Benefits of Fermented Foods

 Photo by Stephanie Crocker

Photo by Stephanie Crocker

The process of fermenting food is a long practiced tradition that has been enjoyed by cultures around the world. In Japan, miso and natto are two types of fermented soy that are central to the cuisine. Throughout eastern and Central Europe, kefir is a widely consumed. And in Indonesia, tempeh is a traditional food. Today, foods like kimchi and sauerkraut are gaining as much attention as bone broth, and for good reason too! 

What is fermentation?

Fermentation is a process by which the starches and sugars in fruits and vegetables are transformed into lactic acid by lactobacilli, a type of bacteria present on the surface of all living things. Lactic acid is a natural preservative that prevents putrefying bacteria.

When fruits or vegetables are fermented, they become more digestible, and promote the growth of healthy flora in the gut.  The lactobacilli produce numerous helpful enzymes, antibiotic and anti-carcinogenic substances. They also support a healthy immune system, 70-80% of which resides in the gut.  A healthy digestive system will ensure optimal absorption of nutrients, and proper cleansing of metabolic waste and toxins. Among other things, healthy gut microbes:

  • promote normal gastrointestinal function
  • protect against infection
  • regulate metabolism
  • house the majority of immune cells

How it’s helpful for pregnancy  

Incorporating fermented, probiotic rich foods is important for anyone who wants optimal health, as it serves as the foundation for everything from having a strong immune system, to maintaining a healthy weight and happy mood. Women who are interested in getting pregnant, or who are already pregnant, will benefit from the strong foundational support that a healthy digestive system and flora can provide as their body takes course in the building of another human. Additionally, many mothers are often warned of harmful bacteria that can jeopardize pregnancy, such as listeria monocytogenes from soft unaged cheeses, for example. But having a healthy flora, especially if implemented prior to conception, can make susceptibility to these types of bacteria low. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut or lacto-fermented vegetables can also serve as a great source for women who crave sour foods. As an easy snack, enjoy some sauerkraut and diced avocado on gluten-free rice crackers, or wrap it up in a lightly toasted nori sheet. 

How to start incorporating into daily life

For many people, the taste of fermented foods is an acquired taste (remember the first time you tried beer?). The good news is, fermented foods are meant to be eaten as condiments, so you can start out small until you begin to like it.You can begin to support a healthy digestive system and flora with the following foods and beverages:

Dairy based:

- Look for those that are labeled “live and active cultures”

- Best to obtain from grass-fed cows and organic.

- Found from a local farmer would be ideal!

  • cultured butter/cream cheese/sour cream
  • kefir
  • lassi
  • yogurt (always get plain, full fat)

Vegetable based

- Should be labeled raw, and should be carried in the refrigerated section

  • Kimchee
  • Sauerkraut

Grain or Legume based

Note: heating and cooking will reduce living bacteria; choose organic/ non-GMO when possible

  • Miso
  • Natto
  • Tempeh

Other:

  • Kombucha
  • Water kefir, Coconut kefir
  • Beet kvass

Easy suggestions for daily intake:

  • 1-2 tablespoons of sauerkraut or kimchi with each meal
  • 1/2 cup of kombucha in the afternoon for a pick-me-up
  • 1/2 cup of live, active yogurt or kefir (try it in a smoothie)

 

This post also appears Cherish.us, a website that offers wisdom, inspiration, and resources for the modern parent. 

Easy Breakfast Ideas

 Photo by Steph Crocker

Photo by Steph Crocker

Get your morning off to a smooth start with these three easy breakfast ideas. All of these recipes can be made ahead of time, and of course can be catered to individual tastes and preferences.

Sun-dried Tomato Egg Muffins

If you struggle with cravings, try a protein rich meal, like these egg muffins. They’re basically a crust-less quiche in bite-size form, perfect for grab-n-go or for a mid-afternoon snack.

  • 6 large eggs 1/2 c coconut milk, full fat*
  • 1/4 c water or chicken/vegetable broth
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 green onion, sliced small
  • 1/4 c chopped sun-dried tomato, packed in olive oil
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a bowl, beat the eggs.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and mix until combined.
  3. Pour all ingredients in a muffin tin, dividing evenly, about 1/2 - 3/4 of the way full in each.
  4. Place in the oven and bake 15-20 minutes.

