Hot Food and Nutrition Trends for 2014

What’s hot and trending in the food and nutrition world for 2014? Here are some trends that you won’t want to miss:

1) Clean eating- Clean eating is about eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seeds and nuts and less processed foods, sugar and salt. Whether you follow the Paleo diet, the Zone diet, Gluten-free diet, Weight Watchers or your own combination of what works for you- I am certain everyone can agree that processed foods should be eaten sparingly if not eliminated. Hence the increase in farmer’s markets and farm-to-table restaurants.

2) Cauliflower- This low calorie, vitamin-C rich vegetable is still expected to be popular in 2014. Whether eaten mashed like potatoes or seasoned and burnt in the oven, cauliflower will continue to be enjoyed by many.

3) Kale will continue to be juiced into smoothies, baked into chips or eaten in salads. One cup of chopped Kale has only 33 calories and contains significant amounts of calcium, vitamins A, C and K. Kale is also rich in the types of anti-oxidants associated with many of the anti-cancer health benefits.

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4) Coconut oil- rich in plant-based saturated fats will remain wildly popular among dietary fanatics and nutritionists- is used in cooking; slathered on skin and swished in the mouth for “cleansing purposes.” Coconut oil is better than butter and trans fats, however it is not as good as liquid vegetable oils like soybean, canola or olive oil, according to Penny Kris-Etherton, PhD, RD, Penn State University cardiovascular nutrition researcher.

5) The low-fat trend is weakening. Finally! Studies have shown that low-fat does not always lead to less body fat. As a result, the low-fat trend is fading as people are consuming more olive oil, avocados and bacon.

What particular superfood (food with supposed health benefits) do I like the best? Honey! Honey contains certain antioxidants which help reduce the risk of some cancers and heart disease. Athletes claim that ingesting honey helps to maintain glycogen levels and improve recovery time more than other sweeteners. Honey contains simple sugars, yet it is not the same as white sugar or artificial sweeteners. The combination of fructose and glucose found in honey actually helps the body regulate blood sugar levels.  Additionally, honey helps to alleviate coughs and may help reduce ulcers and other gastrointestinal disorders.

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Simply stated, I love honey because it is sweet. My unparalleled sweet tooth consists of a constant yen for chocolate. As I continue my quest to eat cleaner and healthier, I try to substitute honey as a sweetener whenever possible.

I have included one of my favorite honey recipes. This delicious honey baked chicken recipe has only 6 ingredients and is so easy to make.

Baked Honey Chicken

Ingredients

1 three (3) pound whole chicken cut into pieces or 4-6 thick, boneless chicken breasts
1/2 cup butter or margarine- melted
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup mustard (I used deli mustard)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cumin

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place chicken in a shallow baking pan, skin side up if using a whole chicken. In a bowl, combine (with a spoon or whisk) the melted butter or margarine, honey, mustard, salt and cumin and pour the mixture over the chicken. Bake for 65-75 minutes, basting once after 15 minutes with the sauce in the pan. Bake until the chicken is browned on top and tender and the juices run clear when the chicken is cut open.

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Honey Mask for Dry Skin

1 teaspoon raw honey
1 teaspoon mashed avocado
1 teaspoon plain whole milk yogurt

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl until smooth. Spread the mixture on your face and let sit for 20-30 minutes. Wash off, carefully avoiding your eyes. The fats in the avocado and the yogurt will moisturize your skin. The lactic acid in the yogurt smooths your skin, stimulates collagen production and refines the pores.

Honey Mask For Sensitive Skin

2 teaspoons raw honey
1 teaspoon aloe vera gel

Combine the ingredients in a bowl and smooth on your face. Leave on for about 10-20 minutes, then wash off. The aloe soothes inflammation and rejuvenates sensitive skin.

Enjoy! And remember, “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.” Translation: You will be more successful in life being sweeter or nice, rather than being mean or hurtful to people.

 

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What’s For Dinner?

