The Seven Deadly Sins of Healthy Eating

It just so happens that I was at church last week and the pastor began a sermon series on the Seven Deadly Sins. Those Deadly Sins are: Gluttony, Greed, Lust, Sloth, Envy, Anger and Pride. As he went on about how these sins can distract people from their focus I began to realize that these same sins distract me from a healthy lifestyle. Let me explain.

Gluttony, or an overindulgence of anything (food included), has been an issue for me. I should point out that gluttony does not equate to obesity and obesity isn’t necessarily a result of gluttony. The funny thing is that it is rooted in a strong desire to finish what I start and not waste things. I was told that I needed to finish my food because there are children starving in Africa. My moral compass told me that I had a duty to eat even after I was satisfied. I overeat out of obligation. Lord help me if I’m at a restaurant! I’ve got to worry about starving children as well as the family budget. How  I can possibly let a $22-36 steak go to waste (we all know steak isn’t as good the next day so I can’t take it home).

So, now I’m trying to eat healthy and guess what, I’m still a glutton. Only now it seems to be in more of the priggish sense of the word. Yes, glutton also means

self-righteous, moralistic, holier-than-thou, sanctimonious, prudish, puritanical, prim,strait-laced, stuffy, prissy, governessy, narrow-minded

When I was completing Whole 30 I can’t tell you how many times I turned down offers of a bite of food or I asked what the ingredients were in a dish. I’m not saying that people can’t be selective about what they put in their bodies. I’m saying that I’m now aware that foodie-ism and a healthier-than-thou mindset that makes others feel inferior or unhealthy. My organic, all-natural, farm-raised, grass-fed, gluten-free, non-GMO, additive-free food isn’t for everyone (including me sometimes).

Greed is good according to Michael Douglas’s character in Wall Street. It also applies to me and sugar. I know I’m addicted to sugar. I can’t tell you how many times I snuck into my kids Halloween candy stash and took the prime candy (literally from babies). If I’m eating a piece of cake and someone asks me for a bite my head spins around 360 degrees while I spit out a big “no, it’s mine!” I look like Gollum with that shiny ring. The more sweets the better. My precious! My problem is that I can’t eat just one of something and be satisfied. I have to have ALL of it. I went 30 days without any sugar and then I had one piece of Halloween candy and it was all over. I crumbled like a shortbread cookie. I followed that candy up with birthday cake, pumpkin pie, pumpkin cheesecake bars, cookies and ice cream. So much for restraint. Goodbye healthy habits.

The only saving grace for me was that I was able to get back on track relatively quickly. I didn’t beat myself up over it and give up. I knew what to do to get a handle on sugar.

Lust isn’t just for people. I have gone to a restaurant or party and found myself fantasizing about how good something is going to taste in my mouth. It can be distracting, in fact, I’m trying not to dream about food while I type this. I don’t find myself lusting after flour-free, sugar-free banana bread. I wish I could feel my mouth water when someone says “Fruit Tray” or “Chicken and Spinach Quinoa Bowl.” It just doesn’t make me weak in the knees the way that “Beef Enchiladas with Rice and Beans” or “White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake” does. In fact, my desire for sweets and certain foods is so strong that it blocks out all reason and logical thinking. Instead, I rationalize about why it’s ok to eat these unhealthy things until I’ve convinced myself that I’m not doing any harm. I fully believe in the “everything in moderation” attitude towards food, but I don’t have a moderation mode. It’s all or nothing for me. So, sometimes I have to give myself permission to indulge without guilt, but with planning. Yes, I will eat a piece of cheesecake at The Cheesecake Factory but then I’m done. I can’t let my lust open the floodgate for a month of unhealthy eating simply because I fell off the wagon.

Sloth,  or “the reluctance to work or make an effort; laziness”  is definitely an enemy of healthy eating. Invariably, I struggle to maintain healthy eating habits if I’m too lazy to plan and prepare ahead of time. There is something so primal and automatic about hunger. If I get too hungry all reason goes out the window and I am compelled to get food in my belly no matter what. If I don’t have healthy choices available it’s incredibly difficult to resist the Taco Bell drive thru. I now carry a bag of nuts or nuts and dried fruit with me so  I can stave off hunger until I can get to healthy food. I stock the fridge with easy to prepare food and pre-cut fruits/veggies. I am usually the person in the family eating dinner leftovers for lunch for a week so that makes it easier as well.

Getting lazy about meal planning impacts my ability to eat healthy. I went a week without planning meals and stood in the grocery store just staring at the meat counter while I tried to come up with five dinners for five that were tasty and healthy. While I was able to put together a menu, it took longer and made me feel less prepared. Thank goodness I can always fall back on soup and pot roast to get us through the week!

I found that getting lazy about this blog also impacted my motivation to eat healthy. Making my journey public has held me accountable for my choices. It’s also made me interested in taking risks in the kitchen and trying new things which inspires me to stick to me healthy lifestyle commitment.

Envy snakes its ugly tentacles around my heart in restaurants where I have no control over what other people are ordering. I try to order first so I’m not tempted to change my selection based on the yummy plate someone else is going to have set before them. Of course I’d rather have the super duper nachos or baked ziti instead of my bunless turkey burger! I find that looking at a menu before I go out helps me get an idea about what to order and then I’m able to ward off envy. Luckily, most restaurants are offer delicious, healthy options. I’m thankful for this, even if I am a little envious of the people that can eat whatever they want off the menu.

I think envy sometimes creeps in when I’m visiting with healthy, fit friends as well. It’s not easy to be the fat one at the table, or the beach, or in the room. Of course I’m envious of people that don’t have to buy wide-calf boots or abandon any hope of wearing leggings or skinny jeans. Thanks to honest conversations with some of my friends, I now realize that they also have to work at maintaining healthy eating habits and activities. That was eye-opening to me. Most of us are in the same battle against sugar, artificial ingredients and unwanted fillers in our food. Now, I feel a lot more camaraderie with my healthy friends than envy.

