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Have you ever checked your pH? I do. All the time. And every time I have a stomachache or just otherwise less than great feeling? Acidic. More acidic than usual, at least. (It’s incredibly easy. You can buy pH strips at most health food stores – Whole Foods included. You can also buy the ones I use, pictured to the right, here. The strips will include a pH scale so you know what you’re looking at.) I know, the pH Diet, it sounds like just another fad. And maybe (probably) the diet book is, but the idea of keeping your body within a happy alkaline range is just good sense. Ideally, you want the blood running through your veins at a pH of 7.365. Approximately! 😉

Actually even slight fluctuations can cause problems which, over time, can become serious. Everything from minor irritations like unclear skin or poor circulation to chronic fatigue or heartburn can signal acidity. Over time you can wind up with immune deficiency and potentially serious disease. An acidic setting is also what bacteria and yeast love most – it literally feeds them. And I don’t think I need to tell you that we don’t like them.

Have you ever looked at a list of what’s alkaline vs. acidic? The latter is largely made up of the stuff you know you aren’t supposed to be eating anyway! Soda, white flour, sugar, red meat, alcohol… you know how it goes. And of course eating lots of vegetables will keep you nice and alkaline. For a pretty comprehensive list of what’s what, just check out this one on Google. Or one of the other zillion lists out there. You’ll notice that even within fruits and vegetables there are more and less acidic choices. Of course you can’t be expected to eat zero foods from the acidic list and everything on the alkaline side, but a good 75-25 sway is a pretty good minimum to stick with. I’m a little more strict, myself.

Basically, alkaline foods give you energy and acidic ones suck you dry. All the cells in your body thrive in an alkaline environment – the other end of the spectrum gives you problems. Your body already fights against acidity as it is, what with regular everyday cellular activity and keeping you breathing and all that, before you even enter food into the equation. Naturally, non-food factors like stress and lack of exercise lead to acidity as well. It’s pretty safe to say you aren’t likely to have to worry about making your body too alkaline. It takes a waaaay larger amount of alkalinity to fight against acidity.

Kris Carr does a pHenomenal job of explaining the basics of pH, including what it means and what to do about it, in her recent book Crazy Sexy Diet. It’s a great book in general, I highly recommend it. One of the things she explains is how relentlessly your body works to maintain balance. You see this all the time – you get too cold and your body shivers to try to warm you back up; you get dehydrated and your body sends signals of intense thirst. Anyway, she explains how this struggle relates to pH and when you do unbalanced things like sticking to highly acidic foods, your body does whatever it can to bring you back to alkalinity. This includes taking minerals from your bones, teeth, tissues and organs – anywhere it can find reserves. As mentioned in the book, you need minerals to make proteins, enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, basically everything you need to live. Your body has to make these, and it relies on what you put in your body to do it. Pretty serious stuff.

Some of the things I do to make sure I keep my pH in check are these…

  • Drink LOTS of water
  • Green Smoothies – I make them in the morning and keep them in the fridge all day, so when I want a snack I can grab this instead of cookies! I also like to put my morning smoothie in a plastic water bottle with a top – this way I can take it with me so I’m never left hungry and at the mercy of what’s at the nearest coffee shop or corner store.
  • Use a green powder! I like Vitamineral Green. I usually put it in my smoothie but you can stick it in water or juice.
  • Exercise! Duh, I know, obvious, but it’s easy to let it go if you aren’t thinking about it. It really does a lot to keep you balanced. It certainly has a huge effect on balancing my blood sugar as well. Just remember if you can’t fit in a proper workout, at least make sure you aren’t sitting still all day. Try to get up and move for a while at least every hour.
  • Eating vegetables does NOT have to be painful. Don’t let your stubborn brain get stuck on the idea that just because something is a vegetable it can’t be good. Be open-minded. Check out my post on how to sneak them in throughout your day in a tasty way!
  • Sea vegetables are especially helpful given all the minerals they contain.
  • Try eating more raw foods. (No, I don’t mean beef carpaccio.)
  • Take a supplement. I try to buy all organic and high quality foods because I know the nutrient content is generally quite low in other foods. But I still don’t get all the nutrients my body needs, it’s just not a perfect world. At least take a general one. You might also look into probiotics and enzymes, as well as others that suit your individual needs. I love New Chapter and MegaFood, for starters, because they are organic and whole food-derived. Nordic Naturals is a great option for fish oil, another super addition to your daily regimen!! (Quality is critical with fish oil, given all the toxic crud. It’s critical with fish in general, but know that toxins are that much more concentrated in the oil.)
  • Cut down on animal! Explore all the millions of other options out there. Be adventurous. Try new recipes! Clearly there are infinite reasons for this, way beyond balancing your pH.
  • Stop with the sugar. At least try to eat less of the refined, poor-quality, mass-produced stuff for a start. Use natural sweeteners. But the less sugar (of any kind) you eat the better. Challenge yourself! I’m sure you can go a week or two without any if you decide to.
  • RELAX. Find a way to release stress, whether it’s exercise, a hot bath or a massage… Whatever does it for you. Hopefully it’s not 3 glasses of whiskey at the end of the day. I think you know what I’m after – healthy relaxation. I didn’t say it has to be PG!
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Hopefully you get the Michael Pollan reference. The Omnivore’s Dilemma? In Defense of Food? If you looking at the computer screen with a confused look on your face, get up and run out the door to pick up one of his books ASAP.