We have all uttered those words, “what’s for dinner?” or “what’s for lunch?” at some time. And we all know what healthy foods to eat when we go out for lunch or dinner. By now, you probably even know the healthy choices to eat at fast-food places. Yet sometimes the healthy food choice is not staring at us in the face. Or maybe we are bored of the traditional healthy choices. Sometimes we are short on time or cash. I have compiled a few healthy food options that I turn to when I am short on time or money. Maybe when you are stuck somewhere without the typical healthy food choices, you will remember this post.

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When I eat a hamburger, I order a whole wheat or whole grain bun because I must eat half a bun with my burger. It’s strange because I eat meatballs and steak without bread but I can’t go bun-less with a hamburger. However, for the carb-free eaters, two new (new to my area) hamburger fast-ish food places; Dirty Burger and BurgerFi offer hamburgers wrapped in lettuce. My husband loves the burger-wrapped in lettuce alternative. Occasionally, after I eat a hamburger at these places I find that I am still hungry. Sometimes I order another hamburger but other times, instead of eating french fries or onion rings, I order a hot dog (without the bun). I know I may get negative feedback about this but I have spoken with two nutritionists who said that if its a choice between french fries, onion rings or a hot dog, at least the hot dog provides protein.

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Sometimes I find myself near a pizza place and although I really want the slice of pizza (my favorite food ever!), instead, I order a side of meatballs.  A side of meatballs is usually two or three meatballs and at times I order it with a little bit of melted mozzarella cheese. I find that the protein in the meatballs keeps me satisfied for hours. Again, a better alternative than eating two slices of pizza.

For many reasons, it’s always better to plan meals ahead of time. However, sometimes life gets in the way; maybe you had to work late, or an unexpected deadline came up or you were stuck in a last-minute meeting at work and there’s no way you want to start grilling chicken after the day you’ve had. It’s times like that when I pick up a cooked, rotisserie chicken at my local supermarket or prepared foods store. In my area, I can buy a whole chicken for less than $7.00 at Shoprite super market or Iavarone specialty foods store. I ask the person in the meat department to please cut the chicken up for me and it lasts for days. If you do not eat the skin, it is a very healthy, cheap option for dinner and the next day’s breakfast, lunch or dinner.

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When dining out, if you are craving something other than the typical salad with grilled chicken or broiled fish, I have a suggestion for you. I found a wonderful restaurant, Hill Country in New York City. This meat-intensive, Paleo-friendly, barbecue restaurant has locations in New York City, Brooklyn, N.Y. and Washington, D.C. Their dry-rub style ribs, sausage, brisket and other meats are slow-cooked and served on butcher-paper, counter-style by the pound. Yes- you order and pay by the pound! Portions are ginormous. Their spare ribs are like the brontosaurus ribs Fred Flintstone ate. I’ve been to the New York City location many times and I’ve ordered one rib and a piece of brisket and then went back up to the counter and ordered more ribs. Their chicken and side dishes are also excellent but truthfully, I go there for the meats. Vegetarians will like the mac n’ cheese, green bean casserole and white shoe peg corn pudding.

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Be creative with your food choices. It’s fun to come up with fresh ideas for eating healthy. Honestly, I have a limited palate and I tend to get bored eating “salad with grilled chicken.” If anyone has any healthy eating ideas they would like to share, feel free to comment on this post.

What Happened To Good Ole Peanut Butter?

When I was a kid, the choice of peanut butter was between Skippy or Jif and maybe some supermarket brand that no one ever bought. Then years later I remember going to a health food store in my neighborhood where you could watch your own peanut butter being made fresh. You would scoop the peanuts and then pour them into a gargantuan machine where the peanuts would be pulverized right before your eyes. No additives, no sugar. Yummm fresh peanut butter- what could be better? Other than the fact that it didn’t last more than a few days?

Fast forward to the present day and there are apparently a plethora of peanut butter options that are a heck of a lot healthier than what we ate growing up. A walk down the aisle of a regular super market will give you the old standards like Skippy and Jif, yet these days you will find low fat and chocolate flavored options along with Smuckers “natural” peanut butter. Some supermarkets carry almond butter- peanut butter made with almonds, not peanuts.

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Health food stores and stores such as Whole foods or Trader Joes stock a variety of these new and improved, healthier peanut butter alternatives. My local Whole Foods sells almond butter, sunbutter, cashew butter, soynut butter and even powdered peanut butter.  “Just Great Stuff” is powdered organic peanut butter which when mixed with water has a smooth consistency and contains a fraction of the fat than in all of the butters just listed. And it is very tasty!

