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I love this compote; it’s super versatile and I almost always have the ingredients on hand.  We’ve talked a couple of times about yogurt here in recent weeks, and this is a fantastic and natural way to sweeten up plain yogurt for a treat.  It’s also a great topping for steel cut oats or whole grain waffles (like these).

Frozen Fruit Compote
  • 1 lb frozen fruit (I like berries and peaches best)
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • A couple of tablespoons lemon juice

Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan give it a couple stirs to combine.  Place over medium-high heat on your stovetop.

After a few minutes the liquid will seep out of the fruit and the mixture will become quite watery.  Once it reaches a boil, lower the heat to medium.
Keep cooking at medium heat for about 10 minutes; it may be more or less depending on the size of your fruit chunks.  Stir every couple of minutes to keep the mixture from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Once the mixture thickens up and coats your spoon, reduce the heat to low and simmer for a couple more minutes.  It doesn’t have to cook down entirely, this will continue to firm up as it cools.
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Remove from heat and let cool entirely before you put it in a jar.  This compote will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for about two weeks.


 
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Do you consume foods or beverages that contain artificial sweeteners such as Splenda© or Nutrasweet©? Artificial or Non-Nutritive sweeteners, which contain little or no calories, were first approved by the FDA in the late 1950’s. Since then many studies have examined their safety and effect on weight maintenance. The information in this article was drawn from a recent review from the National Institute of Health that looked at several recent fake sweetener studies.
If there are no calories you can have as much as you want, right? Wrong! The USDA has set an Acceptable Daily Intake, or ADI, on each of the five FDA-approved artificial sweeteners. This means that the USDA does not guarantee that these sweeteners are safe beyond a certain daily limit. The ADI for sucralose (which is sold as Splenda©) is equivalent to about six 12 oz. cans of diet soda per day.

Why would a government agency put a limit on an artificial sweetener? Because these products are made from chemicals that humans have never eaten before. They are made from amino acids or sugars that have been modified in a lab so we can’t digest them. Because researchers aren’t sure what the long-lasting impact on health could be from eating these products every day, they set a limit for daily consumption that they believe is safe.

Do artificial sweeteners help with weight loss and maintenance? At least one study says no. The study had some participants that avoided all products containing aspartame (sold as Nutrasweet©), and others replaced all of their sugar with aspartame. All of the participants were attempting to lose weight using exercise and diet changes. Both groups lost about the same amount of weight in four months. The participants that avoided aspartame were more likely to keep the weight off after two years.

Looking for a sweet and healthy alternative? If you’re a diet soda drinker, try naturally flavored seltzers such as those manufactured by Talking Rain or La Croix. If you like sweet foods, try a ripe piece of fresh fruit. Fruit does contain calories, but those calories come with great stuff like water, fiber, and antioxidants!

For more information on artificial sweetener risks check out the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s “Chemical Cuisine” page.

This article is a repost of one that I wrote for Pinnacle Physical Therapy.

 
Sometimes packaging and labeling can make cruddy food appear wholesome.  Food manufacturers know that you want healthy food, and they’ll use clever design to make you think their product fits the nutritional bill.  Here are some foods that are often perceived as healthy, but don’t quite have the right stuff for a nourishing diet:

Flavored yogurt:  Plain yogurt provides a healthy dose of protein, fat, and beneficial bacteria for your intestines.  However many flavored yogurts contain a ton of loaded sugar and artificial additives.  Kraft Breyers Smooth & Creamy Lowfat Strawberry Yogurt contains 39 grams of sugar in one 8 oz container.  That’s more than a Snickers candy bar!

Try flavoring plain yogurt with your own favorite fruits and honey; you’ll probably be more moderate with your added sweetener than Kraft Breyers was.

Flavored oatmeal:  Just like flavored yogurt, this food has a healthy base with loads of sugar and additives on top of it.  Quaker makes “Dinosaur Eggs” oatmeal, which is marketed towards children, that contains 19 grams of added sugar per serving.  Along with that it’s got partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil and a whole host of artificial coloring.