Anger has turned into resentment. Why can’t I just lose weight? Why do I have to watch what I eat? How did I get here? This isn’t fair. Why can’t I be fearfully and wonderfully made AND a size 6? Grr. Bah humbug to denying myself sweets and greasy Mexican food. See where I’m going with this. Oh, and shame on restaurants for making the portions so big that I can’t help but overeat. And boo to the grocery stores for charging me double for almond flour and coconut oil compared to white flour and vegetable oil. Yep, anger can be a pretty big hurdle to clean eating.

Pride goeth before the fall. Boy, is that true! I was so proud of my accomplishment when I finished Whole 30. I thought I’d kicked my sugar habit for good. I didn’t think I needed to stick to a plan. I thought, “I got this.” Um, not so much. My pride made me vulnerable to temptation I wasn’t ready to resist. It makes me think I can have lapses in food judgement and be able to get right back to healthy habits. It makes me feel a little bit superior to people struggling just like me but have farther to go. Pride can get in the way of relationships. Woe to me who thinks she has mastered clean eating. This will be a journey that has it’s ups and downs and I’ll probably never master it. Maybe a healthy dose of humility instead of hubris will serve me well.

There are many factors that can contribute to the success or failure or a healthy lifestyle. These seven sins may not impact everyone but I’ll bet everyone has a particular challenge they have to face. Here’s hoping for a measure of grace and fortitude for all,

 

Wendy

Why is everybody dissing grains?

While completing the Whole30 restart, grains were not allowed. In any form. Yes, that included quinoa. Now that I’m reintroducing foods,  I just gotta know what’s so bad about grain? I think we all know that white flour is like white sugar: it’s been processed to the point of being devoid of nutrients and can lead to insulin resistance. Here’s a breakdown of  some of the popular lifestyle plans.

Wheat Belly: this lifestyle asserts that wheat raises blood sugar and increases appetite. In addition to gluten, wheat contains a unique gliadin protein that stimulates appetite (it  can actually cause subtle euphoria in some people, leading to addiction). Apparently, that’s one reason why wheat is added to so many processed foods.  Today’s wheat is not the same wheat our ancestors ate. It’s been manufactured and processed in order to be easy to grow and cheap. The creators of Wheat Belly make in an interesting case that, while our ancestors harvested wheat for thousands of years, they weren’t the picture of health and vitality as a result. Wheat Belly says that eliminating wheat also leads to a reduction in deep visceral fat in the abdomen. Eliminating wheat does not equal going gluten-free. There are gluten-free products that are made with ingredients that have an even greater effect on blood sugar: tapioca starch, cornstarch, rice flour and potato flour being the worst. Wheat also contains lectins which impair digestion plus a whole array of other proteins that can react differently in each person’s digestive tract.

Paleo (pay-lee-o): the premise is that humans should follow a diet similar to that of our hunter-gatherer ancestors (hence the name…paleolithic). The basic premise is that we need higher protein, higher fiber, low carbs and lower glycemic index, and a bunch of other stuff listed on the website. Paleo proponents contend that ancient humans did not evolve to eat cereal grains properly (we aren’t built for grains) which has now contributed to the development of chronic diseases in our species.  Grain milling eliminates the nutrients from most of the commonly consumed grains. Manufacturers replace these nutrients with man-made replicas. The gluten in this engineered wheat/grain causes inflammation in the gut, is fattening and addictive.

Modern grains contain lectin which can irritate gut lining as well as suppress your hunger signal which means you feel hungry even when full. They also contain phytates which prevent absorption of minerals and gluten which can aggravate the digestive tract.

Grain Brain: the theory is that carbs, even healthy ones like whole grains, can cause dementia, ADHD, anxiety, chronic headaches, depression, and much more. This plan says it’s ok to eat non-gluten grains such as quinoa, gluten-free oats, buckwheat, rice, millet, sorghum and teff. If you soak your own grains before eating, then you can have them as long as you monitor carb consumption. On this plan, you can have a glass of red wine a day. Bonus! Grain Brain creators espouse that gluten is bad for everyone even if you don’t have celiac disease because as many as 30% of the population may be sensitive to gluten (um, sounds like 70% of people may not be sensitive to gut-irritating effects of gluten then).

What about oats? Oats contain some of the same antinutrients found in legumes and grains like phytic acid and lectins. They contain gluten and are high in carbs, even though their high fiber content lowers their glycemic index.

OK, now what. I’ve tried baking with coconut and almond flour. It’s just not the same. Maybe my problem isn’t with the flours themselves, but with what my brain thinks the food should taste like. For example, I made some Fudgy Paleo Brownies last week. If I’d never eaten a brownie before I probably would have thought they were delicious. They smelled and tasted chocolatey and their consistency was fudgy and brownie-y, but they weren’t what my brain expected a brownie to taste like. That’s partly due to the flour and partly due to the lack of sweetness that I’m used to. I’m learning that I can’t substitute Paleo-friendly, low glycemic index, wheatless baked goods without there being some shock and disappointment so why even try. That really sucks. I want to be able to have breads, muffins, cakes, brownies and all the other oven-baked treats I’m used to.

What if I just reduce/eliminate the sugar and processed food but keep the grains? My research has left me very confused on the actual goal of the grain-free movement. I don’t have celiac and I don’t appear to have a gluten sensitivity so why do I need to remove grains from my diet?  My mother-in-law has eliminated sugar but kept grains and had great health benefits as a result. I lost the baby weight after my third child was born by eating only wheat options like pasta, flour and bread. I’m kinda in a tailspin trying to figure out the right path to follow. My takeaways from my research are that cereal grains can cause gut problems, grains are high in carbs and can cause spikes in blood sugar which can lead to insulin resistance if spikes are ongoing, modern wheat can be addictive if you are sensitive to it, manufacturers have striped most cereal grains of their nutrients. On the bright side, rice and quinoa haven’t been totally ruined for us…yet.

