should reflect that. And right now, I’m stuck. I’m not unhappy with my physique, but I really want to lose those last 10 pounds. Or at least, I want to see some “trouble areas” tightened up. I stalled a few months ago and was just about to accept that this is the best I can do. But recently I’ve had several conversations and have been inspired by friends and family who are also struggling with this.

I think I know what my road blocks are right now – not exercising enough (which I am finally doing now and loving it) and eating too much, too late in the day. I’m not following my own advice on this last one. I was really gung-ho about switching up meals a month ago (i.e. a big breakfast and lunch and small dinner). But it’s proving to be difficult.

I haven’t been giving meal time the priority I normally do, and I’m still not doing great with keeping them simple. (Ugh! Where’s that Mark Bittman book?) Now would be a good time for me to really focus on that. I’ll be incorporating some leftovers from a weekend get-together into our meal plan this week, so I’ll probably freeze some of the groceries I bought for the week. It’s the perfect opportunity. I also am finally harvesting more tomatoes than we can eat, so it’s time to get to canning and freezing some of them. (Yay! Looking forward to home grown tomatoes in January!)

I know this will be an equally busy week for me, so I’m going to do a little inventory and plan some really simple meals. You know that excuse we give ourselves for eating quick, unhealthy meals or snacks or worse – picking up fast food? “I just don’t have time.” It’s really no good excuse, with some planning. And it’s a good idea to always have a few easy to prepare meals on hand for those times. Here are some examples:

  • Frozen leftovers. You can freeze just about anything. Pastas and soups freeze well and there are usually leftovers. If not, make a little extra next time. Most microwaves these days have some preset defrost settings and even if they don’t, just remember to thaw foods at a low temperature (maybe 20 – 30% power) for a longer period of time.
  • Pasta. I keep a couple different kinds of pasta and some canned tomatoes on hand at all times. At the very least, you can boil some pasta, open up a couple cans of tomatoes and add some veggies (even frozen veggies) and cheese. You can also make a classic white wine sauce with some wine (of course), olive oil or butter (not margarine) and garlic (three more things I always have on hand.) You can make a cheesy Alfredo sauce with a little bit of cream or whole milk and butter and some Parmesan. Add different combinations of fresh and/or dried herbs for some variety. (I’ve mentioned this before, but never under estimate the power of herbs. Most of them have huge health benefits and have been used traditionally for centuries to treat illnesses and alleviate an array of symptoms. Many are still used today. I think they can be effective for minor symptoms on a person who is in fairly good health. If your symptoms are severe, or your body’s immune system is already tapped out from an unhealthy lifestyle or disease, they would be less effective, I think, in alleviating your symptoms.)
  • Canned beans. Make hummus with chickpeas (garbanzo beans), fresh garlic (or powder if that’s all you have), olive oil, lemon juice, tahini (if you have it), paprika, cayenne, fresh parsley – or something like that. You could also saute some canned beans with onions and garlic, fresh herbs and whatever veg you like and throw that over some brown rice (another staple I always have on hand). Make a  quick soup with some Kidney beans (really good for you), chicken stock, onions, fresh tomatoes and whatever other veg you have on hand (zucchini, peppers, potatoes, kale, green beans, corn… you name it).
  • As for snacks, fresh fruit and veggies, whole wheat or gluten free toast or crackers with some cheese or peanut butter, a quick salad, a handful of nuts, a few cubes of cheese or homemade popcorn.
  • And for the sweet tooth how about some fruit (again) or some whole wheat toast with chevre or cream cheese and good quality jam (this totally curbs my cheesecake cravings, oh and try it with hot pepper jam… O. M. G.), some dried fruit or an ounce of dark chocolate (70%), and if you are craving ice cream, try some plain, Greek yogurt with honey (preferably raw and local), walnuts and blueberries (“super food”) or whatever fruit or nuts you like and anything else you might find in your favorite ice cream, like dark chocolate. Now don’t go crazy and crumble up cookies or candy bars in there. If that’s what you love, try to find a healthy alternative instead. Instead of Reece’s peanut butter cups (I used to love these Blizzards at Dairy Queen) maybe some real peanuts, a table spoon of peanut butter (with no added sugar) and some dark chocolate chips or shavings. Imma have to try that one soon!

