Healthy Holiday Traditions: Apple Pie

It’s hard to stay healthy through the holidays without feeling deprived when everyone around you is indulging in fat, sugar and salt. What if I told you that you could still indulge in a holiday favorite like apple pie? Would you believe me?

I’ve got a traditional dessert that is so good, even your pickiest guests would love. Here’s my personal recipe for whole foods, plant-based, dairy-free, wheat-free, oil-free, no-sweetener added (only sweetened with fruit), baked apple pie. 

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Pie crust

1 1/2 – 2 cups Medjool dates, pitted

1 1/4 cup raw almonds

1 cup raw walnuts

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon of ground nutmeg

Add almonds and walnuts into a food processor and pulse until finely ground. Add remaining ingredients and process until fully combined. Take half of the mixture and press into a pie pan, being sure to cover the sides and doing your best to maintain even thickness all around. Bake the crust for 5 minutes at 350 degrees and let cool completely. 

Pie filling

4 apples, peeled and sliced into thin wedges (1/4 – 1/2 inch thick) (I use 2 Pink Lady and 2 Honeycrisp apples if available, but you can use any apple combination you prefer)

1 1/2 – 2 cups of date paste*

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

*date paste: soak 4 cups of pitted Medjool dates in a large bowl either overnight or use near-boiling water and cover bowl. Add dates to food processor with a 1/2 cup of the soaking water. Process until smooth, adding more soaking water as needed. 

ImageAdd all ingredients into a medium-large saucepan and heat covered on medium –
medium/low heat until apples are softened, approximately 10 – 15 minute, stirring occasionally. Let mixture cool to room temperature and then pour into pie crust. Take the other half of the pie crust mixture place it on a cutting board covered with parchment paper. Add small amounts of water to the mixture until it can be kneaded like dough. Put another piece of parchment paper on top so that you can use a rolling pin without it sticking. Roll out the “dough” until it’s large enough to cover the pie. Carefully roll onto rolling pin and unroll onto the pie. Use a fork to press the edges all around and poke 4-6 holes on top to allow heat to escape. Bake pie for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Serve and enjoy!

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This recipe is fun an is open to personal adjustments. Share how you tweaked it to suit your needs. 

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Planning Ahead is the Key to Healthy Eating

“Plan ahead” is something we have been told all throughout our lives. It’s not always possible to plan ahead for certain things but I have found that in my own life, it’s essential for me to stay on track with healthy eating.

Try to think of the times you have given in and eaten something not so healthy. Were you starved? In a rush? Did you make up excuses about needed something quick?

All these excuses could be remedied just by planning ahead.

Five Tips for Planning Ahead:

1. Prepare your breakfast, lunch, and snacks the night before. Doing this will prepare you for the occasional alarm mishap that has you scrambling to get to work in 10 minutes. I have heard of people filling up their blender container with all the ingredients for a green smoothie and sticking it in the fridge so it’s ready to go the next morning. Also, packing your snacks and lunch will keep you on track at work.

2. Keep healthy snacks in your work area. I always have fruit or nuts with me so that when I start to get hungry I can munch on something before I get desperate. Another good tip is to eat a snack right before you leave work. If you do this, it’s less likely that you’ll arrive home starved, with very little patience to prepare a healthy meal.

3. Make things easy on the weekends. By washing, cutting, and prepping your produce on the weekends, you can make it much easier to prepare meals during the week. Also, this will allow you to plan out your meals so that nothing goes to waste.

4. Prepare for dinners out. If you know the restaurant you will be eating at, look at the menu online. If you can’t find anything healthy then make sure to eat a large salad prior to heading out. Doing this will prevent you from overeating unhealthy foods and will make it even more likely that you will stick to your healthy eating plan.

5. Don’t be caught off guard at family functions. If you know your family doesn’t eat as healthy as you, don’t ignore this. Eat beforehand or offer to bring something. This will give you the opportunity to have something healthy to eat as well as share that dish with your friends and family. Who knows? They might get hooked!

What are your tips and tricks for planning ahead?

Make it Healthier: Lentil Soup

When your are trying to eat healthier, you don’t always have to reach for the health cookbooks. Your favorite recipes, and even new recipes you have been dying to try, can be changed around to be healthier. From now on, I am going to start posting some of the recipes I have changed and the estimated impact on their nutritional values.