No grains on the plate,

Wendy

 

 

I completed Whole30 and this is what I learned

Today is Day 30, my last day of the Whole30 restart. I’ve been surprised by several things during the past month. First, cutting out refined sugar was easier than I thought it would be. I think this is because the Whole30 plan is so strict and I was committed to completing it that I wasn’t going to jeopardize my progress or have to start over at Day 1. Second, I have really enjoyed experimenting in the kitchen. Subbing sweet potatoes for beans in chili was surprisingly tasty. Sweetening foods with fruit juice or fruit was surprisingly satisfying. Trying new spices, new foods and new ways of preparing meals was surprisingly fun and appealed to my creative side.

Not all of my dishes were big hits with the kids. Case in point, I made this fantastic Turmeric spiced chicken for dinner last night and my girls wouldn’t eat it. To be fair, the spices were foreign to them and even I needed a second bite before my brain recognized the flavors as appealing. This recipe is a keeper for anyone who likes or thinks they like Indian food. Delish! Thank you @realfoodwithdana for the recipe.

turmeric-chicken

Some of my recipes were classic Pinterest fails in presentation, but still tasted yummy on my tongue. I made three ingredient banana pancakes that looked fine when poured into the skillet, but I was unable to turn them over successfully. Mea culpa! Now I know they need longer cook time than traditional pancakes. I’ll make these again though. They were a great way to use up really ripe bananas.

The pancakes done right look a bit more appealing and edible wouldn’t you agree:

3 Ingredient Pancakes! They actually taste really good. Gluten-free, Paleo Friendly, Low Calorie, High Protein breakfast. | Recipe By Photo

Third, I was surprised at how hard it was at first to avoid dairy and grains but how easy it became over the weeks. I didn’t even have to eat eggs for breakfast every day! I often substituted bread for lettuce to make sandwiches or tacos. Restaurants were very accommodating when I asked for this. Turns out that a BLT is just as good as a BBLT (BLT on bread).  LaraBars were a huge help when I needed to grab a snack on the go. The fruit flavored snack bars have nothing but fruit and nuts. That’s it. They are sweetened with dates. Apple pie, lemon, cherry pie and coconut cream pie were lifesavers for me.

I’ll admit that while I didn’t miss milk, I sure missed cheese and yogurt. It’s amazing how many recipes call for cheese or some dairy product, especially breakfast recipes. Eating out required menu research beforehand so that I could be prepared to ask for no cheese. I had to send back two salads to be remade out of six restaurant meals this month. That’s pretty good all things considered.

Speaking of restaurants, it was not hard to eat Whole30 at restaurants. I usually had a salad or baked/grilled meats. I ordered veggies dry (no butter) and wasn’t afraid to ask questions about how the food was prepared. Preparation was definitely the key for me. I had to go out with a plan in mind.

Now what about avoiding alcohol for 30 days? That was tricky from the standpoint of trying to have dinner with new friends and explaining why I was turning down a glass of wine. No one minded though and no fun was diminished. It might have been even easier if my kids weren’t all facing their own challenges which required extra attention and resources from me, and caused stress.

So…that’s a great way to segue into talking about stress eating. I eat when I’m stressed. Scratch that. I eat sweet, sugary, chocolatey things when I’m stressed. I found that this habitual response to stress did not disappear on Whole30, however (and this is huge), it did not control me. I felt myself wanting to eat junk as my usual response, but the craving for sugar wasn’t there if that makes sense. I already mentioned Trader Joe’s Spiced Apple Cider  as a great way for me to satisfy my desire for something sweet. I turned to cider and fruit as my substitutes for candy, cookies and ice cream. Not sure if that’s a completely healthy solution, but hey, I’m a work in progress and the point is that I didn’t crave refined sugar.

Since sugar substitutes aren’t Whole30, I had to come up with some new ways to sweeten foods or forego the sweetness altogether. I’ve been drinking my coffee with almond milk sans sugar for the past month and the taste has grown on me. I like the nutty flavor in my cup and know that that’s one area where I can eliminate added sugar. Eliminating sugar from baked goods has been a different story. When I bite into a muffin I expect it to taste a certain way. I made some almond flour apple muffins using spiced apple cider and apple sauce as sweeteners. They were an acquired taste. I kinda made up the recipe as I went to there’s no one to credit or blame but myself.

I also made a pumpkin coffee cake that I will take credit for. It turned out pretty good. The framework for the recipe came from Jay’s Baking Me Crazy. I made some modifications to be Whole30 compliant. Instead of using maple syrup, I added 1 mashed, ripe banana and 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce. I also added coconut flakes, walnuts and chopped dates. I eliminated the crumb topping altogether. It was somewhere between pumpkin bread and pumpkin pie in flavor and texture. I liked it and it was breakfast for a week.pumpkin-coffee-cake

So what were some more surprising aspects of Whole30? Well, I didn’t lose as much weight as I thought I would in the last two weeks. I lost 7 pounds in the first two weeks. After that, I only one more pound. I’ll take what I can get no doubt, but I’m not sure why I plateaued so fast. The satisfying news is that I dropped a pant size and fit comfortably back into all my clothes. I could definitely feel and see a difference in my thighs and stomach. I’m guessing that eliminating bloat-inducing foods helped with this.

