If you haven’t noticed already, I have a bit of a sweet tooth. But I am always looking for desserts and snacks to satisfy my cravings that are made without refined sugar.
But even when you think you’re eating a healthy dessert, you might actually be hurting yourself more than helping. Like I’ve said before, most “low calorie” and “low sugar” desserts are often made with artificial sweeteners and sugars. When you’re on the go, the McDonalds Fruit and Yogurt Parfait seems like a good dessert option, right? Let’s take a look at the ingredients first…
Yogurt: Cultured pasteurized Grade A reduced fat milk, sugar, food starch-modified, fructose, whey protein concentrate, corn starch, gelatin, natural (plant source) and artificial flavor, potassium sorbate.
Granola: Whole grain rolled oats, brown sugar, crisp rice (rice flour, barley malt extract, salt), dried high maltose corn syrup, honey, sunflower oil, salt, baking soda, sodium aluminum phosphate, apple puree concentrate, soy lecithin, cinnamon, crushed oranges, natural flavor.
Those are two long lists of ingredients. The only thing possibly redeeming about their parfait might be the fruit. The yogurt is made with lots of artificial ingredients, and has added fructose (sugar). It’s also made with gelatin, which is an animal byproduct. How many “vegetarians” do you think have unknowingly eaten gelatin without even knowing? And why does it need to be in yogurt? The granola seems fine at first, until they had to include high fructose corn syrup and soy lecithin, which is a GMO soy product.
By making parfaits at home, you not only save money, but have control over the amount of ingredients you use to make them, as well as the quality of ingredients. And don’t skimp and buy pre-made granola. Making your own is so easy and cheap! This granola is made with Maple Syrup, which is an unrefined sugar, and has tons of nutritional benefits. Check out my recipe for these quick and simply Fruit and Yogurt Parfaits.
Fruit and Yogurt Parfait
First begin by making your granola. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Combine the oats, cereal, nuts, salt, cinnamon, and brown sugar in a bowl. Cover the bottom of a large baking pan with parchment paper, and spread mixture evenly inside. Next, drizzle the maple syrup over the granola, and stir with a spatula until it is covered evenly. Bake in five minute intervals, stirring each time, for fifteen minutes. Let the granola cool, then assemble your parfait. It doesn’t matter what order you go in, but I do a layer of granola, then yogurt, then fruit, repeat. Serve chilled and enjoy!
I’ve always had a microwave. It has always been an essential part of my kitchen anywhere I’ve lived. But when we moved into our new apartment, that’s one thing that wasn’t included.
Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about living a healthy lifestyle, and have also become more and more skeptical of microwaves. So needless to say, I’ve been living without one for the past six months… and it’s been easy.
Microwaves were introduced in America, in the 1960s. Microwaves heat food by bombarding it with electromagnetic radiation causing polarized molecules in the food to move and build thermal energy in a process called dielectric heating. They make reheating food and beverages very easy, as well as cooking pre-packaged foods.
While microwaves definitely offer a more convenient lifestyle, they also have many negative attributes as well. The most obvious, is that is depletes the nutritional density of your food. Microwaving food changes the chemical structure of food, and takes something that like organic vegetables and makes them a “dead” food that can potentially cause disease. A study by The Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture found that broccoli that’s been cooked in a microwave lost up to 97% of its beneficial antioxidants. And steamed broccoli? It only lost about 11% of its nutrients. Also, a Japanese study by Watanabe showed that by microwaving milk for just 6 minutes, it lost 40% of its beneficial B12 vitamin. Studies have also shown that heating breast milk or formula in the microwave as apposed to the stove top depleted the vitamin content as well as converting other beneficial substances to being completely useless.
Microwaves also have a lot of trouble heating food evenly. “Hot Spots” occur when one area of the food being microwaved gets heated more than the others, and can get hot enough to actually cause it to burn, which then causes carcinogenic toxins to be released into the food. The worst culprit of contaminating food is BPA (bis-phenol A), which is an estrogen like compound that’s used in plastic products. When you heat food in this type of container, BPA is released into your food.
Microwaves also use radiation to heat food, and while the radiation leakage is very minimal, it is still present. Standing in front of your microwave while it’s in the process of heating something can expose you to about 400 milliGuass of radiation, and a mere 4 milliGauss has been linked to causing leukemia.