*full fat coconut milk will separate, so blend briefly to mix the fat and water

 

Vanilla Chia Seed Pudding

3-4 servings

This pudding can serve as a great snack or dessert.Try infusing it with different flavors such as unsweetened cocoa powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, or any other of your favorite spices.

Using full-fat coconut from the can will give you creamy, decadent pudding. The full fat version will separate in the can, so make sure you blitz in a blender, just briefly to combine. You can use other milk alternatives too, the pudding just may be thinner, and you may need to add more chia seeds.

Ingredients:

Pudding base:

  • 1 cup coconut milk, full fat
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • small pinch sea salt
  • 2 dates
  • 2.5 tablespoons chia seeds

Example Toppings: use what you have or what’s in season!

  • Chopped nuts/seeds
  • Coconut flakes
  • Pomegranate seeds
  • Chopped fruit (apple, kiwi, banana)
  • Raisins, currants, or other dried fruits

Directions:

  1. Add the coconut milk and water to a blender and mix until just combined.
  2. Add the vanilla extract, dates, and pinch of sea salt and blend until the dates are fully pulverized.
  3. Pour milk into a bowl.
  4. Add in chia seeds, 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring constantly with a spoon as you pour them in.
  5. Let sit for 5 minutes, then mix again.
  6. Cover and store in the refrigerator for at least four hours or overnight.
  7. Once settled and chia seeds have expanded, add more milk or water if you want it thinner, then add desired toppings.
 Photo by Stephanie Crocker 

Photo by Stephanie Crocker 

Quinoa Porridge: Sweet or Savory

Women from the South American Andes used to eat quinoa due to their belief that it increased breast milk. Although often referred to as a grain, quinoa is a pseudocereal, and with proper preparation can offer great nutrition. It is gluten-free, and contains all the essential amino acids, and is a great source of magnesium and manganese.

To make quinoa easiest to digest, soak it overnight in 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice or vinegar, then rinse before cooking. Not only will this make quinoa easier to digest, but it will also remove any bitter taste from saponins. Once cooked, choose how you want to flavor it.

Sweet Quinoa Porridge

Ingredients: 

  • About 1 cup pre-cooked quinoa
  • 1/2 - 3/4 cup non-dairy milk (almond or coconut) 
  • Spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin pie spice, as desired
  • Tiny pinch of salt 

Toppings: 

  • de-pitted and chopped dates 
  • lightly toasted and chopped walnuts, almonds, or sunflower seeds 
  • seasonal fruits chopped small, such as pears, persimmons, pomegranate, apples, etc. 

Directions. 

  1. n a small pot over low heat, add the quinoa and milk of choice. Gently warm.
  2. Add in desired spices and stir. 
  3. Remove to a small bowl and add any of the toppings as suggested or whatever else you have on hand.  

 

Savory Quinoa Porridge

Ingredients: 

  • 1 teaspoon ghee 
  • About 1 cup quinoa
  • 1/2 - 3/4 cup vegetable broth, chicken broth, or bone broth
  • Tiny pinch of salt 
  • splash of tamari or coconut aminos, optional 

Toppings: 

  • fried egg  
  • lightly toasted sesame seeds 
  • kimchi/sauerkraut 
  • chopped green onions 

Directions:

  1. n a small pot over low heat, add the ghee, quinoa and broth. Gently warm.
  2. Add in the optional tamari (gluten-free soy sauce) or coconut aminos (soy-alternative) and salt. Stir. 
  3. Remove to a small bowl and add any of the toppings as suggested or whatever else you have on hand.

Gluten Free Flour Blend

If you're committed to that gluten-free life (optional, but highly recommended), check out this DIY gluten-free flour blend. 

There are plenty of ready-made gluten free flour mixtures on the market, such as King Arthur or Cup 4 Cup. I think these are great options, but when you make your own blend you can get more bang for your buck, especially if you buy flours from the bulk section.  

If you're new to GF baking, be aware that removing the gluten can often result in a less moist, or crumbly outcome. Gluten is what gives wheat/white flour elasticity, translating into soft, chewy cookies or fluffy breads and cakes. For this reason, some gluten free recipes call upon xanthum gum, which is a is thickening or stabilizing agent, often found in almond milk. It's not my favorite ingredient, because 1) it's super expensive and 2) for some people it can cause digestive upset.  

Some alternatives to xanthum gum include chia seeds, flax seeds, or psyllium husk powder. You can check out this resource for how to use each of these and other whole food options. 

