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.

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Why Should We Eat Fruit?

I was talking to a friend recently about new food ideas as we are both sometimes bored with our food choices. I mentioned that sometimes I eat breakfast for dinner- healthy french toast made with whole wheat bread dipped in egg whites with fresh fruit. She was amazed at the notion, never having thought of eating sweet potato pancakes for dinner. We discussed how fruit can be eaten as a snack or as an accompaniment to any meal and how sometimes its health benefits are underrated.

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Eating fruit provides many health benefits, including potassium, fiber, vitamin C and folic acid. Most fruits are naturally low in fat, sodium and calories. Fruits do not contain cholesterol. Fruits that are rich in potassium may help to maintain healthy blood pressure. Fruits sources of potassium include bananas, prunes, cantaloupe and honeydew melon. Dietary fiber from fruits helps reduce cholesterol levels and may lower risk of heart disease. Fiber-containing fruits help provide a feeling of fullness which can help reduce calorie intake. Vitamin C is important for repair and growth of all body tissues, it helps heal cuts and keeps teeth and gums looking and feeling healthy. Folic acid helps the body form red blood cells.  Folic acid is especially important for pregnant women because it reduces the risk of birth defects and aids in fetal development.

The Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health recommends eating least 2-3 servings of fresh fruit every day. Eating fruits rich in blue pigment have anti-oxidant properties, remove free radicals from the body and offer many health benefits, including protection against cancers, aging and infections. These blue fruits include purple grapes, acai berry, blueberries and blackberries.

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So who thinks fruit is unhealthy? People who follow a low carb diet tend to shy away from fruit or limit their fruit intake. Fruit tends to be fairly rich in carbohydrates, primarily the simple sugars- glucose and fructose. Consuming a lot of fructose may be unhealthy for people who are inactive and eat a high-carb diet. However, those who are healthy, lean and active can afford to eat some fructose. Instead of being turned into fat, the fructose will go towards replenishing glycogen stores in the liver.

The bottom line is that fruits are healthy, unprocessed foods with fiber, vitamins and minerals. However, fruit juice is a totally different story. There is no fiber in fruit juice and it usually contains the same amount of sugar as soda. Avoid it!

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For a little variety, try these sweet, delectable recipes.

Pan Seared Banana with Maple Syrup

1 banana
1 teaspoon maple syrup
cinnamon to taste
canola or any type of oil for pan

Peel banana and cut lengthwise into two pieces. Heat frying pan on medium heat and add canola oil. Drizzle maple syrup on cut side of bananas and sprinkle cinnamon to taste. When oil is hot, place bananas cut side down. Turn the bananas once every 2-3 minutes until each side starts to brown. Enjoy warm with fat-free whipped cream, vanilla ice cream or fresh berries.

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Baked Peaches

1 peach, cut into 8 pieces
2+ tablespoons of maple syrup
cinnamon to taste

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place peaches in a ziploc bag add maple syrup and sprinkle cinnamon. Mix well. Place peaches on aluminum lined baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes or until peaches are tender. Enjoy!

Experiment with fruit in your cooking. I found a recipe for pork chops with sautéed apples that looks delicious. Mix things up, don’t think outside the box, think like there is no box.

Is It Really Important To Drink Water?

Yes! It is really important to drink water. Water is the best choice for quenching your thirst. It contains zero calories and it’s easy to find. Water provides everything your body needs to rehydrate your system. Everyday you lose water through perspiration, breathing, urine and bowel function. In order for your body to function properly, you must replenish its water supply by eating foods that contain water and by drinking water or water-based beverages. It is recommended to drink 8 cups of water daily because your body is made up of 60% water.

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When my daughter was young, she did not like to drink water. She claimed that she didn’t like the taste of water. She never won that argument because technically, water has no taste. To spice up the taste of water, you can infuse your own flavor. Try adding sliced citrus fruits, such as: lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit; or sliced berries; cucumber; crushed fresh mint.

Personally, I do not love to drink water but I do it because I know it is important to maintain a healthy mind and body. The days that I drink at least 8 glasses of water, I find myself fuller throughout the day. Having a full feeling throughout the day, allows me to stay on the healthy eating track. Beware- if you are thirsty, your body is already on its way to becoming dehydrated. Dehydration occurs when the body does not have as much water and fluids as it should. So drink up! Your health depends on it.

What are some of the benefits of drinking water?

