Just for fun...

>> Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Thought I'd have a little off-topic fun today. Liz Rosenbaum Fitness selected my blog as one of her 5 Fabulous Blogs. So nice! (And you know I love your blog too, Liz!)

The Fabulous Award Rules
1) You must pass it along to 5 other fabulous blogs. It was so hard to choose my 5 blogs. I have so many that I like! But, here are 5 of my daily must reads.

Mark Salinas' Healthy Living Today
The Fight for Fitness
Super Healthy Kids
Eating Well Anywhere
Fake Food Free

2) You have to list 5 of your fabulous addictions.

Here you go: my kids, magazines, sweet iced tea, Top Chef, the internet

Thanks again for the award, Liz!

A random picture of my small town from atop a mountain

And now for a little more fun. I found a random list of 150 things to do on some random blog (wish I knew which one, but alas, I forgot to copy the link!). After making my list, my only complaint is that I wish I were more well traveled. Ah well, there's time for that! Here's my list (the red are things that I have done):

01. Bought everyone in the bar a drink

02. Swam with dolphins (wild ones at that! At least close to them – I wasn’t exactly swimming with them.)

03. Climbed a mountain

04. Taken a Ferrari for a test drive

05. Been inside the Great Pyramid

06. Held a tarantula

07. Taken a candlelit bath with someone

08. Said “I love you” and meant it

09. Hugged a tree

10. Bungee jumped (no way, no how!)

11. Visited Paris (one day…)

12. Watched a lightning storm at sea

13. Stayed up all night long and saw the sun rise

14. Seen the Northern Lights

15. Gone to a huge sports game (Last Broncos game at the original Mile High!)

16. Walked the stairs to the top of the leaning Tower of Pisa

17. Grown and eaten your own vegetables

18. Touched an iceberg

19. Slept under the stars

20. Changed a baby’s diaper (too many to count)

21. Taken a trip in a hot air balloon (this is on my wish list)

22. Watched a meteor shower

23. Gotten drunk on champagne

24. Given more than you can afford to charity.

25. Looked up at the night sky through a telescope

26. Had an uncontrollable giggling fit at the worst possible moment

27. Had a food fight

28. Bet on a winning horse

29. Asked out a stranger

30. Had a snowball fight

31. Screamed as loudly as you possibly can

32. Held a lamb

33. Seen a total eclipse (lots of partials, never a total – maybe in 2017?)

34. Ridden a roller coaster

35. Hit a home run (um, not exactly coordinated or sports inclined here…)

36. Danced like a fool and didn’t care who was looking (danced like a fool, yes…)

37. Adopted an accent for an entire day

38. Actually felt happy about your life, even for just a moment

39. Had two hard drives for your computer

40. Visited all 50 states

41. Taken care of someone who was drunk

42. Had amazing friends

43. Danced with a stranger in a foreign country

44. Watched whales

45. Stolen a sign

46. Backpacked in Europe

47. Taken a road-trip

48. Gone rock climbing

49. Taken a midnight walk on the beach

50. Gone sky diving

51. Visited Ireland

52. Been heartbroken longer than you were actually in love

53. In a restaurant, sat at a stranger’s table and had a meal with them

54. Visited Japan

55. Milked a cow

56. Alphabetized your CDs

57. Pretended to be a superhero

58. Sung karaoke (this wouldn’t be good for anyone)

59. Lounged around in bed all day

60. Played touch football

61. Gone scuba diving

62. Kissed in the rain

63. Played in the mud

64. Played in the rain

65. Gone to a drive-in theatre

66. Visited the Great Wall of China

67. Started a business

68. Fallen in love and not had your heart broken

69. Toured ancient sites

70. Taken a martial arts class

71. Played D&D for more than 6 hours straight

72. Gotten married

73. Been in a movie (does a promo movie for your company count? I’m guessing no…)

74. Crashed a party

75. Gotten divorced

76. Gone without food for 5 days

77. Made cookies from scratch

78. Won first prize in a costume contest

79. Ridden a gondola in Venice

80. Gotten a tattoo

81. Rafted the Snake River (not yet! But soon…soon.)

82. Been on a television news program as an “expert”

83. Gotten flowers for no reason

84. Performed on stage

85. Been to Las Vegas

86. Recorded music (only if you can count my 11th grade solo piano recital – and I don’t!)

87. Eaten shark

88. Kissed on the first date

89. Gone to Thailand

90. Bought a house

91. Been in a combat zone

92. Buried one/both of your parents

93. Been on a cruise ship

94. Spoken more than one language fluently (does Southern count? J)

95. Performed in Rocky Horror

96. Raised children

97. Followed your favorite band/singer on tour

98. Passed out cold

99. Taken an exotic bicycle tour in a foreign country

100. Picked up and moved to another city to just start over

101. Walked the Golden Gate Bridge

102. Sang loudly in the car, and didn’t stop when you knew someone was looking with the windows open

103. Had plastic surgery

104. Survived an accident that you shouldn’t have survived

105. Wrote articles for a large publication (I’ll count my peer-reviewed journal articles)

106. Lost over 100 pounds

107. Held someone while they were having a flashback

108. Piloted an airplane

109. Touched a stingray

110. Broken someone’s heart

111. Helped an animal give birth

112. Won money on a TV game show

113. Broken a bone

114. Gone on an African photo safari

115. Had a facial part pierced other than your ears

