• bite-sized challenge: sugar SOS

    June 2, 2010

    I’m back with another task for Noelle, this one to challenge my ugliest, most stubborn food demon.  Here’s how Noelle would like to feel:

    I rarely eat refined sugar – my diet contains only natural sugars.

    Yep, me too.  Sugar cravings have plagued me for life.  I’d like to take the favorite cop-out and blame it on my family.  I was born into a Cuban American household, so this meant that as soon as I was weaned I went straight onto café con leche with generous spoonfuls of the sweet stuff – cue Beastie Boys: “I like my sugar with coffee and cream!”

    But here’s the thing: humans are born liking sweet stuff for a perfectly good reason.  It’s the form we choose that’s the problem.  Our sweet tooth is there to instigate an appetite for juicy fruit – and the natural sugars in them.  The natural sugars are of course diluted with the heavy water content in fresh, whole fruit – quite different from anything processed or even from dried fruit.

    So here’s Noelle’s challenge: she needs to keep a big, beautiful bowl in both her kitchen and office and make sure they’re always filled with whole fruit.  The more colors, the better.  The assortment should be as alluring as candy, and it should be in season if possible.

    Then she must allow herself to eat from them freely.  That’s right, if she wants to down a bunch of bananas in one sitting, go for it.  An entire tub of strawberries?  Eat up, girl.  It’s a free for all.  The only rule is that she allow the fruit to be as ripe as possible so that it’s also as sweet as can be.  Contrary to what one might think, eating lots of fruit (as part of a healthy lifestyle) does not cause unhealthy fluctuations in blood sugar – again, the water content in whole, fresh fruit takes care of that.

    Noelle will be posting her feelings and feedback over the next two weeks in the comments section.  Hopefully, you’ll follow along, too.

    Ready?  Sweet!

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  • a return to suburbia and super-sizing

    September 25, 2009

    tropicalsmoothiecafe

    I wish I had put something for scale in this photograph, but this smoothie wasn’t much shorter than that fire extinguisher behind it.

    It was 11am, my mom and I were shopping for yoga pants*, and it was blazing hot outside.  Hence the smoothie stop.

    The Tropical Smoothie Cafe, funnily enough, has as many chicken salads on the menu as it does smoothies.  This one, “Sunny Day,” was a mix of mango, kiwi, orange, and banana.  Oh, and something they forgot to mention: a 2-ounce scoop of turbinado sugar.  How do I know?  Little chat with the manager during the 1/2 hour it took to finish the thing.

    The nice manager insisted that this little addition was not at all like regular sugar.  Let me check.

    Wikipedia:  Turbinado sugar, also known as turbinated sugar, is made from sugar cane extract. It is produced by crushing freshly cut sugar cane; the juice obtained is evaporated by heat, then crystallized.

    Hmm, sounds like sugar to me.

    It’s sad that Tropical Smoothie Cafe thinks it needs to add sugar to fruit.  It’s sad that we’ve become so hooked on processed sugar that perhaps their market researchers deemed fruit-only smoothies not profitable.  What else could be the reason?

    Lesson learned: always ask what’s in your smoothie. Even if there’s a menu.

    *I’m going to yoga teacher training next week!  An intensive, one-month immersion program in an ashram on two meals a day.  Stay tuned.

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  • an almost-sinful sweet offer

    May 28, 2009

    My friend Kim pointed out that my entry about snacking smart was a little too holy.  She also questioned the pecan pie-ness of a nut-stuffed date.

    What Kim didn’t know is that I already had this post up my sleeve, and that I sometimes have four nut-stuffed dates in a row.

    Sugary foods have always been a weakness for me, and I’m certain it comes from the days of discovering dulce de leche in my lunch box and Aunt Jemima syrup-drenched pancakes when I came home from school.  Since then, whenever I need some TLC my first instinct is to reach for the CCC (chocolate-chip cookies).  I had such a sweet tooth that I took my craving to the extreme and trained as a patisserie chef at Le Cordon Bleu.  Of course, I now use that knowledge to create sugar-free treats; and I’ll keep sharing the love in the recipes section.

    The temporary rush that comes from concentrated sugar sources is just that: temporary.  But the damage that can result from chronically elevated or highly fluctuating blood glucose isn’t.  And that’s precisely why I decided to make my first snacking post about keeping blood-sugar levels in check.  As I’ve mentioned before, we tend to go for sweets both out of habit and because our bodies are starved of nutrients despite a high consumption of food.  Refined sugar, in the end, doesn’t feed our bodies any more than it does our hearts.

    Green Appetite is about being as healthy and happy as we can while keeping it real.  And yes, sometimes (ok, often) we want something a little more jazzed up than fruit and nuts.  Thankfully, there’s no reason to give up one of my favorite temptations: chocolate.  But I’ve learned to enjoy it in a new form.  Cacao, or raw chocolate, is not only buzzing with anti-oxidants, but the sweet people who make it tend to sweeten it with agave – a natural nectar that’s low on the glycemic index.  Interestingly, agave comes from the same plant that tequila is made from.