1) As I stated above, drinking water helps you to lose weight and maintain a healthy diet. Water cleanses your intestines by flushing out your system. Water suppresses your desire to eat because it makes you feel more full.
2) Drinking water prevents dehydration. Most headaches are caused by dehydration so indirectly, water helps to prevent headaches. (University of Rochester Medical Center study).
3) Water keeps your skin hydrated so that it looks younger and healthier.
4) Drinking water during exercise keeps your energy level up and fuels your muscles. Your muscles are made up of 75% water. According to an article in Men’s Health, a German study found that when you are thirsty, your body is slower to use protein to build muscle.
5) Drinking water keeps your limbs, joints and muscles lubricated which results in less cramps and sprains. (According to a study from the Mayo Clinic).
6) Drinking water flushes out waste products so it lessens the burden on the kidneys and liver. (According to a study from the Mayo Clinic).

Sometimes I sneak in a few cups of my daily water intake by drinking a fruit smoothie. I seem to post more smoothie recipes than anything else because I enjoy drinking them as a meal or as a snack. I know some people don’t like to drink smoothies because they don’t want to “drink” their meals. However, I find these fruity shakes filling and easy to make the night before to drink the following morning.

Basic Fruit Smoothie

Ingredients

1 cup of water + more if necessary
1 cup of ripe fruit (berries/overripe banana/mango/peach/pear)
2 cups of ice
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1 scoop of protein powder (optional)
liquid Stevia- to taste (optional)
1/4 cup fruit juice (optional)

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Blend all ingredients until smooth. These measurements are flexible. Experiment until you find exactly what works for you. For a sweeter smoothie, make sure all your fruit is ripe. If you use only frozen fruit, you will need less ice or none at all. It will also make the smoothie thicker. Enjoy!

Fail To Plan, Plan To Fail

Planning ahead is the key to success. It would be fantastic if I had a personal chef who made healthy meals and snacks for me everyday. Imagine waking up to a breakfast of Eggs Benedict, crispy bacon (or turkey bacon) with fresh fruit and a fiber muffin, prepared in the most delicious and healthy way possible. Imagine having all of your snacks, meals and desserts (low calorie, low sugar) prepared every day just for you. Unbelievable, I know. And imagine beets that taste like bacon and whipped kale that tastes like chocolate mousse. Then I wake up and realize that if I want to prepare healthy meals ahead of time, then it is up to me to make it happen.
The weeks I am most successful at eating healthy and working out is when I am committed to a thought out plan. Planning a week ahead and anticipating difficult spots will prevent those bad impulse decisions. People who think and plan ahead are on the right track to successfully meet their goals. Planning meals ahead of time takes thought and preparation. My husband and I make chicken, hamburgers, steaks and low fat chicken meatballs on a Sunday night to last until Thursday. I buy an assortment of fruit, including berries, bananas, kiwis, apples and grapefruit to wash, cut and put into containers to be ready to eat when we want. Sometimes I freeze sliced bananas, grapes and strawberries as a go-to snack.
Last week, my daughter asked me to help her plan her meals and snacks for the following week. We wrote down what she would be doing each day: work and/or school and when she would have time to eat her meals and snacks. She prepared small bags of fiber cereal and almonds and a freezer pack filled with grilled chicken, a salad, yogurt and cut fresh fruit. It is also good practice to keep a protein bar and water in your car or bag.
My family loves this easy, delicious healthy make ahead recipe:
Individual Egg and Spinach Cups
Ingredients:
2 large egg whites
4 whole eggs
1 cup of baby spinach torn or chopped into small pieces
1/2 cup diced tomatoes
1/4 cup feta cheese (fat-free)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Kosher or sea salt to taste
*You can omit the tomatoes or change the cheese to mozzarella and add onions, mushrooms and/or peppers if desired.
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together all ingredients.
You can use either 4 (1/2 cup) ramekins or a cupcake tin.
Lightly spray the 4 ramekins or 4 cupcake tins with nonstick cooking spray.
Evenly divide the egg mixture into the ramekins or the cupcake tins.
Place the ramekins on a cookie sheet or place the cupcake tin in the oven- bake 20 minutes or until eggs puff and are almost set in the center.
Serve hot or when cool, store in an air tight container, refrigerate and then reheat in a microwave, oven or toaster oven before eating.
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This blender smoothie can also be made ahead of time. I have made it at night to eat for breakfast the next day.
Spinach and Fruit Smoothie
Ingredients:
3 kiwis, peeled and sliced
1 pear, sliced
1 banana, sliced
3 handfuls of fresh spinach
1-2 cups of water, depending on how thick or thin you want the consistency
Blend all ingredients until smooth. 
get-attachment.aspx-6 Ask yourself- “What can I do today to make sure my health and fitness goals are met tomorrow?”

