“Sugar is one of the most refined foods we consume daily, and it’s a marker for processed foods in the American diet.  Our sugar consumption has gone from a few teaspoons a week in the early 19th century to 100 POUNDS A YEAR TODAY!” http://www.eatingrules.com/2012/10/hidden-sugar-in-our-diets/

That statistic alone is frightening enough to stray from sugar, without even knowing the dangers that come along with sugar.  This blog does a great job of  explaining all of the aspects of sugar, how much to consume, other ways to consume sugar, where it hides, what to look for etc.  It is a great basic guide to sugar in our foods.

I am sure you have all heard of empty calories before, well that is exactly what sugar is.  This article explains the process of refined sugar.  I learned that refined sugar is depleted of its life forces, vitamins and minerals.  What is left afterwards is pure, refined carbohydrates.  The body can’t utilize this refined carb unless the depleted proteins, vitamins and minerals are present.  Which is what leads to the name ‘empty’ calories.  However, sugar is worse than just being ‘nothing’ as the nickname would imply because it drains the body’s vitamins and minerals during its digestion, detoxification and elimination process.  The article that informed me of all of this goes on to explain a lot more in much more detail and if you have some time it’s certainly worth the read.  It’s good to be informed about what is being put into your body.  

As I am sure you have guessed… there is an unrefined substitution to this problem.  Fortunately for me, I am not a huge sweet tooth person, when I am craving something sweet a piece of fruit will usually cure me.  Right now I am loving the Clementine’s, they are in season and the perfect sweetness and tang all in one, they have become my go to snack.  However, there are situations where recipes will call for sugar or you just plain need to use sugar for something, and if that is the case go unrefined!  There are so many options such as ‘sugar in the raw’ or ‘agave nectar’ just to name a few, and they are so easy to find now and days with their popularity on the rise.  Even starbucks has ‘sugar in the raw’ packets!  So make the change.

This article explains the differences between refined and unrefined sugar, and as I am sure you could conclude on your own, the unrefined sugar has not be stripped of its minerals and nutrients. Raw sugar contains roughly eleven calories per teaspoon and has the same vitamin and mineral consistency that is found in the juice from the sugarcane plant. These minerals include Phosphorus, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, and Potassium. In addition, when sugar is refined and processed there are many harmful ingredients that are added to the sugar as a result. Unrefined raw sugar does not have these harmful chemicals.

A big issue with sugar is that it is hidden in our foods.  We all know that cakes and cookies are filled with sugars so we can steer clear of them, but you would be surprised to know how much sugar can be hidden in other items, 1 because you just wouldn’t think to see how much sugar was in the item and 2 because it hides under different names.  Check this article, out it lists 10 foods that are classified as ‘healthy’ but loaded with sugars, such as salad dressing, protein bars, granola, iced tea, dried fruits, milk and more.  

This article motivated me to take a look around my house…. don’t freak out just yet most of these items that I looked at are my roommates, but it certainly made it easy to see just how much sugar really is in these items.  I took a look at just some typical items that my roommates consume regularly and I could not believe how much sugar was in some of these items. (make sure to look at the serving size as well, and think of how large of a serving you usually use in comparison to this, ex: the cereal, I certainly eat more than 3/4 a cup of cereal)

Honey bunches of oats

Honey Bunches of Oats 6 grams of sugar for 3/4

Fat free milk

Fat free milk 12 grams of sugar for 1 cup!!

Prego light tomato sauce

Prego light tomato sauce 7 grams of sugar for 1/2 a cup!

Tropicana 50 Orange Juice (50% less sugar and fat)

Tropicana 50 Orange Juice (50% less sugar and fat) 10 grams of sugar for 8 fl oz! Imagine how much is in regular orange juice

The online nursing program put together an infographic that really puts the American sugar usage into perspective.  Take a look at it below.

Nursing Your Sweet Tooth
Created by: www.OnlineNursingPrograms.com

I decided to measure out the 10 tsp of sugar that is in one can of coke just to see exactly how much that is, and then once I did that I decided to add 22 more tsp to see how much sugar children are consuming everyday.  If you are a visual learner like I am maybe this well help you grasp just how much sugar that actually is.

