Healthy Foods You Actually Want to Eat


Step #2: Nix the Rancid Oils

Rancid oils?  I check the expiration date–there are no rancid oils in my house!

That may be what you’re thinking.  But there probably are.  Any oil that is chemically extracted (canola, vegetable, sunflower seed, soybean, cottonseed, safflower, and many others are) is technically rancid before it ever hits store shelves.  These have been altered during the manufacturing process to keep them from smelling–the worst part is, our bodies have no idea how to process these unnatural oils.

Canola oil is probably the worst offender.  I nearly fainted last year when I received a long-awaited “healthy” cookbook in the mail, only to find that every other recipe called for canola oil.  One proponent, http://www.canolainfo.org/, claims that the oil is “good for every body!” and touts the FDA’s new claim that a tablespoon and a half of the stuff a day can reduce the risk of heart disease.  The claims usually revolve around the omega content and low levels of saturated fat.  But don’t jump on the canola wagon just yet!

According to nutrition expert Dr. Josh Axe, “Processed oils are extracted by high heat and pressure and the use of solvents. The fats in these oils are exposed to light and air, which oxidizes the fat (turns them rancid). The oil is then boiled to remove most of the solvent. The high heat and pressure destroy antioxidants and alter the chemical nature of the fat, creating dangerous free radicals. BHA and BHT, dangerous preservatives, are then often added to the oil to extend the shelf life.

“Hydrogenization is similar to homogenization: it is the use of agitation and pressure to create creaminess in foods and prevent separation. It involves the addition of a hydrogen atom.

“During hydrogenation, oils are turned into solid form for ease of use. Extracted oils are mixed with metal particles and treated with high-heat and pressure along with hydrogen gas. Emulsifiers are added to the mixture which is then steam-cleaned to remove rancid odors. It is then bleached and artificial dyes and flavorings are added.

“Trans fats are found in partially hydrogenated fats and oils. They are dangerous because they are incorporated into the body’s cell membranes and interfere with normal cell metabolism and other chemical reactions.

“Hydrogenated fats have been linked to:

  • Artherosclerosis
  • Birth defects
  • Bone and tendon problems
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Digestive disorders
  • Heart disease
  • Immune system impairment
  • Increased cholesterol levels
  • Learning disabilities
  • Liver problems
  • Low birth weights
  • Obesity
  • Reduced growth
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Skin reactions
  • Sterility
  • Vision reduction”

Pretty scary stuff.  One more note about canola oil–while olive oil comes from olives and peanut oil from peanuts, Canola plantthere is no canola plant.  The plant in question is actually a genetically modified rapeseed plant, Brassica napus.  The oil of the natural plant is high in erucic acid–it spoils quickly, gives the oil a bad taste, is known to be toxic and a carcinogen in large doses, and works great in industrial pursuits.  The genetically modified version has less of this acid but is illegal in parts of Europe.  So where does the name canola come from?  CANadian Oil, Low Acid.

If so many oils are heated and chemically processed, what kind of oil should we use to fry our foods, to moisten our salads and baked goods?  The answer lies with natural, unheated pressed oils.  Olive oil is wonderful, but a caution is in order–olive oil has a low smoke point.  When cooking with olive oil, if you see smoke rising from the pan, you’re heating the olive oil to the point that it, too, is becoming a rancid oil.  The solution?  Turn down the heat or use one of its heat tolerant healthy cousins, grapeseed or coconut oil.

The bottom line: Don’t believe every health claim you read; facts and statistics can be manipulated.  Natural and unaltered is always the healthier alternative.  Go with olive, grapeseed, and coconut oil instead.

Next post, we’ll learn an amazing non-food use for coconut oil.

Resources:

Axe, Dr. Josh.  “Are You Eating Rancid Oils?” http://www.draxe.com/are-you-eating-rancid-oils/

Hardick, Dr. B.J., Dr. Ben Lerner, and Kimberly Roberto.  Maximized Living Nutrition Plans.  Maximized Living:  Florida, 2009.

