Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Sweet News

Check out the following list of good alternative sweeteners from

Maple syrup is an excellent substitute for sugar. It is high in trace minerals like zinc and manganese, which can assist in heart health and in balancing cholesterol levels. The only real downside to maple syrup is that it is pricey and can be hard to find if you live outside North America. You also want to watch which grade of syrup you're getting: The light "Grade A" or "Number 1," supposedly the most desirable, can contain formaldehyde runoff from the first extraction of the syrup under certain processing conditions. All the other grades are safe, but Grade C (the darkest amber syrup) is the best.

Honey is another item that's often presented as a healthy alternative to refined sugar, but it is sometimes controversial. People who react to sugar as a "brain allergy" (especially common in children, for whom it can trigger ADD/ADHD symptoms) may react to honey the same way. It is high glycemic, and hits the body as a hard sweet. However, most people digest honey much more easily than sugar. Raw, unpasteurized honey is rich in elements which can help with wound healing, kill bacteria, soothe sore throats and digestive upset, and decrease local allergy symptoms. Honey is also sweeter than sugar by volume, so you need less in baking and cooking.

Agave is a sweetener extracted from a South American cactus, and traditionally used to make tequila. Often called "honey water," the agave nectar or agave syrup is light, both in taste and colour. It is runnier than honey and tastes much milder, but is in fact sweeter so even less is required in cooking. Agave is extraordinarily low glycemic - it has almost no impact on blood sugar, making it an ideal sweetener for diabetics and those who are sensitive to sugars.

Stevia, an extract from the leaves of about several species of plant from the genus Stevia, may be the most perfect sweetener for the human body. Stevia has been shown to support the function of the pancreas - increasing enzyme availability and improving your body's ability to process other sugars. Stevia is sold in the U.S. as a dietary supplement, and can be found in either liquid or powdered form in most health food stores. It is sometimes criticized for its slightly bitter aftertaste. For those who enjoy baking however, you substitute only a tiny amount for normal sugar - 1/4 to 1/32 the amount of sugar called for, depending on the kind of stevia. Stevia has also been shown to reduce cavities and has few to no calories (again, depending on the type you use).

Monday, October 5, 2009

Refined Sugar: Not so sweet to the health

"No dessert until you finish your dinner" is a common dinner table command we've all been subject to. As a kid, I always used to wonder why we couldn't eat dessert first and why there was a huge discrepancy between portion sizes of green bean casserole and chocolate chip cookies. It never seemed fair. In fact, it still doesn't. However, I now understand the science behind sugar creating the valid parental concerns of hyper children and cavities among other dangers. These are the not-so-sweet effects of refined sugar:
  • Immune System Suppression- Because of the unnatural chemical structure and industrial contaminants of refined sugar, our immune systems recognize it as a toxic foreign agent and has been shown to increase the vitality and number of white blood cells. It also depresses the body's energy field and makes blood more acidic, which increases the body's susceptibility to toxins, viruses and bacteria. Once the body has a bacteria (like a yeast infection), the sugar feeds it! In addition, the abnormally large quantities of insulin secreted to balance blood sugar upon sugar consumption suppresses the release of growth hormone, which in turn creates immune deficiency.
  • Mineral Leeching- Since sugar is nutritionally "naked," the body is forced to borrow minerals, nutrients and vitamins from other areas to metabolize it. The leeching of calcium from the teeth creates cavities and the excretion of potassium and magnesium from the body can contribute to heart disease.
  • Obesity- When too much sugar is consumed, the liver converts the extra sugar molecules to triglycerides and stores them as fat or cholesterol, contributing to obesity.
  • Behavioral disorders?- Although the disorders and disabilities are up for debate, get this: Chronic violence in prisons was reduced by eliminating refined sugar and starches from the prisoners' cafeteria diets.Crazy, eh?! Plus, there have been links made between sugar and ADHD in children (although nothing has been confirmed).
  • Type II Diabetes- Since the pancreas has to work hard to secrete insulin for sugar metabolism, an excess work overload causes it to shut down, just as any machine would shut down if it is being jammed with more work than it is built for.
But before you go into a depression with the depressing knowledge, you should know you are not doomed. There ARE good sugars (see next blog)! And remember, any extreme measure that causes mental turmoil like completely avoiding refined sugar produces more negative effects for your body through stress than just eating the darn Snickers bar. The key is moderation.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

