Artificial Sweeteners

artificial sweetener

I wanted to check in with a quick nutritional tidbit for this week.  As you have probably read and heard thousands of times by now, artificial sweeteners aren’t good for us.  We know this because the nutritional and wellness experts have said so.  But do you really understand the *why* behind it?

There are a few key reasons, and I will quickly outline them for you here.

  1. All non-caloric sweeteners, even Stevia, require commercial processing.  Some use less toxic chemicals and some use organic processes.  But, they all go through processing.  If your goal is to eat as close to “natural” as possible, then a highly processed artificial sweetener probably doesn’t fit into your plan.
  2. All that processing and artificial ingredients tax your body’s detoxification system.  Our bodies are made to handle toxins, and our livers and kidneys are hard at work every day to get rid of substances we can’t use.  When we burden our detox systems with unnecessary substances, it means that they have to work even harder.  (Some studies have found a correlation with artificial sweeteners to kidney disease.  Correlation does not equal causation, and more research needs to be done. Still, with my family’s kidney disease genes, it’s a good enough reason for me to keep my artificial sweeteners to a minimum. For more on this topic, click here and here.)
  3. Somehow, even with the prevalence of zero-calorie artificial sweetener consumption, the U.S. population has continued to gain weight and fall prey to Type 2 Diabetes.  While researchers try to figure out the reasons why, some have started to wonder if consuming too much artificial sweeteners tampers with our gut microflora, which in turn makes us more susceptible to maladies like glucose intolerance (a precursor to diabetes).  Studies have both proven and disproven this theory, so obviously a lot more research needs to be done.  Read more about it here.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am a proponent on “moderation”.  I am not perfect, nor do I try to be.  I enjoy a Diet Coke from time to time because it makes me happy.  Just the way I will eat a few gummy bears (or whatever) if I feel like it.  If I am following the 80/20 rule of nutrition, then I let the rest go.  Life, in my opinion, is to be enjoyed.  If eating a completely organic, whole foods diet is what makes you happy, then go for it!  But for me, I find having a little wiggle room works best.

*Check with your trusted physician or practitioner before you make any major dietary changes, especially if you are being treated for illness or disease.*

As always, I would love to hear what you have to say!

Weekend Cocktails! Hard Cider Sangria

cider sangria
Hard Cider Sangria

It’s Friday! That means it’s time to try a new drinks recipe.  The weather is cooling off for many parts of the world.  Here, the leaves are changing into beautiful colors and the days are cool and the nights cooler.

fall colors in our neighborhood
My neighborhood this week.

When the weather shifts in the fall, I start ordering drinks with a bit more substance.  The vodka tonics and rosé wines from summer don’t feel satisfying anymore.

In the last couple of years I’ve really started enjoying hard cider.  And while I’m not a fan of typical sangria, I think this hard cider sangria recipe looks fantastic. While it calls for red, yellow and green apples, I wouldn’t worry too much about using all three unless you are having company and really want to impress.  Put whatever you have in there, which for us is usually a fuji.  Don’t have a navel orange?  Use a couple clementines instead.

We are having people over for chili and treats on Halloween (click the link for a recent chili recipe I posted).  This will be the perfect drink to serve.

cider sangria 2

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup quartered and thinly sliced unpeeled green, yellow and red apples (or whatever color you have on hand)
  • 1 navel orange—quartered and thinly sliced crosswise (you can also use clementines)
  • 1 cup apple juice, chilled
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup apple brandy (I like Apple Jack)
  • One 22-ounce bottle hard apple cider, chilled (Angry Orchard is my current favorite)
  • Ice

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. In a pitcher, combine the apples with the orange, apple juice, lemon juice and brandy. Just before serving, add the hard cider. Serve in tall glasses over ice.
  2. Drink (duh).

Enjoy!  I’d love to hear what you think!