“Where Does Canola Oil Come From?” http://www.chow.com/food-news/53865/where-does-canola-oil-come-from/

I can’t verify the anecdotes in this article, nor are all the sources sited correctly.  But these are some interesting thoughts on canola:  http://www.ithyroid.com/canola_oil.htm



Step #1: Sugar Is the Enemy
Do you know how much sugar you consume in one day?  If you’re an average American, you’ve probably downed about 53 teaspoons of the sweet stuff in the past 24 hours.  That amounts, by one count, to one hundred and fifty-six pounds each year.  We eat our weight in sugar!

That’s a lot.  And that’s the problem.

Do you have a bag of salty snacks in hand?  Take a look at the ingredients list.  Whether it actually says “sugar” or its hiding under terms like corn syrup or sucrose, it’s in there.  Not only is sugar present in practically every processed food on the market, so are refined flours that turn to sugar the moment they enter our bodies.

But sugar tastes good.  So what’s the problem?

Spiking obesity rates are the obvious answer. But that’s not the only problem.  Sugar is a known carcinogen–it causes cancer.  Also, too much sugar throws off hormonal processes and levels.  Excessive sugar levels burn out the leptin receptors in the brain, for instance, affecting hunger regulation.

So, what to do?  The first step, according to some experts, is to cleanse the body of all sugars to give things time to get back to normal.  How?  Avoid all sugars and simple carbohydrates for a week or two.  It is doable, I promise.  And it yields outstanding results.  Two weeks with no sugar, and I personally lost about fifteen pounds and quite a bit of my adult acne.  Here’s how you do it:

  • Go shopping.  Focus on fresh or fresh frozen foods, as most processed food products, including canned foods, contain sugars.  Look at the labels; if it has sugar in it, don’t buy it.  Avoid starchy vegetables, such as carrots and white potatoes, and sugary fruits and juices like grapes, plums, or oranges–go for granny smith apples, lemons, limes, and berries instead.  Don’t even touch sweets or grains–cookies, bread, cereal, chips, crackers, etc.
  • Stick to it.  You can do it!  It’s only two weeks–you’ll find yourself slimmer, and with improved skin and hair.
  • Don’t jump back in.  There’s a television commercial that says, “Would you let your child swim in a pool of high fructose corn syrup?”  Don’t you jump back in the deep end either!  After cleansing the body of sugars, you can add all your favorites back in, but do so in moderation.  You’ll probably find that you have less of a craving for these foods.

After two weeks, you’ve given your body a chance to heal some from sugar-shock.  But, a sugar-free diet is healthy and you could conceivably make no-sugar a way of life.

Next time, we’ll discuss another dastardly part of the American diet–rancid oils.

Resources:

Casey, John.  ”The Hidden Ingredient That Can Sabotage Your Diet.”  Accessed 31 May 2012.  http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=56589.

Hardick, Dr. B.J., Dr. Ben Lerner, and Kimberly Roberto.  Maximized Living Nutrition Plans.  Maximized Living:  Florida, 2009.



Step-By-Step to a Healthy, Natural Life
May 30, 2012, 5:21 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

If you’re a healthy eating reader, I’ll safely assume that you’re also interested in living a long, healthy life.  Not an easy thing to achieve on the typical American Diet.  Also not easy in a world polluted with msg, preservatives, and advertisements touting the benefits of spraying poisonous chemicals on every surface in our homes.

So, in addition to posting plenty of tasty healthy recipes, this blog will now chronicle my baby steps to ridding my home and my dinner plate of all the things that are bad for us on a cellular level.  Over the next year, we’ll learn:

  • what the chemical names on the back of your snack cake actually mean
  • how to replace practically every chemical cleaning agent in your home with something plant-based
  • and the pros and cons of each switch

Stay tuned in for Step #1:  Sugar is the Enemy.

Happy eating!



Squeezing Heartsblood from the Veggies! Or, How to Drink Swamp Water

Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead.  That’s the name of the documentary that prompted me to dust off a long-ignored juicer and get to work.