Recent studies have even shown that when our tissue is directly exposed to microwaves, “microwave sickness” can occur. People with this condition experience insomnia, headaches and dizziness, swollen lymph nodes, impaired cognition, depression, nausea and appetite loss, vision and eye problems, and frequent urination.
Aside from all the negative effects on food and our bodies, using a microwave discourages cooking, and preparing healthy meals. Our society has become lazy and obsessed with instant gratification. Why would someone spend an hour making a meal for their family when they could do it in five minutes or less? Cooking homemade meals is something we cannot afford to lose. Recipes, tricks, and methods used to be passed down through the generations, and now people don’t even know how to crack an egg. Now, I’m not suggesting you completely toss your microwave, but consider using it less and spending more time preparing and planning meals. You’ll be not only helping your own health, but bringing your family together over a sacred tradition!
We’ve been told our entire lives to start the day with a healthy, well balanced breakfast. But in recent years, it’s been harder and harder to find something that fits those qualifications. Whether it’s cereal, waffles, pop-tarts, toaster strudel, yogurt, granola, or oatmeal, they all tend to be full of artificial dyes, sugar, enriched grains, and preservatives. For a meal that is deemed so important, we sure aren’t given many healthy options.
Take, for instance, a typical pancake breakfast. Not too bad, right? Wrong. Standard pancake mix is made with enriched, bleached flour, as well as mysterious ingredients like “sodium aluminum phosphate” and “mono-calcium phosphate”. And the “maple syrup” is far from real maple syrup. Real, organic maple syrup is actually quite nutritious; it is full of antioxidants that help prevent several chronic diseases, settles digestive problems, helps with muscle recovery and contains zinc, iron, calcium, and potassium. But this wimpy excuse for “maple syrup” is made with a dyed form of high fructose corn syrup (for those of you who use IHOP, Aunt Jemima, or other off brand versions of “pancake syrup”, sorry to break the news to you, but you’ve been dealing with a fake).
This recipe for Vegan Oat Pancakes with Apple Compote is a great alternative to a typically unhealthy breakfast option. The pancakes are made with unbleached flours, oats, flax meal (which is incredibly high in omegas), and any dairy free milk of your choice, making them quite nutritious and much lower in fat. And by using real maple syrup instead of the highly processed “pancake syrup”, you not only gain nutrients, but your body also knows how to process it much better. So give breakfast another chance. It really can be the most nutritious meal of the day!
Vegan Oat Pancakes
Begin by all of your dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Whisk in the oil and non-dairy milk. Set your batter aside and prepare the Apple Compote…
Begin by melting the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the diced apple to the melted butter and let the apple begin to cook down. After a few minutes, stir in the brown sugar, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. The brown sugar and butter will create a syrup around the diced apples. Lower the heat and allow the mixture to simmer until apples have become tender. Set the compote to the side and begin preparing your pancakes.
Heat a large non-stick skillet or griddle on medium high. Pour batter into 5 inch circles on the hot surface (I typically only do two at a time). When the pancake begins bubbling, it is ready to flip. When both sides are brown, remove the pancake from the heat and continue until all of your batter is gone.
Top pancakes with more Earth Balance Margarine, Apple Compote, and real Maple Syrup, and enjoy!
Sometimes I think I may actually be Hispanic. I cannot get enough Mexican food. Typically, however, our American-ized Mexican food tends to be greasy and fried, covered in sauce, and high in calories. And the chips… Don’t get me started. They’re so good. But when have you honestly stopped yourself before you’ve eaten a whole bowl? Or two?
But Mexican food doesn’t have to be bad for us. Have Mexican night at home and make your own versions of your favorite dishes! It is very easy to sneak in lots of vegetables and other wholesome ingredients into a recipe when it’s homemade, because you then have control. In my Easy Vegetarian Quesadillas recipe, I’ve added in these three very nutrient dense vegetables to give this standard dish a healthy makeover…
Black Beans: An obvious nutritional fact about beans is their high amount of fiber, which is help keep the digestive track working at a healthy pace. They’re also responsible blood sugar regulation, good cardiovascular and nervous system health, are rich in antioxidants, and help to prevent cancer.
