Snack time! Fruit salad

>> Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Fruits and vegetables are such an important part of our diet, but I think that sometimes its easier to grab some crackers or a granola bar and forget that sometimes simple is best - at least I know that I'm guilty of that too often. Granola bars and crackers are certainly fine snacks in moderation, but you just can't go wrong with fruits and vegetables - that is, if you can get your child to eat them.

To combat the bready snacks, which have an especially strong pull on my son, we've set a rule that afternoon snack time is for fruits and vegetables. Usually I serve fruit or vegetables straight up at snack time, but when there's an abundance of ripe, fresh fruit available at the grocery store, it's nice to make a fruit salad. A fruit salad is a great way to introduce picky eaters to different fruits. (In theory, at least. I can't say that it's really worked that way around here.) Just grab whatever looks good at the time - mango, banana, strawberries, grapes, and kiwi went into my last fruit salad - chop and mix together. If you've got a picky eater, maybe try adding in a small amount of a new fruit into the mix.

My family's twist on fruit salad (I'm blatantly stealing this idea from my mother, who made the most delicious fruit salad this way on our last visit) is to add a little POM pomegranate juice to the cut up fruit. It adds a pleasant twang and unifies the different flavors a bit. You could use any fruit juice, I suppose, but I thought that the POM was a nice, light flavor that didn't compete too much with the other fruit flavors.

You could take it a little further and add some yogurt or even (gasp!) whipped cream to transform it into a dessert. Another trick of my mom's is to substitute some melon liquor for the POM for a more sophisticated adult fruit salad. I haven't tried that yet, but it does sound awfully good!


Some late weekend link love

>> Sunday, April 26, 2009

I've got several good links and blogs for you to check out! First up, another list 'o blogs. A Life Less Sweet was included in a "100 Best Wellness Blogs for Women" list. Woo hoo! Lots of other great blogs on it to check out...

Next, a blog that has been in my blog reader for months now - Itty Bitty Bistro. Itty Bitty Bistro is "two moms attempting to feed their kids something above and beyond the usual toddler repertoire." They featured my favorite brownie recipe recently. On my list to try - their soft granola bars!

Moving on...we tried this wonderfully simple Chicken Sausage, Broccoli, and Parmesan Brown Rice Dinner from Picky Palate tonight. Yummy!

Last, a little anti-HFCS humor from Real Life Comics.

The weekend is pretty much over here. Hope everyone had a good one!


A wonderful soup for spring

>> Wednesday, April 22, 2009

It's spring here - finally! And with spring comes thoughts of green and all things light and fresh. In honor of spring, I want to share a delicious vegetable soup that we've been enjoying recently.

Not long after I started this blog, I reviewed a vegan cookbook called the 30-Day Diabetes Miracle Cookbook. We don't have diabetes in our family, and we're not vegan, but we have come to love this cookbook. It really has some wonderful recipes in it - including this soup.

The cookbook introduced us to an odd ingredient that we hadn't heard of before - nutritional yeast. I find myself using it in all kinds of places now - on oven-baked french fries and especially on any of my cooked vegetables. If you haven't discovered nutritional yeast yet, read my old post on nutritional yeast and then go get some to try! It adds a nice kind of nutty cheesiness that really complements vegetables - and it makes this soup.

I was a little nervous when I first made this soup - wondered if it would be flavorful enough or just taste like a bunch of vegetables dumped in water - but I made it at the request of my husband. I was very pleasantly surprised to find that it is absolutely delicious! It's a light (though substantial enough to be a meal) soup that is quick to make. Don't leave out the nutritional yeast if you can help it! It really pulls the flavors together.

One note on the soup - it calls for a vegan chicken-style bouillon. I use Better than Bouillon Chicken Base instead, but you could use a regular bouillon, a vegan bouillon, or even plain old chicken broth (using less water if you go with broth).