Right then, on with the blog post… I noticed as I made my way through the grocery store today that I do not crave sugar at all. I never thought this was possible. I mean, I have kept my sugar addiction at bay and eaten a very healthy diet for the last several years, but no desire at all? Once upon a (recent) time, I was the craziest sugarholic I’d ever met. Lack of sugar cravings almost invariably meant that I was about to notice all the other symptoms that accompany the flu, in short order. Today I saw some of the things I would have HAD to get in the past and… nothing. I don’t know if this is because I told myself these foods are absolutely off limits, no if’s and’s or but’s; if it’s because I am too frightened of the consequences it will have, given my blood sugar issues, pushing me down the path toward full-blown diabetes; if the mood swings and digestive issues and the crap I know I will go through as a result has become that unpalatable; or if it’s simply because I haven’t had the evil starch in so long. I imagine it is a combination of all these things, but mostly the last point.

And I am absolutely not complaining one bit. I don’t miss it. The best part is that the experience gives me deeper insight in to what it takes to get away from sugar addiction, for me and for anyone else. Honestly, if I can kick the habit, anyone can kick the habit. Well… that may not be fair, but certainly almost anyone. There are so many strategies, substitutions, remedies. Exercise, stay hydrated, don’t let yourself get too hungry, make healthy sweet treats at home, the list goes on and on and on. The ‘suck it up and just don’t eat for a couple weeks’ strategy works for some people. Sugar, if you are really dedicated to the cause, will not beat you. Or me!

I made the simplest dinner that perfectly fulfilled my need for comfort food. One of my favorite meals used to be pasta with pesto, preferably gnocchi but I wasn’t about to argue with regular white pasta either. Today? Who needs the pasta?! This was delicious, I did not feel like I was missing a thing!

Spinach and Buckwheat with Pesto

Ingredients

2T olive oil
1/2 small onion
1/8 (approx.) cup raw cheese
2 cups chopped fresh spinach
1/2 cup whole grain buckwheat (pre-cooked)
pesto (to taste)*
*Note I usually make my own pesto with nothing but fresh basil, olive oil, pine nuts and the slightest bit of sea salt; but today I cheated with an organic, store-bought version with the same ingredients.

Directions

Heat olive oil in a pan and throw in onions. Cook for five minutes or until softened. Throw in sprinkling of cheese, spinach and buckwheat and cover for one minute, until spinach is just wilted. Quickly turn off stove and mix all ingredients together. Do not over-cook.

This was honestly so delicious and hit the spot. If you have a better tolerance than I do, of course you will want to have fresh white pasta from time to time, and you should enjoy it! But try using whole grains as a substitute now and then. Or even better, often. Even whole wheat pasta is processed, the closer you can get to the way nature intended (whole grains) is best. And when you do feel the craving, try to have more sauce than pasta. I’m certain some people will disagree or think I’m crazy, but I never understood the concept of eating a large plate of mostly white pasta with just a teeny bit of marinara sauce. The tomato sauce is the best part! Make tomato sauce with tons of veggies, even sausage or some other meat if that’s your thing – and make the pasta just another ingredient rather than the main one. The plain ol’ pasta doesn’t offer you much, at least once it gets past your taste buds.