10 TBSP of sugar

10 tsp of sugar

32 TBSP of sugar

32 tsp of sugar

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This Sunday morning I decided to be experimental.  I keep seeing bloggers talking about making their own condiments, sure I have followed recipes for dinner and have been creative with my own instant oatmeal, but I haven’t gone as far as to make my own ketchups and peanut butters yet.  I decided to step up to the plate and give it a try; I was going to make my own butter. This seemed to be pretty easy, and buying butter can get expensive! The only ingredient was cream and all I had to do was shake, couldn’t be that hard, right?  I got the idea for doing this from a woman who posted about her experience with making her own butter.  It didn’t provide me with much information about what type of cream to use, was there anything more to this or did all I really have to do is shake?  So I googled another recipe, a little bit more detailed but still the basics, add cream to a jar and shake shake shake!

Well… it certainly couldn’t have been any more straight forward, I poured the heavy whipping cream into the jar and I began to shake.

10 minutes: the liquid began to thicken but was certainly still liquid.

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15 minutes: a fluffy whipped cream like heavy whipping cream.  I was thinking is this it? Did I do it! But then I kept shaking.

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20 minutes: the consistency changed from smooth whipped cream like substance to cottage cheese looking clumps the substance was getting much thicker now

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25 minutes: we’ve got butter!! It really happened the butter and the buttermilk separated right before my eyes.  As I was shaking I could feel the substance change from one hard clump to a much smaller clump and the liquid buttermilk began to flow.  I opened up the jar poured out the buttermilk into a separate jar and was left with pure fresh butter.

photo

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I really can’t believe it that I made my own butter.  I went into this with my doubts.  Sure, it sounded easy but I don’t know was I really going to be able to make my own butter?  A WARNING the shaking was tough, after the first couple of minutes I was basically over it and ready to quit but as I could feel the consistency in the jar change I was motivated and it was really neat to watch! I would also suggest watching TV or having a conversation while shaking the cream.  I put on my favorite 30 minute television show (modern family) and by the time the show was over I had my own homemade butter.

The taste of this butter is SO fresh! I have never tasted homemade butter, you really can taste the difference, it’s not loaded with salts or sugars as it is when you buy it from the stores. I can’t wait to spread it on some bread in the morning for breakfast.  Perks of this process was that first it was really cool as well as that container of cream was $2.  I only used half of the container incase I messed up I would have more to try with, but if I had used the whole thing I would have had a decent amount of butter.  Sure the shaking may take time but the taste is definitely worth it!

Now that I have had success with my first homemade condiment I want to make more.  I got the idea for the butter, under the DIY Ingredients and How-to section of this blog.  There are so many options.  I am thinking ketchup next, as I know how loaded with sugar ketchup can be.

It is the time of the year for cookies and sweets.  How did I not think of that when I decided to start this diet?  Flour is a big NO especially the all purpose bleached flour.  This women’s health article about the difference between refined and unrefined carbohydrates draws a good realization as to what white flour is in our body.  Remember making paper mache as a kid, all you used was flour and water and it created the perfect sticky glue mixture, now think, that is what we are eating. 

Here is a site that will explain everything you want to know about refined white flour, how it is made, what is lost while it is made, the bleaching agents used and more.  It shocked me to hear that during the refining process, 14 different vitamins, 10 different minerals, and proteins are lost from the whole wheat but that’s not even the bad part.  The article goes on to explain the process of how the flour we buy in bags at the store comes to be.  Refined white flour is made from whole wheat grains by peeling off the entire husk and bran then crushing the white  grain.  Husk and bran are the most nutritious and fiber rich parts of the grain. The remaining part of grain is carbohydrate and not much else. Even the tiny bit of remaining nutrition in the part of grain is chemically bleached out. Then it is dried in the oven at high temperature which destroy any trace of nutrients that may remain there. When flour is chemically bleached, it is bleached similar to our clothes. As is so, bleaching leaves chemical residue in flour. So when a piece of white bread is eaten, chemical bleach residual in the flour is also eaten.