So what’s all the fuss about these new “alternative” peanut butters? Are they really healthier than our old peanut butter? What about the taste? What do the critics say?

Most of the consumer brands consist of Hydrogenated vegetable oil (to prevent oil separation), salt (to avoid spoiling), Dextros and artificial sweeteners (for taste). As an alternative to making your own nut butter (see my recipe below), I found a few healthy and delicious peanut butter alternatives in my local stores.

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Almond butter is made by grinding and smoothing almonds into a paste. By eating almonds or almond butter, you get fiber, protein, vitamin E, magnesium, potassium, iron, calcium and phosphorus.  Both almond butter and peanut butter are high in monounsaturated fats, however, almond butter is a slightly better nutritional choice with 5 grams per tablespoon versus 3.3 grams per tablespoon in peanut butter. Foods rich in monounsaturated fats may help to lower cholesterol. Almond butter is also a slightly better source of fiber and has four times more vitamin E than peanut butter. Vitamin E is known for its anti-oxidant properties and may help to prevent heart disease and cancer.

Soynut butter is made from roasted soybeans. Soynut butter is ideal for people with allergies to peanuts and tree nuts. Soynut butter is also gluten-free and dairy-free. Nutritionally, soynut butter is slightly better for you than peanut butter. In a 2 tablespoon serving, soynut butter contains 170 calories per serving, while peanut butter has 190 calories. Soynut butter has 100 calories from fat while peanut butter has 130. Both soynut butter and peanut butter are high in protein. Yet peanut butter contains more vitamins and minerals than soynut butter.

Unlike many other nuts, cashews and cashew butter do not contain omega-3 fatty acids which may reduce the risk of heart disease and prevent high blood pressure. However, cashew butter does contain high amounts of other heart-healthy fats and essential minerals and is a good low-carbohydrate, high protein option.

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Sunbutter or sunflower seed butter is peanut-free, tree-nut free and gluten-free. Followers of the Paleo diet usually opt for almond or sunflower butter. Sunflower seeds contain a number of essential vitamins and minerals. They supply B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, A, D, E and K and minerals such as calcium, potassium, zinc phosphorus, magnesium and selenium. Sunbutter is low in saturated fats, high in protein and low in sodium and has no cholesterol.

Personally, I think sunbutter is tastier than almond butter and soynut butter leaves me with a strange aftertaste. I also enjoy the taste of cashew butter, especially when it is homemade. This recipe for cashew butter is very easy to make and tastes delicious.

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Homemade Cashew Butter

Ingredients

2 cups unsalted roasted cashews
2-3 tablespoons of vegetable oil

optional 
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar

In a food processor or blender, combine cashews and 2 tablespoons of the oil (and salt and sugar, if desired). Process on high speed for 30 seconds and then scrape down the sides with a spatula. Continue to process until you reach desired smoothness, adding 1 teaspoon of oil at a time, depending on how smooth you want the cashew butter. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Is CrossFit Really Dangerous??

ABSOLUTELY NOT! CrossFit is defined as “constantly varied, functional movements performed at relatively high intensity .”CrossFit is one of the fastest growing strength and conditioning programs around today. CrossFitters are trained in explosive plyometrics, speed training and gymnastics movements while maximizing strength to weight ratio and flexibility. A heavy emphasis is also placed on Olympic and power-style weightlifting.

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Training the CrossFit way encourages you to work out 3 to 5 days a week. The workouts are highly intense and short, taking about 5 to 15 minutes to complete. In total, each workout lasts about an hour- including stretching, warm-up and the WOD (workout of the day). People joke that the CrossFit warm-up exercises are tougher than the workouts at a “regular” gym- that’s not a joke. With regard to healthy eating, CrossFit recommends a daily eating plan of meat, fish, vegetables, nuts, seeds and some fruit. little starch and no sugar. This diet is similar to the popular Paleo and Zone nutrition plans.

