Thanksgiving Success: Mini Pumpkin Pies, Vegan and Dairy Free

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Thanksgiving provides a great opportunity to reflect on gratitude, especially for the seemingly little things in life.  When it comes to healthy baking, I am constantly grateful for the pioneers who ventured before me, who revamped and tested staple recipes themselves so that I don’t waste my pricey ingredients on trial baking sessions. Yet I always approach the new recipes with slight trepidation that if I miss a step or don’t have the right ingredients, a recipe fail will still end up in my oven. So it is with great joy and gratitude that I submit a humble as pie Thanksgiving recipe that arises partly from another baker (pie crust), and partly from my own concoctions (pie filling).

A little background for the adventure, if anyone wants a story…. I tend to be a last-minute, when-the-mood-strikes type of baker, which means it doesn’t happen too often. If you read my last post on the effects of sugar on the body, you get an idea why I stopped baking. But then Fall comes around, and inevitably I buy a pumpkin or two, starting off as decoration in my yard before progressing to decoration on my pie plate. (If you’ve never baked a pumpkin or squash, I recommend giving it a try…it’s very easy, plus the seeds make a nice toasted snack as well!)  And now that my son is old enough to think he is a professional chef, he also knows that pumpkins need to be made into pumpkin pies.

So of course I added an unplanned incentive to the potty training begging routine…after you go, you can help me make a pumpkin pie.  (Let’s face it, food is an incentive at any age, right?)

But then I start to follow through on my incentive, and start checking cupboards and fridges…butter? Not much. Condensed milk? Nada. Sugar? Honey, liquid stevia and small amount of brown sugar…not really pie material.

Next step: Google.

Answer: Coconut Oil Pie Crust and Almond Milk Pumpkin Pie filling.

Jackpot.

Despite the sugar shortage, we made it through the first trial run with an actual pie. However the next day we still had leftover pumpkin and pie crust dough. Plus I had already donated my test pie to a willing friend, so now I had no pie, and no pie plate. So we made an actual trip to the store to buy more sugar, although not “real sugar;” a mix of cane sugar, stevia and erythritol (sugar alcohol).

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Although there is some disagreement out there, the general consensus seems to be in favor of sugar alcohols providing a safe and lower-calorie option to regular sugar (does not raise blood sugar or impede weight loss). So  I decided to give this option a shot for my baking experiment.

And I’m happy to report that with my baking adventures, I produced a tasty pie treat for almost half the calories of a regular slice of pie! According to my recipe input on MyFitnessPal, this recipe should yield 180 calories per serving, and only 3.8g of sugar, compared to 323 cal for a slice of pie (not including whip cream!) and 25g of sugar!

So take a look around the house, you might have the ingredients on hand to serve a lower calorie, lower sugar, and much cuter version of the pumpkin pie this Thanksgiving.

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Vegan Mini Pumpkin Pies

Serves: 14

Pie Crust (as adapted from the Minimalist Baker

2 Cups Unbleached White Flour

2/3 Cup Organic, Virgin Coconut Oil, softened, not liquid

3-6T Ice Water

Pumpkin Pie Filling

3 Cups Fresh Pumpkin Puree (or 2- 15oz canned pumpkin)

1/2 C Truvia Sugar Cane Blend

2 Tsp Ground Cinnamon

1/4 Tsp Ground Nutmeg

1/4 Tsp Ground Ginger

1/2 Tsp Sea Salt

1 C  Unsweetened Almond Milk

Directions:

Preheat Oven to 350 F.

*Pie Crust: In a large bowl, gradually scoop in coconut oil and mix either by hand or with fork into the flour until it resembles sand texture. Gradually add in water to bind dough together until it forms a ball. Transfer to floured surface to roll into a medium sized disc, then use a knife to cut the disc into 14 strips. Form each strip into a ball, and on a floured surface, roll each one into a small disc. Transfer the discs to a greased or non-stick muffin pan, patting dough into the pan to form muffin shells.

Filling:  In another large bowl, mix the pumpkin and spices together first, then add the milk and whisk until smooth. Using a ladle, scoop filling into each pie shell. Bake for 45 min or until toothpick comes out clean from the pie filling. Let cool and Enjoy!

*The crust ingredients can also be used to make one regular 10 inch pie crust instead of mini pies.

Nutrition info:

Serving Size: 1 pie

Calories: 180

Carbs: 21.8g              Fat: 11.4g             Protein: 2.7g              Sugar: 3.8g

Cholesterol: 0g          Sodium: 12.8g       Potassium: 106.3g   Dietary Fiber: 1.1g

Vitamin A: 39.9%         Vitamin C: 3.9%     Calcium:   4.2%      Iron: 8.8%

Percent Daily Values Based on 2000 Calorie Diet.

