Monday, April 16, 2012

Quick and healthy "go to" party recipes

I love parties. I love planning them, I love hosting them, I love being invited to them. I love getting together with groups of people to celebrate just about anything, while also enjoying great conversation and delicious foods. I'm particularly enjoying the potluck parties that are really popular at our church here.

On Saturday, I went to a baby shower for one of the women at church and struck up a conversation with a friend who doesn't have much time to spend in the kitchen preparing food to take to a potluck. She asked for a few ideas, I shared them with her and thought I'd share them with you all too!

My favorite quick, simple and healthy "go to" party recipes are:
- Cucumber "sushi:" a dollop of hummus on cucumber slices, topped with freshly ground pepper
- Fruit kabobs: skewer your favorite fruits (or whatever you have on hand) onto a kabob stick, then serve with a side of yogurt dipping sauce (mix 1 tsp of vanilla and a Tablespoon of cinnamon into a large container of flavored Greek yogurt)
- Cracker "pizzas:" spread a small amount of goat cheese onto a whole grain cracker (in the US, I use any of the Mary's Gone Crackers varieties, here in Holland, I use whatever I can find), top with a quarter of a cherry tomato and sprinkle with a tiny bit of basil

Friday, April 6, 2012

Quick tip: white foods

Whenever you see a food that's white (white sugar, white flour, white crackers...), it's been processed and stripped of nutrients. Try to replace the white foods in your diet (usually breads, pastas, crackers and other grain products) with brown foods (aka, whole grains).

Don't be fooled by the "whole wheat" label - look for "whole grains" and try to look for packages that have a transparent front - so you can actually see that there are in fact visible grains in the food. 

Kicking the sugar habit

Hi, my name is Christa and I'm a sugar addict. I've been sober for approximately two years. Oops, I mean about two hours. I made a pizza for lunch and the sauce had sugar in it. Dag nabit!

As the video clip I posted yesterday illustrates, overcoming a sugar addiction is tough. Sugar is EVERYWHERE. Yet, just because that's the case, doesn't mean it becomes any less important to get it out of our diets. Perfection isn't possible, but it IS possible to significantly reduce the amount of this nasty little toxin and reap all the health benefits as a result.

If you're a sugar addict like me, there are steps you can take to kick the habit:

Step 1: Admit that you have a problem. Sounds simple doesn't it? But it truly is hard to admit that sugar is toxic. After all, it's in so many foods, it must be safe, right? Wrong. If you need to, watch the video again or check out a book called Blood Sugar Solution by Dr. Mark Hyman. I'm reading it now and it does an awesome job of explaining why sugar is so bad for our bodies.

Step 2: Add spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom, as well as natural sweeteners to your diet. They naturally sweeten foods and can help reduce your cravings for foods sweetened with conventional sugar.

Step 3: Eat sweet fruits (any kind) and veggies (sweet potatoes, turnips, rutabagas...). As you consume more of these nutritious, tasty little gifts from God, you'll naturally crave processed sweet foods less.

Step 4: Cut fat-free and low-fat snack foods from your diet. They're loaded with all kinds of processed sugars. When you eat them, you won't feel satisfied very long and you'll most likely come back for more after just a short time. They keep you on a craving merry-go-round and it's really hard to stop eating until the bag or box is empty!

Step 5: Drink more water. Cravings for sugary foods often come when your body is thirsty. Trying this step is particularly important if you find yourself addicted to sugary sodas. If you crave them, your body is telling you it needs some hydration - and after a few days of hydrating with water, instead of soda, you should see your cravings decrease.

Step 6: Move. Any kind of exercise helps keep your blood sugar stable, so our bodies are less likely to crave sugary foods.

Sugar alternatives

Yesterday, I posted about the potential dangers of sugar in the diet and how this toxic little buddy of our taste buds can lead to a wide range of health problems like cardiovascular disease and cancer. The 60 Minutes video clip in the post is pretty powerful - and if you haven't watched it yet, I recommend you do.

While I firmly believe sugar is something to be avoided, I'm also not going to live a life deprived of sweetness! In our house, we use a variety of natural sweeteners as alternatives to sugar.

We use:
- 100% real maple syrup (organic, when we can find it)
- Organic, locally produced honey (which also helps with my husband's seasonal allergies)
- Organic brown rice syrup

Why organic? Conventionally produced sweeteners often contain synthetic preservatives and sometimes fillers that we'd rather avoid if we can. Organic might cost slightly more, but we've found that we make up the cost by avoiding the processed, sugary foods we used to consume on a daily basis (soda, cookies, candy, etc).

The three sweeteners we list above are the ones we've found to work best for our family. Many health foodies also recommend stevia, blackstrap molasses, coconut sugar, date sugar and barley malt syrup. I've used coconut sugar, molasses and barley malt syrup successfully in the past, but have a heck of a hard time finding it here in the Netherlands.
As you experiment with natural sweeteners, take note of which ones work best for you and your family - and decide on the best fits for your lifestyle.

Natural cures for seasonal allergies

Around this time of year, talk in our house always turns to seasonal allergies. I've only had them once (last year ... no fun!), but my husband and son get them every time the weather changes and it's always worse in the Spring.
Last year, we did some research/experimenting and found that a few foods helped ease his symptoms immensely:
Local, organic honey: if you can find it (usually at a natural foods store or a grocery store like Whole Foods), it really is worth the extra price, especially when compared to expensive allergy medications. Click here to read an article with more info on how this works. To fight allergies, we usually spread a tablespoon on a slice of whole grain bread.
Quercetin: This funny sounding little compound is nature's natural antihistamine and can be found in foods like citrus fruits, onions, garlic, apples, berries, lettuce and in wine. Bring on the chardonnay!
Vitamin C-filled foods: We do a lot of salads during this time of year - because everything we typically throw in ours (lettuce, parsley, tomatoes, spinach, etc etc) have tons of Vitamin C in them. It's another great natural antihistamine.
So, if you've got the sneezes, stuffy heads and general seasonal "yuckiness" that comes along with allergies, I recommend you make yourself a big salad, open a nice bottle of wine to go with it and treat yourself to a fruit salad drizzled with honey for dessert.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Is sugar toxic?

Looking for a way to reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease and cancer? Consider cutting sugar from your diet, or limiting it. Dr. Sanjay Gupta explains how and why sugar is so toxic for us in this great video clip from 60 Minutes.