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Saturday, February 23, 2013

When Life Isn't Sweet Enough

Sometimes, you just need a little sweetener!  But, with all the choices, what should you pick?  What's the healthiest choice when you're out at a restaurant and want to sweeten your iced tea?  Or when you're at home, and you need something on your oatmeal or waffles?

As many of you might already know, sugar is addictive.  It almost takes people a 12-step program to get off of dumping three packets of sweetener into their coffee.  Once you start backing down on the amount of sweetener you use, you realize you don't need as much as you think you do.

When it comes to what to sweeten with, here are things you should not use.  They are not fit for human consumption, as far as I am concerned:

  • Aspartame, also known as NutraSweet, Equal or AminoSweet
  • Sucralose, also known as Splenda
  • Saccharin, also known as Sweet'n Low

These items are all chemicals.  Your body doesn't know how to process them.  Your body thinks it's getting something sweet, but the calories are not there.  These chemicals make your system go crazy, messing with your blood sugar and your cravings.  You end up craving more calories because your body isn't getting what it thinks it should, so you just end up offsetting any calorie savings you think you had.  And for diabetics, messing with your blood sugar is just dangerous!

Splenda advertises, "It's made with sugar, so it tastes like sugar."  Do you know what else Splenda is made with?  Chlorine!  Yep, that's right.  And once you ingest Splenda, you have chlorine floating around in your body.  I'm no doctor, but that doesn't sound healthy to me!

Another thing to think about.  Most of those pink, yellow and blue packets you see on the table in restaurants are filled with a tiny amount of the chemical sweetener.  The rest of the packet contains filler.  The filler is usually dextrose or something else corn-derived.  And that corn the dextrose is made out of is most likely GMO.  So, not only are you eating a chemical, but you're also eating genetically modified food as well.  Not a winning combination!

Aside from the packets of artificial sweeteners on every table in every restaurant, you'll find these garbage sweeteners in diet drinks, juices, sugar free candies and desserts, sugar free cough drops, and most anything that says "No Sugar Added."  If you look on the labels of many prepared foods, you'll see them starting to sneak in sucralose as one of the last ingredients.  Even things that seem healthy, such as V8 Fusion, english muffins, sandwich thins and breads in the regular supermarket are all full of this junk!  Be a savvy shopper and start to look for this stuff.

Let me put something into perspective for you.  How many calories do you think are in one packet of regular sugar??  It's probably less than you think.  One packet has 11 calories.  That's it.  You could do about 20 jumping jacks and burn that off.  It's not worth eating a packet of chemicals and GMOs to save 11 calories!  Just use less and learn to taste your food, rather than covering it in sugar.  When you're faced with all the sweetener packet options at a restaurant, choose regular sugar.

Now that we've gotten what you shouldn't have out of the way, let's talk about some better options:

  • REAL Maple syrup: No Aunt Jemima or Mrs. Butterworth's!  That stuff is just flavored corn syrup! Costco has good prices on maple syrup.  Or if you live in VT and know someone who boils syrup, get it from them!
  • Raw honey: Look at farmer's markets or natural food stores.
  • Date paste or date sugar: I buy large containers of dates at Costco.
  • Liquid Stevia: I say liquid Stevia because the powdered form is heavily processed.  And just like with the fake sugars up above, the bulk of something like Truvia is dextrose, so you're getting into GMOs again.
  • Organic Evaporated Cane Juice: This looks most similar to white sugar - it's granulated and has an ivory color.  You can find this at Costco for a good price.
  • Low-processed cane sugars: Sucanat, Rapadura, Turbinado. These are a little harder to find in regular stores.  You'll most likely find them in natural food stores or a place like Whole Foods.

I'm a native Vermonter, so I always go for maple syrup.  I love the flavor, and a little goes a long way.  I prefer the dark B grades, as I think it has more taste than a fancy, amber syrup.  Maple syrup contains beneficial minerals as well.  Maple syrup is expensive, so we only use it in small amounts, or in something where the maple flavor is key.  A little is wonderful on oatmeal!

If you can find local, raw honey, buy it!  It's full of beneficial antioxidants and nutrients.  And honey never spoils!  It may crystalize, but it will never go bad!

I make my own date paste by just soaking medjool dates in warm water, draining the water and pureeing them in my food processor.  You can freeze the date paste for months, and just scoop out what you need for a recipe.

When I bake, I use either maple syrup, date paste, bananas, apple sauce, evaporated cane juice or sucanat.  For a traditional recipe that needs a granulated sugar, I generally cut about 1/4 or 1/3 of the amount of sugar called for from most recipes, and I don't notice the difference.  And those of you who have eaten my baking have had the reduced sugar recipes, and you didn't even know it!

For in coffee or tea, we use honey, or maple sugar granules.  This would also be a good time to use the liquid Stevia.