CrossFit may be one of the most extreme exercise workouts around these days but in my opinion and from the research I have done, I do not believe that CrossFit is inherently dangerous. The CrossFit I belong to, CrossFit Central LI located in Syosset, NY was established in 2007 and was the first CrossFit certified gym on Long Island. It’s owner, Chris Isernio is also the hands-on manager and a certified trainer of the CrossFit gym. We spoke about all the negative publicity and criticism that has plagued CrossFit recently. According to Chris, “the negative feedback stems from people training with inexperienced coaches. Maybe there is a great athlete who gets his Level 1 coaches’ certification and then without much other training opens a CrossFit gym.” In addition to the inexperienced CrossFit coaches, Chris said that another problem is overzealous coaches. According to Chris, he has heard of incidents where certain coaches just want to work the CrossFitters to the bone, “they keep pushing and pushing- it’s unhealthy.” According to Chris, “overstraining is a real problem and experienced coaches know this. Experienced coaches advise their athletes to work out hard (if they want to and are able to) 3-4 times per week not 7 days per week.”

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So why has CrossFit’s safety been and continues to be a hotly debated topic? Here are some points to consider:

1) Rhabdomylosis- In a recent HuffPost article, Eric Robertson, an assistant professor of physical therapy at Regis University in Denver, Colorado, wrote about the dangers of Rhabdomylolysis (Rhabdo), a potentially fatal condition that can be caused by severe exertion, among other things. Rhabdo occurs when skeletal muscle is damaged causing proteins to be rapidly released into the blood. This results in harm to the kidneys and can ultimately lead to kidney failure. Rhabdo is not a common condition and not unique to CrossFit. There have been cases of Rhabdo in football players, triathletes, marathon runners and body builders. In the same article, to prevent Rhabdo, Dr. Richard Besser, chief health and medical editor for ABC News, recommends staying hydrated both before and during exercise, taking breaks during workouts and listening to your body.

2) The possibility of injury is increased with participation in ANY high-intense fitness regimen. This is especially true if you are new to Olympic-style weightlifting and plyometric workouts or if you have a previous injury. Performing exercises when you are in a fatigued state increases the risk of injury. Listen to your body. In other words- if you are tired- REST!

3) Not all CrossFit coaches are created equal. Before you join a CrossFit gym, make sure that the coaches have the appropriate certified CrossFit training. Make sure you ask about credentials for any coach who is responsible for teaching you proper lifting technique. CrossFit is dangerous when done improperly or without a well-trained coach.

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4) CrossFit is mostly geared towards healthy people who enjoy vigorous exercise. If you have an injury or weakness, tell your CrossFit coach. They will work with you to tailor the specific exercise to your needs and limitations. A year after my hernia surgery, I was skittish about the GHD machine ( Glute-Ham developer torture contraption, seriously- google it). I felt the machine was straining my abdominal muscles at the hernia scar site. My coach immediately told me to stop what I was doing and to lay off abdominal workouts for a few days or until I felt comfortable. He then showed me other abdominal exercises to do instead of the GHD machine if I thought that it may bother me again.

5) Know your body. This cannot be emphasized enough. Injuries usually occur when someone is making poor decisions about their body or doing too much too soon. Athletes get caught up in the competition of the classes and push themselves too far. No pain, no gain should NOT be your mantra.

6) CrossFit is challenging. The workouts are fast-paced, constantly varied and grueling. Crossfit is hard. It`s always hard! Crossfit never gets easier, you just get faster. I have done half-marathons, triathlons, kayaking, rollerblading, Spin, hot yoga, rock-climbing, yet nothing challenges me on a daily basis as CrossFit does. Working hard at CrossFit this past year has given me the confidence to enter an Olympic length triathlon this summer. My husband is the one who got me interested in CrossFit and we constantly challenge each other. I hope to always push myself to do more, to be more and to achieve more.

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People joke that CrossFit embodies a cult-like mentality. I think this is because CrossFitters feel a sense of camaraderie with others who CrossFit. Why? Because after a particularly grueling workout when your body is drenched in sweat, your breathing is labored, your heart is racing, when you collapse on the floor, only the person laying next to you can appreciate the effort it takes to lift your arm for a congratulatory fist-pump.