Summer Vegetable Soup

4 cups water
1 1/3 cup cubed unpeeled red potato
1 cup sliced zucchini
1 cup sliced yellow squash
2/3 cup chopped fresh tomatoes
2/3 cup celery
1 1/3 cup sliced carrot
2/3 cup chopped onion
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1/16 tsp dried savory
1/2 tsp dried thyme
2 tsp chicken-flavored bouillon
1 tsp salt
2 tsp Red Star nutritional yeast flakes
1/3 cup fresh spinach
1/3 cup frozen green beans (steamed fresh or canned would work well too)
1/3 cup frozen green peas

In a large pot, place all of the ingredients, except the spinach, green beans, and peas, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients, and return to a boil. Remove from heat and serve immediately.

As a bonus, try cooking some lima beans in some broth (or in water with bouillon), several whole garlic cloves, and a tablespoon or two of nutritional yeast. Delicious! It's my favorite way to serve lima beans these days.


Because you asked...let's talk about "freshness" additives

>> Monday, April 20, 2009

A few weeks back I got an e-mail from a reader asking about the additive TBHQ. Cindy wrote, "I have wondered what TBHQ for freshness is and is this bad?" Great question! I had to a little research because I didn't know what this ingredient was either.

TBHQ is the short name for tert-butylhydroquinone. TBHQ is a synthetic antioxidant added to oils and fats to retard spoilage. Vegetable oils contain a natural antioxidant called tocopherol (aka vitamin E); however, the amount present in oils is often not enough for oxidative stability. Adding extra tocopherol doesn't really help, and so a synthetic antioxidant such as TBHQ is often added.

tert-butylhydroquinone or tBHQ

Additives are often added to foods to enhance flavor or texture or to increase shelf life. Fats and oils are susceptible to auto-oxidation. This is not desireable as oxidation results in rancidity and off flavors as well as the loss of vitamins. To combat this, manufacturers often add a small amount of additive antioxidant to their product. Oxygen will preferentially react with the antioxidant rather than oxidizing the fat or oil, thus protecting them from spoilage. The additive may be mixed directly into the product, sprayed onto the product, or even sprayed onto the inner packaging.

Are they safe? Three common synthetic antioxidants frequently used are TBHQ, BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene), and BHA (butylated hydroyanisole). The big question is whether these additives are safe or not. The honest answer is that no one really knows.

It doesn't take much of any of these compounds to provide oxidative stability, and they are all considered safe in the amounts used. However, they are all also suspected carcinogens. Studies in animals have shown that consumption of BHA and BHT may increase the risk of cancer and that these compounds may accumulate in body tissue (though they've also been shown to be rapidly excreted in urine). TBHQ is also a suspected carcinogen; however, one study suggests that it does not accumulate in body tissue.

Before freaking out too much over these studies, remember that most of these studies involve animals - not humans - consuming enormous amounts of the compound in question. They are in many ways necessarily unrealistic. A good quote from a commentor of a blog that I like, Molecule of the Day, "How about a general rule: You don't get to call something "poisonous" if the "hazardous dose" would hurt when thrown at your head?" There is some truth in that quote.

On the flip side, there are possible good effects from these synthetic antioxidants. A 1994 study suggests that BHA and BHT may actually retard cancer development. And BHA and BHT are being studied for their antiviral and antimicrobial activities. Researchers are looking at ways to use BHT to treat herpes simplex and even AIDS. BHT is actually sold as a health food supplement in capsule form, particularly as a treatment for herpes family viruses.

Some people may be sensitive to the use of all of these additives and experience migraines, nausea, and other unpleasant side effects. People with a sensitivity to MSG seem particularly susceptible to the nastier side of BHT, BHA, and tBHQ. All three have been associated with children's behavioral problems; however, this association has not been conclusively proven.
tBHQ powder

Where do you find these additives? Well, everywhere. Since getting this question via e-mail, I've seen TBHQ and BHT in many different food products in our household. BHT is commonly added to petroleum products to slow oxidation. You'll also find them in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, fuels, and even embalming fluid.