116. Fired a rifle, shotgun, or pistol

117. Eaten mushrooms that were gathered in the wild

118. Ridden a horse

119. Had major surgery

120. Had a snake as a pet

121. Hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon

122. Slept for 30 hours in a 48 hour period

123. Visited more foreign countries than U.S. States

124. Visited all 7 continents

125. Taken a canoe trip that lasted more than 2 days

126. Eaten kangaroo meat

127. Eaten sushi

128. Had your picture in the newspaper

129. Changed someone’s mind about something you care deeply about

130. Gone back to school

131. Parasailed

132. Touched a cockroach (yes, bleh)

133. Eaten fried green tomatoes

134. Read The Iliad and The Odyssey

135. Selected one “important” author who you missed in school, and read

136. Killed and prepared an animal for eating

137. Skipped all your school reunions

138. Communicated with someone without sharing a common spoken language

139. Been elected to public office

140. Written your own computer language

141. Thought to yourself that you’re living your dream

142. Had to put someone you love into hospice care

143. Built your own PC from parts (you do what you have to in grad school)

144. Sold your own artwork to someone who didn’t know you

145. Had a booth at a street fair

146. Dyed your hair

147. Been a DJ

148. Shaved your head

149. Caused a car accident

150. Saved someone’s life by not hitting them with my car.


Homemade pizza rolls

>> Monday, December 15, 2008

I'm sure that you've noticed that posts have been few and far between lately. What can I say? The holiday season - especially if you have kids, I think - is a busy one! I've got lots of ideas brewing and will post when I can during this fun and busy time. In the meantime, I hope that you'll enjoy this recipe idea and have a great holiday season!

My son is a picky eater - just like his mother. He gets bored easily with sandwiches - also just like his mother - so I've been trying to think of alternatives that I can fix for him to throw into his lunchbox. This recipe for Ranch Chicken Pockets at Megan's Munchies gave me an idea for making homemade pizza rolls. (And, yes, the pizza rolls are really just little calzones, but it's more fun to call them pizza rolls!)

These pizza rolls are great because you can make them ahead of time and throw them in a lunch or even freeze them to eat later. Even better - you can customize them however you want! We've made Megan's Ranch Chicken Pockets (using HFCS-free ranch dressing, of course) - delicious - and nacho pockets as well as the pizza rolls. The flavor combos that would work with this idea are endless.

One note - be careful buying pizza sauce! HFCS is a common ingredient in packaged pizza sauce. We used to be fans of Boboli's pizza sauce, but alas, it contains HFCS. There are several brands out there that don't have HFCS in it, though. We used Rustic Crust's One Top Tomato! Old World Tomato Sauce. It's a pretty good sauce, and comes in nice three-packs that are convenient. (If you have a recipe for a good homemade pizza sauce, I would love to get it!)

I also have to admit that my son does not like any of the pockets that I've made for him. None! Not even the pizza rolls! I suspect that he decided that he wouldn't like them ahead of time and that he will grow to like them, though, as often happens with my picky eater. My 2 yr old daughter loves them. My husband and I also love them. They're great for kids and adults alike.

On to the recipe!

Start with some pizza dough. You can buy some frozen pizza dough or make it yourself. I went the make it yourself route with a little help from my breadmaker. Not sure that a Jiffy crust kind of pizza dough would work well here as the quick dough made from the box tends to be a little too flimsy in my experience.

Take a little ball of the dough and roll it out. The dough will puff up a bit when cooking, so make it as flat as you possibly can. You can make your circle of dough big or small. I like to make them on the small side - better for lunch boxes and small hands.

Next, put a little of whatever you want in the middle of the circle. For pizza rolls, we used a little smear of pizza sauce topped with cheese for the kids and added some sauteed onion and mushroom for the adults. For nacho pockets, I used a smear of fat-free vegetarian refried beans (basically just smushed pinto beans) topped with some shredded nacho cheese. (I have to grudgingly admit that I used Velveeta Mexican Mild cheese here. Not exactly "real" cheese, but we liked the final product.) Salsa would also be a good addition.

Apologies for the poor quality of my food pictures! Still, you get the idea...

Fold the dough over, and crimp with a fork to close. I've taken to doubling the seam over and crimping again to keep it from opening while cooking, but those of you that are better bakers than I am probably won't need to do that.

Bake in a preheated 400 F oven for 10-15 min until the rolls are lightly browned. Let cool and enjoy!


My comments on new HFCS research

>> Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Sahar at Fat Fighter TV alerted me to new research recently released that indicates that finds no link between HFCS and obesity (click the Fat Fighter TV link and the research link for more indepth info on the research). The research implies that HFCS consumption is really no different than sucrose (aka table sugar) consumption. Woot! HFCS is back, baby! Bring on the twinkies!