White Beans, French Style

white beans french style

It’s been a busy day so far! I just finished my next module for my Nutrition Consultant program which focused on digestion and the digestive organs.  I created two handouts focusing on liver health (eat your fiber, fruits and veggies, and be careful of the medications you take!). I ate a quick lunch of leftovers from the recipe I’m about to give you, as well as a Dr. Praegers Kale Veggie Burger.  I’d say my morning has been pretty productive.  Just don’t pay attention to my poor yellow lab Sammy, who has been literally giving me puppy dog eyes as she sits at the door waiting for a walk.  I’ll get to it, I promise.

Sammy smiling
How can you say ‘no” to this girl when she wants a walk?

On to the white beans! I chose this recipe because it had simple ingredients that I love (garlic, beans, shallots, red wine, thyme) and I figured not only could I serve it to my family as a dinner side dish, but I could also have it for lunch.  Usually my dinner side dishes consist of roasted veggies, brown rice, stuff like that.  I prefer to use my energy on the main dish (i.e.: I’m lazy).  But this recipe looked so easy I decided to try it. As much as I want to despise Gwyneth Paltrow, with her smugness and natural makeup-free beauty and her ability to wear the most ridiculous hats and still look cool, I just can’t hate her recipes.  Not yet, anyway. The beans were yummy and filling.  Full of protein and fiber. And I decided I should use shallots a lot more.  I love the way they take the place of onion while being a little more subtle. NOTE: I doubled the recipe to have leftovers.

WHITE BEANS, FRENCH STYLE

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced (add more if you love garlic)
  • Leaves from 4 sprigs of thyme (I used about 1 tsp dried instead)
  • 1 large shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
  • A 14 oz. can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp. red wine vinegar

METHOD

Slice the garlic and shallots thinly.

shallots and garlic chopped
Sliced shallots and garlic. Don’t dice them. You want the shallots to remain intact a bit.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large pan or skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and let cook for a few minutes or until a light golden brown.  Stir occasionally.  Add the thyme and shallot, and cook for a minute or two.

shallots and garlic sauteeing
The smell of shallots or onions and garlic sautéing is one of the best smells I can imagine!

Add the beans and cook, stirring once or twice, for about 5 minutes. Add the salt and pepper to taste, along with the vinegar, and cook for another 5 minutes.

white beans french style
It’s such a pretty photo I put it in twice!

If you reheat the beans, expect them to dry out a bit.  You can add some chicken stock or water to rehydrate.  My husband was a huge fan of these and gave me an actual thumbs up.  The kiddo, who will try anything once but has some texture aversions, didn’t finish hers.

ENJOY!

NEW RECIPE! Chicken & White Bean Chili

chicken chili

I continued to test the recipes from Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbook It’s All Good this week, landing on the Chicken & White Bean Chili recipe because it seemed simple, approachable, and really tasty.  I make a lot of soups and chilis once the weather starts to cool down.  I usually double the recipe and put some in the freezer (lay flat in a freezer baggie) for a night when I’m too busy or lazy to cook.

Whenever I make a soup or chili recipe, I tend to double the vegetables called for.  It’s such an easy way to get more vitamins, antioxidants and fiber into yours and your family’s tummies.  

The alterations I made to this recipe were:

  1. Add a can of kidney beans to the can of white beans called for.
  2. Use chicken thighs instead of breasts (I find them less dry and more flavorful).
  3. Use a teaspoon of Better Than Bouillon (the vegetable flavor). The recipe calls for the normal chili spices plus salt and pepper.  I found when I tasted the chili it was a bit bland.  Better Than Bouillon is a favorite of mine.  I usually by the organic version and love that I don’t have to keep cans of chicken stock around in my pantry.  It stays good forever and, unlike a half-used container of chicken stock, won’t make you feel guilty every time you see it in the fridge.
  4. Add some of the chicken juice from cooking into the pot with the simmering beans and vegetables. It adds nutrients from the chicken, some depth to the mouth feel (I really hate that term, can we come up with something else collectively?  Comment below with any suggestions!) and adds some yummy chicken flavor.