Spinach: As I listed before in my post on pizza, Spinach is a major super food. It is rich in Vitam A and K, as well as fiber, calcium, and antioxidants. Spinach is also used to lower blood pressure, build immunity, and promote healthy skin and bones.
Corn: While corn can be very starchy, it is also full of nutrients such as Vitamins B1, B5, E, C, Folic Acid, Magnesium, and Phosphorus.
Instead of using a typical corn, or flour tortilla, I made these quesadillas with Engine 2 Plant-Strong Tortillas. These are not your everyday store bought tortilla, which are usually made with enriched and bleached flour, as well as lots of preservatives. Plant-Strong tortillas are made of fruits, vegetables. whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds. By using these tortillas, you also get an added punch of fiber, as well as nutrients that corn and flour tortillas are lacking. And as far as cheese goes, select an organic variety, that’s free of growth hormones and artifical dyes and ingredients. So give in to your cravings, and indulge in some healthy Mexican food tonight!
Easy Vegetarian Quesadillas
Begin by heating a non stick skillet over medium heat. Next, using a pastry brush, brush one side of each tortilla with olive oil (this will help the tortilla crisp up, while also providing healthy fats). Place the oiled side down on the hot skillet. Sprinkle half the cheese evenly over the tortilla. Do the same thing with all the corn, black beans, and spinach. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top, and add your other tortilla to complete the quesadilla. When the bottom tortilla has begun to brown, and the cheese is melting, use a spatula to flip the tortilla. When the other side is brown, it is ready to be removed from the heat. Pair with salsa, guacamole, sour cream, and enjoy!
I told you it was easy :)
Another essential part of a “snow day” is baking cookies. The two just go hand in hand for me. Cuddling up with my puppy, watching movies, and munching on warm, gooey, chocolate chip cookies… all day.
I know, however, that having dietary restrictions can make it very difficult to enjoy this classic feel good dessert. A lot of vegan cookie recipes I’ve tried end up being too runny, flavorless, or come out of the oven looking more like pancakes than cookies. It’s also very important to me that even in baked goods I am getting some kind of nutrition. The traditional store-bought cookie dough is full of preservatives, refined sugar, and hydrogenated oil, which are not necessary whatsoever. Along with being processed, by buying cookie dough that’s already made, you give up complete control of the quality of the ingredients that are being used.
Cookies have gotten a bad reputation over the years for being a diet “ruin-er” and completely off limits to anyone trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle, but they don’t have to be! This recipe for Vegan Dark Chocolate Apricot Cookies have zero refined sugar, are made with whole wheat flour, and flax meal. Because they are vegan, they have absolutely no butter or eggs in them, easily making them lower in fat.
Vegan Dark Chocolate Apricot Cookies
Begin by preheating your oven to 350 degrees. First things first, mix your egg substitute, since it will need to combine for 5 minutes. Using a small bowl, combine 3 Tbsp of hot water and 1 Tbsp flax meal together. Meanwhile, combine the other first six ingredients listed. After they are mixed, whisk in the egg substitute. In another bowl, combine flours, baking powder, and salt. Slowly incorporate the dry and the wet ingredients together. If the dough seems too wet, add a little more flour. Mix in the chocolate and apricots. Now your dough is ready to form!
Roll the dough into 1 1/2 - 2 inch size balls, and place on a greased cookie sheet or ungreased pizza stone. Bake for 10-15 minutes, and enjoy! Like I said, these are GREAT for a snow day… so go make them!
I’m just as ready for summer as anyone. I can’t wait for all of the home grown veggies and berries, salads, corn on the cob, the fireworks and barbecues. But alas… there are five inches of snow outside and all I can think of is hot cocoa and soup.
Most people who enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables, like me, find it very frustrating trying to eat in season during the fall and winter. There just aren’t as many options. So we resort to frozen dinners, eating out, and heating up overly processed cans of soup. Many times canned soup is very high in sodium, artificial colors, preservatives, and let’s face it, pretty flavorless.
Making homemade soup is a lot easier than you think (and cheaper!). This recipe for Winter Vegetable Soup uses a variety vegetables that are actually seasonal in winter, such as kale and potatoes.
Potatoes are extremely high in Vitamins C and B6, as well as Potassium. Although mostly made of carbohydrates, they also offer quite a bit of fiber and protein for those of us who are vegetarians and vegans.