When I made this gluten-free flour blend, I got most of the flours in the bulk section of my natural grocery store. If your grocery's bulk section doesn't carry these, Bob's Red Mill has them too. I put all the flours in a giant bowl and sifted. Then I transferred the mixture to an air tight jar. Now, when I get that unshakable urge for something bread-like or a special treat, I'll use a conventional recipe and replace the flour with this blend. In addition, I usually cut the sugar by at least 1/3, and use maple syrup or honey instead of white sugar, or coconut oil instead of butter. 

Gluten Free Flour Blend

  • 4 cups brown rice flour 
  • 2 cup sorghum flour 
  • 2 cup potato starch 
  • 1 cup tapioca starch 

*For every 1 cup of flour blend, add 1/2 tsp of stabilizing agent, such as flax seed, chia seed, or psyllium powder, as recommended above 

Upgraded Matcha Latte

matchalatte

Matcha lattes are one of my favorite morning beverages. As someone who is caffeine sensitive, I still feel a lift from the ~30 mg or so of caffeine, just enough for a little perk without the energy crash.

Matcha is ground green tea, or green tea powder. Most of the health benefits associated with green tea come from a type of antioxidant EGCG (epigallocatechin-3-gallate). Compared to black, oolong, and traditional Chinese green tea, matcha contains the highest amount of EGCG. The benefits of this powerful antioxidant include promoting cardiovascular and metabolic health, inducing preventative measures against certain types of cancers, supporting skin health, reducing inflammation, and more. Additionally, green tea contains the amino acid L-theanine, which can help stimulate the mind, without causing drowsiness.

You may be able to find matcha at your local natural grocery store, sometimes carried in the bulk section. If you’re interested in a specific brand, I’ve really been enjoying Matcha Ocha. Their matcha is grown in the Nishio region of Japan, and they’re meticulous about the cultivation, harvest, and quality of their tea. This translates into better aroma, flavor, and nutrition. Just like with other foods, soil quality and how the food is processed impacts nutritional status. Matcha Ocha is also certified organic, and you can learn more about their commitment to quality here.  

The Recipe

The recipe here is simply luxurious. The creaminess satisfies exactly what I’m drawn to about regular lattes. Plus making my own concoctions like this feels like a form of self care that no coffee shop could ever create for me. I get exactly what I want, in the most nourishing form, without compromising anything.

My favorite base for this latte is full fat coconut milk. This is what gives the beverage a full-bodied creaminess. I usually make a batch of this to have on hand all week. Here’s my favorite brand of coconut milk because it’s organic and the lining of the can is BPA free.

I especially love this beverage when I’m feeling the desire for a day of intermittent fasting. I don’t do this very often, but every now and then my appetite is minimal in the morning, or maybe I ate a large dinner the night before, and I choose to wait until noon for food.
 

Coconut milk

  • 1 can coconut milk, full fat
  • 12 oz water

Blend the water and canned coconut milk together. Store in an airtight container or mason jar and keep 5-7 days.  

Upgraded Matcha Latte

  • 10 oz warmed coconut milk
  • 1 - 1.5 tsp matcha (depending on your personal caffeine tolerance) 
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder (optional) 
  • 2 tablespoons collagen (I like this brand)
  • 1 tsp MCT oil (or regular coconut oil)
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 1 date or ½ teaspoon honey, optional

More Add-In’s:

  • 1-2 teaspoons moringa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon maca powder

Gently heat the coconut milk in a small pot. Once hot, transfer the liquid to a blender. Add the remaining ingredients. Blend on high for about 20-30 seconds. Pour into your favorite mug and enjoy!

Want some more matcha magic in your life? Try this Matcha Maca Green Smoothie

Gut Health Gummies

 Raspberry Mango Gelatin Gummies. Photograph by: Stephanie Crocker 

Raspberry Mango Gelatin Gummies. Photograph by: Stephanie Crocker 

These Gelatin Gummies are an excellent snack that are truly health-promoting! Their gummy texture is made from gelatin which, unlike common Jello, contains amino acids that promote healthy growth. Store-bought Jello or similar products have artificial sweeteners and colors. However, high quality gelatin can be a super healing addition to almost any diet, especially for those aiming to improve gut, mental, joint or skin health.