Energy level. My energy level wasn’t noticeably different. In researching Whole30, that was one of the most frequent claims that I came across. I was supposed to peppy and full of energy. Maybe it’s the gray Pacific Northwest skies, but I didn’t feel any peppier than before beginning Whole30. Or did I? Maybe Whole30 is the reason I had the stamina to spend hours in the kitchen trying to make new foods and combing through grocery store aisles to find new ingredients (where do I find canned lentils by the way?). So, the jury is still out on energy claims.

Skin. My skin was supposed to look bright and beautiful.  I will say that as someone with oily skin, my face didn’t shine and I do think it looked very healthy. I found myself not needing foundation or tinted moisturizer. The rest of my body doesn’t seem to have that ashy look it gets in fall/winter. I’ll take this little victory and monitor to see what foods I reintroduce into my diet cause any negative effects.

Cost. My weekly grocery bills went up, primarily because I had to buy so many ingredients for the first time. Luckily, most of those new ingredients were spices and oils that will last for weeks if not months. I really didn’t spend more on perishable foods that before. My cart was heavily loaded with fruits and vegetable but strikingly absent were processed and boxed foods. It hurts my brain to think how expensive it would have been to eat Whole30 when I lived on St. Thomas. Luckily, I’m surrounded by grocery stores and was able to find the majority of my food at Walmart Neighborhood Market and WinCo. There were a few specialty items that I had to track down at higher end, natural food stores.

Time. Every week, I had to have a plan. My meal planner was a huge help. I mainly needed time to find Whole30 recipes and read all the labels in the stores. I made 12 completely new to me recipes this past month and some time honored favorites. It took time to make my list for the store, track down ingredients and prepare delicious meals. Now that I have all these recipes in my planner, I can just click on them and go. My electric pressure cooker was invaluable. My slow cooker came in a close second. My husband’s love of grilling was an added bonus on those nights where we just wanted a simple, tasty meal. He had to keep reminding me that not all our meals had to be new and exciting! I think having time to plan meals for the week always makes things easier whether you’re following a specific plan or not. I know this won’t change just because Whole30 is finished. I absolutely loved this quick, easy to prep recipe for Carnitas from Damn Delicious. The smell of it wafting through the house all day was amazing. While my family had their in tortillas, I put it over cauliflower rice and it was, dare I say, damn delicious!

carnitas

So, was it worth it? Absolutely! today, I feel motivated and recalibrated. I’ve got sugar out of my system and I can focus on reintroducing foods into my diet that are healthy and nutrient dense. I’ll be watching to see what foods have negative effects. I feel accomplished that I met a goal and proved to myself that I could do it. As for tomorrow, I’m uncertain and anxious about what “plan” to follow and whether or not I’ll be able to maintain healthy habits. That fear, however, will not stop me from going forward and broadening my food horizons. I also have tucked away in my brain the knowledge that if I need to, I can do another Whole30. And guess what, tomorrow, if I want, I can have some cheese to go with my whine!

 

Happy, healthy eating,

Wendy

The in-laws are coming, so we’re going out!

We moved to Oregon in June 2016. My husband’s parents will be here this month. This means my husband and I can leave our darling children in the care of their grandparents and rest easy knowing they are well-loved and cared for.

So, what does this mean for a girl trying to finish up the last half of Whole30? I’m really wrestling with the answer to this question. There is no cheating on Whole30. If you eat non-compliant food/drink you are supposed to start over at day 1. There is no forgiveness, no grace and no excuses. Maybe I’ll just wait to have date night until day 31 and go hog-wild. That’s been my mentality in the past-well, I already screwed up so might as well have a little fun and eat all the food I’ve given up.

The problem is that I’m really proud of my accomplishment thus far. I really want to see this through to the end of 30 days and make healthy choices part of my life, not just part of a dare or challenge.  In order to make this work, I’ve got to be able to go out into the real world and be just as committed to healthy choices as I am in my own kitchen. I’m pretty sure that will require the same approach I use towards making meals-planning and preparation.

I’ve got to plan on being tempted to order whatever sounds or smells good. Afterall, what’s the point of going out to eat if not to have good food? I’ve got to prepare in my mind what my response will be when I see some fabulous dessert on the menu. I’ve got to remind myself that it’s just food. Conversation, alone with my husband, without interruption,  is the focus. And I’ve got to own up to the fact that there will be times that I just don’t care about whether or not my meal is nutrient-dense. It’s ok to indulge at a meal. I just can’t let it turn into an excuse to indulge for a week or a month. Here’s some tips I found (while Paleo is specifically mentioned, I think they apply to any healthy lifestyle):

18-Tips-for-Eating-Out-Like-a-Paleo-Pro-1.jpg

I think I can do this. I can eat healthy at a restaurant. I’ve learned that it’s ok to order food “dry”, meaning without the sauce that might be covering it. I have re-discovered how much  I like oil and vinegar on salad. I know I’ll be ok if  I don’t have dessert. I can do this. I WILL do this. And next time, I might even do it with a glass of wine if I want to!

Healthy eating,

Wendy

 

Pour some sugar on me, but please make sure it’s organic cane sugar

Sugar is everywhere, and I really like it! When I committed to doing Whole30, I knew I’d have to give up sugar in all forms. There is absolutely no substituting sugar on the plan. I can use natural fruit juice to sweeten things, which works great in smoothies (although smoothies are frowned upon because I’m not eating my nutrients, but  I don’t care) but I’m not putting orange juice in my coffee. In fact, for the past 2 weeks I haven’t put anything but almond milk in my coffee! This is coming from a girl who used Bailey’s Irish Cream as creamer in her cuppa joe! Talk about a biiiiiiig change! Turns out, I am surviving. But that’s a whole different post.

Let’s get back to sugar. I am much more conscious of the ingredients in the foods I once thought of as healthy. Processed foods and refined sugar are getting a lot of bad press, and they should. When I think back to my childhood, I remember going to the store and finding maybe half an aisle’s worth of cereal varieties. The processed food section was a fraction of what it is now, mainly because the microwave had not become the next of kin that is for most families today. Now it seems like most of the interior aisles are filled with food that has been prepared in a factory! Hmmm, I never really thought about it like that until now. The worst part, is it’s prepared by machines that don’t care about my health or my family’s health, or your health.