I must admit I love to bake, and I always used this flour to bake my cookies, breads, cakes etc.  Since I love to bake so much I have found a few replacements for unrefined flour.  It is very easy to find these recipes on the web or pre made mixes in the stores because gluten intolerance is so high now and days.  Here is a pre made mix that I have tried and really enjoyed. But here is a website with replacements for people with food allergies.  If you scroll to the bottom you will see the section on flour, there are different combinations for the different types of flour that you could use.  Give it a look.

As I was saying earlier, it is the season for cookies and candy.  So I decided the other morning that I was going to bake some cookies for the holidays.  We were all getting stressed with finals quickly approaching and who doesn’t love the smell of warm baking cookies in the oven and then the even better aftermath of eating them?  I found this recipe for almond butter dark chocolate chip cookies.  Don’t they sound delicious!

I have become a really big fan of almond butter. I grew up eating skippy reduced fat super chunky peanut butter, probably the worst kind I could eat.  I had at least a scoop if not more everyday, I LOVE peanut butter, so that was very hard for me because I have always known how bad peanut butter could be but just chose to ignore it.  Almond butter however is not too bad I have become accustomed to the taste.

Anyway, I baked the cookies and they were a huge hit! 

Almond-Butter-Dark-Chocolate-Chip-Cookies-13-1600x1200

Living in Boulder doesn’t necessarily make this diet easier, however, it makes access to the necessary foods and items easier.  We have an abundance of different organic, local, health food stores all within 10 minutes of each other.  As well as places like great harvest and others that bake fresh bread and serve organic foods.  It really is nice to live in a community with other health conscious people.  One of my favorite things in Boulder is the farmers market.  I love that you are eating locally and supporting your local farmers all while buying vegetables and fruits that have more nutritional value because they haven’t been tampered with so that they can travel for days across the country or from another country to get to you.

Unfortunately this is not farmers market season right now, but when it comes back I will know how to shop at a farmers market like a pro thanks to this article on ten tips for shopping at the farmers market. It offers up great ideas like to go toward the end of the market when venders are willing to lower the prices on things, and to commit to one farmers market only meal a week.  An important thing that was brought up was to choose fruits and vegetables that are seasonal, and to limit your recipes for the week based on what is in season. In grocery stores now and days nothing is seasonal anymore.  Berries are in the markets all year long, even though they certainly can not be grown in the winter, they are being flown in from other places.  This is just an example but so much produce in the stores now is constantly there.  Produce doesn’t change with the seasons anymore, it’s as if there are no seasons and everything can just be grown all of the time.

My family has an apartment in Boston because my dad works in the city during the week and then travels home to New Jersey on the weekends.  Now that my brother and I are older my mom goes up to the apartment more and my parents really enjoy it.  Living in a city can be very hard for grocery shopping however.  My dad found out that every weekend a few blocks from the apartment farmers from all over Massachusetts come in and set up a market with prices that can not be beat!  I got to experience this for the first time a few months ago when I was there in the summer.  I am looking to go to graduate school in Boston and live in the apartment. Knowing about this farmers market will certainly make eating healthy and at a good price much more doable for me.  Here are some pictures from the market, check out some of the price tags!

market

Market

Market

Market

I must admit I was a Pam user.  This has been a habit that has been very hard for me to break.  I had heard the controversy over some oils being better for you than others but I did not know the details that went into it.  I spent my morning the other day looking into this and boy was I shocked with all of the information that I found.

This blogger really explains which oils to avoid, which to use and the why’s of this.  You will have to scroll down to the picture of the milk and then begin reading the information to the left of the picture but from there down the information is important.  From just the first sentence Many of the oils used in the modern American diet are hazardous to our health, my attention was grabbed.  It was eye opening to realize how harmful spraying my pan everyday with Pam really could be, or how cooking and baking with vegetable oil really isn’t the best idea. Most oil’s on the grocery store shelf are processed, cleaned with chemicals, and most come from genetically modified corn, canola or soy. They are heated to very high temperatures during processing; this heat oxidizes the oils. Oxidation also creates free radicals that can damage the cells of our bodies so it is best to avoid them. The processing increases the shelf-life of the oils and removes most of the natural flavoring, making them more attractive for the industrial food industry, but less attractive to the consumer. Vegetable oils, like canola and corn oil, are usually made with genetically modified corn, canola, and soy.  FORTUNATELY there are some great substitutes, one of which is my new favorite, Coconut Oil.