Should you be concerned about consuming these additives? That's a trickier question. While these additives serve a useful purpose, they clearly have a darker side. What is unclear is whether that darker side exists in the very small quantities that they're consumed in. There is considerable uncertainty in the literature concerning the safety of BHT, BHA, and TBHQ. BHT and BHA may accumulate in tissue (maybe), which presents a greater long term concern to me - especially as a mother.

My bottom line is that I personally am not going to give up foods containing these additives. But, I will be more aware of our consumption of these additives after this. If anything, it increases my resolve to be more aware of what we consume and makes me happy that we have significantly decreased the amount of processed foods that we consume.


My favorite brownies ever (with a gluten-free twist)!

>> Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Just because we've given up HFCS and are eating healthier doesn't mean that we can't enjoy a decadent dessert every now and then. I found this delectable brownie recipe in Fine Cooking about a decade ago, and it's the only brownie I make since. If you like a cakey brownie, this is not the brownie for you! These brownies are extra fudgy with a deep chocolate flavor.

If you are gluten intolerant or have a wheat allergy, I'm happy to report that these brownies are just as good with a non-wheat flour. I've made many batches using brown rice flour (one to one substitution), and I don't think that there is any noticeable difference in the final product.

The next time you're looking for a chocolaty treat, whip a batch of these up. It takes literally 5 min to throw these together to pop into the oven.

Best Brownies Ever

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
10 TBSP melted butter
2 large eggs
1/3 cup all purpose flour (brown rice and other gluten free flours work well too)
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Heat the oven to 350 F. Line an 8"x8" baking pan (preferably metal) with aluminum foil across the bottom and up two opposite sides of the pan. (I use 2 long strips of Al foil and criss-cross them.)

In a medium bowl, thoroughly mix the cocoa, sugar, vanilla, salt, and butter. Add the eggs and beat until the batter is thick and lightened in color. Add the flour and mix until just blended. Fold in the nuts, if using. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan and bake until the top is puffed and slightly crusted and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a little fudge batter clinging to it, about 30 min.

Let the brownies cool completely in the pan on a rack. Lift the ends of the foil to remove them. Invert the brownies on a plate and peel the foil off. Turn the brownies right side up and cut into squares.

I live at altitude, and that seems to affect the cooking time. The last batch I made took about 50 min to really set up. So, check them at 30 min, but don't be afraid to let them cook a little longer if necessary!

Don't forget to comment with #sinupret at the end for a chance to win one of the Sinupret for Kids gift packs! Every comment is a separate entry!


Win a gift pack from Sinupret for Kids!

>> Monday, April 13, 2009

This post has been moved to my new giveaway site. Check it out over there to read more about Sinupret for Kids!


Check out these blogs!

>> Friday, April 10, 2009

Before I get to the links, a little news. A Life Less Sweet is now on Alltop! If you've not visited Alltop before, it's a great compendium of blogs and news sources. They describe themselves as "an information filter to help you find your nuggets of gold." You can find this blog - as well as many other interesting blogs - at

Now for a couple of blogs that I want you to visit. First up, Eat Real - Real Food for Real People. Love this blog! It's chocked full of great recipes and information. Their recipe for colcannon is out of this world - and I generally do not care for cooked cabbage. I also have started making my hummus and falafel starting from dried garbanzo beans thanks to Eat Real. (If you decide to use my hummus recipe starting from dried beans instead of canned, you'll need to modify the recipe a bit - more liquid and more salt.)

And another great blog you should check out - Fooducate. This is a great blog that seeks to educate consumers about the food that we buy and eat. Check out their post on nitrates in your luncheon meat or things to know about yellow food coloring #5.

Have a great weekend!


Springtime is for hot chocolate!