Take for example dried cranberries. Yes, cranberries. I went to get some to include in a salad and quickly realized they weren’t Whole30 approved. Why? Because sugar had been added to a supposedly natural food. I’m sure it has everything to do with making them palatable and giving them a longer shelf life. The problem is that nobody asked me if  I wanted sugar added to my fruit and now I’m going to have to figure out how to dehydrate them myself! How rude!

Why is added sugar so bad? Clean eating, Paleo, etc are really big on nutrient dense diets and plant-based foods. Sugar is a plant-based food in its natural form. Sugar itself isn’t bad, but refined, white sugar has been stripped of its nutrients. In addition, diets high in added sugar can raise blood-sugar levels over time to a point where one become insulin resistant which increases the risk of diabetes.

Now, if you’re like me, I can’t see myself going through life never having sweet treats, muffins or ice cream. I’m a sugar addict and I don’t wanna go to rehab, I said no, no, no! So what’s a girl or guy to do? I’ve been researching the answer to that question and trying to find alternatives. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Organic or Natural Cane Sugar: When cane juice is squeezed from sugar cane and left to evaporate and crystallize, what’s left behind is organic cane sugar. This sugar is brown and has a different texture than refined sugar. “Unrefined cane sugar contains 17 amino acids, 11 minerals, and 6 vitamins, including antioxidants that may help reverse oxidative damage. It is made up of sucrose, fructose, and glucose. Table sugar is just sucrose and calories, plus traces of chemicals utilized in the refining process such as lime, sulphur dioxide, and phosphoric acid. Organic cane sugar is not like brown sugar, which is white sugar with molasses thrown back in.” –The Recommended Daily The body gets nutrients from natural sugar. That sounds great, but it’s still sugar, still contains calories and still gets processed in the body like refined sugar.

Coconut Sugar or Coconut Palm Sugar: This sugar is derived from the coconut palm tree and is lower on the glycemic index than sugar. It also retains some of it’s nutrients like organic cane sugar including zinc, calcium and potassium, a well as some antioxidents. It also contains inulin, a fiber which may slow glucose absorption, giving a lower glycemic index than refined sugar. The bad news: while coconut sugar is fructose-free and has nutrients, it’s still mainly made up of sucrose. At the end of the day, I read several articles, and one study, that suggest coconut sugar is healthier than refined sugar because it’s manufacturing process is more natural, but it’s still high in calories and can cause metabolic problems. I guess this means I can put it in my coffee if need be, but I’m not going to be fooled into thinking it makes my muffins “healthy.”

Brown Sugar: Turns out that brown sugar is refined, white sugar with molasses mixed in. Say what?! I thought all brown foods are healthy! Brown sugar, brown rice, etc…ok, I can’t think of any other brown foods. But you get my point. While there are trace amounts of minerals in brown sugar, compared to refined sugar, it has the same effects on metabolism as refined sugar. Buyer beware.

Agave Nectar:  I was so excited to use agave nectar. After all, I only had to use a fraction of the amount of refined sugar to get the sweetness I craved. It has a lower glycemic index than sugar. Jackpot! Woo-hoo! I’m sold! Uh, not so fast. Turns out glycemic index, the potential of foods to lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar, has little to do with the negative effects of sugar. The major health criminal is fructose. Fructose doesn’t raise blood sugar levels in the short-term. It does, however, lead to insulin resistance if consumed in HIGH quantities over the long-term. Insulin resistance leads to high blood sugar levels, which can contribute to diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Honey: raw, unfiltered honey contains trace amounts of nutrients and antioxidants like its natural sugar cousin. It’s similar to coconut sugar in that it is less bad than refined sugar because it doesn’t have the same negative impact on metabolism, but it still contains fructose and is not as good as no sugar.

ALL OF THE SWEETENERS MENTIONED ABOVE CONTAIN SOME LEVEL OF FRUCTOSE!

Fruit: The recommended amount of fructose in any particular food is not more than 3 grams. Even fresh fruits and juice contain fructose, but the amount is not above the recommended safe amount.  Click here for a link to the fructose content for several foods. I was at our local Farmer’s Market a few weeks ago and stopped to sample a vegan, gluten-free cheesecake. I was sure that it was going to taste like cardboard. I was ready to spit it into my napkin. Turns out it was really tasty! My tastebuds were happy and I got my “sugar fix.” When I talked to the folks that made the cake they told me it contained no manufactured sugar. My shock, evidently was visible. It was sweetened with dates. Cue the Hallelujah music.

Dates and other whole foods are being used more and more in clean diets. As I was researching information for this post, I discovered a recipe for date-sweetened coffee creamer!!!  Thank you to 

Unsweetened applesauce apples are also a good option for adding a little sweet to baked goods. The best thing about using whole foods is that they are full of nutrients and fiber. Although the sugar in whole foods gets broken down in the body much like any other sugar but the body seems to know what to do with it better than other sugars. Click here for some ways to use whole foods as sweeteners and recipes. Lucky for me, Trader Joe’s must have anticipated my need for treats sweetened with whole foods and brought out their seasonal Spiced Cider. Guess what! No added sugar and it tastes like a piece of apple pie in my cup!Spiced Cider

The 10,000 ft. take-away is this-consuming a diet HIGH in added sugar, no matter the form or how “healthy” it is, still leads to metabolic problems, raises blood sugar and makes it difficult to lose weight if that’s your goal. All of the sweeteners mentioned above still make their way to the liver during the digestive process and your liver doesn’t know, or care for that matter, if it’s organic/natural or not. Please, please re-read the part above where I say a diet HIGH in sugar (and ultimately fructose). Limiting added sugar in any form seems to be the most prudent course of action if trying to maintain a healthy diet.