The coconut oil that I have begun to use is nutiva organic extra virgin coconut oil.  As many online articles will explain coconut oil used to have a bad reputation but this is because what was being tested was hydrogenated coconut oil, this is not what is sold now and days.  The nutiva website provides some great information about their product, it explains the common myths and the nutrition of coconut oil, as well as a brief overview of the product and what it can be used for.  I was really intrigued about the information on Laruic acid.  This article claims coconut oil it to be a “miracle” compound, because of our body’s ability to convert laruic acid into monolaurin, which has anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-protozoa properties.  It was interesting to hear that there are predictions of lauric acid becoming as popular and as well known as omega-3 currently is.  I am interested to see if this does begin to become more well known and on the rise.  What made me chuckle was on nutvia’s website they stated that Monsanto has already developed a GMO canola oil variety that is attempting to mimic coconut oil’s high percentage of lauric acid.  We have learned a lot about Monsanto in my class and I thought it was funny that they would be on the cutting edge to once again take over one more thing.

Anyway, enough about the research on oils, here is how I have been using my coconut oil.  My favorite thing to do is put a small amount in a pan and let it melt down and then cook my egg whites in the pan.  It provides a great flavor to your eggs without having to add any seasoning or cheese which people most commonly add.  I like to use just a little bit as it can become too sweet for me if I use too much but I have really grown accustomed to this and wish I had known this earlier.  Another great thing is I sometimes put it on my piece of toast.  I try not to eat too much bread but when I do I really don’t like to slab on the butter and jams.  A nice thin spread of coconut oil on a warm piece of grain toast is delicious, I highly  recommend giving coconut oil a try, again the price is not bad you can look around in stores or online for good deals too.  I get my 29 oz jar for around $15 usually.  A little pricey for being on a budget but well worth it.

Coconut Oil

Coconut Oil

Another great thing that has helped me break my habit of pam is the ‘misto’.  My roommates parents gave this to her as a gift and it has been sitting in our cabinet empty for months.  It has now become one of my favorite things.  You can fill this with any type of oil that you would like and after a couple of pumps it sprays just like a can of pam would, but you can substitute it for healthier oil.  We have extra virgin olive oil in ours right now and it works great for cooking veggies in a pan.  The misto sells for around $10 and I have seen it at bed bath and beyond, target and I believe costco even had a dual pack.  Here is a link to amazon where they are of course selling them.

Misto

Misto

I have really enjoyed the cooking aspect of this diet.  I thought it was going to stress me out with finals and the end of the semester approaching, having to take more time to plan meals and actually cook instead of just eating cereal for 2 out of my 3 meals for the day as I used to do.  It has been a pleasant surprise to me though, that coming home after a long day of class or hospital observations that I really enjoy cooking dinner.  It is like a set aside hour to unwind and free my mind from school work and worrying, where I just turn on some music or the TV and prepare and cook dinner.  I try to stick to recipes that either make a lot so I can have leftovers on busier days, or recipes that aren’t to elaborate and take too long.  If it takes me over and hour and a half then I begin to stress again.  I made stuffed peppers this week.  They were so easy to make and required about 15 minutes of preparation time and the rest was just baking them in the oven.  I was able to get an entire chapter read while they were cooking!

I made a few changes to the recipe as I thought they were healthier and fresher options:

–       I used a frozen bag of organic steam fresh corn instead of a can

–       I used fresh tomatoes instead of a can of diced tomatoes

–       I did not include the cheese topping (this was hard for me but I decided to be good and not use cheese)

Here was the recipe that I followed otherwise. 

Preparation

Preparation

hollowing the peppers

hollowing the peppers

The finished product

The finished product

I decided to do some research on quinoa.  Quinoa is not new to my diet my parents have been eating it for years, and I really love the taste of it.  I especially like the rainbow quinoa that has the brown quinoa mixed into it, which really provides a nice satisfactory crunchy factor.  I have heard the rumors and peoples opinions about quinoa being so healthy but I never took the time myself to research what actually makes it healthy.  Here is an article with a list of 7 reasons why it is so healthy, incase the first reason isn’t reason enough to introduce it into your diet read on through the rest of the list and you will be convinced!  Reason 1: Quinoa is one of the most protein-rich foods we can eat.  It is a complete protein containing all nine essential amino acids.