When Michael Pollan said ‘eat food’ he meant eat it in the form of food, like the edible kind, not as in the kind that comes from a box or a can. His rules are pretty simple. Don’t eat too much? Pretty straightforward. I realize people may find this part easier said than done, but it’s a LOT easier to control how much you eat when you aren’t loading up on sugar. I think the last part, ‘mostly plants’, is the most important part. If you are eating a heap of raw vegetables, no one is going to tell you you really should be watching your portion size. What is better than vegetables? They are delicious, available in a wide variety and ridiculously healthy for you, giving you energy and well-being. What’s not to love? You violently chew them up and swallow them without mercy and they just give back! Incorporate more of them and make everything else a side show.

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Ah titles… not my strong suit. I really just don’t go the extra mile to come up with good ones and I don’t see that changing. Hopefully you will just roll your eyes and trust that there will be some good content despite the title. (And even more hopefully, there is some good content!)

Wwowwww. I am so excited about this dessert. I have yet to see a healthier truffle, and they are so easy to make and SO tasty. The best part is they are even rich, like a gourmet store-bought truffle, so you can eat one (or two) and not feel the need to stuff ten more down your face. No seriously, it’s not because they taste bad, they really are delicious! Maybe it’s just that I haven’t had anything resembling sugar in so long that my taste buds are out of whack. But I’m not going to argue with that, that is fine with me – I’d like to see us all have that problem! Take a look…

Date Truffles (adapted from Edible Nutrition)

Ingredients

15 pitted dates
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1 cup almonds
1 tablespoons coconut oil
1/8 cup water (to texture)
cinnamon for dusting (optional)
coconut for dusting (optional)
Directions
Mix ingredients in a food processor. Add water gradually until you reach desired texture. Pull apart about a teaspoon size of mixture and roll into a ball.  Dust with cinnamon or coconut, or just eat them plain!

Now, I’m not advocating eating these for every meal. There are dates in the recipe and, therefore, sugar but this is an excellent option when you are craving a delicious chocolate treat.

And now for something unrelated to chocolate… if that should interest you at all… People seemed to like the tip on upcoming movie Forks over Knives, so I thought I would share another worthwhile health-related thing I did this week. This one you can enjoy now (I think)! The other night I was lucky enough to preview a new exhibit at the Natural History Museum.

There was a lot going on and I didn’t get to spend as much time as I’d like going through it, so I will definitely be going back. It was informative, not boring at all and pretty extensive. And, obviously, there is all sorts of other cool stuff to see once you are there. Oh, and it’s a LOT warmer in the museum than it is outside, so… good winter activity!

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Sugar and spice and everything nice! Isn’t that what they say girls are made of? I’ve always had the spice, there’s never been doubt about that. I think it came naturally with my hair color; redheads and their tempers, you know… it’s not my fault, it’s my genes. But sugar? I’ve got a whole heck of a lot of sugar coursing through my veins and I’m not sure there’s much nice about that! Having had digestion issues for years, I always knew starch and sugar were issues for me but now I’ve got the concreteness of a blood test. (A few of them, actually! I was sort of wondering if they were going to leave any blood in my arm. They did, fortunately.) Pre-diabetes. The crazy wacko part is that I eat so little sugar by normal standards!! If I ate like the average American I’d be diabetic for sure. Well, OK same with most people, but… In any case, being thin, athletic and careful about my diet, I was sure I had a food intolerance of some kind or bacteria or or or… I was not about to guess that my blood sugar was through the roof. But I’m nipping it in the bud! (About a decade after I started noticing the symptoms, but let’s focus on the positive.) Look at the healthy start to my day! Leftovers from my dinner last night were eeeeven better this morning…

Raw vegan lasagna a la quinoa mixed with healthy stuff. Mmm plenty of energy for my workout and just enough to get me through to lunch. Or at least to the green juice I had just before lunch. Ah lunch… my favorite salad from Peacefood Cafe. Pure angelic goodness.

Well, so it’s not the answer I was hoping for but at least I have a cause for my troubles. Which means I can address them. Finally. Weeding out all the possible culprits is the hardest part. Eating healthier and more regularly, exercising vigilantly, staying hydrated, etc. etc. (oooh yes the list goes on) etc. That’s my game! At least I have the tools and I’m not afraid to use ’em. So, goodbye sugar and starchiness. I don’t think I’ll miss you. It may be a pain sometimes but hey I’ll be the healthiest one in the room!