A special thank you to Jay Hoffman for the awesome pictures in this post and for all the terrific photographs in all my posts.

The Diet Dilemma- Mediterranean, Zone, Paleo- Which To Choose?

There has been so much talk lately about all the different diets out there. Years ago, it seems that the talk used to be mainly about Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig and the Atkins diet. Now people are talking about the Paleo diet, the Zone diet and the Mediterranean diet, just to name a few.

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I hear these diet or “lifestyle” discussions everywhere; at my gym, at work and at the supermarket. Okay, maybe not the supermarket- but you get the idea. Why are we so obsessed with following a specific “diet?” Why can`t we just eat the foods that work for our bodies and for our individual lifestyle? Is it so difficult to pick and choose what food groups we want to limit, which foods we want to eat more of and how we want to cook our food? I guess the specifics of our food consumption is indeed difficult to handle on our own that we feel compelled to proclaim, “I am now following the Mediterranean diet.” “For the next three months (if I can follow it that long), I will eat an abundance of olive oil, fish, beans (yikes- I know- beans are regarded as “poison” in some circles) and red wine- opa!”  So what are these latest diet crazes? Admittedly, these diets have been around for years and although I have not been living under a rock, these diets have only recently gained in popularity.  What exactly is the Mediterranean diet and must I travel to Greece to get started?

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The Mediterranean diet is a heart-healthy eating plan. As opposed to the eating plan that wreaks havoc on your heart. The Mediterranean diet incorporates the basics of healthy eating, with a splash of olive oil and red wine. So far, so good. Any diet that condones the drinking of red wine on a regular basis is a candidate for further investigation. This diet favors the traditional cooking style of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends the Mediterranean diet as an eating plan that can help prevent disease and promote good health.  Studies have shown that following a Mediterranean diet was associated with a reduced risk of death from heart disease and cancer as well as a reduced incidence of Parkinson`s and Alzheimer`s diseases.

The Mediterranean diet stresses: eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts. It emphasizes healthy fats, such as olive oil as opposed to butter and using herbs and spices to flavor foods instead of salt. This diet encourages the eating of fish and poultry at least twice a week and limits red meat to no more than a few times a month. Dairy is permitted on the Mediterranean diet but it emphasizes low-dairy such as skim milk, fat-free yogurt and low fat cheese. And finally- it permits the drinking of red wine, in moderation (about a glass a day). This diet also recognizes the importance of being physically active everyday and enjoying meals with family and friends.

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A gluten-free diet is a diet is a diet that excludes foods containing gluten. Gluten is a protein complex found in wheat, barley and rye. Following a gluten-free diet may be a lifestyle choice or a choice that may be necessitated by medical reasons.

The Paleo diet is based on the presumed diet of Paleolithic humans (cavemen). The Paleo diet consists mainly of fish, grass-fed meats, eggs, vegetables, fruits and nuts. This diet excludes grains, legumes, dairy products, potatoes, refined salt and sugar and processed oils. The Paleo diet is similar to the Zone diet.

The Zone diet is balanced in lean and natural meats, low glycemic fruits and vegetables and fat. The Zone philosophy is that with the right balance of protein, carbohydrates and fats, you can control three major hormones generated by our diet- insulin( a storage hormone), glucagon (a mobilization hormone that stabilizes blood sugar) and eicosanoids (a hormone that controls silent inflammation).

Personally, I believe in any diet that works for you. I do not judge what diets other people follow and I don’t offer my opinion unless I am asked. Some people eat foods from one diet and follow certain beliefs from an entirely different diet. I recommend that everyone should do their own research and not just from the internet- before they embark on a new diet. Remember those free-standing buildings called, “libraries” that we visited as kids? Where we could borrow books for free? What a concept. And it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before beginning any diet.

I have included a delicious carb-free Crab Cake recipe. It is easy to make and great for any time of day. I believe that this recipe can be eaten if you follow any of the diets discussed above. However, Paleo followers may want to substitute another ingredient for Worcestershire sauce since it contains sugar.