In Gainesville, I got very involved with soups. I made all kinds of soups, but one of my favorites is lentil soup. I found this recipe on the food network but I wasn’t thrilled about all the ingredients. I try to use very little meat, if any, in the dishes I cook at home. Making something vegetarian is an easy way to get rid of calories and fat in a meal. I also changed the kind of broth and the quantity to help reduce sodium. I added no extra salt and added black pepper to taste. This makes approximately 11, 1 cup servings.

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons of olive oil

4 large celery stalks, sliced

3 large carrots, peeled and sliced

1 large white onion, chopped

6 garlic cloves, chopped

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves

1 1/2 teaspoons of dried oregano

4 cups of low sodium organic vegetable broth

4 cups of water

2 (14-ounce) cans of diced tomatoes (basil, garlic, oregano flavored) in juice

1 bag (about 14 ounces) of lentils, rinsed

Directions:

Saute the onions, celery, carrots, garlic, oregano, and rosemary in the olive oil until the onions are translucent. Add the vegetable broth, water, and tomatoes with their juice. Bring it to a boil and then add the lentils. Reduce to a simmer, and cover. It should take about 40 minutes for the lentils to become tender. Add black pepper to taste and serve.

Approximate calculations of nutritional value per 1 cup serving:

Calories: 144

Fat: 2 g

Saturated Fat: 0.3 g

Sodium: 422 mg

Carbohydrates: 30 g

Fiber: 12 g

Sugar: 4 g

Protein: 10 g

Comparing this to the original recipe you are avoiding approximately 126 calories, 506 mg of sodium, 5 g of fat, 2 g of saturated fat, 57 mg of cholesterol per serving! You could take this recipe even further by purchasing canned tomatoes with no salt added and by skipping the sautéing part by cooking the vegetables in the broth or by sautéing and draining the oil prior to adding the broth.

These strategies can be used in tackling all your favorite recipes. Even though you may not think that it makes a huge difference, every little bit matters.

Happy cooking everyone!

***Keep in mind, these are approximations based on brands I have used and the brands I have compared them too. The above figures are just to give you an estimation of the benefits of making these changes.

Addictions…

When you think of the word addiction, what comes to mind? Heroin, cigarettes, prescription drugs? Most of us would think that we are not addicts because we do not use any of those kinds of substances, but I am here to say that there are addictions beyond the obvious ones. I am coming out and saying I was addicted to soda.

Just because something is not illegal or because it is a part of our everyday lives does not mean excessive use is not an addiction. Researchers are finding that addictions to fast food, candy, soda, etc. are very much real, just as any drug addiction. The study demonstrated how animals who were fed a high fat diet had clear changes in their dopamine receptors causing them to become more compulsive eaters. The animals also refused to eat healthy food even when that was the only kind of food given.

So what is the big deal about dopamine receptors? Dopamine receptors are in charge of managing the body’s pleasure responses to drugs, foods, alcohol, etc. so when we indulge again and again, the body starts reducing the number of these receptors. The big problem with this is as the number of receptors decreases, we need to increase the amount we intake in order to get that same pleasure response. Are you starting to see how you can be addicted to that cheeseburger and how it is very similar to drug and alcohol addictions?

Currently, I do not eat fast food very often but my one addiction has always been soda. I have never gotten to the point of drinking various 2-liters a day, but for most of my life I have drank 1-2 cans a day. I have tried to quit drinking soda but just like a drug, I relapsed again and again. I realized that to quit soda I had to do it gradually.

First, I stopped drinking soda at home. This was pretty easy because if you realize when you crave things like soda it is usually when you are out to eat at a restaurant, or eating really greasy foods at a fast food joint. You will quickly find that water goes just fine along side a healthy meal you prepare yourself. I then started eliminating the soda I drank when I was out. You have no idea how hard it is to resist the value meal option at Subway! I actually had them give me water in the same cups they serve soda so I could trick my brain. This was actually pretty helpful.

The biggest advice I can give about any addiction (and I used this myself with soda), is something I picked up from a past drug addict talking on The Doctors show. He said that every time he had a craving, he would urge himself to wait until tomorrow to get his fix. He told himself that he would get through today and have his fix tomorrow. By the time tomorrow came, the urgency was no longer there and he could keep on. It sounds silly but it really works. Next time you are going to go get ice cream, tell yourself you will get it tomorrow and watch the days between servings increase!