>> Thursday, April 9, 2009

A post about hot spring. While hot chocolate season may be long gone for most of you, we still have snow on the ground and falling from the sky where I am. So, this is for all of you still looking at snow and wearing winter coats. I'll try to remember to repost for those of you looking at green and flowers in the fall.

One of the products we have ditched because of trans fat is hot chocolate. Yep, every container of powdered hot chocolate that I looked at in my grocery store had partially hydrogenated oil as an ingredient. I suppose the fat gives it a good mouth feel.

All is not lost, though! We now make our own hot chocolate mix - trans fat free - thanks to Alton Brown. He has a very tasty recipe for hot chocolate that we all rather enjoy. Not only is it better for us (have you ever looked at the ingredient list for store-bought powdered hot chocolate? It's loooong.), but it's also cheaper to make it ourselves. Alton suggests adding in a little cayenne, but I prefer to use a liberal dose of cinnamon instead. Everything is better with a little cinnamon!

Alton Brown's Hot Cocoa

2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup cocoa (Dutch-process preferred)
2 1/2 cups powdered milk
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 pinch cayenne pepper, or more to taste (optional - I like to add cinnamon instead)
Hot water

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and incorporate evenly. In a small pot, heat 4 to 6 cups of water. Fill your mug half full with the mixture and pour in hot water. Stir to combine. Seal the rest in an airtight container, keeps indefinitely in the pantry. This also works great with warm milk.

Eating Well Anywhere also has a good hot chocolate recipe - one that doesn't use powdered milk. My husband likes having a complete mix that he can just dump into water and stir, but if you don't mind dumping into milk instead, the Eating Well Anywhere recipe is a great one to check out.


Chewing the fat - or rather spitting it out

>> Tuesday, April 7, 2009

While the main focus of this blog has been on removing HFCS from our diet, we're also taking other steps to improve the overall quality of the foods that we eat. One of the things that we're doing is phasing out bad fats and replacing them with good fats. So today, I'm going to talk about our first target - trans fat.

What is trans fat?
First, let's have a little chemistry lesson and look quickly at the three main types of fatty acids (otherwise known as fats) - saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. (You can skip this part if chemistry is not your thing.) A saturated fat has hydrogen attached to every spot on every carbon atom in the fat and is solid at room temperature.

A monounsaturated fat contains a double bond in the carbon chain - a place where a pair of hydrogen atoms are missing. Because they are missing hydrogen atoms, it is considered unsaturated. When there are more two or more double bonds, the fat is considered polyunsaturated. Mono and polyunsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. Olive oil is an example of a monounsaturated fat, and omega-3 oils are examples of polyunsaturated fats.

a polyunsaturated molecule

Trans fat is made when hydrogen is added to liquid vegetable oil (a nice monounsaturated fat) during a process called hydrogenation. An unsaturated fat contains double bonds. Hydrogen atoms at the double bond are usually positioned on the same side of the carbon chain (a cis molecule). During partial hydrogenation, the molecule rearranges a bit and hydrogen atoms end up on opposite sides of the double bond. This structure carries the trans nomenclature.

Unsaturated fats with the cis structure are kinked. They don't stack well and so stay fluid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats with the trans structure are straight and stack together easily. Because they stack together so easily, trans unsaturated fats solidify at room temperature. Because of their unique structure, trans fats are softer than fully saturated fats.

a monounsaturated molecule in cis and trans configurations

Double bonds in a fat are susceptible to attack by free radicals. A more saturated fat with fewer double bonds is less prone to rancidity. Hydrogenating a fat removes the troublesome attack sites and makes the fat more shelf stable. Likewise, an unsaturated fat in the trans configuration is also less prone to attack by free radicals.

Why should we care about trans fat?
In a nutshell, trans fat is an issue because it is associated with all kinds of health problems. Trans fat can wreak havoc on your cholesterol levels - increasing your LDL (the "bad" cholesterol) and decreasing your HDL (the "good" cholesterol). A high LDL is a major risk factor for heart disease. HDL picks up excess cholesterol and takes it back to the liver, so higher HDL is a good thing.