Kale is probably one of the most nutrient dense foods known to man. Kale is rich in Vitamins B6, A, K, Iron, and Beta Carotene. While it is low in calories, it is rich in fiber and sulfur which help detoxify the body. It also cooks down quite nicely, and has a great earthy flavor.
Winter Vegetable Soup
Begin by heating oil in a large 8 quart pot. Sauté garlic and onion in the oil for 2-3 minutes. After the onion has turned a slightly golden color, add mushrooms, carrots, potatoes, and seasonings to the pot. Cover and let cook for 15 minutes on medium high. After the potatoes and carrots are cooked through, add water, beans, and pasta. Let the soup come to a boil for 10 minutes, then simmer over low heat until ready to serve!
One of my favorite memories as a child was getting those big tins of popcorn at Christmas time. We would leisurely sit around the television, watch “The Christmas Story” and munch for hours, unknowingly consuming hundreds and thousands of calories of yummy processed goodness.
We live in a world where microwaved and store bought popcorn is the most popular way to consume this tasty treat. There are so many varieties; low fat, 100 calorie bags, low sodium, movie theater butter, extra butter, salt and pepper, extra cheese, kettle, and my personal favorite, caramel. When trying to pick the most healthy option, it’s obvious why we have such a hard time. But even though a package reads “100 Calories” or “Low Fat” does not mean it’s in anyway healthy. Have you ever taken a chance to look at the nutritional information on a bag of microwaved popcorn? The ingredients may look a little something like this:
Popping Corn, Palm Oil, Salt, Less than 2% of Natural Flavor and Artificial Flavors, Butter, Color Added, Freshness Preserved with TBHQ and Citric Acid.
The popping corn and butter are essential, but what about the others? First of all, Palm Oil has been shown to raise bad cholesterol levels. It’s not only bad for you, but for the environment as well. It is made from trees that orangutan’s have been nesting in for thousands of years. The trees are being cut down to make palm oil, and leaving these animals without a home. An area the size of a football field is being cleared every hour.
Next, artificial flavors and color being added to any food should be a major red flag. By adding these things to our food, we are allowing ourselves to be the FDA’s science expirement. Food needs to be real, whole, and clean. Artificial flavors and dyes are doing absolutely nothing positive for us, but instead causing food addictions, disease, and obesity.
And lastly, TBHQ. Tertiary Butylhydroquinone (TBHQ) is in most processed foods, and is used as a preservative, and is a form of butane. Consuming high quantities of this harmful additive can cause vomiting, collapse, nausea, and ringing of the ears. In long term studies, it was even shown to cause cancer in rats. Here’s the kicker: TBHQ has been known to cause ADHD symptoms. Think about that for a minute. This is an additive that is in many processed foods (candy, granola bars, brownies, McDonald’s chicken nuggets, etc.), most of which we are feeding to children. So is it just a coincidence that children are hyperactive? Most parents want a quick fix, so they load their kids up with medicine to minimize their symptoms, when all they really had to do was take away that candy bar.
However, popcorn doesn’t have to be unhealthy. Popcorn is naturally very high in fiber and is quite filling. Popping it in a large pot on the stove with a little olive oil and sea salt is a great alternative to a bag of microwaved popcorn. But if you’re like me and favor caramel corn, I have a super easy recipe for Maple Caramel Corn to share with you! By using organic maple syrup, this caramel corn is completely stripped of any refined sugar and artificial ingredients that may be present in another caramel corn recipe. This recipe only contains 5 ingredients and is a healthy way to satisfy your sweet tooth!
Maple Caramel Corn
Begin by preheating your oven to 350 degrees. Next, combine oil, corn kernals, and a dash of salt in a large eight quart pot, and begin popping over medium high heat. When you hear the popping sound slow down, remove from heat, and pour into two parchement lined 9x13 pans. Meanwhile, begin by melting butter in a sauce pan and whisking in the maple syrup. Bring the mixture to a boil, and let boil for 4-5 minutes. After the sauce is done, pour evenly over popcorn. Coat the popcorn evenly with caramel sauce. Bake the popcorn for 10 minutes, then remove and toss popcorn once more. Let cool completely and enjoy (or eat while it’s warm and gooey!)