Get the Glow

Gelatin is cooked collagen, and it contains large amounts of the amino acids glycine and proline. Both of these amino acids are critical for our body's production of collagen, a major structural protein found everywhere in the body. Collagen can be softer (cartilage) or more firm (tendons). Since collagen is a primary element of skin, gelatin is excellent for skin health, and often recommended for reducing wrinkles and attaining a radiant “glow” to the skin. Gelatin can be found most commonly in slow cooked bone broths, as well as in supplemental form.

Amino Acid Glycine

The glycine found in gelatin aids in the metabolism of methionine, which is found in high amounts in meat. Too much methionine (without sufficient glycine) can lead to toxic levels of homocysteine, which has been associated as a high risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Glycine is also excellent for blood sugar support, reducing sugar cravings, improving cellular energy production, inhibiting muscle spasms, and for liver detoxification support.

Gut Health and More

It must also be highlighted that gelatin is super soothing to the gastrointestinal tract, which is why it’s often used by those with intestinal permeability, or leaky gut syndrome. It helps to restore healthy mucosal lining in the stomach and enhance gastric acid secretion. Furthermore, gelatin helps to keep fluid in the digestive tract, allowing for nice-n-easy bowel movements. The collagen in gelatin is also helpful for joint and musculoskeletal health. As mentioned, ligaments, cartilage and tendons all contain high levels of structural protein collagen.

Who Should Consider Gelatin

I would recommend gelatin-rich foods for anyone recovering from surgery/injury, dealing with joint conditions like osteoarthritis, or for athletes/anyone who exercises frequently. Additionally, because glycine plays such an important role in building and growing the body, gelatin is important for both pregnant women and children. As pregnancy progresses, the demands for glycine also increase. Children grow at an especially rapid rate, so glycine will continue to play an important role in building a strong body as they get older.

Last but not least, gelatin can be a great dietary supplement for soothing the nervous system. Personally, I’ve found a warm mug of bone broth to be gently grounding and stress-relieving.

Getting it in the Diet

The best way to add gelatin-rich foods to the diet is in the form of slow-cooked bone broths, or by way of supplemental gelatin. I believe bone broths are just now beginning to make their way back into our modern kitchens, and several companies and restaurants are beginning to catch on. While bone broths from pasture-raised animals would be ideal, I’m offering an alternative via Gelatin Gummies! These little gummies are so easy to make and can be less intimidating than bone broth. They’re an excellent treat for kids, as the texture is just like jello and can be sweetened naturally with fruit or honey.

The brand of gelatin I like is Great Lakes, and this is the one that gels nicely for gummies like the ones below. As a note, whole protein gelatin will gel, while hydrolyzed collagen will not gel but can be used to easily add to smoothies, cold liquids, etc.

Simple Raspberry Mango Gelatin Gummies

  • 2 cups raspberries*

  • 1 whole mango, peeled and roughly chopped  

  • 1 cup filtered water

  • 3 tbsp high quality gelatin

  • 1-2 tbsp honey (optional)

1. Blend the raspberries, mango, and water until smooth. *Note: For the raspberries, I just buy frozen ones, then let them defrost before blending.

2. Strain the blended mixture through a fine mesh sieve, or using a nut milk bag, into a medium pot. If you don't mind the tiny seeds from the raspberries, you can skip this step.

3. Gently warm the pot on the stovetop. Do not let it get to a boil. Once warm, whisk in the gelatin 1 tbsp at a time. Make sure the gelatin you've added is thoroughly dissolved before adding the next tablespoon.

4. Pour the gelatin mixture into an 8x8 inch glass pan, or pour the mixture into silicone molds. Place in the fridge for at least 2 hours. Once solidified, cover tightly and keep stored in the refrigerator. Gummies will last 3-5 days.

Variations:

There are so many variations you can do with this recipe. Try adding in lime, lemon, or ginger juice. Or, use different fruits like orange and pineapple.


This post also appears Cherish.us, a website that offers wisdom, inspiration, and resources for the modern parent. 


Try This: Rosemary Water

I love rosemary in savory dishes, like rosemary almond crackers, or roasted rosemary sunchokes/potatoes.

But recently I’ve been enjoying it’s robust, piney flavor in my water!

Benefits

It’s a great addition to regular ‘ole H20 during the work day. Not only does it give a nice hint of flavor, but rosemary has been shown to increase concentration by encouraging blood flow to the brain (1).  