For a writing class, I recently read an essay that compared the literary critic to a scientist who bared the world by spreading ‘heartsblood and sperm and spittle’ on a slide and viewing it under the microscope (J.C. Hallman, The Story About the Story).  That word, heartsblood, was striking–it wasn’t just the blood that circulates through our bodies, providing our cells with vital oxygen and nutrients.  That is pretty intimate in itself.  But the essence of this went farther; it involved the heart, emotion, not just the biological but everything central to our being.

But back to the juicer.  As I was cramming kale and celery into the machine, my dad commented on how nutritious the  green liquid gold was, how concentrated were the vitamins and antioxidants; and he called it the heartsblood of the vegetables.  Obviously, plants have neither hearts nor blood.  It was, however, an apt description of the intimacy that we maintain with that which nourishes us.

I was skeptical of the stuff that looked like swamp water, but one sip and I was pleasantly surprised.  The simple recipe is as follows:

1/2 lemon, peeled

1 cucumber

2 Granny Smith apples

4 leaves of kale

Every juicer is different, so see your owner’s manual for specific instructions.  Don’t let the appearance deter you–enjoy!



Very Versatile Veggie Lasagna/Casserole/Something-I-Baked-In-the-Oven
October 18, 2011, 2:30 am
Filed under: Tasty Veggies, Uncategorized

I found a great recipe for vegetable lasagna the other day.  It is completely free of pasta (which turns to sugar in our bodies) and is a vegetarian option (sorry, vegans, I can’t give up my cheese).  So I blithely trotted into my local farmer’s market to procure the necessary ingredients.  Bags of zucchini and bell pepper in hand, I paused for a moment to gaze at a bin of oddly shaped, oddly purple fruits we call eggplant.  I still haven’t figured out exactly why “egg” is part of its moniker, and I marveled at the fact that eggplant was one thing I had never attempted to cook. I remembered for a moment the only thing my grandmother had ever cooked that wasn’t totally delicious, some eggplant casserole that had convinced me to avoid the stuff like the plague.   And I went on with my life.

I got home and propped my cookbook on the counter.  I was hungry, and this healthy version of an Italian favorite was calling to me.  But as I scanned the page, I gasped.  The recipe had in fact called for eggplant!  Okay, I thought to myself, I’m still going to make this lasagna.  One missing ingredient can’t hurt, can it?  Halfway through my preparations, I realized something else was missing–I had neither parmesan nor ricotta cheese.  How could I forget the cheese?!  Sour cream and shredded swiss will work, won’t they? I thought.  Well, I was making this lasagna, come cheese or high waters, so they would just have to work.

The silly vegetable lasagna turned out fine–in fact, it was better than I expected.  But I was still determined to make it the right way.  So the next week I gathered all the ingredients–making sure not to leave out the eggplant and cheese, this time.  Well, so I did experiment just a little…  And I found that I really, really actually like eggplant.

So here’s what you’ll need:

1 large eggplant

3 medium zucchini

1 large Portobello mushroom

1 bell pepper

2 handfuls fresh spinach

2 cups mozzarella cheese

1 cup parmesan

15 oz ricotta cheese

1 egg

1 jar tomato sauce

Olive oil

1 clove garlic

Pinch of salt

Pinch of black pepper

Eggplant turn golden brown and a bit crispy. Photo by Cara Carroll

Preheat oven to 400.  Slice eggplant and zucchini into 1/4 rounds.  Cube mushroom and dice bell pepper.  Pour several tablespoons of olive oil in a bowl.  Crush or chop garlic; combine oil, garlic, salt and pepper.  Lightly coat vegetable slices in oil and layer in a glass baking dish (a basting brush works well for this).  Bake peppers and mushrooms for about 10 minutes; bake eggplant and

Here's that middle layer of spinach, half way there... Photo by Cara Carroll

zucchini for 30 minutes.  In a bowl, combine ricotta, parmesan, and egg.  Coat the bottom of a lasagna pan with 1/4 cup tomato sauce.  Now the fun part–layer your vegetables like you would ordinary lasagna ingredients: eggplant, cheese mixture, zucchini, peppers, mushrooms, mozzarella, spinach (I use spinach only in this middle layer).  Repeat.  Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.