All Hail the Kale

If I were stranded on a desert island with one choice of nourishment to sustain me, it would be kale. Okay, so it would really be chocolate peanut butter swirl ice cream, but if I were perfect, it would be kale. Why? I'll let the nutrients speak for themselves. Just take a look at the chart. Is there any other food that comes close to being that nutrient-packed?
Chart from the George Mateljan Foundation for The World's Healthiest Foods

These nutritional benefits translate to cancer protection, rheumatoid arthritis protection, cataract protection, cell detoxification, lung health, and vision health among many other perks.

And the good news- contrary to popular belief- is that it's not as revoltingly bitter as you'd think. The trick is to steam it. A weekly salad at our house consists of steamed kale and avocado drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice and sprinkled with sea salt and a dash of cayenne. It's awesome.

I recently made the kale salad in the picture with red onions (soaked in apple cider vinegar for a less pungent flavor), figs, peaches and oranges. The fruit gives a nice sweet contrast to the kale and onions and a balsamic vinaigrette was just the right dressing to complete it.
Besides using kale in salad, I often jazz up pasta sauce with it, throw it in soups or use it as a lettuce substitute in things like tacos, but perhaps the best way to enjoy it and trick your kids into eating it is by making kale chips.

Kale Chips: Cut kale off stems and chop into bite-size pieces. Baste with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and cayenne if you like a kick. Bake on a parchment lined cookie sheet at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until the edges are brown. You can eat the whole "bag" of these guilt-free. Imagine that!

Next time you're in the produce section at the grocery store, don't be afraid to hail the kale and serve it as lunch.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Energy Bars

Last year, after becoming fed up with "high fructose corn syrup" and preservatives- galore granola bars, I decided to hit up the faithful Food Network website and learn to make my own.  I found a great recipe by Ellie Krieger, but have learned to adapt it to using the ingredients I have on hand.  The basic concept is nuts, seeds, dried fruit, oats, flour, egg, and a fluid sweetener/sticky agent.  You can chop the nuts and then combine everything together for chunky bars or throw everything in the food processor for smooth bars and then spread onto a greased baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.  These scrumptious bars had:
Oat flour
Dried Apricots
Macadamia Nuts
Sesame Seeds
Maple Syrup

They are packed with protein, omegas, fiber, and carbohydrates that combine to make for a good, healthy energy boost snack.  Rachel Ray would definitely give them a four star "Delish!"

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Demise of Dairy, Explained

We are the only mammals that continue drinking milk into adulthood;  and we suffer because of it.  Over sixty percent of adults do not posses lactase--the necessary enzyme to digest lactose-- the sugar found in milk.  In turn, the undigested lactase builds up and ferments in the colon causing cramping, gas, bloating and diarrhea.  Being lactose intolerant is not a disease; it's the norm.  We are not meant to consume dairy. But instead of listening to our bodies, we suffer through the consequences or grab our Lactaid pills and call it good as we grate 2 cups of cheese into tonight's dinner.

The sugar enzyme is not the only digestive aid we are lacking. Pasteurization destroys the enzyme necessary to digest the heavy protein content of milk.  Cow's milk has 4 times the protein content of human milk.  Without the ability to break down the excess protein, it ends up petrifying in our digestive tract clogging our intestines with a sticky sludge.  Our bodies often deal with this by forcing some of the sludge out through our skin as acne and lungs as mucus.  The rest of the sludge forms mucus in other areas causing harm. Many cases of chronic ear infections, allergies, asthma and acne have been cured by eliminating dairy.

Now that most dairy farms are run like production factories with little regard to the animals or the health of the consumers, the cows are injected with synthetic Bovine Growth Hormone in order to produce up to 25% more milk.  This translates to 25% more profit for the farmers and huge health risks for consumers including ovarian, breast, and colon cancer.   It is also the reason for young females reaching puberty at record low ages.