INGREDIENTS:

1.5 lbs of whatever chicken parts you want (I used thighs, and doubled the amount so I would have leftover roasted chicken to use later in the week)

3 Tablespoons olive oil

Salt (I prefer sea salt but any will do)

Black pepper

2 small yellow onions, diced (about 2 cups)

1 red bell pepper, seeds and stem discarded, diced (about 1 cup)

3 garlic cloves, minced (add more if you love garlic)

3/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon paprika (the recipe calls for smoked paprika, but either variety is fine)

1 28 oz can of whole peeled tomatoes with their juice

1 14 oz can cannellini or navy beans, rinsed and drained (I added a second can of kidney beans)

Whatever toppings sound good to you (sour cream, cheese, cilantro, diced onion, etc)

METHOD:

  1. Rub chicken with about 1 Tablespoon of olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.  Roast for about 25 minutes at 425 degrees, until just cooked through.
  2. When meat is cooked and cooled a bit, shred the meet with two forks
  3. Measure the spices and combine in a small bowl to add during the next step.
chili spices
Chili powder, smoked paprika, and cumin
  1. Meanwhile, heat 2 Tablespoons of olive oil in a stock pot on medium and sauté the onions, bell pepper, garlic, cumin, chili powder, paprika and a large pinch of salt.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until veggies are softened, about 10 minutes.
chili vegetables
Garlic, red bell pepper and onion waiting for to be sautéed.
  1. Add tomatoes and another pinch of salt and turn up the heat. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer for about 30 minutes.  Break up tomatoes with a spoon.
  2. Add beans and chicken to the pot (use bouillon now if you wish).  Add about 1/3 cup water or more depending on how thick you want your soup.
  3. Simmer another 15 or 20 minutes before tasting to determine the spices or salt and pepper you want to add.
  4. Serve with toppings

My husband said the chili was “good, but not like oh my God I absolutely love this chili!”.  He thought it needed a bit more chili powder and cumin to make it a true chili flavor and tasted more like a stew than a chili.  My 10 year old daughter told me she likes my ground beef chili more.  That being said, I really thought it was a solid recipe that I would go back to again if I wanted a variation from my ground beef chili that I usually make.

Enjoy!  I can’t wait to hear what you think!

NEW RECIPE and review! Healthy Fruit Crisp

Fruit crisp Gwyneth

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I’m cooking my way through Gwyneth Paltrow’s latest book It’s All Good. It’s full of super healthy recipes that look amazing.  I’m approaching my project as a busy mom on a budget who loves to cook.  I sort of feel like Gwyneth doesn’t understand the “on a budget” part of life, so my goal is to determine how approachable her recipes truly are.

Two days ago, I had my next Gwyneth Paltrow recipe lined up to test. It’s her “Flourless Anything Crumble” which consists of 4 cups of any type of fruit, some maple syrup, olive oil, lemon juice, and cinnamon (all things that are affordable and easy to procure). It also called for almond meal and quinoa flakes for the topping rather than the standard oats and flour. I set off for the grocery store and that’s when the wheels came off of this plan. The almond meal flour was $12.00 and the quinoa flakes were $10. There was a time when I would have guiltily spent $22 on ingredients that would have languished in my cupboard long after using them *one time*. Today, however, I decided that Gwyneth Paltrow could take a seat. I decided to still make the crumble because it sounds good and I had the other ingredients. However, I amended the recipe to use oats and flour because a $22 homemade fruit crumble does not figure into my plans or budget. I can imagine the typical household in this country probably feels the same way.