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Carb-free Crab Cakes

Ingredients

1 container of Chicken of the Sea real crab meat (8 oz.) or 8 oz. of fresh crab meat
1 egg
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning or Mrs. Dash extra spicy, salt-free, seasoning blend
salt and pepper to taste
Hot sauce -optional

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Prepare a fry pan with olive oil or any oil you choose. Use a tablespoon to form heaping spoonfuls. Press down lightly so they look like mini pancakes. Pan fry until golden brown on each side. I made 7 pancakes. Enjoy!

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Why Am I So Hungry Today?

get-attachment.aspx-30Why do we overeat? We have all been guilty of this at some point. Either we are mindlessly munching on a bag of pretzels or popcorn during a television marathon or eating a second helping of a meal when the first one was enough. Besides boredom, why else are we reaching for a snack when we should feel full? Some of it is pure habit and other triggers have to do with our body’s signals.

1)  Lack of rest stimulates fake hunger pangs.  Energy deficiency from lack of sleep makes us want to nourish our bodies. When you are thirsty or dehydrated you tend to overeat. Making sure to get at least eight hours of sleep each night can help to avoid the overeating pitfalls.

2) A lot of people misinterpret the feeling of thirst for a feeling of hunger. The symptoms of dehydration (low energy and sleepiness) are very similar to those of being overly hungry. Drinking a glass of water before eating and waiting ten minutes could save you hundreds of calories.

3)  Maybe you just worked out and after a strenuous exercise session, you feel ravenous. Your body needs a specific type of nourishment, not just empty calories. Try eating grilled chicken, other lean meats or a protein shake to replenish your muscles.  Ingesting protein after a strenuous workout will to help your body recover faster and ward off hunger longer.

4)  You’ve had a tough day or tough week. When people are stressed out, they are more likely to turn to high-fat, salty or sugary foods. These comfort foods may taste good going down but this emotional eating is hurting your body. Stress not only causes you to overeat but it makes you eat foods that are bad for you. Find another way to de-stress.

Appetite control is a product of decision making. It’s as simple as that. Before reaching for foods that you know you shouldn’t be eating, ask yourself, “Am I really hungry”, “What am I about to eat? Do I really want to eat this?”

This is a delicious recipe that is easy to make and is very filling. I sometimes skip my morning snack after eating these pancakes for breakfast. I used 2 tablespoons of 1% cottage cheese in this recipe. If you are a vegan, a vegetarian who does not eat dairy or if you follow a Paleo diet or a gluten-free diet- substitute another ingredient for the dairy. I also use 1/2 cup of oatmeal in this recipe. If you follow a Paleo diet or gluten-free diet, then  substitute another ingredient instead.

I understand that there are differing views as to the ingestion of dairy. I understand that there is a school of thought in the medical community who believe that dairy is the devil incarnate. I also understand that there there are medical providers, nutritionists and dietitians who believe that a certain amount of dairy in a diet is acceptable. My blog is not a thesis statement where I am obliged to address the pros and cons of every post. I usually issue a disclaimer that if you follow a Paleo diet then you do not eat this ingredient or substitute that instead. However, it is my opinion that the food posts and recipes which I have posted on my blog are not so inherently controversial- the food debates which can stem from one of my posts are more akin to differences in opinions- it’s not like I said that nicotine is good for you.

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Sweet Potato Pancakes

1/2 cup oatmeal (regular old fashioned, not instant)
1/3 cup egg beaters or 1 extra large egg
2 tablespoons 1% cottage cheese
1 small sweet potato (1/2 of a medium or 1/3 of a large)- cooked and mashed
1 scoop of chocolate or vanilla protein powder
1/2 cup of water or so- until batter becomes smooth
1 tablespoon nutmeg or cinnamon

To mash the sweet potato- peel and cut it in half, place into a saucepan filled with water, bring to a boil, uncovered. Once boiling, cover the pot and let it simmer for 30 minutes. Then mash the sweet potato and put into blender. Add the remaining ingredients and blend until smooth. Drop batter into frying pan sprayed with olive oil spray. Once pancakes start to lightly bubble, gently lift with a spatula and if it looks cooked, turn it over. Enjoy!