I like to use quinoa as a substitute for rice as well as pasta, it really is the multipurpose good for you food.  Also, at costco you can get a 4 pound bag which will last a very long time, as you usually only cook a cup at a time, for $9.50! You can’t beat that price.

Food shopping was a success.  I think because I was excited about the new change and the thoughts of the new foods I would be eating and trying I was not tempted to walk down the aisles that I usually do and pick up the regular staples in my diet. I think this is how everyone feels when they are beginning their new ‘diet’. The optimism and the excitement of starting a new journey and looking forward to the changes, now lets just hope this stays! As I have started eating this way I have become much more aware of the ingredients in products, some of which I have always known to be unhealthy but some which may surprise you.  Check out this interesting article I found about misleading products and what to look out for so that you don’t get fooled the way too many of us do regularly. 

A lot of what was mention in that article are items I used to regularly use or eat.  Taco seasoning, who thinks to make their own when you can buy that easy packet for 50 cents? It makes so much more sense though when you already have all of those spices in the spice rack, just make your own! What really stuck out to me was the oatmeal. I must admit I am guilty of buying the maple brown sugar instant Quaker oatmeal.  I have found a great substitution however!

To still give the same instant feel of ripping open one of the pre made packets but a healthier substitution, I have started making my own pre made packets in sandwich bags.  I will portion out a serving of oats, add a few shakes of cinnamon a handful of nuts and raisins and then zip up my bags.  Then when the morning comes and I want oatmeal I just grab a pot boil some milk and a dash of vanilla, dump in my pre made bag of oatmeal and within 5 minutes I am eating a much healthier portion of oatmeal.

making my own instant oatmeal

making my own instant oatmeal

It really doesn’t get much better than that for breakfast, it provides you the energy you need and keeps you full. (that is a big issue of mine, I get hungry very quickly if I don’t eat a big filling breakfast) The best part is it doesn’t get much cheaper as well as more time efficient which are big essentials in a college kids life, especially early in the morning.

Another great oatmeal substitution I have become a big fan of is breakfast quinoa.  This recipe is so simple and very good, plus it makes your house smell wonderful! I tend to make a big batch of it on Sunday nights or Monday mornings and then reheat it throughout the week for breakfast. 

I feel like I am preparing myself for a life altering experience, talking myself out of doing the usual mindless shopping that I do in the grocery store where I pick up the same few things week after week.  This week it will be different! I have never prepared to go food shopping before, usually I am just out and will swing by or I will run out of something, see what else is missing from the fridge and go.

This is very different it took a lot of preparation, I think as this becomes more of a routine it will become quicker and more mindless but this week it was WORK! First, I had to look at my schedule and see what was on it for the week, did I have any club meetings, study groups, big tests that I would need to spend the night before in the library?  Fortunately I had a pretty free week .

checking my schedule

checking my schedule

Then I needed to plan my meals for the week.  I read through a few helpful blog that got me in the mindset of what I need to think about when making a meal plan.  First pick my main proteins, decide on a few vegetables, add in some healthy grains, snacks for the week and then some.  I tried to work with the few things that I had left in my pantry. I knew I had quinoa, organic chicken breasts and some vegetables, so I tried to make some meals out of those and then add in the new items I was going to have to buy.  I figured by including what I already had that could still make the cut for unrefined, I would be saving myself some money.  I was prepared for this to be an expensive trip as it was my first start at this, but I was trying to save some money where I could.  I found this great tool, an hourly chart and you could use it as a daily meal planner, so I filled out 7 of these, to get me through my first week .  Then I filled out this, a grocery store list separated into aisles, so that when I got to the store I wasn’t running around aimlessly and overwhelmed.

daily meal plan

daily meal plan

grocery store shopping list

grocery store shopping list

I read a helpful post about how to shop for unrefined foods at the regular grocery store.  Some of the tips I knew, when selecting seafood select wild not farmed, try to stick to organics, avoid items that list enriched wheat as a top ingredient and try to limit products to having a list shorter than 5 ingredients.  With all of these helpful tips in my mind and my meal plans and shopping lists I was prepared for the store.  I  kept it in my head to stick to the outside parameters of the super market, as that is where most fresh whole foods are, and to not be tempted by the chips and the snacks.  I was off!  