Discipline- How to Stay In Control When Your Motivation Wears Off

How do you stay disciplined when working out or in a fitness routine? How do you get your self-control back when you are on a diet?

Willpower is defined as, “control of one’s impulses and actions; self-control. “ We have all struggled (and continue to struggle) with self-control at some point in our lives. Why do we fall off the discipline wagon and lose all self-control?

I know that sometimes I lose control because I forget the big picture. I become so focused on instant gratification. What will make me happy right now? Maybe it is the pizza place that I happen to be passing and I’m starving because it’s way past my lunch time or it is the fast food place that I happen to be right near on my way back to the office. It becomes easy to just have that slice of pizza or that fast food snack because I’m starving and I have failed to plan. “Fail to plan, plan to fail.” This is why so much emphasis is placed on planning meals ahead of time and figuring in snacks to have on hand at all times. We are human and when we get hungry or tired, our defenses start to break down and at that moment, looking fab at the beach doesn’t seem as important.

Those of us who do not work all day in an office environment or work somewhere where it is difficult to eat regular meals at regular times, have an extra burden. During the day, not all of of us have access to a refrigerator and microwave to heat up healthy foods. Some days I leave the house at 7 a.m. and I am on the run until 2 p.m. or 3 p.m., whereby the only thing I can eat during that time is a protein bar or nuts. I recognize this and I have to plan accordingly on those days. When I do not have healthy snacks with me, it takes all of my will power not to grab the readily available candy bar or hot dog and fries. It all comes down to- how bad do you want it? Are you willing to forgo instant gratification today for results that you want tomorrow?

Staying disciplined builds consistency. Try reiterating a phrase that keeps you going- “No pain, no gain”- “Nothing tastes as good as thin feels”- “Bathing suit- soon!” Make the time to stick with your plan- free time does not materialize. Make an effort to do one thing a day that moves you closer to your goal- no matter how big or small. Cook a healthy dish, change-up your work out routine or research your dream job or dream vacation. Take baby steps- taking action in the direction of your goal will lead you to it one step at a time.

Years ago I was desperate to stay on the healthy eating track. I wore a rubber band on my wrist and whenever I was faced with eating something that was very unhealthy, I would snap the rubber band to snap me back to reality.

Remember these four tips for helping you to achieve your goal: responsibility: do what you say that you are going to do; accountability: do it when you say that you are going to do it; effort: do it to the best of your ability and consistency: do it all the time. Stay focused and always keep your eye on the ultimate goal. “”Obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes off of the goal”- Vince Lombardi

This easy, healthy deviled egg recipe will keep you on track. Deviled eggs last for days in the refrigerator and can be an anytime snack or a supplement to any meal.

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Deviled Eggs

6 hard boiled eggs (can be bought in the supermarket)
1/4 cup mayonnaise (regular or Paleo mayonnaise can be bought at Whole Foods)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
pinch of paprika (optional)

1) If home boiled, first take the shells off the eggs and cut in half lengthwise. Carefully remove the yolks and place in a small bowl.
2) Finely mash the yolks with a fork. Add mayonnaise, salt and pepper to the mashed yolks. Mix together until smooth.
3) Spoon yolk mixture into egg white centers. Sprinkle with paprika, if desired. Cover eggs and refrigerate until ready to eat.

For an easy to make, delicious, festive, semi-healthy treat:

Dark Chocolate and Pomegranate Bark

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5 ounces (140 grams) of dark chocolate
2 tablespoons (20 grams) of minced crystallized ginger (can be found at Trader Joes or Whole Foods)
1 cup (140 grams) fresh pomegranate seeds (can be found at Trader Joes)
1 teaspoon (6 grams) sea salt (can use less salt if desired)

1) Line a small baking sheet with parchment paper.
2) Melt chocolate in a double boiler or microwave but be careful not to burn the chocolate- keep stirring until it fully melts.
3) Stir in the crystallized ginger and half of the pomegranate seeds into the melted chocolate.
4) Pour the melted chocolate mixture onto the parchment lined baking sheet. Use a spatula or the back of a spoon to smooth the chocolate into one even layer about 1/4 inch thick. It does not need to fill the entire sheet.
5) Sprinkle the chocolate with the remaining pomegranate seeds and sea salt. Chill for 20 to 30 minutes or until firm. Break or cut into pieces and store in an airtight container, separating the layers with wax paper. It is best served the day it’s made or else condensation may form on the surface of the chocolate.