Add your own spices and fruit to rolled or steel cuts oats, and leave the dinosaur eggs out of it.

Breakfast cereal:  I’ve found that most breakfast cereals contain more bad than good nutritionally speaking.  The best cereal option is really no cereal at all.  From Cocoa Puffs to Fruity Pebbles to French Toast Crunch, it’s just all a hot mess!

As an example of tricky packaging, Cocoa Puffs advertises very loudly on the front of the box that it’s made with whole grains.  However it’s also made with flour and modified food starch, and only contains 0.7 grams of fiber per serving.

All of these foods are often eaten at breakfast.  Instead of a sugary breakfast that will make you feel like you need a nap, why not have a wholesome savory breakfast instead?  I like a lightening-quick breakfast taco with:
  • 1 corn tortilla
  • 1 egg, scrambled
  • ¼ of an avocado
  • Handful of spinach
  • Hot sauce
 
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We’ve previously talked about the risk of high caffeine consumption, which can have major effects on sleep patterns, mood, and blood flow to your brain.  But what do you do if you’re seriously hooked on the stuff?

Because caffeine is addictive and our body builds up a tolerance to it over time, people who decrease their caffeine intake often experience symptoms of withdrawal.  Headache is the most frequently reported symptom in caffeine withdrawal studies.  Some other symptoms include fatigue and crabby mood (not the medical term, but you know what I mean). 

Studies have found that even people who consume a moderate amount (about 2 ½ cups of coffee) can experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to break the caffeine habit.

Here are some tips for decreasing your caffeine intake without experiencing serious withdrawal:

Wean yourself off slowly.  You built up a tolerance to caffeine over time, now take some time to bring yourself down.  Drink ½ cup less of coffee or tea for a few days, and then shave off a little bit more.

Jump around.  You will experience fatigue when you remove the caffeine that was keeping you alert.  Going for a walk, having a good stretch, or a quick run up the stairs will give you a little energy boost.  Also, if you’re experiencing fatigue often it might be time to ask yourself if you are getting the sleep you need.

Find a replacement beverage.  Here are some ideas for beverages you could use to replace your caffeine vehicle:

Coffee:  Grain-based coffee alternatives like DandyBlend® or Teeccino®.  These instant beverages are dark brown, aromatic, and earthy like coffee.

Caffeinated Tea:  Herbal or decaffeinated green tea.

Soda:  Fruit-flavored seltzer water like Talking Rain®.

I chose this topic today because I am currently in the process of decreasing my caffeine intake!  I recently found out that I have a food sensitivity to coffee; it just about knocked me out when I got the news.  I’m almost two weeks deep now, and it’s actually been a great experience thus far.

 
Handling food safely helps protect you and your family from foodborne illness.  Unsafe food handling practices could result in unwittingly eating harmful microorganisms along with your meal.  These bacteria and parasites, such as E. coli and Anisakis, are serious villains- you don’t want to mess around with them!

Here are some basic guidelines for protecting your food from contamination:

Wash all fresh produce under cold clean running tap water for at least 10 seconds.  This goes for every piece of produce, even ones where you don’t eat the skin such as an avocado.  That avocado has been handled by dozens of people before it gets to your kitchen, and any pathogens on the outside will be carried right through the edible portion when you slice it.

Do not use any soap or special produce wash, the USDA recommends using only clean water.

Vertically organize your fridge.  Sort foods in your fridge in the following order:
  • Raw meat on the bottom
  • Cooked meat and dairy next
  • Fresh produce on top

Raw meat that is placed on the top shelve of a fridge can leak juices on the food below, resulting in something called cross contamination.  Juices from meat often contain potentially harmful bacteria that are obliterated during the cooking process.  When raw meat is cross contaminated with a vegetable that may be eaten raw, those bacteria will never get cooked away.