This recipe will forever be a favorite, and the reason is simply its versatility.  It reminds me of the beef stew I was taught to make as a little girl–take a big pot, drop in some ground or chopped beef, a little water, and whatever veggies you happen to have handy–beans, cabbage, potatoes, onion, tomato, carrots, corn, and peas, even some turnips, if you have them handy.  Any or all of the above.  This is like that.  Want to substitute yellow squash for zucchini?  Go right ahead.  Want to add some beef or Italian sausage or noodles?  You can do that to.  Go see what you’ve got in the kitchen today, and enjoy!



Home-Grown Favorite Gets a Healthy Makeover

Driving past the local farmer’s market, I just had to stop.  I was drawn by the bushels and bushels of emerald gleaming jewels–mmm, green tomotoes.

If you’re from a rural area, perhaps you’ve tasted the delicacy that is fried green tomatoes.  If not, maybe you’ve at least seen the movie by the same name.  But if you’re on a health kick like me, you’re probably thinking, “Breaded and fried?  I don’t think so…”  But this country girl loves her breaded, fried treats.  And I love the healthier version I whipped up in my kitchen last week.

First, let’s review a few principles of healthy eating.

1.  Sugar is the enemy.  Tragic, I know.  This doesn’t just mean sweets, either–starchy carbohydrates are almost instantly converted to sugar in our bodies.  beginning with leptin, excessive sugar sets off a cascade of hormone imbalances.  The solution?  Reduce sugar and bad carbs.  In this recipe, we’ll be reducing carbs by substituting your typical breading with almond flour and flaxseed meal.

2.  Not all fats and oils are bad.  We’ve been educated for years to cut the oils and reduce the fats.  But, our bodies need a certain amount of good fats and oils.  So, skip the canola and other rancid oils and reach for the olive, grapeseed, and coconut oils.

Got that?  There may be a pop quiz later.  Here’s what you’ll need:

2-3 green tomatoes

1 cup almond flour

3/4 cup flaxseed meal

1-2 farm-fresh eggs

grapeseed oil

Thinly slice the tomatoes.  Beat the raw eggs in a small bowl until smooth.  In another bowl, blend almond flour and flaxseed meal.  Heat grapeseed oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Dip tomato slices in egg then press into flour/meal mixture to cover.  Place in skillet and cook until breading browns and tomato begins to soften.  Flip and repeat. 

Photo by Cara Carroll

Fried green tomatoes are best served fresh and hot.  But if you have leftovers, don’t be afraid to pop them in the oven to re-crisp the breading.

Are you a hard-core health nut who’s still apprehensive about frying your food?  Stay tuned for a fry-free variation of this recipe.



Even We Chocoholics Can Eat Healthy

We live in a world full of bad food choices.  I have become ever more keenly aware of this since embarking on a nearly impossible, nearly sugar-free lifestyle a few weeks ago.  But would you believe it’s actually been fun?  Yes, fun.  Especially since I discovered this decadent recipe.  Would you believe you can disguise fruit as a brownie?  Yes, yes you can.

 
 
 
 
 

You’ll need:

10 pitted dried dates

1 cup nuts (raw pecans, almonds, or walnuts are best)

1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon stevia

2 teaspoons coconut oil

1/4 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut

1 tablespoon olive oil (optional)

No product placement intended, just trying to liven up the photo by picturing some of the ingredients. Photo by Cara Carroll.

Soak the dates in water until soft, for a few hours or overnight in the fridge. Drain the dates and combine the ingredients.  If you have a blender that can handle it, it makes quick work of this recipe.  Mine can’t, but a pair of hands work just as well.  Mix thoroughly and roll into 1-inch balls.  Refrigerate.

I took a bite and was sure I was eating a chocolate truffle.  Being a health food, that was a shocking surprise.  I hope you’ll join me for more great recipes on my sugar-free journey.

Check out a kid-friendly adaptation of this recipe at http://creativekiddos.wordpress.com/.




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