Or maybe not. I've said before that it is unclear whether HFCS is evil or is simply maligned because of the foods that it is in. Rather than worry about what the latest study says about HFCS, we've taken the stance here that HFCS as an ingredient is a marker of poor quality. Think about it - what foods are most likely to have HFCS? Junk!

If you've read this blog much, you also know that it's hidden in unlikely places too - like soup and bread. Should the average person give those foods containing HFCS up if HFCS is no worse than sugar? Well, that's an individual decision. We have decided to go that route. And you know? We're eating better because of it. Of course, we're not just giving up HFCS. We're trying to do a total diet transformation. Whole grains. Good fats while phasing out the bad fats. Getting HFCS out of our diet has gone a long way toward that transformation. The foods without HFCS tend to be higher quality. They tend to have better ingredients in general. Not always, of course. There are plenty of exceptions, but no HFCS=higher quality seems to be a trend. I like that. It's a benefit to being HFCS free.

I know quite a few people that have given up HFCS because it isn't natural. (And I don't care what the FDA or the Corn Refiners Association say, that kernel of corn has been so manipulated by the time that it becomes HFCS it is laughable to call it natural.) We haven't really had that mindset, though I suppose it isn't a bad one to have. We started on this HFCS-free household mission because of the possible health effects of consuming too much fructose. We've decided to stay on this mission because our diet is so much healthier for having gotten rid of HFCS.

In the end, too much sugar or any form is not good for you - whether it is glucose, sucrose, or HFCS - and the new research confirms that. A healthy diet can include some sugar (including fructose - though I still believe that is best from whole foods) but limiting sugar is important (and one of my hardest challenges as a complete sugar junky) especially today when everything is loaded with sugar.

So, is HFCS evil? Or should we take as the message from this research that HFCS is just the same as sugar and not worry about it? We're sticking with our HFCS ban here. The result - no worries about the latest HFCS study and better food overall.


Friday Link Love

>> Friday, December 5, 2008

It's been a slow week here in blogland, but I'm back with a few links that I found particularly informative and enjoyable this week.

First, at the end of the day, are you a good tired or a bad tired? I have to admit, I've been more bad tired than good tired the past couple of years thanks to 2 kids that don't sleep well. Sleep is slowly but surely getting better around here, and MizFit's video post on good vs bad tired struck a nerve with me.

More on sleep! Cranky Fitness talks about how sleep is just as important as exercise for maintaining good health. Get your zzzzzz's people!

Last, Fresh Mouth is a great blog about the experiences of a family of 5 on a mission to eat only fresh foods or processed foods with less than 5 ingredients. No HFCS for them!


One of my favorite brands

>> Monday, December 1, 2008

Since we started this HFCS-free adventure, I find that even while I'm preparing more snacks and foods from scratch rather than turning to a box, I still like a certain amount of processed foods. Some foods just taste better out of a box than I could do from scratch - like crackers. And sometimes the convenience of a processed food just outshines homemade. And, let's not forget, kids like to match their friends, and sometimes that means finding a suitable processed substitute so that they won't feel left out.

There are a few brands that I find just don't fail me. Those brands, in addition to not having any HFCS, have ingredients that don't give me the heebie-jeebies. One of those brands is Wild Harvest Organics. Wild Harvest has a great selection of products - crackers (including a rosemary and sesame saltine that is so delish!), cookies, produce, meat, cereal, bread, and more. I haven't tried all that they have to offer yet. So far, we've tried a variety of their crackers and cookies, some chips, cereal, and their natural peanut butter. We haven't been disappointed with any of their offerings yet.

Best of all? The price is reasonable! Compared to most organic food lines, the price of Wild Harvest Organic products is comparable to non-organic lines. I'm not sure how they manage to be so inexpensive. Is it because Wild Harvest Organic is the store organic brand of a large grocery store chain? Or are the other organic brands over priced because they know that lots of people are willing to pay a premium for good ingredients and the organic label? I suspect that it's a bit of both.So, where can you buy their products? Wild Harvest Organics is sold through SuperValu, Inc. grocery stores. That grocery store conglomerate includes Albertsons, Biggs, Jewel-Osco, Farm Fresh, Acme, Hornbacher's, Cub, Shaw's Star Market, Shop 'n Save, and Shoppers. Sadly, because it is a store brand, you won't find it at any non-SuperValu grocery stores. But, if SuperValu sees the value in having its own organics line that is inexpensive, perhaps other grocery store chains will follow their lead!


A special Thanksgiving HFCS food of the week

>> Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What two side dishes are practically synonymous with Thanksgiving? Why, stuffing and cranberry sauce! There are tons of great stuffing and cranberry sauce recipes out there, but sometimes it's easier to turn to stuffing from a box and cranberry sauce from a can. Heck, cranberry sauce from a can is a tradition in itself for many families. So, let's take a look at these two Thanksgiving staples in a little more detail.

