Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The #1 thing you can do to be healthier

Not long ago I began subscribing to Eating Well magazine. Its byline of “Where Good Taste Meets Good Health” seemed more in line with my goals and this blog: preparing food that’s not only delicious and full of flavor, but healthy as well. Other cooking magazines I’d subscribed to before were leaving me cold. Either the recipes contained ingredients I don't eat, or are too carb-heavy with too much flour and/or sugar, or there are articles about beauty and exercise included (why these have to be in a cooking magazine, I just don’t understand). I guess my needs were evolving. Time for something different.

The June issue of Eating Well was just delivered to my door, and in it appeared the following excerpt from an interview with Michael Pollan, who is promoting his new book. I thought I’d share it with you because I so very much agree with him.

“Michael Pollan wrote about agriculture in his New York Times bestseller The Omnivore's Dilemma and about nutrition in In Defense of Food. Now, in Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation (Penguin Press, April 2013), he homes in on what he believes is the single-most important step we can take to make our food system healthier and more sustainable.

Why is home cooking so important?
Cooking is key to changing our health and the environment. People who cook for themselves eat healthier diets. You could cook Twinkies, but it’s really hard to do and you’re not likely to do it more than once in a lifetime. You’re not going to reform the way we farm and process food unless you cook. Local food isn’t going to get big if people aren’t cooking. If you let corporations cook for you, they’re going to buy food from the biggest monocultures.

What are the three best tips you picked up writing this book?
Patience, presence and practice. To really be present while you’re cooking and to not be fighting something else you want to do. Don’t rush things. I think we have a tendency to cook too fast, with the burner too high. When you’re sautéing onions, give them a half hour to cook and they’ll get sweeter and more translucent and the dish will be so much more delicious. We’re in this time panic and we feel like everything’s got to happen in 20 minutes.

What about people who only have 20-30 minutes to make dinner on a weeknight?
Well, that same person has an hour for yoga or surfing the Web. We put pressure on the kitchen to save 10 minutes to do something else. I’m just arguing that it’s important—for your health, your family life and your sanity.

What’s one forgotten food?
Frozen vegetables are one of the great overlooked benefits of an industrial food system. They are often picked at their nutritional peak and frozen right away. I think frozen spinach is pretty good (and, by the way, it’s already cleaned).”

I agree completely.

Does cooking your meals take more time than popping some processed thing into the microwave for dinner? Sure. It is worth it? Of course.

I invite you to share this with your microwaving friends.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Homemade Snack Bars

They are the perfect "in-between" food. In the mid-afternoon when you need a little something to hold you over until dinner, or when lunch is still a ways off and you're dying of hunger, or maybe you need a little energy during or after a workout. That's where snack bars come in.

And there are so many to choose from, aren't there? Heavens, it's overwhelming. But if you're the label-reader that I am, you hesitate to buy most of them because nearly every one of them has something in it that you really shouldn't be eating. Here are some of them:
Soy Protein Isolate
This is, unfortunately, one of the most prevalent protein sources you’ll find in protein bars, especially those marketed to women. The marketing would have you believe that soy is an excellent protein source for women because of the isoflavones found in it. In reality, studies have indicated that these soy isoflavones can actually be toxic because of how the soy is processed (fermented soy products such as tofu are fine, just fyi).
In addition, it was actually considered a waste product in soy processing until recently, when it was discovered that money could be made by passing it off as a protein source. It’s cheap and definitely NOT a high-quality protein. It should be avoided.
High Fructose Corn Syrup
This is an easy one to figure out…the adverse health effects of HFCS are well documented (contrary to what the commercials from the Corn Growers Association claim).It’s one of the WORST things you can eat and yet there are still bars that use it as a primary ingredient.
Palm Kernel Oil
Palm kernel oil is a cheap, unhealthy fat. Unlike plain palm oil, palm kernel oil can’t be obtained organically. Instead, the oil must be extracted from the pit with a gasoline-like hydrocarbon solvent. The fractioned form is the most processed…if you see that in the ingredients, you should definitely avoid it.
Sugar Alcohols
This includes ingredients like Maltitol Syrup, Xylitol, Sorbitol, Lactitol, Mannitol, and Erythritol. Sugar alcohols are included in bars for sweetness…especially in bars that are “carb controlled”. Sugar alcohols don’t impact blood sugar as much as regular sugar because they’re not well absorbed in the digestive tract…and when things aren’t well absorbed in the digestive tract you get gas, abdominal cramping, and bloating.
In small amounts, sugar alcohols aren’t a big problem, but if you start getting into the double digits of grams of sugar alcohol (and many low-carb bars are in the 20 gram range), THEN you can start to see unpleasant digestive issues.
Artificial Sweeteners
These include saccharin, sucralose, and aspartame. I won’t get into the whole debate about whether artificial sweeteners are bad for you or not and what they turn into in your body, etc. You can do your research and decide for yourself the risks of ingesting artificial sweeteners. Personally, I try and stay away from artificial sweeteners as much as I possibly can.

My favorite bars are from Larabar. They used to be marketed as being raw, but their website explains that since the term "raw" can mean so many different things to different people, they've decided to remove the term from their packaging. But in my opinion, they are raw and thankfully gluten-free and best of all,  made with a minimal and simple ingredient list.

But buying a box of them can get  pricey. When my massage therapist, Carrie, told me she had been making her own and that her kids loved them, I asked her to shoot me over the recipe. She directed me to a blog that had a few different recipes available. Apparently, this blogger is quite addicted to them!

So I decided to try to make them myself. I had almost everything I needed for the Coconut Cream Larabars except for the cashews, so I went out and got some. (NOTE: all nuts listed should be raw). Making these took me less than 10 minutes.

Coconut Cream Larabars

1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup cashews
3/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
12-15 Medjool dates
2 T coconut oil
2 T coconut milk

Ground nuts with the coconut
Mix the nuts together in a food processor until finely ground. Then add the coconut and pulse once or twice. Then the dates (pitted), oil and milk and pulse until a dough forms. 

Press into a pan
Line an 8x8 pan with parchment paper leaving enough room for some to come up and over the sides. That way, the bars will be easy to remove and cut with a  long knife or better yet, a pizza cutter. Press down the dough so that it is packed well and place in the fridge to set for an hour or two. Slice and eat. Alternately, you could form the dough into balls and roll them in more shredded coconut. This way they can be stored together without sticking together. 

Slice and eat. They should keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks. They do taste best at room temperature, though, so get them out a little before you want to eat them.

Apparently, Key Lime Larabars are really popular, though I've never tried them. They do sound yummy.

Key Lime Larabars

1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup cashews
3/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
12 Medjool dates, pitted
juice of 1 lime
1-2 T of water if needed

Process nuts and coconut until finely ground. Then add the dates and lime juice until a dough forms. Follow the rest of the instructions above.

Pecan Pie Larabars

1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup pecans
12 Medjool dates

Same process as above.

For alternative flavors, try experimenting, adding mini chocolate chips, dried cranberries or other dried fruit, seeds, dried chopped apricots, to the dough after you've removed it from the food processor but before pressing into the pan. The sky's really the limit when it comes to personalizing these babies.

They are super delicious, 100% natural, raw, gluten-free, and sugar-free. You can eat these  with a good conscience.

Bon Appetit.

Print Friendly