I thought the resulting recipe with my changes was quite good, although much less sweet than a typical crumble.  I used a mixture of frozen peaches and blueberries.  I would highly recommend setting your expectations a little bit low for this and approach it as you would when you eat a piece of fresh fruit with maybe a little added *extra*.  It was indeed quite healthy, tasted yummy, and I even had it the next morning for breakfast.  My 10 year old ate her whole serving with gusto and my husband had two servings and then asked if I could make it sweeter next time.  This isn’t necessarily a dish you would make as a dessert for a special occasion, but perhaps a healthy dessert alternative for a weeknight.

Here’s the recipe, adapted from the original featured in It’s All Good.

Fruit Crumble

Ingredients:

4 cups fruit of your choice (apples, peaches, berries, etc)

4 tablespoons real maple syrup (or more to taste)

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/4 cup white whole wheat flour or gluten free flour of your choice

1 cup oats (old fashioned or rolled)

pinch of salt (I use sea salt)

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter (or dairy free butter like Earth Balance), cut up into small pieces

METHOD:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Toss the fruit with 2 tablespoons (or more to taste) of the maple syrup and lemon juice.  Spread out into an 8×8 baking dish.  Mix the flour, salt, cinnamon and oats in a large bowl.  Stir in remaining maple syrup and the 2 Tablespoons of olive oil.  Spread the topping on top of the fruit.  Scatter the butter pieces on the top.  Bake until the topping is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling, about 30 minutes. Serve with homemade whipped cream or ice cream for an extra treat.  Or, heat up leftovers in the morning and eat for breakfast with yogurt.

Nutrition Niblet of the Week

peas and carrots in a flower

This week in my Nutrition Consultant program, we are learning about the digestive system.  There are a lot of buzzwords: villi, microvilli, brush border, bolus, chyme.  The digestive system isn’t sexy and fun, to be sure.  But it’s very important to know how your digestive system works, because about 80% of your immune system resides in your gut.  If your digestion is off or you aren’t feeding it the things it needs, then your immune system could be less than optimal.

Since I want to keep these tidbits easy and quick to digest (see what I did there?), I’m going to focus on one thing today.  If there’s only one thing you change in how/what you eat, it should be S L O W I N G   D O W N.  Digestion starts before you even put a piece of food in your mouth — it actually starts in the brain.  When you anticipate eating, your brain starts sending signals to your body to prepare.  That’s why when you see something delicious, your mouth waters.  It’s amazing what your body is capable of doing when you get out of its way.

When you eat too quickly and under stressful circumstances, you don’t allow for proper digestion. If you, however, chew your food slowly and thoughtfully, then the saliva is able to break down the food the way it’s supposed to before it starts its journey through the rest of your digestive system.

Chew your food slowly, and chew a bunch of times before you swallow.  Eat in peace.  Don’t gulp.  Lose your stress for a few minutes so your body isn’t in fight or flight mode.  When you do this, you allow your digestive system to work the way it was meant to, digesting the food in the proper way at each stop (mouth, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, etc).  When you eat in a hurry or under stress, or in the car or standing up or in front of the t.v. (we’ve all done it) then the food isn’t being digested properly, the nutrients aren’t being absorbed appropriately, and you can end up with chronic indigestion, food sensitivities, and a sub optimal immune system.

More information to come, but for today, just try to slow down when you eat. Be mindful and give a little thanks.  And let me know how it works for you!

Easy Roasted Sausage and Veggies

sausage veggies from above
Lots of vegetables and a little bit of sausage

You know those nights where you want to make a hearty and healthy dinner for your family, but with minimal effort and fuss?  This is the dish for those nights.  You will want to put it in your weekly rotation.  It’s so versatile because every time you make it, it comes out a little different.  You can experiment with unique spices, veggies, sausages. You can even make it completely vegan with some sausage made from vital wheat gluten (I find mine at Whole Foods).

My friend Linda first told me how she would make this super easy and delicious meal for her two sons and husband on a regular basis.  That same night I went home and make it for my family, and sure enough it was a big hit.  Not only that, but it’s economical as you can use less sausage than if it were the main event.  Save money by using in-season and local veggies (which are always cheaper than meat anyway).