These cows forced to produce unnaturally high quantities of milk become malnourished as they lose more nutrients in their milk than they are able to ingest and are therefore susceptible to disease. In addition to the health risks they have from being fed grains instead of grass, and harsh living conditions including exposure to feces, the hormones themselves cause hoof diseases, open sores, internal bleeding and bacterial infections.  In order to counter act the loss of profitable cows to the diseases, the animals are given antibiotics, which unsurprisingly also leaves traces in the milk we pour over our cereal.  Milk consumers are therefore become more and more immune to antibiotics as they build up a tolerance with every sip of milk they take.

Given the facts, why would people continue to consume dairy?  I would venture to say that aside from being accustomed to it, the reason is due to a very successful ad campaign promoting dairy as an optimal calcium provider.  However, digest this: Phosphorus combines with calcium in the digestive tract and blocks calcium assimilation, so although the calcium content of milk is high, so is the calcium-blocking phosphorus.  Cow's milk has a wopping 97mg of phosphorus to every 100g of milk as opposed to human's milk 18mg to every 100g of milk.  The ratio of phosphorus to calcium is just too high for cow's milk to be considered a good source of the mineral.  The following is a list of much better sources of absorbable calcium:

Seeds     1,160mg/ 100g
Kelp     1,093mg/ 100g
Sardines    400mg/ 100g
Almonds   254mg/ 100g
Kale     187mg/ 100g
Broccoli     130mg/ 100g

Cow's milk only has 118mg/ 100g!  And it has 50mg of sodium/100g milk as an added health risk bonus.

Although the detrimental farmer's actions are being brought to light and there are more readily organic milk products on the market every day, the enzyme problem persists.  Since I can no longer ignore the "sludge buildup" in my own body, I have chosen to eliminate it to the best of my ability (about 80% since my life would end without macaroni & cheese) and opt for good creamy, satisfying alternatives (see last blog entry).  I also continue to eat organic fresh live culture yogurt, since it is already predigested by lactobacteria and gives me a healthy way to fulfill my dairy fix.

(Much of my information on this matter came from The Complete Book of Chinese Health and Healing by Daniel Reid)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Demise of Dairy

I worked for a chiropractor in college who led and promoted a very nutritionally sound lifestyle. I thought he was nuts.  How and why would anyone deprive themselves of the greatest things in life- dairy and sugar?!  Although the explanation was simple and logical, to his dismay I continued to go next door to the ice cream shop for a chocolate malted milkshake every break.  Little did I know that I would be just as "nuts" as him one day.

Since I was 19, I have suffered from perpetual mucus- both nasal and in my throat (Don't visualize this; it's gross). Over the years it got worse and peaked while living in South America. I noticed I got it immediately after drinking the typical Chocolate Santafereno (sinfully delicious hot chocolate with mozzarella cheese at the bottom), which was a nightly ritual at my in-laws. It was usually served with cheese bread. =) Using every might of will power I had, I resisted the nightly temptation and was rewarded with fewer nasty visits to the sink.  However, the problem persisted by day to the point that formed a habit of locating all trash cans and bathrooms upon entering an indoor public place.  I became regular for me to walk away from conversations to hock a loogie around the corner because my throat was so blocked, I could no longer converse. And  when I was in a car, I always prayed for the next red light so I could do my business.

I had a hunch it was caused by dairy, but wasn't ready to deny myself my beloved cheese.  So I decided to start small.  Instead of regular milk in my tea, I would use almond or rice milk.  I often went for sorbet instead of ice cream.  

About a year ago, I attended a lecture given by RD Healing Nutritionist, Deirdre Earls.  She shared her testimony of turning to a healing diet (devoid of dairy) in desperation to avoid chemotherapy. Her disease cleared up after years of suffering and using medicine that did not work.  She even experienced other benefits from her new healing diet including allergy cures.
As I began to research and learn more about dairy and the adverse affects it causes, I became more determined to eliminate. As I researched and learned about alternative creamy satisfiers, I became more committed

I have eliminated dairy by about 80% (100% is sainthood) and rarely have to deal with mucus anymore. Not only that, but I have experienced unforeseen bonuses: My eczema has disappeared and so have my menstrual cramps.  The bonuses are enough alone to maintain this commitment. My dairy cravings are minimal thanks to satisfying substitutes that have done the trick. Fortunately dairy alternatives are becoming more readily available in most health food stores and even regular grocery stores these days, which makes life convenient.  When I have time though, I like to make my own dairy-free products, which are truly decadent treats with more fresh flavor and less preservatives.  Basically, I use rice and nuts to substitute everything.  Soy is also an option, but I don't like the flavor of soy as much and it's hard to find non genetically-modified soy products. Below is a list of some easy dairy replacement recipes.