First, stuffing. I've talked in the past about how HFCS is ubiquitous in bread products, so it should come as no surprise that most commercial stuffing products contain HFCS. Take a look at the Stove Top Stuffing Mix for Chicken ingredient list:

Enriched Wheat Flour [Wheat Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Folic Acid], High Fructose Corn Syrup, Onions (Dried), Salt, Contains Less than 2% of: Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and/or Cottonseed Oil, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, Yeast, Cooked Chicken and Chicken Broth, Maltodextrin, Monosodium Glutamate, Parsley (Dried), Celery (Dried), Spice, Sugar, Corn Syrup (Dried), Caramel Color, Turmeric, Disodium Guanylate, Disodium Inosinate, with BHA, BHT, Citric Acid, and Propyl Gallate as Preservatives.

What a list! And there as the second ingredient is HFCS. It also contains partially hydrogenated soybean oil, another ingredient I'm striving to avoid now. As tasty as it is, best to just avoid the Stove Top.

Next, cranberry sauce. I personally have never cared for cranberry sauce, but I know lots of people who really prefer their cranberry sauce to come from a can. I guess the texture of the sauce from the can is hard to duplicate. If you buy canned cranberry sauce, though, beware! Ocean Spray Jellied Cranberry Sauce has a very simple ingredient list - Cranberries, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Water, Corn Syrup. Unfortunately, a main component of that list is HFCS.

So, what can you do? Well, there are options for cranberry sauce that do not contain HFCS. Most organic varieties - such as Grown Right Organic Jellied Cranberry Sauce - won't contain HFCS. Or, if you have the time, you can make your own. VeganYumYum has a very yummy looking recipe for homemade jellied cranberry sauce.

Finding a stuffing mix without HFCS on your grocery store shelf might be a little harder. Luckily there are tons of delicious stuffing recipes online. We started making a bread-free wild rice stuffing a couple of years ago when my daughter had a wheat intolerance (one that she has since outgrown, thank goodness). It's easy and delicious and has become a new family tradition for us - one that I don't mind sharing with you.

Wild Rice, Sausage, and Apple Stuffing

1 cup wild rice (I use a wild rice/brown rice/white rice mix from the store)
3 cups water (or however much water the rice package indicates for a cup of rice)
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 TBSP butter or olive oil
1 medium onion
2 cooking apples, peeled and chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
2 cloves of garlic
1 tsp ground thyme
pinch ground nutmeg
pepper to taste
1/2 lb turkey breakfast sausage links, casing removed

Combine wild rice, water, and 1/2 tsp salt in medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer until the rice is tender and just bursting, about 30 min. Saute the onion, apple, celery, garlic, thyme, nutmeg and remaining 1 tsp of salt and pepper. Cook until softened. Stir in sausage, breaking it up, and cook until done. Combine the rice and sausage mix.

Hope everyone has a wonderful, HFCS-free Thanksgiving! I'll be taking the rest of the week off from blogging to enjoy all that this week has to offer. See you next week!


Friday links

>> Friday, November 21, 2008

Time to pass a little love to some of the links that I've enjoyed through the week.

Do you take a lot of different medications? Or maybe have a parent or loved one that does? Then read this post! Musings of a Distractible Mind talks about the dangers of overmedication and gives great pointers on how to avoid problems when taking multiple medicines.

I love reading about different food ingredients and how they work together in cooking. Accidental Hedonist dissects the Toll House cookie recipe and explains each ingredients roll in the final product. Good stuff!

Liz Rosembaum has a great article on a subject near and dear to my heart - boycotting the clean plate club. As a parent, I often find that the dance between making sure my kids try good healthy foods while still maintaining their ability to stop eating when they're full (an ability I have long since lost, unfortunately) can be a difficult one. Check out her post for good tips for how to get back that ability as an adult.

Last is this really interesting publication (ok, in a very geeky, food science kind of way) from the American Council on Science and Health on the natural carcinogens lurking in your Thanksgiving dinner. The article isn't bashing Thanksgiving dinner, but it is eye opening!


Finding a HFCS-free jelly

>> Thursday, November 20, 2008

Jelly was going to be the surprising HFCS food of the week, but then I thought that jelly with HFCS - maybe not so surprising. I mean, jelly is sugar based, so it isn't surprising that jelly manufacturers might want to use HFCS to save a little money. But what do you do if you're a mom and you or your kids want a PB&J? Or if you want a piece of toast with a little smear of jelly? Well, fortunately, there are HFCS-free jellies and jams out there!

Most of the jams and jellies on my grocery store's shelves are loaded with HFCS, but I have found some exceptions. Most of the organic jellies, jams, and preserves do not use HFCS, and more and more brands are offering an organic option. I've bought Tropical brand strawberry and peach preserves that are just fine and HFCS free. One of my favorite non-organic finds has been Smuckers Low-Sugar (No Artificial Sweetener) Preserves. With less sugar, the fruit flavor is a little more pronounced than in the full sugar preserves.

One flavor - one of my favorite flavors - that has been exceedingly hard to find in a HFCS-free jelly is concord grape. In fact, I haven't found a HFCS-free concord grape jelly. I'm a bit surprised by that as it seems to be the flavor synonymous with PB&J sandwiches. There is a decent substitute, though. Cascadian Farm Organics sells a concord grape fruit spread. The consistency is not the same as a jelly, but it has a good concord grape flavor.