Watch those cutting boards!  Speaking of cross contamination, this phenomenon is very likely to occur on a cutting board.  Only use your cutting board for one food in between each washing, and never cut raw meat on the same board as cooked meat or fresh produce.

Wash, wash, wash your hands.  You touch a number of fantastic things in a day, and some of those things are likely to contain bacteria that you don’t want to get in your food.  Wash your hands with soap and warm water when you:
  • First enter the kitchen
  • After handling raw meat
  • Before handling food that is ready to eat


For more information on handling food safely, check out the recommendations from our federal government here.
 
With oversized portions and heavy sauces or dressings, restaurant food packs way more of a caloric punch than food made at home.  It can be hard to make a healthy choice, or even discern what the healthiest choice is!  Here are some guidelines for making menu choices that won’t bust your calorie budget:

Scope out the vegetables.  A dish that is based around vegetables rather than meat or cheese is likely to be lower in calories and saturated fat.  As an example a Veggie Taco with refried beans from Taco Del Mar has 180 calories, while their Ground Beef Quesadilla has 780.

Ask for dressing and sauce on the side.  Most of us had heard this one before, but I thought I’d just let you know that it’s still relevant!  Salad dressings and other sauces can be very high in fat, calories, or even sugar.  Asking for these items on the side and then using a moderate amount can make a big difference in your total calorie intake.

If you are eating a salad, choose a vinegar-based dressing over a creamy one.  A 2-oz serving of Ranch Dressing from Chili’s has a whopping 25 grams of fat, 4 of which are saturated fat.

Make your own reasonable portion size.  Serving sizes at restaurants are often way larger than a plate you would make for yourself at home.  Food scientist Brian Wansink, author of the book Mindless Eating, has shown through various studies that we will usually eat whatever portion is placed in front of us, regardless of the size!

Try asking for a take-home box as soon as you order your meal.  When you get your food, immediately take half of it off your plate and put it in your box.  Out of sight, out of mind!  And you’ve got leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

Make restaurant food an occasional treat, and enjoy it without guilt!  It’s impossible to eat a healthy whole foods diet with frequent restaurant dining.  Go out to eat on special occasions or celebrations, and let yourself fully experience your food.  There’s no reason to feel guilty when you’re making mindful decisions!
 
I’ve sung the praises of dark leafy greens so many times on this blog; I figured I better start talking about how to prepare them!  We know that dark leafy greens are a good source of antioxidants, calcium, and fiber.  They are also a good alkaline food to add to your diet.

This is an easy kale recipe that will keep in the fridge for about a week.  Because garlic goes so well with other foods, I suggest making a big batch of this stuff and then throwing a handful on top of whatever meal you're enjoying.

Garlicky Kale

For roasted garlic:
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, peeled
  • Splash of olive oil, plus more for dressing
  • Some big pinches rosemary and thyme, fresh or dried, minced
  • One big pinch salt

For steamed kale:
  • One bunch of kale (any kind will do)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Place whole garlic cloves in a small piece of aluminum foil, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with herbs and salt.  Wrap it all up into a little package and roast for 40 minutes.

When you’ve got about ten minutes of roasting time left, rinse your kale clean.  De-stem and chop the kale into bite-sized pieces, then place in a steamer basket.  Steam kale just until bright green, them remove from heat and place in a bowl (if you leave it in the steamer it will continue to cook, and your kale will get mushy).  The cook time will vary based on the sturdiness of your kale, but it should only take 2-4 minutes once the steam gets going.

When you remove the garlic from the oven, give it a quick trip around your blender with a tablespoon or so of olive oil.  Pour the dressing over your cooked kale and mix with your hands.  Enjoy!


One word of warning: this kale is really garlicky!  I don’t mind having garlic breath, but if you do you might want to use one or two less cloves.

There’s a really easy method for de-stemming kale, here’s a video of a girl with blue fingernail paint demonstrating it.