Additionally, it’s stimulating to the immune and digestive system. Historically, rosemary has been revered for its power to help memory, and present day studies also support this. A 2012 study found that rosemary can have objective effects on cognitive performance, enhancing the performance for overall quality of memory, as well as subjective effects on mood, including feeling more alert (2).

Explore & Harvest

Do yourself a favor by getting outside, moving your body, maybe getting a bit of sunlight as you search for a rosemary bush nearby. They’re an evergreen and available year round, making them a sturdy herb for most home gardens. Many folks have giant bushes growing, plenty for you to take a little sprig, or keep your eyes peeled during your next hike. And if you don't already have a rosemary plant, consider growing your own. It’s a great indoor plant that can live happily in a pot and doesn’t need too much watering.

How to Make

Keep things simple and just add an entire sprig or two to your water. Since it’s so pungent, it’ll hold well with several steeps. I like to add a big sprig to my water bottle and enjoy the flavor all day, or put a couple sprigs in a pitcher and let steep overnight.

Alternatively, you can take the rosemary leaves off the stem and roughly chop them before adding to the water, but then you’ll want to strain before drinking the water (unless you want to chew the herbs).


Let me know if you give it a try!

Men Like Cooking Parties

A few weeks ago, a fellow Oakland Fitness Company member approached me about doing a cooking class. When he told me it would be for his all-male team at work, my first reaction was: what a great idea.

I found it so refreshing that he chose this activity for his crew. I know plenty of men who love cooking, but it's not very often that I hear of men getting together and bonding over new recipes in the kitchen. Plus, what better way to support healthy relationships and a happy culture at work than with a BYOB cooking party!

And, not to gender stereotype, but I was a little hesitant if the other men on the team would be down for this, mainly because that same night was an NBA playoff game...

However, I set those concerns aside because I was excited; cooking classes are my favorite thing to teach, and I always feel energized and inspired by the participants.

The Menu 

When drafting the menu, I combined seasonal inspiration with practicality. What flavors do I enjoy in the summertime? What dishes would be easy to bring to summer potlucks? Which recipes could they recreate for their special lady or partner? From there, I came up with six different recipes, all with a latin flair.

The Party

We did the cooking party at Homegrown Oakland and our theme was Summer Fiesta. My sous chef Anna and I set up stations all around the cafe with recipe guidelines. I started off with a small introduction for each recipe, highlighting an ingredient or demonstrating a knife skill or cooking technique. Then, the men organized themselves into pairs, and I cut them loose to tackle whichever recipe looked most intriguing.

The Experience

I have to say, this class was a blast.  

These guys got really into it. They had great questions, and some even came prepared with aprons (adorable!) or their own knives. The basketball game was streamed on someone’s ipad, of course, but this really didn’t distract anyone. 

Amidst a bit of friendly competition and a lot of brotherly-like ragging, each group completed their recipe with enthusiasm and everything tasted delish.

The greatest part about this class was witnessing their camaraderie. It was clear this group of people worked well together, and even if some didn’t, the opportunity to bond and connect over a fun and novel experience would surely have a positive impact on their relationship, which would then transfer over into the workplace.

Host Your Own Cooking Party 

If you’re interested in hosting a cooking party, please contact me! Participating in new, novel experiences is fun and, according to author Gretchen Rubin, a great way to contribute to your own happiness. 

Thank you so much Woolsey McKernon for getting your men together for a cooking party, and for all the guys at CleanFund for being such great sports during the class.

All About Gluten

 Photo by: Stephanie Crocker 

Photo by: Stephanie Crocker 

Due to the protein gluten, wheat is one of the eight most common foods that account for about 90% of allergic reactions in the U.S.* Why? Unfortunately, most of the wheat grown today is exposed to pesticides, chemicals, molds and fungi. It has also been hybridized to be more palatable (giving cookies and breads that soft, chewy feeling) and many of our digestive systems haven’t adapted to properly digest gluten. Because it is so cheap to grow, wheat and/or gluten is included in many common packaged and processed foods, including pastries, salad dressings, sauces, condiments, meats and soups. This has led to overexposure, and many individuals’ digestive systems have not adapted.

In our bodies, gluten can trigger the immune system and cause inflammation in the intestinal tract. Those with celiac disease and other autoimmune disorders, like hypothyroidism and rheumatoid arthritis, are allergic to gluten, which triggers the body’s immune system. Ask your doctor about an allergy test for you (or your kids) if you suspect you (or he/she) might have a gluten allergy.