Or if you're really lucky, you have a mom who likes to make her own jelly and is happy to share it. I get the most amazing jellies from my mother - including kudzu blossom jelly made from the flowers of the kudzu vine. It has a kind of deep red-purple color and tastes kind of like a combination of strawberry and grape.

And my favorite - scuppernong jelly. My mom gathers wild scuppernongs (a wild grape closely related to the more familiar muscadine grape) or else gladly takes some that someone else harvested and makes a divine jelly that is quite unlike concord grape jelly.

You can also make freezer jellies and jams that have an amazingly fresh taste. They are a thinner consistency but really preserve the true flavor of the fruit much better than the kind of jellies that you can store in your pantry. I don't have it in me to make regular jams and jellies, but I think that I might try my hand at some freezer jams next year to preserve some of the wonderful fresh fruit of summer. The taste really is amazing!

Last, do you know what the difference between jellies, jams, preserves, and fruit spreads is? Jelly is made from fruit juice and has no fruit bits in it. Jam is made from crushed fruit and fruit puree and is generally less stiff than jelly. Preserves are made with large fruit chunks in a syrup or jam. There you go. They're basically the same, just getting chunkier as you go from jelly to jam and preserves.

So, if you're looking for a HFCS-free jelly or jam, head to the organic or specialty jellies and jams. Or, if you're an adventurous cook, make them yourself!


All about nutritional yeast

>> Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Have you heard of nutritional yeast? I hadn't until a couple of months ago when I reviewed a cookbook that used it as an ingredient. Now I find myself using it more and more. I love finding and learning about new foods, and thought I would share some of what I've learned about this odd ingredient with you.

So, what is nutritional yeast? Nutritional yeast is a deactivated form of the fungus (yes, yeast is a fungus) Saccharomyces cerevisiae that has been grown on a molasses-based medium. The molasses gives it more flavor than either brewer's or baker's yeast. The yeast is dried and sold as a powder or a flake. Nutritional yeast has a cheesy or nutty flavor - think cheesy umami flavor. It's often used by vegans for its cheesy flavor.

What's special about nutritional yeast? Nutritional yeast is loaded with protein (50% by weight!), B-vitamins, essential fatty acids, and folic acid. Some brands, but not all, are fortified with B-12. (The vitamin B-12 is produced by bacteria and then added to the yeast during the growing process. Not all companies do this, but Red Star apparently does.) The addition of B-12 makes nutritional yeast especially popular among vegans and vegetarians, as B-12 is an important nutrient that can be hard to get if you don't eat meat. It's also low in sodium, which is great when you're trying to impart a little extra flavor without loading up on sodium.

How do you use nutritional yeast? It's apparently a very popular topping for popcorn in some areas and because of its cheesy kind of flavor is often used in place of parmesan cheese in vegan diets. I've been sprinkling it onto vegetables like lima beans while I cook them. It adds a very subtle pleasant flavor to them. It could also be a salad topper. Its flavor is mild enough and pleasant enough that it really could be used on many different foods with good effect.

Where can you find nutritional yeast? You can order on-line or many health food stores sell it. Red Star is a very popular brand, and one of the brands that adds B-12 to the yeast. (If you're specifically consuming nutritional yeast for the B-12, read labels carefully! They aren't all fortified with B-12.) Nutritional yeast is sometimes sold as "savoury yeast flakes" or "vegetarian yeast."

Whatever you do, don't confuse nutritional yeast with brewer's yeast! I had two health food stores in my town tell me that they're the same thing - one even sold nutritional yeast (as vegetarian yeast) without knowing it. Brewer's yeast is a byproduct of the brewing industry and has a bitter flavor. It's the same deactivated yeast strain, but the growing medium is decidedly different resulting in decidedly different flavors.

Also don't use active, bread making yeast in place for nutritional yeast. Active yeasts are still alive and may continue to grow in your intestines resulting in you not getting all of the nutrients out of your food as you should.


Wraps - my favorite lunch

>> Monday, November 17, 2008

I am crazy about homemade wrap sandwiches. I have a wrap almost every day for lunch. They're so easy, and if you choose the right ingredients, very healthy! So, I thought I'd do a quick post today and share one of my favorites.

Start with a tortilla - I like to use a whole wheat or multi-grain tortilla. Unlike bread, I have yet to see a tortilla with HFCS in it, so it's a pretty easy to acquire HFCS-free ingredient. Next, add a smear of hummus to your tortilla. Then top with your favorite ingredients - today I added sliced onion, bottled roasted red bell pepper, fresh basil, and feta cheese.

I came across this combo in Cooking Light. They also added sliced lemon chicken, but I never have lemon chicken on hand and like it just as well meatless. Roll up and enjoy! So quick and easy!

Other standbys for me are a smear of cream cheese topped with a smear of basil pesto, onion, tomato, and sliced turkey. Or a smear of cream cheese topped with a smear of salsa, sliced avocados, and onion. The combinations are endless!