This healthy food/diet thing is new to me and my family. I have a tough time eliminating sugar from their diets even though I did it from my own. Why? Because in my mind, sweet treats are a reward or a way to say I Love You. There’s a reason they don’t sell heart-shaped boxes filled with apple slices on Valentine’s Day. For me, sugar is an unavoidable guest at the table. Heck, sugar is yummy and even welcome on my tongue. I haven’t found a magic sugar alternative, but I am a lot more knowledgeable about sugar/sweeteners now than I was last week. I’m excited to experiment with fruit as sweeteners in my baked goodies. This will be one of the first recipes I try at the end of Whole30 is from Six Sisters Stuff:

Gluten Free Date Brownies

If you get to make it before I do, let me know what you think!

Sweet, clean eating,

Wendy

Why I had to break up with beans, and it stinks

I love beans! Black beans, red beans, cannellini beans, refried beans, baked beans, bean soup, beans and rice, I’ll stop before I sound like Bubba from Forest Gump. I’ve always operated under the assumption that beans are good for you. Aren’t they good for your heart? Of course there’s a potentially embarrassing side effect from eating beans, but who cares! So, why on earth did I have to give up beans while doing Whole30?

This was taken straight from the Whole30 plan:

  • Do not eat legumes. This includes beans of all kinds (black, red, pinto, navy, white, kidney, lima, fava, etc.), peas, chickpeas, lentils, and peanuts. No peanut butter, either. This also includes all forms of soy – soy sauce, miso, tofu, tempeh, edamame, and all the ways we sneak soy into foods (like lecithin).

Apparently, legumes, including chickpeas and my precious beans, contain phytic acid. Sounds like the name of a heavy metal band to me. Phytic acid binds with the nutrients in your system and prevents them from being absorbed. It doesn’t take away nutrients already in your body, but, since nutrients consumed with that scoop of black beans aren’t absorbed, my side dish isn’t as nutrient dense as  I thought it was. The point of eating Whole30 or Paleo is tho have a nutrient dense diet (by diet I mean a lifelong, intentional decision to eat healthy).

Nuts also have phytic acid to some degree. Why are those allowed? It comes down to amount. Since nuts aren’t a staple, (you’re not going to have a bowl of nut soup or nuts and rice), people don’t tend to get a lot of phytic acid in their diet as a result. Replacing meats with lentils or tofu put your body at a nutrient disadvantage, so it’s not recommended.

Another consideration is the fact that legumes are also FODMAPS. (I think I’ll start saying this when upset: Oh FODMAPS!) FODMAPS contain galaco-ligosaccharides, a type of carbohydrate that can cause unpleasant digestive problems for some people. I’m finding that I’m a lot more sensitive to certain foods in my forties than I ever was before, but I choose to ignore it.

What else can possibly be wrong with legumes? Ok, there’s actually nothing wrong with them, but I lived most of my life thinking they are some kind of diet superfood. They fill you up after all. Now I see that, while they are filling, they get most of their calorie content from carbohydrates. Only about 1/4 of the calorie count is a protein source. Since I lead more of a sedentary lifestyle than I did in my twenties, how am I going to burn up those calories? The answer is that I haven’t. Now I know that I have to limit my legume intake. No more humus and homemade pita chips as the entrée in my lunch. Goodbye bean soup. I. Am. Crying.

I might as well get out all the bad news in one post. Legumes also contain lectin. Lectins are proteins found in almost all kinds of foods, but not all lectins are problematic. Different people react to different lectins. According to information from http://paleoleap.com/beans-and-legumes/ “potentially toxic lectins are highest in grains, legumes, and dairy. In the body, lectins damage the intestinal wall, contributing to leaky gut, with all its associated digestive and autoimmune problems. While many lectins can be destroyed by proper preparation methods, most people find these cooking methods irritatingly laborious, and it’s almost certain that any beans or legumes you buy in a restaurant won’t be cooked this way. Thus, making beans and legumes a regular feature in your diet can significantly contribute to gut irritation and permeability.”

The worst part about my break-up with legumes is that they just don’t have a significant micronutrient content that makes up for any of the problems listed above, so I can’t rationalize them into being a healthy food. Now, that said, I believe that beans and I can be friends with benefits. I know not to make them a staple in my diet. If I choose to include them in a dish (after I’m done with Whole30), I will have to view them like onions, a little go a long way. Also, I’ll have to embrace preparation methods that reduce phytic acid content.

Soaking is a good first step. Paleo Leap has good information on other methods of preparation: “Sprouting is even better, and reduces phytic acid by 25 to 75 percent. The process of sprouting a batch of beans or legumes is actually fairly easy: all you really need to do is keep them moist and give them access to the air. Fermentation also greatly reduces the phytic acid of many different types of food – and it gives your gut flora a boost as a bonus. Note that the phytic acid in soy is particularly hard to reduce: this is another reason to avoid it if at all possible. After any soaking or fermentation, you still have to cook your legumes before you can eat them – this adds another layer of protection because heating most beans and legumes (with the exception of peanuts, which have lectins that survive the cooking process) will destroy most of the lectins in them. Since nobody eats raw beans or legumes, this significantly reduces the concern about their lectin content.”

Special cases: coffee beans, cocoa beans, and vanilla beans aren’t actually beans. Who knew?! Also, because green beans are usually eaten with pod and seeds (it’s the seeds that contain the bad stuff), they have a lower phytic acid content than if we ate the seeds alone (who does that?). Also, we tend not to use green beans a staple in our diet.