Goodbye Junk!

Goodbye Junk!

After making my educated decision to follow through with this idea of making the change to eating unrefined I woke up this morning excited to start my new lifestyle, but I realized I didn’t know what I needed to do first, or where to start. I know that a diet of eating potato chips and canned foods and such is obviously not healthy but that is not how I eat.  However, I certainly do not eat a strictly unrefined diet, so what am I going to have to change? I came across a very simple list that finely separates what you should eat and what you shouldn’t on another blog, when trying to eat unrefined.  I have a feeling this list of what to eat is going to be very helpful to me. It includes items such as; locally raised meats, wild caught fish, organic fruits and vegetables and whole foods that are more a product of nature than a product of industry.

With a better understanding of what I am now going to be eating and what I need to change about what I was eating I was ready to face this challenge, cleaning out my pantry.  I learned what to do when cleaning out my pantry from this post. My first thing to tackle was anything that listed high fructose corn syrup in the ingredients.  Then I was on to any artificial ingredients, instant rices or meals, pre made sauces, cans of fruits or vegetables, and the daunting bags of refined flour and sugar.

I think of myself as a pretty healthy eater but I guess I never realized that there are certain things that you resort to buying that can be easily made by yourself and don’t have the unhealthy side effects to them.  Cleaning my pantry out was a really eye opening experience as to what I was getting myself into, especially with being a student.  I don’t have time to make homemade tomato sauce. Sure it tastes better and is healthier when made yourself, but am I really going to come home from a day of class and whip up some tomato sauce.  I guess I will cross those hurdles when I get there, today was just about cleaning out the old and preparing for the new.  I made some great progress and didn’t even feel scared as I was getting rid of all of these items that have been used so regularly in my life for the past 20 years.  I think I am still in the excited stage, I am sure the cravings will kick in at a later time.

That is a good question! Since I have chosen to do this out of pure interest and curiosity and not because of a health factor or a way for loosing weight, I needed to do a little more research than just what other people are saying on their blogs.  I have read countless blogs boasting about the benefits that it has brought to their life, but I guess what I was missing was what is it that makes this this diet so beneficial?

I went to the internet with this question, and as usual with the internet I was inundated with information about why eating unrefined foods is beneficial. The first article I came across was the health benefits of eating unrefined nutritional food.  It explains that when we eat our digestive system breaks down the food and liquids in order to extract nutrients along with proteins, fats, carbohydrates and other elements.  If the food that you are ingesting is lacking these elements the body will become starved for these essential nutrients that it needs to function properly.  The issue with refined foods is that the vitamins and minerals that they contain are manmade and added back into them once the natural nutrients have been stripped.

I also found a research study on how a diet high in whole and unrefined foods favorably alters lipis, antioxidant defenses, and colon function.  The study compared the effects of a diet rich in chemicals that are found naturally in plants versus a refined-food diet on lipoproteins, antioxidant defenses and colon function. They had 12 women follow each of these diets strictly for four weeks.  The results were that there was a decrease in saturated fat by 61% during the unrefined diet, as well as, dietary fiber, vitamin E, vitamin C, and carotene intakes were considerably more.  Total cholesterol dropped 13% and colon function improved on the unrefined diet as well.  What this can conclude is that a diet that is abundant in foods that have chemicals that are found naturally in plants such as in unrefined products, beneficially affects lipoproteins, decreases the need for oxidative defense mechanisms and improves colon function.

After reading all of these I was well informed about why this diet produces the benefits that everyone was blogging about and I was convinced it was worth giving a try.  After all I am a college student who does not get enough sleep, is applying for a doctorate program that has introduced extreme levels of stress into my life, and doesn’t treat my body perfectly between weekend habits and not having enough time to always eat.  Taking some time to nourish my body correctly with a beneficial side effect of more energy, and better colon and digestive health is probably the best decision I’ve made all year.