So, for a quick and healthy lunch, grab some fresh ingredients and a tortilla and go crazy! And if you come up with some particularly tasty combos, let me know about them!


And the winners are...

Time is up! Thanks to everyone that commented this week. Your comments are always appreciated, contest or not!
The winners of the two 1 year subscriptions to James Hubbards' My Family Doctor are.. MizFit and Amy from Super Healthy Kids! Congrats to both of you!


Friday links

>> Friday, November 14, 2008

Time to send out some link love again!

Dr. Bryan Vartabedian writes about HFCS in a well-balanced post on his blog Parenting Solved. If you're a parent, you'll want to add his blog to your daily reading list!

Healthy Eating has a couple of posts well worth reading this week. First, is the nutritional information you get off the web reliable? Find out where to go for quality information. Second, Thanksgiving is coming up. How are you going to handle well-meaning moms and grandmas who want to fatten you up with a second helping?

For all the parents out there, I just discovered this blog - Parent Proved - and love it. Lots of food for thought - as well as lots of good information.

Last, A Life Less Sweet made the list for 100 Best Blogs for Mind, Body, and Soul. Can't wait to check out the others on the list!

Enjoy your weekend! And don't forget to comment for a chance at the My Family Doctor magazine subscription. Tomorrow is the last day for comments!


Surprising HFCS food of the week

>> Thursday, November 13, 2008

I hate to admit this, but one of my all time favorite comfort foods is Campbells Condensed Tomato Soup with some canned peas and corn and maybe some onion and saltine cracker mixed in. It's one of those meals that my mom would make me as a child (though she was as likely to use whatever leftover vegetable was in the fridge) that I tend to turn to on cold winter days for a quick meal or when I'm feeling a little low.

Well, no more. Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup is our surprising HFCS-containing food of the week. Sigh. Besides being loaded with salt, many of the soups in the Campbells line contain HFCS. Not all, mind you, but many of them.

All is not lost, though! Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup might contain HFCS, but there are many tomato soups that do not contain HFCS - even in the Campbell's brand. For example, Campbell's Select Harvest Garden Recipes Harvest Tomato with Basil (whew! That's a mouthful!) is HFCS free. Amy's Cream of Tomato Soup is also HFCS free (as are all of Amy's soups).

Sadly, even the healthier canned soups are generally still loaded with sodium. The Campbell's Select Harvest tomato soup mentioned above has 20% of the recommended daily value of sodium in half a can of soup! And Amy's is even worse with 29% of the RDV of sodium in half a can of soup. Ouch! If you have any gumption, you're better off making a big batch of soup and freezing some for later. (Look for soup recipes here later this fall and winter.) It's likely to be better for you and taste better too.

Still, if you're in need of a quick soup fix and are set on buying a can of soup, watch the ingredients list! Lots of soups out there contain HFCS. Fortunately, there are also lots of HFCS-free soup options too if you're willing to search just a little bit.


Taking a break to remember

>> Tuesday, November 11, 2008

It's Veteran's Day today. Normally I would try to educate you on the many different HFCS-containing foods on your grocery store shelves, share a recipe, or educate myself by doing a nutrition post. But today is bigger than that. Today is a day to remember and honor all those who sacrificed and who fought to make our world a better place.

I've got a lot of veterans in my family - a grandfather who served in WWI (who I never met, but the stories I hear about him - wow!), uncles and a grandfather-in-law who served in major battles of WWII (and could barely talk about their experiences decades later because they were still so raw from the experience), a father who served on submarines during the Cold War, and more recently a nephew who fought in Iraq while still just a teen. This day means something to me, and I have to admit that when I sit down and think about this day and what it means, I get a little choked up.

This day originally marked the cessation of fighting between the Allied forces and Germany on November 11, 1918. President Wilson declared the day Armistice Day a year later. In 1954, President Eisenhower renamed the day Veteran's Day to honor all that have fought for our country. Several other countries celebrate Remembrance Day to honor their veterans.

For many people, today is a day without mail, a day to take advantage of sales in stores, or maybe a day off of work. And that's fine. But, take a moment to remember why we have this day. This day is important. And if you know a veteran, take a moment to let them know that you appreciate what they did for our country.


A divine stuffed mushroom recipe

>> Monday, November 10, 2008

I have a love affair with stuffed mushrooms. There's just something about the earthy flavor of a mushroom paired with a delicious stuffing. I have one recipe that I turn to whenever I'm in the mood for stuffed mushrooms. I've had this recipe for about a decade now, and I never tire of it.

Before we get to the recipe, you know I've got to talk a little about mushrooms. Mushrooms are a type of fungus and are surprisingly chocked full of good stuff. Crimini mushrooms, the kind I like to use in the recipe below, are considered an excellent source of selenium, riboflavin, copper, niacin, vitamin B5, potassium and phosphorus. On top of that, it's considered a very good source of zinc, manganese, thiamin, and vitamin B6. Wow!

Let's take a closer look at two of the minerals that are so prevalent in mushrooms. First, selenium. Selenium is a trace mineral that acts as an antioxidant in the body. So, it's thought to help keep the level of free radicals in your body low - that's a good thing. Selenium also helps the body to synthesize antibodies and to transport ions across cell membranes. Our bodies need very little selenium to function properly, and selenium deficiency is rare.