This is what you do.  Go to the store and purchase any pre-cooked sausage that looks good.  I usually buy an organic version of chicken apple sausage since that’s what my 10 year old daughter loves.  But any kind of sausage will do.  Cut it into rounds and place in a rimmed baking sheet.  Forage in your refrigerator and pantry for whatever vegetables you have on hand for roasting (or pick some up when you grab the sausages).  Tonight I used mushrooms, potatoes, asparagus, onions, carrots and cauliflower.  Chop and place the veggies in the same baking sheet, and mix everything up.

Liberally drizzle olive oil over the whole thing.  Season with whatever feels good at the time.  For me it’s always salt, pepper, garlic powder.  Then I’ll add whatever else I feel like, which tonight meant rosemary and chives.

sausage veggies uncooked close up
There’s so many veggies in here!

Stick in the oven at 450 (or lower if you have more than about 45 minutes) to roast. Use a fork in the most dense vegetable from time to time to check doneness.  Serve with warm bread and fruit for a complete meal.

When it’s done, let cool and watch it disappear.  For larger families you may need two or even three baking sheets. One works for my family of three with my husband and daughter always going back for seconds, and we end up with extras to spare for leftovers.

sausage veggies cooked
Sausage and veggies all roasted and delicious.

NEW RECIPE! Grilled Salmon with Grilled Lemon Vinaigrette

I continued making my way through the It’s All Good cookbook this evening with a grilled salmon recipe.  I bought salmon at the farmer’s market  a couple of weeks ago from a man who catches it himself from the waters off of Alaska and packages it right on his boat.  Then it’s flash frozen.  He told me that when I’m cooking it, it should smell like the ocean and not fishy.  Well, he was right.  It smelled fresh and tasted even more delicious.  It was definitely a quality piece of fish.  I served it with roasted Brussels sprouts and quartered potatoes.

salmon grilling
Love the color of fresh salmon

The recipe was so simple even a tween could make it.  I think I’ll be teaching my almost 11 year old this one.

Salmon (the wild-caught kind from the Atlantic ocean has the highest concentration of Omega 3’s) is so healthy for you.  Omega 3 fatty acids are wonderful for heart and brain health.  They also promote  healthy joints and skin, and reduce the risk of heart disease.  According to the American Heart Association, adults should have two servings of omega 3-rich foods per week.

GRILLED SALMON WITH GRILLED LEMON VINAIGRETTE (adapted from the It’s All Good cookbook)

INGREDIENTS:

  • Four 6-oz salmon fillets or one large fillet of equitable size
  • 2 T olive oil for grilling, plus 1/2 cup for the dressing
  • Sea salt
  • 2 lemons, cut in half
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley or cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chives (I like the Lighthouse brand of dried chives in the off-season)
  • Black pepper
  • Garlic powder

METHOD:

  • Heat a grill pan over high heat.  Add the fish, skin side down and drizzle with the 2T of olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and garlic powder.
  • Cook until firm, about 4 minutes on each size.  After you flip the first time, add some fresh black pepper and more salt and garlic powder.
  • At the same time, grill the lemons, cut side down.  Watch them and remove when they are softened and the flesh has darkened.
  • When the salmon is done, transfer to a platter and let rest.
  • Squeeze the grilled lemons into a bowl that already contains the 1/2 c olive oil and chopped herbs.
  • Serve salmon with the dressing on the side
lemon grilled
I’ve never grilled lemons before but I love the sweetness they take on.
roasted veggies
It’s hard to go wrong with simple roasted potatoes and Brussels sprouts.
Salmon plated
The finished meal.

I think we will have to make the granola next — it’s back-to-school and we are needing some quick and healthy breakfast options.

Until next time!

NEW RECIPE! Easy Garlicky Mustard Vinaigrette

garlicky mustard vinaigrette

Good quality salad dressing is one of those recipes that is just so easy to make, and so darn expensive to buy at the store.  Most store-bought salad dressings have unnecessary ingredients and fillers, not to mention lower quality ingredients than what you probably have on hand in your kitchen and pantry.

This Easy Garlicky Mustard Vinaigrette is a great recipe to start with if you are new to making salad dressings or you just feel like having a simple vinaigrette.  It’s almost always in my refrigerator.

Every ingredient in this dressing is healthful, and it is full of good fats (olive oil) and possible cancer prevention (garlic, mustard seeds and vinegar).

INGREDIENTS:

½ cup olive oil

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar (you can substitute any vinegar you like here)

1 teaspoon whole grain mustard

¼-1/2 teaspoon salt (to taste)

1 clove garlic smashed with the flat side of a chef’s knife

Black pepper to taste

METHOD:

Combine all ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake vigorously until combined.  When the dressing has the intensity of garlic taste you desire, remove the piece and discard. When you refrigerate this dressing, it will likely turn into a solid.  Simply remove from the refrigerator about 1/2 hour before using, or run under warm water. It will last about a week or so in the fridge.

NEW RECIPE! Potato, Carrot and Leek Soup

carrots
Fresh in-season carrots are so sweet and delicious.
leeks
Don’t be afraid of leeks. They are awesome.

I picked up my CSA box yesterday that contained two fresh leeks and a bunch of carrots.  Because it’s late August, my immediate thought was “I’ve got to make some soup!”.  There was a time when I was petrified of leeks.  Like, I had absolutely no idea how to use them or prepare them.  I found myself intimidated.  But I decided several years ago to just get over myself and once I went leek, I never went back.  So, I got home from the farmer’s market, found a bag of potatoes in the pantry, and got to work. It was lunchtime and we were hungry so I didn’t stop to snap photos.  Trust me, though, this is a soup you’ll want to make over and over again.  Note: When leeks are unavailable, substitute any mild sweet onion such as Vidalia.

This soup is hearty without being overly heavy.  It smells fantastic while cooking. My husband, who was outside doing yard work, kept catching whiffs of it as he walked by the back door and couldn’t resist asking for a sample before it was done. You will find yourself making this a go-to soup all fall and winter long.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2-3 Tablespooons butter (or olive oil if you want a vegan soup)
  • 2 large leeks, washed well and chopped, white and light green parts
  • 5 celery stalks, chopped
  • 8 cups vegetable broth (I prefer using Better Than Bouillon)
  • 6 large potatoes, scrubbed and quartered (I leave mine unpeeled, and you can use essentially any kind.  Russets might get mushy if you care about that kind of thing.)
  • 8 carrots, chopped (again, I wash mine well and leave unpeeled)
  • 1 squash, any size, quartered (you can omit this, but I happen to have a lot from the CSA box to use)
  • 1-2 teaspoons salt, depending on the salt content of your broth/bouillon
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 cloves of garlic, diced
  • Pepper to desired taste (generally 1/4-1/2 teaspoon)
METHOD
  • Melt the butter in a large stock pot over medium-high heat.  When the pot is nice and hot, cook leeks and celery until softened, about 5 minutes.  Make sure not to burn the vegetables.
  • Add the broth, potatoes, carrots, squash,  garlic, salt (if desired) and bay leaf
  • Bring the soup to a boil and cook until potatoes and carrots are fork-soft (about 20 minutes).  Remove bay leaf.
  • Using an immersion blender, blend soup in short bursts until you have a mixture of smooth and chunky soup.  If you prefer totally creamy soup, use the blender until everything is combined.  We prefer more of a “stew” consistency.  (If you don’t have an immersion blender, a counter top blender would also work.)
  • Return the soup to the burner and simmer on low another 20 minutes or so to let the flavors come together completely.

This soup makes fantastic leftovers.  The soup with thicken the longer it sits.  If you want a thinner soup, just add some water or other liquid when you reheat.