 
We discussed last week how mineral-rich plant foods like leafy greens can be a good source of calcium.  Today we’ll uncover which plant foods are high in iron, and how you can increase the availability of that iron to your digestive tract.

First let’s talk about how iron functions in the body.  This mineral is necessary for consistent energy, normal immune system function, and healthy red blood cell production.  Remember that red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen from your lungs to all of your other cells, so their sustained health should be of great interest to you!  Iron is also necessary to make collagen, the protein that gives structure to our hair, skin, nails, and organs.

The iron that is found in animal foods is in a slightly different form than the iron in plant foods.  Animal iron is easily absorbed, but you might absorb as little as 2% of the iron found in vegetables.  If you consume a mainly vegetarian or vegan diet, it could be challenging to get the iron you need.  Before we talk about how to increase iron absorption, let’s establish some good sources of iron:
  • Almonds
  • Beet greens
  • Brazil Nuts
  • Cashews
  • Molasses
  • Nutritional Yeast
  • Parsley
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Raisins
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Swiss chard
  • Wheat germ

To increase the absorption of iron from these foods, there are two main nutrients to consider:

Vitamin C:  This nutrient can free iron up for absorption into the gut.  Try preparing your iron-rich food with lemon or other citrus fruits.

Cysteine:  This amino acid can also help increase absorption, so try eating it at the same meal as your iron-containing vegetables.  Good vegetarian sources of cysteine include:
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Garlic
  • Oats
  • Onions

Cooking your food in a cast iron pan can also add to your intake.

Try this Fiery Tofu Marinade with iron-rich molasses from The Ordinary Vegetarian.

 
Yogurt is a fermented milk product that is a great source of protein, calcium, and probiotics.  Yogurt has long been identified as a “health food,” but not all yogurts are healthy.  Some processed yogurts contain more sugar in that little cup than a candy bar!  Excessive added sugar and artificial flavorings are not part of a nourishing diet.  Here are some guidelines for avoiding the junk and finding a wholesome yogurt:

Buy plain yogurt.  Because so many flavored yogurts contain a large amount of added sugar, it’s best to buy plain yogurt.  You can flavor and sweeten yogurt on your own by adding fresh fruit, or maybe a touch of honey.

Check the ingredient list.  Yogurt is pretty easy to make (as we’ll discuss below), so it shouldn’t have a very long ingredient list.  Ideally your yogurt will only contain milk, milk powder, and active bacteria.  The bacteria names will be spelled with a large capital letter, followed by a period and a lower case word.  As an example a common bacterium found in yogurt is Lactobacillus acidophilus, which would appear on a nutrition label as L. acidophilus.

Look for the words “live and active cultures.”  Speaking of bacteria, these words on a yogurt label let you know that the healthy bacteria inside are still alive.  They have to be alive to be helpful!  Beneficial bacteria, also called probiotics, help keep your gut functional and strong.

If you want to avoid the label game altogether, make your own yogurt!  All you need is milk and a yogurt starter culture.  You only need to buy the culture once (or get one from a neighbor), after that you can make new yogurt using a small amount from your previous batch.

Cultures for Health is a great place to mail order starter cultures, as well as find tips and instructions.
 
We’ve discussed in previous posts how eating a rainbow of different colored foods ensures that you get a good variety of nutrients.  Researchers have found that foods containing purple pigments are less frequently consumed than foods of other colors.  Purple foods contain the class of antioxidants known as anthocyanins.  The research is still emerging, but scientists suspect that these antioxidants could be particularly helpful in preventing heart disease.

Here are some foods that are high in anthocyanins to incorporate into your diet:

  • Blackberries
  • Blood oranges
  • Blueberries
  • Plums
  • Raspberries
  • Red cabbage
  • Red onion
  • Strawberries

Berries can be pricey when they are fresh, if you’re on a budget (and really, who isn’t these days?) try picking them up in the frozen section.  Blend some frozen berries with greek yogurt for a sweet frozen treat that’s also a balanced snack.