Another bit of advice would be to change something – a habit… your surroundings… Let go of the Standard American Diet and step away from the Standard American way of dieting, i.e. low fat, calorie counting and substituting horrid  processed foods with slightly less horrid “reduced calorie” or “reduced fat” processed foods. This includes those frozen weight loss meals from Weight Watchers, Atkins and South Beach Diet. I should also include the Lean Cuisine meals. The fats in most “low fat” or “low calorie” processed foods are replaced with something worse – refined carbs, most often – sugar. The savory ones (like those frozen dinners I mentioned) are ridiculously high in sodium. These foods are actually worse for you. Yeah – I’m totally serious. Nothing about the Standard American Diet or the typical approach to weight loss is healthy or sustainable! Nothing. Period.  (Ah! There’s a title in there somewhere.)

Let’s face it. We’ve all tried this sort of dieting, and I’ve never met anyone that succeeded with long term health and weight loss. Have you? I’m not saying that people don’t lose weight this way. What I’m saying is that they rarely keep it off. The pounds come back fast and usually they gain more than they originally lost. In my brief research (and personal experiences), I’ve seen this fact repeated time and time again. So when someones tells me they lost weight with some typically American way of dieting and actually managed to lose weight, or maybe they “know someone” who did, the first thing I want to know is whether they kept the weight off. I especially love when they say something like “I lost a lot of weight on that diet. I should go back on it.” I watched this PBS special where a lady had eight or nine diaries or cards (?) from her past attempts at Weight Watchers… And she was doing it again. Huh? Repeating the same behaviors over and over again and expecting different results = insanity.

Try something new instead. Give your pantry and refrigerator a makeover. Kick this new age Standard American Diet and the Standard American approach to weight loss to the curb. Throw out all that junk. Eat a more traditional diet of whole foods instead – vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, dairy, meat, unrefined carbs – mostly prepared at home – real foods (not frankenfoods) that have been around for more than say, 50 to 60 years. It’s better for you and it tastes better. And don’t drink your calories. Skip sodas and juice. Make fast food off limits, period. I’d rather go hungry for awhile longer than stop at a drive-thru.

Next time you go shopping, don’t put anything in your cart that you know you shouldn’t eat. Be honest with yourself here. If you bring it home, there’s a good change you’ll eat it. Your family members don’t need it either. If they want junk food, let them go get it themselves. If they’re too young or unwilling to do that, then this might be easier for you.

You’re probably going to face some anger, maybe even tears, but don’t be too quick to give in – especially with kids. They are your responsibility. Plan to have a serious discussion and explain how this will benefit them as well – especially if they have health problems or weight issues of their own. I mean actually take the time to consider your approach and what you’re going to say. Who knows – your partner and/or kids might want this too. Maybe they’ll be indifferent. But, if you lose the battle this time, at least lead by example. Once they start to see how it’s benefiting you (and once they are more accustom to seeing healthier foods in the house) maybe they’ll be willing to give it a try.

Lastly, avoid pitfalls like binge eating. When I was a kid I remember watching some after school special about some girl who exercised like a mad woman and then snuck off to a distant convenient store and filled her basket with things like cookies and chips and soda. She locked herself in her room and gorged herself. Then she threw it all up and ate some more. If this is you, then – in all seriousness – get professional help. Stop reading this now and go call your doctor or at least call a friend. This is a serious eating disorder. But I wish they had toned the severity down just a little. Because there are more of us that binge on a smaller scale. There have been many times in the past when I’ve given in to temptation and eaten nearly an entire bag of chips in one day (some at lunch, some before dinner, some after dinner) or and entire sleeve or  batch of cookies, a double serving of ice cream – maybe even twice in one day, a double serving at dinner, and then a second double serving. This is binge eating too.

We can easily sabotage and entire weeks worth of weight loss in just. one. sitting. Not just because we ate those unhealthy extra calories, but because we’ll feel defeated and will be more likely to give in again next time. It will negatively affect our mood and energy level meaning we’ll have to work twice as hard as we did before. (This is also why eating to “feel better” is really an oxymoron. It won’t make you feel better. It will make you feel worse.) So don’t give up. We just have to admit that we’re sabotaging ourselves and stop repeating our bad habits. And soon, it becomes a lifestyle and not a diet.

I’m happy to say that I haven’t eaten a bag of chips or a batch of cookies in over a year. But I have been doubling up my portions while eating a late dinner too often (particularly carbs – rice, pasta and potatoes)! I’m going to work on modifying that behavior.

Every change you make toward a healthier lifestyle is empowering. Before you know it your will power, confidence and constitution will have snowballed into something fierce. Food temptations will tremble in your presence. No really – It gets easier as you become stronger.

My Sweet Tooth Returns – Sugar Really Is Like Crack!!

Every time I think I have it under control, it comes back. I don’t even realize it’s happening until I’m feeling icky, moody and have gained a couple pounds. And just in time for bathing suit season, no less!! Sugar addiction is a real thing, and it has me rethinking everything I’ve learned so far. For over a year now I’ve read countless articles, books, essays and blogs about nutrition and food (some insightful, some misleading) and it always seems to come back to sugar. Could this one thing be at the root of America’s health problems?

We all know that added sugar isn’t good for us, but I truly believe the situation is much worse than that. Most of us are suffering from sugar addiction. And I believe that most of us are in denial that the problem even exists. The average American eats 156 pounds of sugar each year. That is the equivalent of 31 five-pound bags a year – 7 ounces (just under a cup) a day. Most of the time we don’t even know we’re eating sugar. Prepackaged, processed foods, even savory foods, are laced with it.

There is enough evidence out there to say that sugar affects us in the same way drugs do. It’s mood altering, addictive and withdrawal symptoms occur when it’s taken away. I won’t to go as far as to say that sugar is equivalent to cocaine, but they are worth comparing. Remember that cocaine was once legal and also remember that it was one of the original ingredients and the inspiration for the name of America’s favorite drink. It was later outlawed and removed from the drink, but (interestingly) the amount of sugar in sodas and other junk food has gradually increased over the decades. I can’t help but wonder whether Coke, Nabisco, Kraft and other big names in the food industry (including fast food restaurants) will one day face law suits for covering up and down playing the addictive quality and health risks of sugar, similar to those faced by Phillip Morris and the tobacco industry.  I believe those companies know just how addictive sugar is. And they know that putting it in their food will keep us (and has kept us) all coming back for more.

Enough about added sugar and the dirty dealings of the food industry for now. That’s not the only place sugar is found. While whole fruit (not peeled, dried, candied, juiced, fruit sauce, etc.) is good for you, it does contains fructose (sugar), so there is a such thing as too much fruit. Milk also contains sugar. Unfortunately, in our society, our sweet tooth is so out of scale with nature and our bodies ability to metabolize sugar, that most of us probably don’t even really consider these whole foods to be sugary.

When sugar is eaten with the entire, original package – as delivered by nature (fat in the case of milk and skin, pulp, etc. in the case of fruit and veggies) – we’re much better off. We ingest less sugar because the fiber, fat and even the water in these foods fill us up and tell our brains that we’ve had enough. Dried fruit on the other hand, with water removed, or applesauce without the fibrous peel isn’t going fill us up until we’ve already ingested too much sugar. A couple of dried apricots halves aren’t going to be enough for most of us. But one whole, fresh apricots might just do the trick. The same goes with milk. If you drink a glass of  whole milk you’ll be more satisfied than you would if you drank the same amount of skim milk. The amount of sugar is the same in skim and whole milk (12 grams per cup). If you like it thin… I don’t know. Add water to it? Then at least you’re also cutting down the sugar.

Here’s something else to consider. There are about 145 calories in a cup of whole milk, versus 90 calories in a cup of skim. So only a third more calories – only 55 more calories per cup . The nutritive value is well worth the extra calories. Another way to look at this is that you could actually drink less milk if you drink nutrient dense whole milk in place of skim, and you’d save money. Milk costs the same per gallon whether you buy skim, 2% or whole. This is yet another example of how buying the real, whole, nutrient dense food is actually cheaper, not more expensive, than it’s processed, refined counterparts. And yes, skim milk is processed, refined whole milk.

But back to the crack. Sugar’s drug-like qualities aren’t the only reason we should avoid it. Simply put, we should be getting the greatest amount of nutrients for the least amount of calories. Study after study shows that limiting calories has the greatest impact on weight loss, health and longevity. And sugar has the least amount of nutrients for the greatest amount of calories. Added sugar, especially refined sugars like sucrose (table sugar) and high fructose corn syrup (because it’s the cheapest, most widely used sweetener in the food industry) and even sugar substitutes have no place in our diet. No diet – anywhere… ever – recommends added sugar. Natural sugars, like honey and evaporated cane juice (still added sugar), may have some nutritive value, but still are nowhere near worth the calories. The only sugar we should be consuming should come from whole, natural foods like fruit and milk.