    A couple of weeks ago, my dairy-free, sugar-free Dulce de Leche won recipe of the month at Crazy Sexy Life, Kris Carr’s very cool site all about total wellbeing.  Lucky me, a few days later I was greeted by a box all the way from North Carolina full of UliMana goodies as my prize.  It happened to coincide with the lead-up to the launch of this site, so it was perfect timing to get me through the last-minute crunch.  UliMana makes hard-to-believe-they’re-raw chocolate treats sweetened naturally with dates and agave.  I’m still eating their to-live-for Truffle Butter straight out of the tub.  Thanks again to UliMana and Crazy Sexy Life for making the launch a whole lot tastier.

    On this side of the pond, I bumped into a wonderful little company called Nibchoc after scouring the Real Food Festival in London for some raw chocolate.  I instantly became smitten by the ticklish texture and chocolatey explosion in these; I just wanted to keep nib-nibbling away.  And guess what?  Eloise at Nibchoc is offering you, hungry healthy reader, three Nibchoc bites in a variety of flavors FREE with your first online order.  Just pick your treats and be sure to enter “Green Appetite offer” in the comments box when you check out online.

    The great thing about raw chocolate is that it’s like super chocolate; the taste is so rich, you really only need a little bit.  Honest.

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  • are you snacking smart?

    May 25, 2009

    One of the most important aspects of sticking to a healthy diet is having no-brainer, good-for you snacks on hand at all times. Keeping your blood sugar levels stable is key to maintaining optimal energy levels between meals and controlling cravings, so the ideal snack is rich in fiber and low on the glycemic index.  Luckily, whole, plant-based foods are just the ticket.

    I always keep a stash of cashews (raw unsalted!) and fruit on me when I’m on the go.  Dried fruit can spike your blood sugar and should be eaten in moderation, so having a handful of nuts along with them is a much better option and keeps things interesting.  One of my favorite snacks is simply tucking a Brazil nut or almond into a pitted date – it tastes like pecan pie!  You can pre-prep these and put them in a re-sealable (reusable) bag to carry with you.  They’ll keep well in an office desk and in your car, too.  Use common sense in especially hot weather, but you’ll probably want fresh fruit during those occasions anyway.

    When shopping for dried fruit, read the labels closely to make sure you’re not buying a bag of preservatives.  Most health-food stores stock sulphur-free dried fruit; you just have to look for it.  You can also make up a batch of my Trail Less Traveled Mix and change up the dried fruit or leave it out altogether.  Dried cranberries are a nice variation; just make sure they’re not marked “sugar infused.”

    While dried fruit is certainly handy, Mother Nature does know best; and fruit eaten in its natural form is always superior.  After all, dried fruit doesn’t grow on trees and is high on the glycemic index because it’s missing the necessary water that nature packages beautifully in fresh fruit.  The same principle applies to juicing: the fibrous pulp in whole fruit keeps the sugars moving nice and slowly through the body rather than causing a rapid rise in blood glucose.  Therefore, save for an emergency energy lift, it’s much better to have a blended smoothie than stripped fruit, a.k.a. juice.  Green juice, on the other hand, is a great, quick way to get a ton of alkalizing phytochemicals into the body with minimal sugar.  Still, I much prefer my luscious smoothies!  In fact, I don’t even own a juicer.

    The high water content in fresh, whole fruit not only results in a lower concentration of sugar; it also means you’ll feel fuller faster and stay full longer.  Fresh fruit digests very quickly, causing other foods (especially fats) to sit in the stomach and ferment.  More on food combining in a future post, but for now just remember to try to eat fruit on an empty stomach and at least 20 minutes before a fat, starch or protein.  Berries, plums and apples are especially low on the glycemic index.  Bananas take a little longer to digest (about 45 minutes). They’re also perfectly portable and my on-the-go fruit of choice.  Make sure they’re ripe; lots of brown spots and no green tops are good.

    Speaking of portability, I treasure my Ziploc bags because my mom sends them to me from the US, but I only need about a box or two a year because I simply wash them out and re-use them.  I use and reuse the larger-sized bags to freeze fruit for making smoothies.  Similarly, I rarely buy stuff in plastic containers – preferring the bulk bins at the health-food store – but when I do I make sure to wash them out and put them to work storing nuts, sprouts, snacks and leftovers.

    On a similar note, I’ve just returned from a family reunion in Madrid and will be posting tips soon for healthier traveling along with a summery Spanish recipe, so please stay tuned!  Also, don’t forget to join the Facebook group if you haven’t already.  Happy low-sugar snacking, amigos.  Hasta la proxima.

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