Even for those without such conditions, sensitivities to gluten or other proteins found in wheat can still exist. Some individuals have sensitivities that provoke delayed reactions, making the link between food and symptoms difficult to detect.

Whether or not you have a known allergy or sensitivity, eliminating gluten from your diet can help improve overall health. Adopting a gluten-free diet may improve your health directly, by eliminating sugar and carb cravings, stabilizing mood, increasing energy and eventually decreasing inflammation, and indirectly, due to eliminating processed foods in which gluten often hides, causing a shift toward a more whole foods-based diet, increasing mindful eating, and ultimately resulting in weight loss.

Gluten has found its way into many foods, and can hide in some unexpected locations. Since gluten is not included on nutrition facts labels, always read ingredient lists and keep an eye out for other words that mean gluten.

Common food sources of hidden gluten:

  • vegetable cooking sprays

  • artificial coffee creamers

  • bouillon cubes or powder

  • imitation seafood products

  • ground spices

  • chewing gum (some are dusted with wheat starch)

Food labels that mean “gluten”:

  • hydrolyzed plant/vegetable protein

  • modified food starch (from corn or wheat)

  • monosodium glutamate (MSG)

  • gelatinized starch

  • natural flavorings, fillers

  • white grain vinegar

  • rice malt / syrup

  • dextrin, malt, maltodextrin

Non-food items commonly containing gluten:

  • makeup

  • shampoo

  • lipstick and lip balm

  • sunscreen

  • laundry detergents

  • toothpaste and mouthwash

  • lotions and creams

Food products containing gluten can easily be replaced with health-enhancing whole foods that are delicious and satisfying. Main meals that include wheat can be replaced with starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, yams or many varieties of squash. There are also non-gluten grains and flours that replace many gluten sources. For instance, coconut or almond flour instead of wheat flour, or 100% buckwheat soba noodles instead of whole wheat pasta.

Gluten containing grains: wheat, barley, rye and sometimes oats if cross-contaminated

Non-gluten grains: millet, quinoa, brown rice, buckwheat, non-GMO corn, amaranth

Non-gluten flours: coconut flour, potato starch flour, oat flour (if not cross-contaminated), tapioca flour, teff flour

There are hundreds of naturally gluten-free recipes and cookbooks available to experiment with. Or, you can adapt your favorite recipes to replace wheat flour; when converting a wheat recipe to a gluten-free one, try the following combination:

  • Two parts rice flour

  • Two-thirds potato starch flour

  • One-third tapioca flour

  • Also add extra egg and leavening

Most importantly, recognize that everyone’s body is different, and while there are certainly rules of thumb that will improve your health (like eating less processed/more whole foods), there is no one-size-fits-all diet. Learn to eat intuitively, listen to your body and identify how various foods make you feel.

*Other top allergens include dairy, nuts, soy and egg.


This post also appears Cherish.us, a website that offers wisdom, inspiration, and resources for the modern parent. 


Hidden Sources of Sugar

 Photo by: Stephanie Crocker

Photo by: Stephanie Crocker

Here’s the bitter truth: sugar has no nutrients. And even though many of us think we don’t eat much sugar, upon closer look, we may be eating far more than our recommended daily value.

Many people are shocked to learn where sugar really hides. Some of the most unassuming foods, like salad dressings, meats or “healthy” bars are laced with added sugar. Additionally, sugar is often listed under unrecognizable names, like dextrose for instance, or added in just the right amount per serving so that it’s not listed on food labels.

Why Am I so Addicted to Sugar?

As humans we are naturally hard-wired to seek and enjoy sugar. Biologically, sweet tastes trigger “feel good” chemicals like dopamine and endorphins, which make us feel fantastic and want more sweet things.

This innate love for sugar was once critical for our survival. Long ago when we were hunters and gatherers, our lifestyles were active and we needed the dense calories found in sugar. The taste of sweet was also an indicator of something to be non poisonous. Back then, sugar was scarce, and the wild fruits that contained sugar were much smaller and less sweet than our fruits today.

Sugar’s Impact on the Body

Refined white sugar has no redeeming health benefits, period. A simple google search for “sugar health risks” will pull up plenty of articles on this, but below are some of the main points. Personally, the main reason I do my best to steer clear of sugar is for my daily sanity. I find that once I start eating sugar, all I can think about are other sweet foods. Then I’m dealing with cravings, like a nagging monkey on my back, constantly clamoring for my next sugar fix!