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Shipwrecked by Sugar

I’ve been clean for nine months (except for occasional bites). I’ve managed to walk past bowls of my past addiction without a second glance. The plates sitting on every table at church don’t even whisper my name anymore. And all the Sirens at the grocery store have silenced their enchanting songs to lure me into their islands. The shipwreck of sugar cravings finally got lost at sea, and I’m not headed back to find where it landed.

It’s not easy to own up to one’s destructive habits, especially if you have a career in health and wellness. Yet for that very reason, I knew it was imperative to find a solution so I could effectively coach others to find it themselves. And one week after Halloween, I’m happy to  report that we have only one Tupperware of chocolates in the house (primarily for potty training purposes), and of those, I’ve eaten maybe 3. And not out of cravings, mostly boredom.

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So I want to tell you that breaking sugar cravings is possible.

 

But before I talk about solutions, let’s review why added sugar is a killer for any healthy diet, and why life is better without them. Let’s talk a few numbers and examine the typical American diet. Although the USDA recommended sugar intake is no more than 6-10% of the daily caloric consumption, most Americans consume 16-20% of their daily calories from added sugar.  What that means in real numbers is that while no more than 6-9 teaspoons, or less than 25g, should be consumed in a typical day (for a typical 2000 daily calorie diet) the typical American is consuming 32g of sugar EVERY day!

 

 

Along with that, added sugar consumption is linked to an increase in cardiovascular disease, increasing the risk 38% compared to those who follow low-sugar food plans.  It can also negatively impair memory, artificially increase appetite, decrease energy levels, lead to diabetes, increase body weight and cause joint inflammation.

Why? How does such a sweet tasting additive bring so much suffering to our lives? The answer lies in its metabolism process, and the fact that the ingredients find their way into the majority of packaged foods. In the body, sugar is metabolized in the liver, but when the liver is overloaded, it turns it into fat. This is where it leads to a myriad of problems as fat cells inhibit regular cell function.

Where?  If you think you are following a healthy diet, yet still raging against a constant sweet tooth, it may be time to take inventory of your food intake.  Consider that a typical “healthy” flavored Greek yogurt yields 20g of sugar by itself, and you start to see where part of the problem comes from.  Other common “healthy” food saboteurs include protein bars/shakes, cereal, sauces, applesauce, sweetened nut milks, beverages, breads, low-fat foods and condiments (ketchup, peanut butter, jams). The more obvious not-so-healthy products include creamers, pastries, sodas/sports drinks, candy, fruit snacks, ice cream and alcohol.

A great handout I use regularly for my clients gives an overview of typical sugar content in various foods. In it, you see that iced tea can have almost 10g per 16oz bottle, 20 oz soda almost the equivalent in g/oz at 19.25g, and some kids cereals coming in at 10g/serving! So imagine if you consumed one serving of each of these per day…you’d be already at almost 40g of sugar, and you haven’t even enjoyed your evening bowl of ice cream yet!

Help!  By now you may be realizing that your diet is leading you too for a major shipwreck, as it was doing to me.  Or you might be at that point already if you experience the myriad of maladies pointed out earlier. So it’s time to get to the solutions!

1-Nutrition Labels: If you haven’t picked up on in yet, the biggest habit you should start doing is READING LABELS!!! I can’t emphasize this enough, as this small rectangle on your package will literally tell you if what you hold in your hands will help or hinder your health. After looking at the calorie count per serving, scan to the sugar section. You might even notice an update from previous years, as many manufacturers are switching to the new mandate for 2018 to state the amount of added sugars in the product. This helps the consumer differentiate between natural occurring sugars (as in fruit) and all other sweeteners.

The next step is to check the Ingredients. If you see sugar as the first ingredient (unless of course, it IS sugar), PLEASE put it back on the shelf! This part of the label tells you everything you need to know about content, because sometimes certain ingredients (like trans fat) don’t have to be reported numerically if they fall under a certain percentage of the overall content. Knowing where sugar falls in the lineup will help you determine if the item is as “healthy” as it’s designed to be.

2-Drink More Water.  I’m sure you’ve heard this mantra a million times in your life, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Not only does drinking water curb your overall appetite, it can also keep you from consuming other sugar laden beverages that derail your best sugar-fasting intentions.