Zinc is needed for a body's immune system to work properly. It plays a part in cell growth and division and also in wound healing. It's also vital for the senses of smell and taste. Zinc is a cofactor for over 100 enzymes in the body and is essential for protein synthesis, DNA and RNA maintenance, bone mineralization, thyroid function, blood clotting, and cognitive functions. While zinc deficiency is rare, because a main source of zinc is from meat, it is a concern for vegetarians. In that respect, mushrooms can be a much needed source of zinc for a vegetarian diet.

On to the recipe! I originally found this recipe in Martha Stewart's magazine. It is much the same as the original recipe with just a few small tweaks. Hope you enjoy!

Mushrooms with Goat Cheese Stuffing
3 slices bread (white or wheat - both work well)
4 green onions, white and green parts roughly chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
4 oz fresh goat cheese
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro leaves (optional)
1 oz Monterey Jack cheese, finely grated
1 tsp salt
about 1 1/2 lbs of mushrooms, stems removed and caps cleaned

Pulse bread in a food processor until finely chopped. Transfer to a bowl. Place the green onions, red bell pepper, and goat cheese in the bowl of the food processor, and pulse until finely chopped and well combined. Add to bread crumbs and stir. Stir in the cilantro, Monterey Jack, and salt.

Heat oven to 400 F. Place mushroom caps on a large cookie sheet. Spoon goat cheese mix into eaps. Bake until mushroom caps are tender and filling is hot, about 20 min.

My husband said that I had to tell you to line the baking sheet with aluminum foil. The filling tends to drip down the sides of the mushrooms, and clean up is so much easier if the mushrooms sit on aluminum foil.


A Life Less Sweet's first giveaway!

You might remember a couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about the Small Steps for Health contest that the magazine James Hubbards' My Family Doctor was holding. Well, thanks to everyone that voted, I won a couple of categories and was runner up in a couple of categories! To say thank you to all of my readers and to introduce others to this very informative magazine, I'm going to give away TWO of my subscriptions to two lucky readers of this blog!

All you have to do is comment! Each time you comment on this blog - whether on an old post or one of this week's posts - you will be entered into the contest to win a free subscription to the magazine. You have until 11:59 PM this Saturday, November 15 to comment and be entered into the contest. The subscription must be to a US address, and you must be willing to provide your name and address should you win in order to claim your subscription. The winners will be announced next Monday.

So, if you're new to this blog, take a look around and let me know what you think! And if you're a frequent visitor, keep those comments coming - you might get a magazine subscription out of it!

Thought I should add that SPAM comments will not be included in the giveaway! Stay away, spammers!


Friday Link Love

>> Friday, November 7, 2008

Time to pass along a few links that I liked this week.

Hi, I'm Cathy, and I have trouble taking a compliment. Luckily, I'm in MizFit's 12 step thank-you therapy program and am making progress.

I love, love, love this next blog. It's just a mom living her life, but she tells about it in an oh-so witty and humorous way. Check out The Meanest Mom!

My husband and I love chai. And let me tell you, if you've only had coffee house chai before - kind of watered down and tasteless and all frothy the way that chai isn't meant to be - then you haven't really lived. It's been years and years since we've had really good chai, but all that has changed! Eating Well Anywhere posted the most divine chai recipe last week. I made it this week, and not only did it make my mouth most happy with its strong spice flavor, but it made my house smell amazing! My husband would have me make it just to have the house smell. Folks, this recipe is so worth the time!

Hope you enjoy! Come back next week - I'll tease you by saying that big things will be happening!


Surprising HFCS food of the week

>> Thursday, November 6, 2008

Planters has a new nut line out called NUTrician. We've really enjoyed the Heart Healthy Mix, which is a lower sodium (than regular nut mixes) mix with almonds, pistachios, pecans, hazelnuts and walnuts. Very tasty.

So, we didn't even think twice about picking up the Digestive Health Mix. It wasn't until we had eaten half the canister that we realized that the NUTrician Digestive Health Mix has HFCS in it. Curses! The Digestive Health Mix has almonds, dried cranberries and cherries, and granola. I would guess that the HFCS is hiding in the granola as granola is often a tricky thing to buy when you're HFCS free.
The rest of the Planters NUTrician products are free of HFCS for now.

If you're trying to live HFCS-free, remember that even products aimed toward healthy living can have it in them. We got a little complacent, and you got a post out of it!


Another company drops HFCS!

>> Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Oroweat rocks! Oroweat is removing HFCS from its entire line of products. They realize that many of their customers are removing HFCS from their diet and want to keep their customer base happy.

Oroweat marketing director Dan Larson had this to say:

"We continuously monitor studies regarding HFCS and its health implications. Even though there are differing opinions among the experts, more and more of our consumers have told us they do not favor high fructose corn syrup. It was a significant project, and we're now pleased to provide our products without HFCS."

Apparently many of Oroweat's breads were HFCS-free before the switch, but you can now buy any Oroweat bread with confidence that it is HFCS free. YES!