Paleo- The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

So now that New Year’s Eve is over and the food has been eaten, the drinks imbibed, the sweets devoured…what’s next? Maybe you want to start a new diet, a new exercise regime or begin a lifetime of healthy eating? Where do you start? There has been a lot of discussion lately about the Paleo (Paleolithic) Diet. What is it and if I’m not a caveman then why should I follow their diet?

By following the Paleo Diet, people are returning to the diet we were genetically programmed to follow. Researchers believe that the Paleo Diet enlists the body’s own mechanisms to halt weight gain and the development of the chronic diseases of civilization. The core principles of the Paleo Diet is to not eat grains, beans, potatoes, gluten or soy.  People following the Paleo Diet do not eat refined sugars, separated sugars or polyunsaturated vegetable oils. They eat lots of animal protein and animal fats.

The Paleo Diet advocates eating eggs, fruits (in moderation), vegetables, lean meats, seafood, nuts, seeds and healthy fats. Those following the Paleo Diet do not eat dairy, grains, processed food and sugars, legumes, starches, or alcohol. A lot of people at my Crossfit gym try to follow the Paleo Diet. My friend Ronnie from the gym had been a vegetarian for two years before trying the Paleo diet. She has been eating Paleo foods fairly strictly for about six months. I asked Ronnie what made her want to follow this diet as a way of life. She said that the owner and lead trainer at the gym encouraged her to try the Paleo diet and the principles of the diet made a lot of sense to her. Following the Paleo diet makes her feel “stronger.” According to Ronnie, the “biggest pain is shopping for, preparing food and bringing food everywhere.” However, as a result of eating Paleo foods, Ronnie feels that “the layer of fat” that she has had around her muscles, especially on her arms, for years and years, has finally started to disappear.” Congrats, Ronnie!

Be warned, cooking the foods permitted in the diet takes a great deal of planning and preparation. Food shopping usually requires you to go to Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods or another healthy food store. Your shopping list will look something like this: coconut milk, almond milk, coconut oil, almond meal/flour, liquid stevia, shredded coconut, sunflower butter and meats, meats, meats. Is it worth the effort? You be the judge.

I recently made these delicious Paleo Banana Pancakes with a hint of coconut. I added chopped pecans and shredded coconut to half of the batter.They are easy to make but some of my pancakes didn’t flip and fell part instead. Although not pretty, the scraps were still delicious.

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Banana Pancakes

Ingredients

1 ripe banana
2 eggs
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk (regular or lite)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup almond meal/almond flour
2 tablespoons water
5 drops liquid stevia extract (optional)
1/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
1/4 cup coconut flakes (optional)
1-2 tablespoons coconut oil for cooking

Peel the banana and put it in a medium size mixing bowl. Mash it with a fork- it can still have lumps in it. Add the eggs and coconut milk and whisk them up with the banana. Then whisk in the cinnamon, nutmeg and baking powder. Add the almond meal/almond flour and stir until it is all blended.

Let the batter sit for 5 minutes- it will thicken. While the batter thickens, heat a big, heavy skillet over medium- high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of water to the batter to thin it out a bit. If you want the batter sweeter, add the stevia drops. Stir in the walnuts and/or coconut flakes if desired.

Melt 1 tablespoon or so of coconut oil in the skillet and drop about 2 tablespoons of the batter onto the fry pan for each pancake- I used a small ice cream scooper. After the pancake turns brown, gently turn each one over with a spatula. Serve warm with maple syrup or honey.

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Since this is the first post of the New Year, I would be remiss if I did not mention a few suggestions to help you keep your New Year’s resolutions. According to Forbes magazine, more than 40 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, yet only 8 percent of those actually keep them. 1) Try choosing only one resolution to follow to ensure that you can stay on the right track; 2) Narrow in on a specific goal- goals that are too broad are harder to follow (losing weight in general vs. having no diet soda for 4 weeks); 3) Don’t let one roadblock divert your goal- just pick yourself up and start again (if you give in to temptation and drink that forbidden diet soda, just re-start your willpower); 4) If you tell a friend or family member about your goal, it can make you feel more accountable which will keep you motivated; 5) Positive reinforcement always helps. Reward yourself when you achieve certain goals. After lasting 4 weeks without drinking diet soda, treat yourself to a new gym shirt.

Good luck and have a healthy and happy New Year!