WHAT ABOUT PEANUTS? Oh peanuts! We love you, we hate you. Like other legumes, they contain phytic acid and lectins. Of course the lectins in peanuts just HAVE to be heat-resistant and difficult to destroy by cooking. The preparation methods mentioned above may help some. In addition, they contain aflatoxins.

Aflatoxins are produced by a mold that tends to grow on peanuts. This mold thrives on crops stored in warm, humid places, and is so difficult to eliminate that the FDA has declared it an “unavoidable contaminant.” The mold thrives on all peanuts, including those that are organically grown. This means that unless you pick your peanuts directly from the farm, you’re probably getting some aflatoxins with them. It also means they are in your peanut butter, no matter how natural it is. Some say that there is a link to long-term consumption to aflatoxins with risk for diseases like cancer, especially in countries where peanuts are a staple food. Also, since aflatoxins are a type of mold, people with mold sensitivities in particular, should avoid them. It makes sense that rates of peanut allergies are exponentially higher now than in the past thanks to the advent of peanuts as a diet staple, through the wonder of peanut butter. I don’t see us eliminating peanut butter entirely, but we will likely start using it sparingly as we will all other legumes.

I know soy beans are also legumes. They are cheap to grow and vegetarians love to tout them as healthy. They have lectins and phytic acid just like their legume cousins. They also have  phytoestrogens, which mimic estrogen in the body. They trick your body into thinking they are the real deal, but they don’t actually perform any of the vital functions that real estrogen does. This means your body thinks it has enough estrogen when it really doesn’t. This hormonal imbalance can affect men and women. I would remind everyone that these imbalances are usually associated with diets where soy is a staple. Differentiating things as staples versus having small or occasional amounts just makes sense to me since I doubt I’ll ever be able to control all the content my diet. There’s no need to panic.

Soy also contains trypsin inhibitors. These inhibitors interfere with protein digestion, and increase the body’s needs for several important micronutrients, including Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D. Soy protein powder  is a completely processed, artificial non-food that shouldn’t be part of anybody’s diet.

OK, so if soy is so terrible, how are people in Asia are so much healthier and longer-lived than Americans? Traditional Asian cuisine relies much more on fermented foods. Also, the soy products eaten as part of traditional meals are not industrially processed, and are served in addition to a very nutrient-rich diet.  Again, we come back to the concept that there are some food that we use as staples which were never meant to be staples. There is a big difference “between a small amount of fermented tofu in a big bowl of broth and a huge scoop of soy protein isolate in a protein shake full of food coloring and sugar.” -Paleo Leap

Soy lecithin is an ingredient in most brands of dark chocolate, a common Paleo indulgence. Soy lecithin is actually a byproduct of the production of soy oil, and it’s not any better than any other kind of soy. While the dose of soy lecithin is small enough that most people can tolerate it, it’s still not doing anyone any good. If possible, it would be better to find a brand of chocolate without it.

How will I survive without legumes? Well, I probably won’t. I’m not ready to kiss them goodbye forever. I just need some space. It’s not them, it’s me. I’m learning how to make some of my favorite recipes without beans. The other night I made Southwestern Chicken Soup. It’s so simple you won’t believe it.

1 pound of cooked chicken-white and/or dark meat (I use a rotisserie chicken most of the time and debone it)

1 16 oz jar of green salsa

32 oz container of chicken broth (I use low sodium)

1 tbsp minced garlic

salt to taste

pepper to taste

2-16 oz cans of Cannellini beans (obviously, I omitted the beans for Whole30)

Throw all the ingredients in a saucepan and heat thoroughly. I serve with tortilla chips and sour cream to my family but did not have any myself. I’m going to add avocado, any maybe potato, to mine next time.

Since it’s starting to feel like fall up here in the PNW, it’s the perfect time for some hearty soups and stews. Last night I made Chili Con Carne with Sweet Potatoes from Kathi at Laughing Spatula. I altered the recipe a bit. Instead of ground turkey, I used lean ground beef. Y’all, I’m from TX and we like beef. I think turkey is too bland in chili so I don’t use it. I cooked my sweet potatoes in the pressure cooker and then added them to the chili. I used diced tomatoes without chilies but found them to be a bit bitter. I’ll use Rotel next time. The first few bites made my whole being protest: This is NOT chili!!!! Although the flavor was very good, my whole being knows that chili should have beans in it. After the third bite, everything settled down and I was able to enjoy the flavor and texture. The sweet potato flavor was mild and it still felt like I was eating comfort food. This recipe will be in a regular rotation this fall and winter for sure. I can’t wait to play around with some more.

chili

 

Bean appetit,

Wendy

How the Electric Pressure Cooker Changed My Life

I spent 14 years working as a Licensed Specialist in School Psychology. During that time, the crock pot was my best friend. I’d throw something in before heading to work and when I returned dinner would magically be ready. After moving to the US Virgin Islands (that’s a whole different post if not blog), I became a stay at home mom. I no longer thought about putting food in the crock pot before heading to work. In fact, dinner decisions were mostly made around what food was available on the island that week. Cooking with a recipe was frustrating and time consuming because it often involved trips to at least five different stores to find the ingredients. Now that we live in Portland, there is no shortage of fresh and interesting food. My problem is that I still don’t always plan ahead for the 4-6 hours needed to make something in the crockpot. That’s where the electric pressure cooker has saved my bacon more than once! (I bought a Cuisinart from Zulily at half off)

pressure-cooker

Last night I had every intention of making Chile Con Carne with Sweet Potatoes. Unfortunately, me and my girls were sick with a cold and I didn’t have a chance to do my weekly grocery shopping. Just as I was mulling over what I could throw together for dinner, my SIL sends me a recipe for Balsamic Chicken Tenders with Veggies. Well, I had chicken breast instead of tenders and spinach instead of green beans, but I was pretty sure it would still be tasty with those substitutions. Oh, did I mention I had 35 minutes to throw this all together and head up to school for a PTO meeting? What’s a mom to do? Enter the pressure cooker.