We try to stay away from regular white sugar.  It's so heavily processed, it doesn't have any nutritional value, and some sugar cane is GMO.  If you're vegan, white sugar is also processed using animal ingredients, so you'd want to stay away from it anyway!  You usually see GMO more with sugar beets, but sugar cane is also starting to go into that evil territory as well.

Each of the above sweeteners work best for different applications.  Some of the sweeteners are liquids, others are granules or pastes.  You have to choose what works with the recipe you're using.  And also be prepared to adjust the amount of each sweetener you use.  You may find with honey or syrup, you need to use less.  Something like a date paste works best in baked goods, since the date paste won't dissolve like an evaporated cane juice crystal.

There are a lot of options for sweeteners out there, and it's getting more and more confusing.  The big pharma companies who developed all these fake sweeteners want you to think they're healthy.  I work in advertising, so I know how marketing can twist things around!  The bottom line is go for "real" foods.  Stay away from all the calorie-free, chemical garbage.  I hope this information helps you to make better decisions when you're faced with the rainbow colors of sweetener packets at a restaurant, or cooking at home.

Live life to its sweetest and stay healthy!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Healthy Eating and Living Tips

It has been almost a year and a half since my last blog post.  Sad, I know!

Over the past few months, I've been asked quite a few times for nutrition and health information.  It's no secret to those who know me that I spend a lot of my free time reading blogs, books, articles and other information about health and food.  It's a passion of mine, and I always like to share my learnings with others to help them live better lives.  I just recently pulled together a brain dump of information following a request from a family member.  After typing it all up, I thought this info might be helpful to others, and my blog was a good place to post it!

Let me know what you think and if you have any other tips to share with others about how you eat and live healthy.

My top tips for eating healthier for anyone:
  • Go for fresh, unprocessed food
  • Stay away from fast food
  • Buy organic as much as you can
  • Eat less meat.  Not only is it expensive, but studies have shown eating less meat is healthier for you.  Even eating it two less days per week brings big health benefits.
  • Reduce or eliminate dairy consumption.  Many people have lactose problems and don't realize how much pasteurized dairy inflames the body.
  • Reduce or eliminate gluten consumption.  I have helped many people solve their health issues by cutting out gluten completely.  You would be amazed at how many people have health issues (migraines, rashes, eczema, canker sores, digestive problems, join pain, fatigue) from eating gluten.  The wheat of today has much more gluten in it than wheat of decades ago, and some think this is causing more and more people to have gluten sensitivity or intolerance.
  • Stay away from artificial anything - colors, flavors, sweeteners
  • Buy in bulk - the bulk bins are your friends and full of healthy foods that are cheap.  Think of oatmeal, dried beans, peas, seeds, nuts and other grains.
  • Stay away from packaged foods.  They are more expensive and full of preservatives and chemicals.
  • Eat like someone would have eaten 100 years ago.  Fresh, local and homemade.
  • Take the time to cook and prepare your food.  Make batches of soups, stews, salads, and sauces on the weekend and enjoy them throughout the week.

Remove the following food ingredients from your home NOW.  Absolutely no exceptions:
  • Trans fats (partially hydrogenated oil)
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Artificial sweeteners - Splenda (sucralose), Equal, Sweet & Low, aspartame, etc.  You'll find this in yogurts, diet drinks, gum, etc.
  • Margarine (full of trans fats, rancid GMO oils, other bad crap.  It's not really food)
  • Foods with nitrates.  This includes cold cuts, hot dogs, bacon
  • Corn oil or non-organic Canola oil (these are both GMO = bad news)
  • Farm-raised fish - full of PCBs
  • Soy anything - fake soy meat, soy crisps, tofu (soy is not a health food!).  It raises your estrogen levels and risk of breast cancer and more.
  • Anything that says "Diet" on it - if it says that, it's probably full of artificial sweeteners and chemical junk!
Once you've gotten past those "worst offender" items, my next phase of removal would be:
  • White bread/white rice
  • Soda - this should only be a treat, and never diet soda
  • Skim milk (at this point, the milk is a "food-like substance".  It is so processed, it's not good for you anymore).  If you are going to drink milk, try to find raw milk.  If you can't find that, try to find an organic milk from pastured cows.  In general, cow's milk isn't good for human consumption, and most people have issues digesting lactose.
  • Non-organic meats
  • Regular eggs 
  • Packaged juices - orange, grapefruit, etc. (they are all pasteurized and no longer beneficial.  All the good stuff has been killed by heat!)
  • Imported shrimp - full of contaminants
  • Any non-organic produce in the dirty dozen list:
  • Agave - contrary to popular belief, this is not a healthy sweetener.  It's just as bad as high fructose corn syrup
  • High sodium, prepared foods - frozen dinners, canned soups, canned broths
  • Cereals.  Most cereals from the big brands (Kellogg's, General Mills, etc.) are full of GMO (genetically modified organisms.)  Most of the corn and soy in the US is GMO, unless it's organic.  Most of the sweeteners in the US (such as high fructose corn syrup) are all made with GMO corn.  If you are going to eat cereal, make sure it's organic and does not have soy in it.  Soy is awful for you, and they sneak it in everywhere they can!  Kashi cereals are notorious for their use of soy and GMO corn in their cereals.