Prebiotics - good or bad?

>> Monday, November 3, 2008

One great thing about this blog is that through interacting with other people, I am learning so much. A commenter had a question about fructo-oligosaccharides - an ingredient she saw in one of her food products - and frankly I really didn't know anything about them. Hence this post! I love it when a question spurs me on to learn more about something - especially as I am relatively new to thinking about nutrition and what we put into our bodies in a more hardcore way. 

What is FOS?
So, what exactly are fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), and what are they doing in our food and supplements? Let's start with the big word - oligosaccharides are short to medium chains of sugar molecules. Adding fructo to the word indicates that the chain is composed of several fructose molecules. So FOS is really just a bunch of fructose molecules connected to each other chemically. (Similarly, galacto-oligosaccharides are a bunch of galactose - or milk sugar - molecules strung together.)

Inulin, often used as a dietary fiber, is a longer chain of fructose molecules. Sometimes inulin is referred to as an FOS, but FOS are generally shorter chains of fructose, while inulin is a very long chain of fructose. Both FOS and inulin are found naturally in Jerusalem artichoke, burdock, chicory, leeks, onion, aspargus, bananas, wheat, leeks, and tomatoes. FOS can be synthesized by Aspergillus enzmatically acting on sucrose or by the degradation of inulin.

FOS actually behaves quite differently than a solitary fructose molecule. We don't have the right enzymes to digest FOS, so they pass through our stomachs and small intestines intact. The flora in our large intestines and colon, however, are able to feed on FOS. What's more, FOS is preferred by the good bacteria (such as the Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus strains), though bad bacteria (like Klebsiella, Clostridium, and E. coli) are able to digest it on a limited basis. Because FOS serves as food for friendly bacteria (the kind you find in probiotics), it's considered to be a prebiotic. Get it? Prebiotics feed probiotics.

The Good
There are quite a few health benefits associated with FOS. Have you heard that a happy colon equals a happy body? Well, the health and happiness of your colon and intestines is largely dependent on its bacterial population. The human gastrointestinal tract has a complex ecosystem of hundreds of different types of bacteria. These bacteria have enormously important functions, including protection from infection from foreign bacteria and providing nutrients, including B-vitamins and short chain fatty acids.

The good bacteria in our body feed on FOS with a much greater efficiency than the bad bacteria in our body. In that way, FOS acts as a selective food for the good bacteria. The hope with a prebiotic like FOS is that the good bacteria will get the extra nourishment and thrive at the expense of the bad bacteria, and the bacterial population in your gut will then be mostly good bacteria.

FOS consumption has been associated with a lot of positive results. It's been shown to increase calcium and vitamin K absorption in the colon. It also boosts the bacterial populations' ability to synthesize B vitamins (like riboflaven, niacin, and pyridoxine). The level of short chain fatty acids in the colon is also higher with FOS consumption. All good things for colon health.

Because we can't digest FOS, it serves as a low-calorie dietary fiber, and we all know that we need to be consuming more dietary fiber! FOS is sweet - about half as sweet as table sugar - and is finding popularity as a low calorie sweetener, which is one reason why it's popping up in more and more foods.

The Bad
Of course, everything isn't all sunshine and roses with FOS (and inulin). There are concerns surrounding prebiotics. The biggest concern is that FOS also feeds the bad bacteria. If the microflora in a person's gut is out of balance - with more bad bacteria than good bacteria - this could be especially troubling.

Some people who consume FOS have problems with gas formation, bloating, abdominal pain, and (to a lesser extent) diarrhea. These problems have been attributed in part to actions by bad bacteria. While many people tolerate and are benefited by consumption of FOS, others simply cannot tolerate it and experience intestinal havoc when taking FOS or inulin.

Some claim that FOS and inulin can help those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), but clinical studies simply do not support this. Not only does FOS not help alleviate IBS symptoms, some IBS sufferers experience a short term worsening of IBS symptoms when taking FOS or inulin.

What's the bottom line?
FOS consumption has a lot of potentially positive outcomes, but its interactions with bacteria in the gut are still not well understood. Each person's body chemistry is so different, and I suspect that the microflora population (good versus bad bacteria) in a person's colon determines to a large extent how effective - or detrimental - FOS is. For a colon in bacterial balance, FOS and inulin are probably beneficial. For a colon where the bad bacteria have an edge, FOS and inulin might not be such a good thing.

FOS is starting to pop up in a lot of different places. If you buy probiotics (aka good bacteria taken as a supplement), you might see FOS bundled in. Inulin is sold as a dietary fiber (Fiber Choice fiber supplement). And because both are sweet, they're starting to be used as sweeteners in foods too.

In the end, we've decided to be cautious with FOS and inulin. We have irritable bowel syndrome in our family and don't want to risk the detrimental effects that can potentially come along with FOS and inulin consumption. So, for now, we'll stick with natural sources of FOS and avoid FOS as a supplement.

Thanks so much for the question, Rachel! I meant for this post to appear much sooner, but life gets in the way sometimes. Keep those questions coming!


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