Milk-----> Rice, Nut, Seed Milk 
Blend 1 cup soaked nuts, seeds or cooked rice with 3 cups water (4 for rice) and strain in cheesecloth. Add sweet spices for flavor and honey, agave nectar or maple syrup for sweetness.  Almond and rice milk mixed with cinnamon and agave make a deliciosa Horchata.

Cream-----> Nut cream
Follow the nut milk recipes, but use 1 cup nuts: 1/4 cup water (more or less for desired thickness). Cashew cream with agave nectar is the most incredible guilt-free creamy, sweet fruit spread.

Cheese-----> Nut cheese   
Process 1 cup nuts, 1/2 lemon's juice, salt, olive oil, 1 clove garlic, and herbs.  I had to stop and make this today after writing the recipe.  It's that good.  I used macadamia nuts with sage, parsley and chives (See above picture).  It took 5 minutes. Tomorrow I might attempt it a sweet version with strawberries and honey to spread on bagels.

Ice cream-----> Rice, Soy, Nut cream
The creamiest, most delicious, yet healthiest alternative to ice cream I have had (thanks Nikki!) is coconut milk based Purely Decadent.  The Chocolate Peanut Butter Swirl is comparable to Ben & Jerry's, with an underlying hint of coconut. If you want to really delight your taste buds and impress your friends, Click here for delicious nut-based home made ice cream recipes.  

Even if you're not as "nuts" about nuts as me, I encourage you to try these dairy-free recipes anyways because you'll love them! And if you substitute them for dairy, you might just experience some health benefits.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Chicken, Orzo Super Salad and Dark Chocolate Pudding

Living in my car doesn't allow much time to blog or access to cook.  However, I did manage to cook up a scrumptious meal in a friend's kitchen recently. It left my tummy pleasantly satisfied  with no costly side effects from my traveling diet of convenience food.    

To go with my organic soy garlic marinated baked chicken, I prepared Orzo Super Salad (minus the cheese) from my favorite recipe site: 101 Cookbooks. For dessert- a common course in my kitchen- I made an irresistible dark chocolate dairy-free pudding.   
I'll write soon of the problems with dairy, but for now, try this creamy delight that you would never even suspect is made with soy.  I personally don't like the taste of soy, but have found it possible to completely cover up the flavor while enjoying the health benefits of the protein/ dairy substitute.  If possible, go with non genetically modified tofu.

  Orzo Super Salad:
1 cup orzo pasta
  10 asparagus spears, cut into 1-inch 

1 head broccolini
handful of cilantro or mint, chopped

1 small clove of garlic, mashed with a big pinch of salt and chopped

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

a small handful of sprouts
1/3 cup almonds, toasted
1/2 small cucumber, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 medium avocado, sliced into small pieces

Cook orzo according to package instructions. About 2 minutes before it's finished cooking, stir the asparagus and broccoli into the orzo pot. Cook for the final 2 minutes, drain and run under a bit of cold water to stop the cooking.

In the meantime, whisk together the garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt into the dressing. Set aside.

Toss the orzo, asparagus, broccoli, and cilantro with the dressing. Add more dressing if needed, and toss well. Now add the sprouts, almonds, cucumber, and avocado. Very gently toss a couple of times to distribute those ingredients throughout the salad and serve.

Serves 4.

Dark Chocolate Pudding:

1/2 block silken tofu + water in carton

1 c. walnuts

1 bar dark chocolate 

1/4 c. agave nectar (or honey)

pinch sea salt

mint (optional)

Blend everything together in blender or food processor until creamy.  Add berries if desired.