Too much sugar …

  • is damaging to the liver, the main organ used for detoxification

  • can be de-stabilizing to hormones like insulin and leptin which are important for healthy metabolism and weight

  • causes an unhealthy balance of gut flora

  • is pro-inflammatory

  • is associated with common health problems including type II diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension

  • can cause negative psychological responses, stimulating the reward/pleasure part of our brain that makes us want more sweets, leading to cravings and unhealthy habits with food

Be a Sugar Detective

It’s pretty obvious that sugar is found in foods like pastries, cereals, and beverages, but some of the less common foods with added sugar include:

  • salad dressings

  • ketchup and BBQ sauce

  • gum

  • canned soups

  • nut butters

  • yogurt

  • dried fruit

  • “healthy” bars and granola bars

  • granola

  • sausages

  • beef jerky

  • tomato sauce

  • many fat-free processed foods

The best thing to do when looking for sugar in a food product is to go straight to the ingredients list. Forget what it says on the packaging and nutrition label. Even foods that say “0g of sugar" in the nutrition label can contain sugar, and in many cases, the per serving amount is much less than what is typically consumed. When reading ingredient lists, look for:

Typical sugar words: cane sugar, brown sugar, beet sugar, high fructose corn syrup, malt syrup, rice syrup, agave nectar

Other words that mean sugar: fruit juice concentrate, corn sweetener, maltodextrin, evaporated cane juice/syrup

Sugar Alcohols

Sugar alcohols come from plant derivatives and typically have fewer calories than table sugar, or sucrose. Many foods labeled “sugar-free” have these alcohols. In some cases, they have fewer calories simply because the body can’t absorb them and they often have a laxative effect. However, these sugar alcohols have the same effect on the body as regular sugar: 

  • sorbitol

  • xylitol

  • mannitol

  • ribitol

  • arabitol

  • glycerol/glycerin

  • isomalt

  • maltitol

Words ending in -ose:

  • fructose

  • ribose

  • sucrose

  • dextrose

  • lactose

  • maltose

What About Fruit?

The main problem with sugar is really added sugar, artificial sweeteners, or refined white sugar - not sugar naturally occurring in whole foods like fruits. Fruits do indeed contain sugar; however, they also contain other vitamins and minerals, and most importantly fiber. Fiber slows down the release of sugar into the bloodstream, and also makes us physically full, preventing us from eating too much. Sugar, naturally occurring in food the way Mother Nature made it, is not something to be concerned about the way man-made, refined sugars are.

You may be thinking, “Oh great, sugar’s in everything! How am I supposed to stay away from it?” Once you develop the awareness about what ingredients, like sugar, are in your foods, you can make informed decisions for yourself and your family. You can look twice at your child’s snacks, or stay mindful of sweet cravings by asking yourself if you’ve had other sweet things the previous couple days. The reality is, it’s really hard to go 100% sugar free all of the time in this fast-paced, modern world, and it’s up to you to determine how much sugar is okay in your diet. This will depend on your current health condition, as well as how much time, energy, and resources you have to make your own food or buy the more natural options. If making a sugar-free marinade from scratch feels completely out of your range of possibilities, then by all means buy a pre-made one so that you can feed your family a delicious dinner! Or maybe instead of using artificial sweeteners, like Splenda or Equal, try using natural ones like honey, maple syrup or dates. Stay mindful and informed, and do the best you can!


This post also appears Cherish.us, a website that offers wisdom, inspiration, and resources for the modern parent. 


The BEST Summertime Popsicles

I recently wrote a post for Cherish.us about healthy breakfast popsicles, and now all I can think about are different flavor combinations! 

Before I started recipe testing, I went to the farmer's market and got the juiciest stone fruit and sweetest berries I could find.

From there, I thought about typical flavor combinations in other seasonal dishes, such as a peach cobbler (peaches and vanilla ice cream), fresh berry water (berries and mint), or summer salads (cucumber, tomato, basil), etc. 

This is usually what I do when thinking of any recipe as a starting place and inspiration. 

Since then, I've been jotting down ideas that come to me in the most random moments (while running, or right before I wake up) and I can't wait to keep testing and sharing all summer long!

Keep reading to learn how to build your own pops, and check out two of my favorite recipes at the end: Honey Peach and Blackberry Coconut  


Building Your Popsicles


Once you learn the basics, the sky's the limit on flavor combinations. Here are a couple ways to make sure your popsicles are ideal for breakfast, and not full of sugar.
 