What you should make sure you have in your house for healthy foods
  • Organic coconut oil or Avocado oil - for cooking and frying
  • Pastured, organic butter - for cooking and frying
  • Himalayan or sea salt - full of beneficial minerals
  • Wild-caught fish - Salmon, Halibut, Cod
  • Pastured, organic eggs
  • Pastured, organic meat (grass fed is best - it has more omega-3 fatty acids and is much better for you)
  • Unsweetened coconut or almond milk in place of dairy milk
  • Raw cheese
  • Organic fruits and vegetables
  • Raw nuts and seeds (roasted nuts have many of their vitamins and minerals depleted)
  • Oatmeal
  • Fresh-squeezed juice
  • Raw honey and maple syrup for sweeteners.  For granulated sweeteners, organic evaporated cane juice or sucanat
  • Quinoa, brown rice, brown rice pasta, quinoa pasta (I've found that many people have reactions and inflammation from products containing gluten.  Eating gluten-free grains seems to benefit many people)
  • Unsweetened yogurt - just add fruit and sunflower seeds or flax.  Yogurt is full of beneficial probiotics.  
  • Another good source of probiotics is sauerkraut, but it has to be the kind that's kept in the refrigerated section in the grocery store.  Any sauerkraut that you buy that's shelf stable has been pasteurized and has killed all the good bacteria.
  • Low sodium broths - look for the ones in the septic packages, rather than cans.  The canned ones have BPA in them from the can linings.
  • Canned, low-sodium beans.  Look for Eden brand.  They don't use BPA in their can linings.
  • Pomi tomatoes - they come in the septic packages, rather than cans.  The acid in the tomatoes eats the BPA off the linings of canned tomatoes, and you don't want that!
  • Dried beans, lentils, peas.  Great for soups, stews, etc.
  • If you're like me and must chew gum, get Glee Gum!  It's all natural and made with real mint.
Beneficial Supplements
  • Most vitamins you find in a typical drugstore are all synthetic and cannot be processed by the body.  They end up doing more harm than good.
  • If you want to supplement a healthy diet, I recommend food-based options or non-processed supplements:
    • Probiotics - I like Dr. Mercola's or Dr. Ohhira's
    • Fish Oil - Carlson's Lemon Flavored Cod Liver Oil is good
  • Ground flax seed - great for omega-3 fatty acids
  • Cinnamon - helps to regulate insulin levels.  Add it on your fruit or oatmeal
  • Maca root powder - add to smoothies for helping with engergy and stress
General Home Well-Being
  • Ditch your air fresheners - they are just spewing chemicals into your air
  • Get rid of your plastic shower curtain.  It's also spewing chemicals into your air.  Just get a fabric one instead.  The other benefit is you can put it in the washing machine!
  • Stick with natural cleaners.  I use Seventh Generation and Method.  You can also make your own, if you're so inclined, with vinegar, baking soda and other household items.  I can give you recipes if you want them.
  • Look at your personal care products.  Get rid of anything containing parabens.  They are hormone disruptors.  You'll find them in lotions, conditioners, makeup, etc.
  • Get rid of fluoride toothpastes and rinses.  Fluoride is toxic!  Try Tom's of Maine or Kiss My Face Fluoride-free toothpastes instead.
  • If you burn candles, look for soy wax or bee's wax.
  • Stay away from plastics in the kitchen.  For food storage, use glass.  Get rid of plastic cooking utensils and use wood or bamboo instead.
  • Stay away from non-stick cookware.  Use stainless steel, glass, cast iron or enameled cookware instead.
Here are some Web sites, books and other reference items you might find helpful:

Vegan sites:
Happy Herbivore
Happy Herbivore Abroad is a great cookbook

Dr. Fuhrman
Two good books by him are Eat to Live and Eat for Health

Raw Sites:
Choosing Raw

Ani Phyo
Ani's Raw Food Essentials is a great book

Health/Well Being:
Dr. Mercola: (he can be a bit extreme at times, but has good information)
Rodale News:
Natural News: (again, sometimes extreme, but has good alternative, homeopathic information)

Mark's Daily Apple:
Joyful Abode:
Against All Grain:
He Won't Know it's Paleo:
Paleo Mom:


Books - Local eating and and understanding the food supply system in the US:
Any book by Michael Pollan.  In Defense of Food and An Omnivore's Dilemma were my favorites.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Movies to watch:
Supersize Me:
Forks Over Knives: