Sunday, September 30, 2012

Healthier Pumpkin Bread

You can tell fall is here. Not only are temperatures dropping and leaves changing to beautiful reds, yellow and golds, but pumpkin and spices are taking over the world of baking and coffee making.  Pumpkin bread is one of my all time favorites; unfortunately, the average recipe is loaded with fat, sugar, and processed white flour. I've tweaked a basic recipe to add some whole grain flour, reduced the oil and sugar, and added some naturally sweet applesauce. Feel free to reduce the sugar a bit more if you'd like to, though keep in mind that the texture and tenderness will be compromised somewhat. Using whole wheat pastry flour gives a nuttier flavor and brings in whole grains without reducing the lightness or tenderness of the loaf. You may use all whole wheat pastry flour or substitute regular whole wheat flour, though this will create a heavier, though still yummy bread.

Healthier Pumpkin Bread
 (Makes 2 loaves or 24 muffins)

       1.  In a large bowl, whisk together until well mixed:
               1 ½ cup sugar (or ¾ cup Splenda & ¾ c sugar)
               1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
               2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
               2 tsp. baking soda
               2 tsp. baking powder
               1 tsp. salt
               2 tsp. cinnamon
               1 tsp. nutmeg
               1/2 tsp. allspice or 1/4 tsp. cloves
 2.  In a separate bowl, blend together:
               1 cup unsweetened applesauce
               1/4 cup canola oil
               4 eggs
               1-15 oz. can pumpkin
3.   Add liquids to dry ingredients, and mix with a whisk until just blended, being careful not to over stir     (it will get tougher the more you mix it.)
4.   Pour into 2 loaf pans (9" X 5"), or 24 muffin tins that have been coated with cooking spray.
5.   Bake at 350 degrees for 55 minutes for the bread, or 15-20 minutes for the muffins. Test for doneness by inserting a dry spaghetti noodle into the middle of the loaf, making sure it comes out clean.
6.   Let rest five minutes in the pan, then turn out to cool on a rack.

Nutrition data:1 slice (55 g.)= 1/16th of a loaf, 112(94) calories, 3 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 16 (11) g carbohydrate, 195 mg sodium, 1 g fiber, 3 g protein.  2 Units.                                         

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Extreme Couponing

I happened to see my first episode of TLC's Extreme Couponing recently. I was amazed at the amount of money these people actually save on various groceries and paper products. Bills of $300 were zipped down to less that $75. Pretty impressive when you see that many coupons having an impact like that. So impressive that classes on extreme couponing are cropping up all over the place. One of my niece's announced on facebook that she couldn't wait for her first class.

Aside from the obvious cash savings, is couponing really worth the effort? Some of these people on the TV show were clipping and organizing coupons and ads as a full-time job. That's a lot of time with scissors!

I am fine with people buying massive amounts of paper towels, toothpaste, and toilet paper at tremendous savings if they have the storage room. The Extreme Couponing stars I saw had converted bedroom and office space into storage for all their bargains. Not something I'm willing to do, but fine for them.

On the plus side, coupon experts do keep their math skills and brains sharp as they calculate all those savings. It could be that extreme couponing may help diminish risk of dementia, like the brain games Sudoku and crossword puzzles may.  I like the Dad on the show who had his son using math to calculate coupon savings as he learned the family couponing craft. Father son time, and bringing math skills to life. Quality time together.

What I question is what effect buying huge volumes of packaged and processed foods has on health. Carts loaded with Ramen noodles, pancake mix, mac & cheese, cake mixes and frosting, a.k.a.,white flour, sodium and sugar, all to be stored ready for use at home. I noticed that all the coupon experts appeared overweight or obese on the episode I watched. Could there be a correlation?

Ideally, 2/3 of your grocery cart should be filled with fruits and vegetables, not Ramen noodles. I wonder just how much grocery money couponers have left for healthy foods?  Not many coupons are issued for healthier foods like oranges, low fat milk, fish or broccoli.

I think this may boil down to the concept of a bargain. If you have the paper towels you like to use on sale and a coupon that doubles, that's definitely a bargain. But, buying food is different. You need to consider the nutritional bang for the buck: the nutrient density of a food, or how many vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants and phytonutrients are in the food per calorie.  Red bell peppers and carrots are loaded with beta-carotene, fiber and other great nutrients with very few calories; they are high in nutrient density. They should be considered a bargain.

On the other hand, consider Ramen noodles, Oreos, or potato chips. All three are loaded with calories and sodium, with almost no redeeming nutrients; they're very low in nutrient density. Even on sale with coupons that double, these should not be viewed a bargain, especially not one to stockpile in your home. If they are purchased in bulk, do people have a tendency to eat more? Does that lead to an increase in weight and weight related health issues? If so, they are anything but a bargain!

The bottom line on couponing is to look deeper that just the price tag on the food and the coupons you have. Be sure to consider how foods you bring into your home have an impact on what you eat, how much you eat, and your overall health and wellness.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Creating Calm

When stress hit, how do you  handle it? If you said, "Go for a run," or "Take a walk," you get extra credit. For many of the people I coach, the answer is, "Eat!"

If you define yourself as a stress eater, you've learned at some point in your life that eating made you feel better. Your mom may have given you a cookie to make a skinned knee feel better, not knowing she was doing anything except helping you at that moment. As time went by, eating cookies became your "go-to" behavior to handle stress, much like popping ibuprofen for a headache. Eating cookies (or your whatever food you may choose) may even work temporarily, by providing a quick feel-better fix. Blood sugar surges, it's pleasurable, and perhaps an escape for the moment. But, these benefits are short term. Some people end up continuing to eat more and more cookies to maintain the pleasant feelings. The problem arises when stress eating starts adding extra body fat.

Simply switching to carrots and celery doesn't usually work well because those foods don't tend to provide the same level of pleasure that the cookies do, nor do they provide as much quick energy. They may even seem like a negative experience, maybe even a punishment to some people when they are trying to make the switch.

What works better? Developing a new behavior that creates a sense of calm. Something quick, easy to do, but something that provides enjoyment. I've been working with a few people on this lately. Ideas that they've come up with include making a cup of really special tea, popping a pod of a favorite flavor of coffee into the Keurig, or a making a cup of light cocoa. You can create an entire calming process in making your beverage: grabbing a favorite cup, enjoying the aroma, and sitting down to savor every sip. A calming process. Finding joy in a cup. Other ideas include practicing a 5 minute deep breathing routine or putting on your headphones to zone out and listen to a favorite song. 

Whatever you decide to use as your "Creating Calm" behavior, it will require lots of practice. First, identify when it is you feel stressed. Then, intentionally choose to use your new calming action. The more you use it, the more natural it will become. Be sure to keep what you need readily available at home and the office: special mug, tea, coffee, cocoa mix,  I-Pod, or ear phones.

Keep practicing your new calm, even if you don't always remember to reach for it right away. Like all good things, it requires focus, practice, and time to develop a new positive behavior. Just rememberL you're worth what it takes to make Creating Calm work for you!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Food Scale Shopping Time

I didn't mean to. I was in a rush. It accidentally fell off the counter and crashed to the floor. My faithful food scale of many years was done for. On the positive side, I knew I would finally have a chance to buy a new one!

After 18 years of learning to maintain my weight loss of over 50 pounds, some would wonder why I would even need a food scale to begin with. Don't I know by this time exactly what to eat and what the correct portion sizes really are? Absolutely. Sure I do. The thing is, sometimes I do need a bit of help with control.  I know that. And I know that portion sizes do tend to inadvertently grow larger over time. And I want to keep this weight off!

My food scales come out most every morning for breakfast. I put a bowl on the scales, push the zero or tare button, and add yogurt until it says 8 ounces. Then I zero it out again and add 1/4 ounce of walnuts. and top it off with 4 oz of fresh fruit and dry oatmeal. Great breakfast with less clean up--I don't get any measuring cups dirty. It's a simple process that has been a way to get my day off to a healthy start for a long time. It's interesting that when I don't have that controlled breakfast, the rest of the day tends to be a bit more hap-hazard, less controlled.

Though I used to use them to measure almost everything I ate, I tend to use them only for breakfast now. And when I need a little reality check! One of my sons (athletic and never had a weight problem) uses his food scales all the time when baking bread or anything else. He's even converted recipes to use grams of flour instead of cups for ease and more exact measurements. Of course, he is a science-guy, a physicist!

I ordered the EatSmart Precision scale from Amazon that is recommended on my Great Stuff list to the right. The big decision was what color to get! The white and chrome version came yesterday---a new toy! It's much smaller, sleeker, and lighter in weight than my old one. Nice.

I used it this morning, and I just love it. One great feature on the EatSmart is that you can place your bowl on it and the front of the scales are still exposed because of it's oval shape, making it much easier to read. And the bigger digital read out doesn't hurt either. (What can I say? Bi-focals have been a part of my life for quite while now!)

If you're ready to upgrade your food scale or have never used one before, take a look at this one. Choose your favorite color, and have some fun getting your portions under control! Sometimes, all it takes is the right new toy!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Inflammatory Foods vs My Little Toe

I stubbed my little toe. Hard. Heavy, stationery objects are not meant to be accidently kicked when you are wearing sandals. Not to worry, though. As soon as I noticed the baby toe was pointed west instead of north, I pushed it quickly back into position, with hardly a thought. Clearly, aerobic-cleaning my daughter's new place is not my sport. Today, my toe is swollen, hot and changing from red to purple & black. Not fun.

Swelling of a baby toe or any body part can be a good thing. The inflammation brings healing fluids filled with infection fighters, including white blood cells. As the healing progresses, inflammation goes down. My toe will eventually fit into a shoe and look normal again. It's temporary, or acute inflammation.

The type of inflammation that's making the news lately is chronic, or a type that is inside the body and won't simply reduce or go away over time. Researchers have considered the fact that obesity has reached epidemic levels in the United States and that two-thirds of all Americans are now overweight or obese and the similar rise in type-2 diabetes, cardio-vascular disease, and metabolic syndrome. Some researchers theorize that obesity causes low grade inflammation that in turn triggers the development of disease, along with other causes such as injury, illness, stress, lack of sleep, trans- and saturated fats, and refined carbohydrates.

Anti-inflammatory medications help reduce swelling caused by both acute and chronic inflammation. The current question is: Can some foods also reduce inflammation? Amazon lists 7 books about Anti-Inflammatory Diets that say they do! The jury's not in yet. So far, the research looks encouraging though much more scientific evidence is needed to prove their usefulness. 

The Anti-Inflammatory Diets seem to mimic the Mediterranean Diet: whole grains, dried beans, peas, legumes, fruits, vegetables, fatty fish (salmon, herring, trout, anchovies, sardines,) flaxseed, walnuts, olives, olive oil, nuts, canola oil, soy, tea (green & black), soy, red wine, dark chocolate and many herbs ands spices (cinnamon, garlic, ginger, tumeric, red pepper/cayenne, curry, rosemary, basil, oregano, paprika, and chili peppers.) The anti-inflammatory diets recommend focusing on eating plenty of these foods, but also require minimizing refined carbohydrates, added sugars and processed foods. Great advice here.

Until all the research is in, should we consider following the anti-inflammatory diet suggestions? 
Whether or not science proves a link between eating these foods and lowering chronic inflammation, most of these foods are nutritional powerhouses. Eating nine or more servings of fruits and veggies everyday as some of the plans suggest would supply a wonderful sources of vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. And minimizing refined carbs, sugars, and processed foods should be part of any healthy lifestyle change, including weight loss. 

I try to focus on eating all of these Anti-Infammatory foods, and minimize processed foods. Eating this way didn't prevent the acute inflammation of my toe, nor should it for healing purposes. I guess it's possible the swelling is going down faster than if I was on a Twinkie diet. While I can't guarantee that eating this way will prevent you from ever developing metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, cardio-vascular disease, diabetes, cancer, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, or auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's certainly can't hurt!!