Bases:
Personally, I prefer a nice creamy base that gives a popsicle some full body (because yes these popsicles are good for adults too!). My two favorite options:

Full-fat Greek yogurt - Greek yogurt is thicker than regular yogurt because it has been strained to remove the liquid whey and lactose. For this reason, it has a slightly more tangy taste, but that can be balanced with some natural sweetness. Greek yogurt is an excellent protein source (always great to start the day with some protein) and the full-fat variety offers beneficial acids and fat-soluble vitamins A and K. If you choose greek yogurt, thin it out with a bit of almond milk or coconut milk until it’s about the consistency of regular yogurt.

Full-fat coconut milk - The full fat variety of coconut milk contains lauric acid, which is very beneficial due to its antiviral and antibacterial properties. In fact, the only other abundant source of lauric acid is breast milk! Additionally, coconut’s medium chain fats are efficiently used as energy by the body, meaning this type of fat is likely to be burned and not stored. If you choose full fat coconut milk (from the can), the fat will have risen to the top, so blitz all contents in a blender until combined.

Other bases:

  • Kefir
  • Almond Milk
  • Coconut milk (boxed variety)
  • Coconut water

Flavorings:
Seasonal fruit will have the best flavor, full of natural sweetness. To enhance the natural sweetness of berries or stone fruit, for example, cook them down in a small pot until they’re syrupy, mashing them with a wooden spoon to release their juices. No added sugar necessary.
Here are some of my favorite summertime fruits:

  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Peaches (white and yellow)
  • Nectarines (white and yellow)
  • Pluots
  • Apricots

Additional sweeteners:

  • Honey
  • Maple syrup
  • Dates (blended with your base, or cut into small pieces)
  • Frozen fruit (works really well when cooked down)
  • Vanilla extract 

Add-In’s
Finally, add in some texture to keep things interesting and promote chewing for optimal digestion:

  • Chia seeds
  • Coconut flakes, toasted
  • Slivered almonds
  • Banana slices/ kiwi slices or whole pieces of whichever fruit you choose 

Also, don’t forget about herbs, like basil and mint, for another fun twist!

 


Honey Peach Popsicles
 

Makes 10 popsicles

  • 2 yellow peaches
  • 2 white peaches
  • 16 oz full fat greek yogurt
  • Honey, to taste
  • Kefir, optional

Materials: popsicle molds and wooden popsicle sticks (depending on your mold)

  1. Rough chop the peaches. Add them to a small pot and place over low heat with a splash of water.
  2. Allow the peaches to heat up for about 5-10 minutes, while breaking up the pieces with a wooden spoon to release their juices. Once the peaches cook down and begin to get syrupy, turn off the heat and let cool. (The longer you cook them, the sweeter they become!)
  3. In a small bowl, mix together the yogurt and honey. Start with about 3-4 tablespoons of honey, taste, and add more if you like.
  4. To thin out the yogurt/honey mixture, add a few tablespoons of kefir, or other milk such as almond. The consistency should be similar to regular yogurt (pourable, but still thick).
  5. To make the popsicles, layer the peaches and yogurt, adding one spoonful of each until the popsicle mold is full.
  6. Gently tap the popsicle molds to allow the contents to set and for some air bubbles to arise.
  7. Place in the wooden popsicle sticks, and allow to freeze over night. 

 

Blackberry Coconut Popsicles

Makes 10 popsicles

  • 16 oz full fat coconut milk, from a can
  • maple syrup or dates, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
  • 1.5 cups blackberries, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup coconut shreds, toasted 

Materials: popsicle molds and wooden popsicle sticks (depending on your mold)

  1. First, set your oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Once at temperature, toast coconut flakes for 5-7 minutes. Keep an eye on them as they burn easily. 
  2. Next, blend the coconut milk, maple syrup or dates, and vanilla in a blender until well combined. Taste and add more sweetness via dates or maple syrup. 
  3. Rough chop all the berries. Wear an apron if you have juicy ones! 
  4. In the popsicle molds, add a small spoonful of toasted coconut flakes, then coconut milk, then berries; continuously layering until each mold is full. 
  5. Optional: as in the Honey Peach recipe, you can cook down the berries if you want a sweeter taste
  6. Freeze over night and enjoy!