I quickly threw the frozen chicken breasts in the pressure cooker with some olive oil. I cooked at high pressure for 10 minutes while I was preparing the greek dressing and sauteing the spinach. I then transferred the chicken to the pan, browned it up and followed the recipe as directed. In all, it took about 25 minutes of prep time and it was delicious! This recipe is a keeper! I took a picture so you can see how pretty it is when all put together. The link is below:

Balsamic Chicken Tenders w/ Veggies

chicken

Check out Rachel’s blog for more recipes http://cleanfoodcrush.com

Here is the chili recipe I’m making tonight: http://laughingspatula.com/chili-con-carne-with-sweet-potatoes

Laughing Spatuala is another great blog with recipe ideas.

 

Happy eating,

Wendy

 

 

What should I eat?

There are a whole lot (pun intended) of nutrition trends out there. As someone getting started on the healthy eating journey, I’ll admit that it’s a little overwhelming. Oh who am I kidding? I feel like I’m up a creek without a paddle. I don’t know anything about nutrition except that some foods are better for you than others and calorie intake can affect weight. So, I saw that one of my friends was following the Whole30 plan for 30 days.

whole30-official-header1

I read up on it and decided to try it as well. Anything that could jump start me and spell out clearly what I can and cannot eat seemed the way to go. I did plenty of research before starting my plan. The great thing is that it’s MY plan. And I’m eating real food. I’ll admit that I’m somewhat skeptical of “diets” and my hubby is SUPER skeptical. Knowing that I’d have a tough sell I wanted to have my talking points ready to go. Here’s what I learned:

What is Whole30? It’s a 30 day plan established by Dallas Hartwig and Melissa Hartwig  in April 2009. They say that it is a “nutritional program designed to change your life in 30 days.” The point is to reset your nutrition habits, help put an end to unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, and balance your immune system. Sounds great right?

What’s the catch? There’s always a catch. You have to eliminate sugar, grains (all grains), dairy, legumes and alcohol for 30 days. Did I mention that I have three kids? I now have to go 30 days without a glass of wine! Are Dallas and Melissa crazy? No grains? Seriously, whole grains are a part of every meal I eat. No cheese? What is life without cheese? Now I can’t have any??? I’m hyperventilating just thinking about it!

As far as I know, I am not lactose intolerant, nor do I have a gluten allergy (I love gluten!) and what’s wrong with beans besides a little flatulence? Aren’t beans good for your heart? My kids go around the house singing to me that they are. Why on earth would want to follow Whole30? Sounds more like ALotOfNothing30 if you ask me.

Well, I’m in my 40s now and things just aren’t what they used to be. Hairs are growing in new places, joints are creaking and I’ve finally realized that I am not invincible. I’m watching my parents get older and, while I don’t have health problems now, it’s just a matter of time before a doctor tells me my cholesterol is bad or my blood pressure is too high. I want to hold that off as long as possible.

Whole30 asserts that certain food groups can affect energy levels, aches and pains, your ability to lose weight, allergies and digestive ailments. All of this “may be directly related to the foods you eat—even the “healthy” stuff. If I “strip them from my diet completely for a full 30 days, let my body heal and recover from whatever effects those foods may be causing and push the “reset” button with my metabolism, systemic inflammation, and the downstream effects of the food choices I’ve been making then I can learn how the foods I’ve been eating are actually affecting my body.” It’s not designed to be long-term, nor does it promise significant weight loss (although it does say some weight loss should occur and that’s a bonus for me). Skin is supposed to look better. The biggest benefit they claim is a psychological one. We know it takes 30 days for something to become a habit. If I can break the hold that sugar has on me then I can begin to improve the relationship I have with food. I want to change long-standing unhealthy habits into conscious, lifelong, healthy habits. I want to eat a nutrient rich diet, not be on a never-ending cycle of diets.

I love food. I give people sweets all the time to say “I Love You.” I eat when I’m happy or sad. Most of my social interactions with friends involve food and drink. I love to plan big, holiday meals and try new recipes. I reward my kids with food. It’s food, food, food for me and mine. I’m not ready to break up with food. I am ready to embrace healthy food. With a family of five, I am budget-conscious so I don’t want my healthy lifestyle to break the bank. Here’s how my first 8 days are going so far:

I planned out my menu for the first week. I bought all my necessary ingredients and I set aside time to cook up some meals in advance so when I got “hangry” (Hungry+Angry) I’d have something I could grab quickly. I’m surprised at how easy it’s been. The first week, I cooked things like baked chicken with veggies. I made taco stuffed sweet potato for me and tacos for the kids. I made southwestern chicken soup and added the beans afterward for the rest of the family. Little tweaks have made it possible for everyone to enjoy meal time. I’m sweetening my smoothies with fresh-squeezed orange juice (I literally squeeze half an orange into the blender). My favorite smoothie right now is a mango, banana, spinach concoction I created. I love experimenting with spices. We had dinner at friends’ houses twice last weekend and I had to bring dessert. I managed to make something with Oreos and not eat any! I’d call this progress. Not sure my skin looks any different but my clothes are already looser.

I’m happy to share recipe reviews. The first one is a potato-sausage breakfast casserole. I thought it was really tasty. I put too many potatoes in it which caused the egg to bubble over the sides of my baking dish and land on the bottom of the oven in a big, brown blob. The house smelled like souffle. Luckily, it was salvageable and tasted great. I put some Frank’s on it (like the jar says, I put that sh*t on everything). My husband and son liked it too.

Thank you to Paleo Leap for the recipe. Get it here: http://paleoleap.com/potato-sausage-casserole-pie/

casserole-pie

Look for recipe reviews and updates on my progress.

 

Wendy