 

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Natural Peanut Butter, only 2g/ 2T

3-Proper Diet…Keep it Simple: I doubt anyone really needed me to say this, but sometimes it’s hard to decipher what actually are healthy food choices on the store shelves, since manufacturers design products to make them seem nutritious. So follow a few guidelines: 1- buy A LOT of produce;  2-eat 100% whole grains (multi-grain, whole wheat, bran cereal), not refined grains (bleached flour); 3-Avoid Low-Fat foods (especially in the dairy section), as they typically hold more sugar to offset the lower fat content; 4-Avoid artificial sweeteners, although low in calories, they inhibit weight loss and the body does not metabolize them well, which leads to weight gain.

 

 

 

4-Exercise. Of course, I have to say that…it’s my job. But the reality is that in addition to curbing appetite, exercise can also increase your mitochondria metabolism, which means your body doesn’t have to work as hard to process sugar, especially when it becomes overloaded (hello Holiday season!).  Also on a diabetic note, walking after eating has been shown to decrease glucose levels. And realistically speaking, hopefully going for a walk will distract you from satisfying the sweet tooth!

5-Eliminate Pastries. Last but not least, the inevitable target of sugar fails starts either in the oven or on our grocery list. It doesn’t matter if the label or recipe says honey, agave, maple syrup, organic cane sugar or regular ol’ molasses…it’s all added sugar and the body digests it the same way.  So even as the holiday season begs us to celebrate with heaven’s buffet of pastries, I’m telling you it’s not in the best interest of your body, and your body does NOT take a holiday. In fact, I would argue you need your energy levels to be at its peak over these next two months for an enjoyable holiday season. So take a nibble if you must, or eat a small butter cookie, but leave the whipped cream desserts and banket for someone else.

And to weave a parenting note in all of this, your eating habits influence the little ones around you. It’s understandable that potty-training bribery plays a role in parenting, but the rest of the eating habits literally determine a child’s nutrient profile and can set them up for medical problems later if sugar intake isn’t controlled. And of course, as parents, we need all the energy we can get to keep up with those rascals, so don’t let sugar rob you of living the good life…including during the little years!

 

 

References:

American Council on Exercise. “How Sugar Affects Your Body.” https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/professional/expert-articles/5128/how-sugar-affects-your-body. Oct. 28, 2014.

Asp, Karen. “Sugar Shock: Why Experts Say It’s Time to Get Serious About Taming That Sweet Tooth.” https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/professional/prosource/april-2014/3767/sugar-shock-why-experts-say-it-s-time-to-get-serious-about-taming-that-sweet-tooth. April 2014.

Halvorson, Ryan. “Why Those With Type 2 Diabetes Should Walk After Dinner.” http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/why-those-with-type-2-diabetes-should-walk-after-dinner. Dec. 14, 2016.

Webster, Sandy Todd. “Nutrition Facts Panel Puts Spotlight on Added Sugars.” http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/nutrition-facts-panel-puts-spotlight-on-added-sugars-0. Aug. 19, 2016.

Webster, Sandy Todd. “When Sugar isn’t Sweet.” http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/when-sugar-isnt-sweet-0. April 16, 2014.

“Sugar Facts & Fiction.” http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/sugar-facts-fiction. Aug. 15, 2008.

Keller, Joy and Judy Meyer. “What Added Sugar Looks Like.” http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/what-added-sugar-looks-like. Oct. 23, 2015.

 

Back…with Babies!

Once again, my blogging ambitions took a lengthy hiatus, although I’m doubtful many people noticed. But this time I have a good excuse (at least that’s what I’ve been told…this excuse works for just about anything you avoid doing).

Yes, I’ve entered the world where babbles, coos, spit-ups, diapers, time-outs, messy floors, sticky fingers, child locks, car seats, and every thing else baby runs my life. I never imagined the real Little People could consume so much attention while simultaneously unearthing a full spectrum of emotions from the adults called parents. Yes, indeed, I continue to learn daily about my own emotional shortcomings, especially in the area of patience.

Yet I have to admit, most of the time I actually enjoy this life. True, it involves a lot of work and discipline. But I still spend more time laughin
g, smiling and playing than being annoyed. For me, the two words often on my mind

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Free Entertainment: A walking blanket disguised as a child supposedly taking a nap.

 

watching these bambinos (as my husband calls them)…Free Entertainment! 

So with the change of lifestyle, I felt moved to change the direction of the blog, andgear it towards a specific audience that I’ve come to know better. As I continue personal training on the side, I am constantly hearing from moms looking for fitness help after baby. And let’s face it, parenting is overwhelming. A single day just doing chores and keeping kids alive would earn us a CEO ranking for work ethic in any corporate company. It’s no wonder we put our health on the back burner while we strive to raise responsible citizens.

Yet I believe it is possible (and even fun!) to live healthy and fit as a parent. And this lifestyle can be achieved even with infants who demand constant attention and sedentary positions for feeding. What makes success possible? Two things:

  1. Goals: Just like raising kids, we don’t expect them to perfect motor skills in one day, or even a week. Setting baby steps for achievable goals slowly transforms our wellness from periodic salads to intentional, nutritional meals.
  2. Education: When we bring home a baby, we have Google at our fingertips to advise us on every movement the baby makes. The same is true for health…the more you know, the more you grow (your mind), which in turn changes behavior.

So I hope as you read this re-branded blog, if you are a parent, that you find helpful advice for your home life. And if you are not a parent but reading this blog, I hope you find solid health tips, and maybe even an awareness to the challenges your parenting friends may be going through. We could all use a helping hand, right?

Tune in next week as I discuss how to put Fun into Fitness (kid involvement highly recommended)!

 

Simple, tasty stew for a Winter Night

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When the cold weather set in earlier in December, I told myself that this would be a good season to start experimenting with different soups and stews. I went through my crock pot recipes and organized the soups in a way that was supposed to motivate me to follow this endeavor. Unfortunately I have not gotten far in this new goal, but I did find a creative burst yesterday when perusing my pantry and trying to decide on the night’s dinner.

 So with a little guidance from Tosca Reno (author of “The Eat-Clean Cookbook”), I created a simple & tasty version of lentil vegetable stew that I think you will enjoy.

 Easy Lentil Stew (makes about 10 cups)

Ingredients:

1-2 tablespoons olive oil 

1-2 cups lentils (rinsed and sorted)

1 medium onion

5 garlic cloves 

1 large sweet potato, sliced

1-2 cups broth

1-2 cups vegetables of your choice (I used a 1/2 bag of frozen mixed veggies)

1-3 cups water, as needed

1-2 Tbsp tumeric seasoning

1 tsp. thyme

salt and pepper to taste 

Directions:

 1. Heat oil in pot  over low heat for about 1 minute. Add chopped onion and garlic and saute for about 2 minutes. Add in sweet potato, lentils, broth and spices and cook covered for about 10-15 minutes.  

2.  Bring stew to a boil and (if using frozen veggies) add those at this time. (If using regular veggies, add them in with the sweet potato.) Add water if needed at this time. Cook for an additionl 15-20 minutes, keeping an eye on the lentils, as overcooking them will make them mushy. Continue to add water to give it the soup texture, as the lentils absorb water as they cook.

3. Add salt and pepper to taste, if needed. Eat and enjoy! 

What is Trans Fat?

Part of the purpose of this blog is to help educate people about what they put into their

Crisco’s label boasts that it has “50% less Saturated fat than Butter,” but the fact is that shortening has partially-hydrogenated oil (trans fat), while natural butter does not.

mouths, and essentially, into their engines of energy (aka their bodies).  This post intends to clarify a bit about trans fat: what it is, why it’s harmful, what it look likes on an ingredient label, and what foods you would find them in.

Trans fat in its most basic definition is the addition of hydrogen to oil through a process called hydrogenation[1].  This creates a very stable substance that doesn’t spoil or break down, and it’s used to extend the shelf life of packaged food products.  Food manufacturers and bakers use ingredients with trans fat (i.e. shortening) because they produce foods with better baking qualities and enhanced flavors.[2]

The unfortunate part about trans fat is that the human body doesn’t recognize the difference between trans fat and saturated fat, and saturated fat is the healthy heart’s number one nemesis.  A diet high in saturated fat contributes to a variety of problems, including raising LDL levels (low-density lipoproteins, the “bad” cholesterol), and increasing the risk of stroke and heart disease.[3]  Trans fat, in addition to these risks, also decreases the levels of HDL cholesterol (high-density lipoproteins), the “good” fat that provides essential amino acids to the body, and lowers the risk of heart disease.  Also, because trans fat contributes to elevated cholesterol, the risk of developing atherosclerosis increases.

Atherosclerosis is the hardening of artery walls due to buildup of blood waste products (fat, cholesterol, etc) called plaque. The accumulation of plaque makes arteries increasingly inflexible and narrow, and can contribute to strokes and heart attacks when blood is unable to pass through the narrowed chambers.

If you are a packaged food eater (and even if you think you’re not), you might be surprised to know where trans fat is hidden on the shelves.  It goes by the name of “partially-hydrogenated oil” and it can even exist in packages that say “0 trans fat.”  That’s because the FDA regulations allow for up to .5g of trans fat per serving for products to make the “0 trans fat” claim on their labels[4].  For that reason, it is absolutely critical for consumers to READ the ingredient labels of food products before buying it.  Below is a list of common food items that typically have partially-hydrogenated oil in the ingredients:

-Peanut butter
-Sweet treats (cookies, cakes, candy, doughnuts, icing)
-Packaged popcorn
-Crackers
-Vegetable shortening
-Fried foods
-Pie crusts, pizza dough, breads
-Pre-made cake and pancake mixes
-Snack foods
-Frozen dinners

Crisco vegetable shortening has both partially and fully hydrogenated palm oils in its ingredients, making it a source of saturated and trans fat.

And contrary to what you may think, if a product reads “fully” or “completely hydrogenated,” it actually does not contain any trans fat, although it is still has saturated fat.

Finally, I just want to emphasize again how important it is for consumers to be informed label-readers if they are going to buy packaged products. The best route in most cases is to buy whole, unpackaged foods, like fruits, nuts, veggies, bean varieties, and whole grains…then there’s nothing to worry about in the labels. But for people who do buy pre-packaged foods, you need to be your own health advocate and learn what your putting into your body, and how that affects you internally.

For consumers who don’t want to take extra time to read the labels, below is a list of a few companies I’ve found that avoid putting trans fat into some of their products and offer healthy, alternative & tasty foods to try.

Butter products: Smart Balance, Earth Balance, Land O’ Lakes (select varieties)
Snacks (cookies, crackers, Granola bars): Kashi, Newmans Own, Clif Bars, Nature’s Valley oat bars (i.e. Honey ‘n Oats)
Peanut Butter: Smuckers Natural, MaraNatha, Planters Natural, Skippys Natural, Smart Balance
Cake/cookie/brownie Mixes: Naturally Nora, King Arthur Flour (most mixes)

These represent just a small portion of the many health food companies & products out there, and I encourage you to find more as you shop.  But as always, the best meals are typically homemade anyway, so why not save money, put on your chef’s hat, and cook your way to healthier lifestyle? Everyone has a spark of creativity inside, and sometimes the kitchen is a wonderful place to feed that flame and make something tasty. I’d love to hear some of your stories of healthy food creations you’ve made in your kitchen.  Cheers!

EPIPHANY IN THE SINK

Although my blog has officially been up for a year and a half, I’ve been lax over its upkeep, to say the very least.  My average posting rate is probably similar to a lot of people’s exercise routines…non-existent.  And my excuses are probably not much different…busy with life, work, family, church, volunteering, etc.  Unless it’s a fixture in my routine, and there’s an concerted effort on my part to make this succeed, my blog’s future will probably end up much like the martini shaker that my husband & I got for a wedding gift three years ago: it seemed like such a great idea to put it on the registry, never mind the fact that we hardly ever drink.

 

I’m guessing that I’m not alone in my struggle to start a new habit, and then fail.  It seems that a lot of people face that same conflict, especially seen around every New Year’s Day, when magazines, health clubs, and every business in America pounces on consumers to make new resolutions.  It seems there is a profound desire in every person to better themselves, and despite the adage that says “People don’t like change,” I tend to think that with the right motivation and achievable results, people actually do pursue change.  The problems come when motivation diminishes, and the results seem gargantuan.

 

Enter my new motivation for this blog.  Well, let’s first start with my first motivation, which was to provide an understandable, yet scientific site for individuals to embrace healthy lifestyles.  Since I possessed little knowledge of the blogosphere, I looked to my husband’s example. He writes on religion, Muslim evangelism, and current events.  He does a lot of research, and writes scholarly articles for Yahoo!.  He pores over articles and sometimes takes weeks to write a post for his blog.  Needless to say, that approach proved rather daunting to me; so daunting, in fact, that I entered a blogging paralysis.  I realized that while scientific articles offer great perspective, they also take a lot of time, which I tend to lose all the time.

 

So 583 days later, I had an epiphany where most great epiphanies take place…washing dishes.  I thought about the lifestyle changes I’ve made since entering the fitness career field, and how easy many of them have actually been.  Then I thought, why don’t I write about that for my blog?  Personal experience is way more motivating and fun to write about than research.  Although I haven’t completely given up on my first ambition, my new motivation is simply this…to write on a conglomeration of topics, from recipes to fitness gear to exercise studies…anything fitness or health related that I find interesting that I hope interests you as well.

 

I hope my newfound motivation speaks into your life as well, and that you will be challenged and encouraged by my posts to jumpstart your own ambitions.  And in the mean time, I hope you enjoy the posts to come!