It goes to show that generalizing is never a good idea. Just because you don’t have all the signs doesn’t mean something isn’t worth investigating. I was on the right track but I and my doctors must have made assumptions that kept us from looking in exactly the right place.

Now I just have a really good reminder to be vigilant about treating my body right. Just to give you a few of the basics, if you are pre-diabetic (or diabetic for that matter), you should… Well, you should seek professional help but in addition to that: Exercise regularly. Stay the heck away from sugar and it’s cronies. Yes that includes alcohol, but paired with the proper meal you don’t need to worry too much about having some now and then. Says me. No processed food, yuck. Lots of fiber. Stay hydrated. Eat regularly. You don’t want your blood sugar (and it’s co-worker insulin) levels all over the place, nor do the people hanging out with you.

Dinner hasn’t happened yet so you will have to imagine what my final meal of the day looks like. I think you’ll be OK. Oh! But I do have one final goodie for you. I was craving something along the lines of macaroni and cheese and I had nothing resembling pasta. I had some leftover wheat berries in the fridge and some raw cheese, though. That’s it. Stuck it in a pan to warm it up with a little bit of cheese and… voila! Craving satiated!

Of course I’m not trying to say this was just like eating the most decadent version of macaroni and cheese, but it definitely did it for me. There are countless simple ways to make comfort food so much healthier for you. Any other favorites?

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Ah food cravings… why can’t they ever be for things like steamed kale or raw broccoli spears? No no. Of course, the most common craving known to man – actually it seems to be more often woman, no fair! – is for something sweet.  I suppose there are evolutionary reasons behind it but that hardly helps us now, does it. Well, the good news is there are plenty of current, easily explained reasons for it now too. This is especially good news because it means there are ways to manage these cravings and use them to our benefit rather than let them be our downfall. With a little practice it’s not even that difficult! If I can get over my cravings for sweets, trust me, anyone can.

The truth is that cravings really are – no, really – our friend. They do happen for a reason, our bodies are trying to tell us something! We just need to figure out what that message is. If you just ate something salty, your body may be trying to compensate with something sweet to balance itself out. Heck, maybe you just ate something sweet – sugar is addictive so having some doesn’t help much in alleviating the craving, it just makes you want more! You could be craving nutrients that you aren’t getting or your hormones could be out of whack. Have you ever tried drinking water when you crave sweets – maybe you are just thirsty. Maybe it’s not even biology-related, perhaps you are just bored! Sometimes we crave that immediate satisfaction that we know we are going to get from that sweet, melt-in-your-mouth cupcake. And sometimes it’s a much bigger issue, something we are missing in our lives on a deeper level. All of these are things we can deal with!

The biggest problem today is that what was once sweet is no longer so sweet. Our ancestors may have had sweet cravings, but I think we can be pretty sure they were not looking for Jelly Bellies or Coke. They found sweetness in fruits and vegetables, even grains. Well, we can too! It’s just a matter of adjusting how we eat. Try adding more fruits and sweet vegetables to your diet. OK, sometimes you just really want a tasty dessert, try using a replacement for sugar like raw honey or agave nectar. (Try the recipes below!) Are you just bored? Try doing something else that will bring you pleasure without taking in calories! There are tons of strategies for overcoming that overwhelming desire for candies, cookies and other desserts. It really is worth it for your health. Despite their bad name, there is increasing evidence that sugar may be more of a culprit than dietary cholesterol and fat when it comes to cardiovascular disease. You only get one body, take care of it!

Gluten Free Coconut Macaroons

6 egg whites
¼ teaspoon celtic sea salt
½ cup agave nectar or honey
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
1. In a mixing bowl whisk egg whites and salt until stiff
2. Fold in agave, vanilla and coconut
3. Drop batter onto a parchment lined baking sheet, one rounded tablespoonful at a time
4. Pinch each macaroon at the top (like a kiss)
5. Bake at 350° for 10-15 minutes, until lightly browned

Raw Brownie Bites

1 cup almonds
1/4 cup cacao powder
1/4 cup raw honey or agave nectar
1/3 cup flax seeds or flax seed meal
2 T coconut oil
1 small pinch of vanilla extract
1 small pinch of Himalayan sea salt
Dash of cinnamon (optional)
Place all ingredients in food processor until combined, roll into balls and refrigerate or freeze for storage. Serve cold from the fridge.

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