Although I still have the occasional soda, I am definitely not addicted to it anymore. I hope that you all are inspired to break one addiction you have today!

Granola: Health Food or Health Hazard

As a kid, I definitely had my share of granola bars. I have flirted with all the different flavors, but have been committed to the chocolate chip chewy granola bars. I have also never been concerned with the contents of the bars, because granola is supposed to be good for you right? I have come to find that this is not always the case.

The basics of granola are simple: whole grain rolled oats and honey, toasted in the oven. Sometimes nuts, dried fruit, and seeds are added as well. Granola is an amazing source of whole grains and can provide protein, phosphorus, iron, zinc, copper, magnesium, etc. etc. depending on the kind you get.

Look at your box of granola bars and count how many extra ingredients it contains. How many of those ingredients are sugar in one form or another? Pretty shocking right? So now we see yet another really amazing health food, get drowned in so many bad ingredients that you might as well pick up a Kit Kat bar.

The goal with granola is to make sure it is organic, contains no trans fats, is sweetened naturally, and contains no artificial preservatives, flavors, or colors. If you follow those tips, you are likely to find a product that is extremely good for you. If this does not sound appetizing and all you can picture is chewing on a tree branch I promise you, granola is for everyone.

Today I ventured out to try loose granola (in a bag and not packed into bars) to see if it is even edible. I went to my local grocery store and picked up Back to Nature’s Apple Blueberry granola.

It satisfies all the requirements and it was delicious! I ate it right out of the bag and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The best part, is that each 1/2 cup serving size contains 38g of whole grains which brings you much closer to the recommended 48g a day than my favorite granola bar would (containing only 18g).

Although you may think healthy granola is out of reach, this bag (8 servings worth) was $3.59, less than your Starbucks coffee. It may still be tempting to buy that giant box of fruity sugary cereal for that same price or less but remember, what you save now on price, you may be paying for it later with your health. My suggestion: pay a little more now for a great source of whole grains, no trans fats, and reduced sugar content.

And if you are still obsessed with the idea of granola in bar form, there are tons of great recipes online to make your own. Making your own granola bars guarantees that you know what is in it and you can control how much sugar you are adding.

So what is the verdict? Granola is definitely a health food if done right. Enjoy granola, your body will thank you.

Quinoa, the Protein Disguised as a Grain

So I have decided that my first post will be about quinoa.

I first came across quinoa when it was presented on The Doctors television show as one of the healthiest food items. I quickly began reading about it and was presently surprised. Quinoa is 100% whole grain, wheat free, gluten free, and it contains all the essential amino acids so it is considered a complete protein. It is also an excellent source of fiber, iron, phosphorus, and riboflavin. Basically quinoa is the perfect side dish (replacing rice, pasta, etc.) to all those who vegetarian (who are always looking for different ways to get their daily protein), allergic to wheat or gluten, or to someone who is just looking for a healthier option.

Quinoa is also a joy to prepare. It cooks extremely fast on the stove, in a rice cooker, or even in the microwave, and it readily absorbs the flavors you cook it in.

Below is a picture of how I prepared quinoa this evening:

I cooked it on the stove in low sodium chicken broth and once cooked mixed in a dressing of fresh thyme, dried oregano, black pepper, extra virgin olive oil, and lemon juice.

I know it does not look very appetizing but I promise it is delicious! Imagine really tiny grains of rice but with more of a bite to it. If you cannot imagine what it would be like (or even if you can) I strongly recommend trying this out.

I was able to find the above box at my local grocery store (which is not the most health food friendly store) so I imagine that it is becoming readily available at most stores. I located it in the organic foods aisle but if your store does not have one, it could probably be found among the rice and pastas. If you cannot find it in stores it is widely available online as well.

It paid around $4 for the box but each box contains approximately 7-8 servings. Not a bad deal for an organic, 100% whole grain, complete protein, extremely healthy option.

I strongly suggest trying out quinoa and incorporating it into your diet. If you have had quinoa before or were convinced to try a new recipe let me know how it turned out. I love hearing about new ways to cook the things I love.