Trans fat also increases triglycerides and causes more inflammation. Triglycerides are another kind of fat that may contribute to hardening or thickening of artery walls. Trans fat consumption is associated with an increased risk of stroke and type-2 diabetes.

Where is trans fat found?
So where does trans fat hide? Not surprisingly, it's found in shortenings, some margarines, and fried foods. Because trans fat increases shelf life and flavor stability, decreases refrigeration requirements, and gives a good mouth feel, it's also rampant in baked goods - crackers, cookies, snack foods.

You can spot trans fat by looking for partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated oil in the ingredient list. All partially hydrogenated oils contain some amount of trans fat. Fully hydrogenated oils do not contain trans fat - those oils are completely saturated. Unfortunately, an oil labeled simply as "hydrogenated" may actually be partially hydrogenated and contain trans fat. Unless the ingredient list specifically states that it is fully-hydrogenated, you should assume that there is some amount of trans fat contained in the oil.

Trans fat is also naturally occurring. Small amounts of trans fat are found in dairy and meat products. Some research suggests that this naturally occurring trans fat is not as bad as man made trans fat, but results are still inconclusive.

Does zero trans fat really mean zero trans fat?
In a word, no. The FDA's rule is that a product can declare itself as trans fat free if the total fat in the food is less than 0.5 grams per serving and no claims are made about the fat or cholesterol content. There are a lot of foods out there declaring themselves trans fat free that contain partially hydrogenated oils - and the trans fat that comes with those oils.

The amount of trans fat that you consume from these products is small, but those grams of trans fat add up if a person eats more than one serving or several products containing small amounts of trans fat through the day. The FDA has not set a "daily recommended value" for trans fat consumption, but the American Heart Association does have a trans fat consumption recommendation:

The American Heart Association recommends limiting the amount of trans fats you eat to less than 1 percent of your total daily calories. That means if you need 2,000 calories a day, no more than 20 of those calories should come from trans fats. That’s less than 2 grams of trans fats a day. Given the amount of naturally occurring trans fats you probably eat every day, this leaves virtually no room at all for industrially manufactured trans fats.

How to rid your diet of trans fat
Read the ingredients! Avoid foods that contain partially hydrogenated oils or hydrogenated oils. Avoid foods with shortening or margarine, as they usually - though not always - contain trans fat. (As a side note, there are shortenings that do not contain trans fat. They accomplish that by mixing a fully hydrogenated oil, which is very hard at room temperature, with liquid vegetable oils to achieve the proper consistency.)

We have not completely eliminated all man-made trans fat from our life. I'm finding that task to be even harder than getting rid of all HFCS. Partially hydrogenated oils are used in so many processed foods, but most use it in small amounts and can claim to be trans fat free. For now, we are greatly reducing our consumption of foods that contain partially hydrogenated oils, but we can't claim to be totally trans fat free.

Look for more posts on fats and various oils in the coming weeks!


Pistachio recall information

>> Monday, April 6, 2009

I was dismayed to see the pistachio recall that started while on vacation. I like pistachios - a lot - and often buy them for us to snack on. I noticed a lot of pistachio products still on the shelves while at the grocery store this morning but didn't buy any because of the recall.
So, I was happy to receive an e-mail from Paramount Farms, "the largest grower and processor of almonds and pistachios in the world." They're spreading the word that there are still a lot of pistachio products not affected by the recall of pistachios from Setton Farms.

You can check the status of your favorite pistachio product at the website The website is a collaboration between the FDA and California pistachio growers/processors. The website has an easy to view list of all of the brands not containing the recalled pistachios. (Note that though this site is a collaboration between the pistachio companies and the FDA, the FDA does not certify that the information on the PistachioRecall website is accurate.)

You can also go straight to the FDA's website for information on the pistachio recall.


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