If it’s not bad for you… is it good for you?

If I gave you something to eat and told you it was safe, despite decades of USDA research linking it to destroying brain neurons and elevating your risk for dementia, stroke, seizures, premature birth, heart disorders and diseases, and cancer, would you eat it? Probably not.

But what if it was really delicious? And the packaging was cool? And it only cost 99 cents? Then your answer might be yes.

The truth is, every day millions of Americans say yes in this scenario. Granted, most of them probably don’t know exactly what they’re saying yes to. I’ve been talking about aspartame, a substance that is completely legal, FDA-approved since the mid 1970′s, and served to school children daily. 

It’s scary– and really confusing. Everyone who profits from aspartame has a vested interest in making people believe it’s safe, and they’ve gone pretty far to do that. (Unfortunately, I don’t think they’ve gone as far as actually making the substance safe.) Try googling “is aspartame safe?” and you will get almost 2 million results. Wikipedia has an entire page devoted to the “Aspartame Controversy.” 

Americans tend to function under the pretense, “If it’s not bad for you… it must be good for you.” This is patently untrue. Let’s start with the most obvious example: smoking. Smoking one cigarette will not make you drop dead on the spot. Smoking 200 may not make you drop dead. Smoking a pack a day for 30 years may not kill you, and heck, it may not even lead to lung cancer. But does that mean smoking is good for you? Certainly not.

Similarly, a tablespoon of aspartame won’t kill anyone. Drinking 200 cans of diet soda sweetened with aspartame may not kill you, and ingesting the stuff daily for 30 years may not directly lead to death, cancer, seizures, strokes, nor any of that other scary stuff. But is it good for you?

I’m going to say no. And I don’t see any point in eating aspartame, since it’s linked to weight gain and some studies show that it actually does raise blood sugar levels, contrary to popular belief, and may increase your risk for Type 2 Diabetes.

Now, let’s step back and remember that studies aren’t perfect: they can be misleading or misinterpreted, data can be manipulated to suit a bias, etc. You can see that as a reason to assume you’ll be fine and ignore all the studies, or you can ask yourself this: Are there also scores of studies saying aspartame does good things for your health? The answer is no. And that probably tells you something.

The bottom line here is that, as I’ve written before, consuming added sweeteners is just not good for you. Some of them may hold health benefits, like local honey as an aid for managing allergies, but for the most part sweeteners have us playing a game where we decide between the lesser of many evils.

So what’s the answer?

  1. Quit added sugars & substitutes cold turkey! Check out my post, Breaking Up With Sugar, or head over to see what Sarah Wilson, of “I Quit Sugar”-fame, has written on the subject.
  2. Avoid added sweeteners whenever possible.
  3. Consider honey, which has some health benefits, like antioxidants and, for example, soothing your throat when you’re sick (although there are other things that can serve these purposes as well). 
  4. Try to forego the worst offenders, like artificial sweeteners, and instead opt for the sugar alternatives that are less processed and have minimal impact on blood-glucose levels, like muscovado. Read my post about sugar alternatives here.

Read more about aspartame:
What’s So Bad About Diet Soda? Diabetes Mine
Study: Drinking diet soda actually causes weight gain, blood sugar spikes. Natural Health News

Easy Substitutions for Healthier Eating

You wouldn’t expect something like this from Buzzfeed, but surprisingly, this article is full of excellent substitutions for healthier eating! Here are some samples:

Ingredient Substitutes

If these look promising to you, check out the article for 24 more healthy substitutions!

Maple Granola

There are two things about me that are not conducive to blogging:
1. I am a perfectionist.
2. I tend not to finish what I start (unless there’s a deadline or a boss in the picture).
2 1/2. I recently discovered the show New Girl and use up all my free time watching it.

These 2 [1/2] facts have joined forces and kept me from posting for far too long now. You see, I have been cooking a TON lately, and I can’t keep up with the amount of work it would take to document said cooking, write recipe posts, & edit the photos & the posts. It’s not that I haven’t tried. I have about 20 drafts just sitting around right now, all somewhere between half and 3/4 complete. But, like I said, without a boss looming over my shoulder, I just haven’t finished them. My apologies.

Tonight I ended up with unexpected time on my hands because my plans fell through. This, coupled with the fact that my plans falling through has made me very grumpy/self-pitying, has given me no excuse but to at least post one recipe for all you lovely people following this blog of mine. So here you go: this is my take on Smitten Kitchen’s Maple Granola (you can find that recipe here).

Maple Granola:

  • 3 cups oats (old fashioned or steel cut, not instant)
  • 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1/8 cup almonts, sliced or coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 2 tbsp sunflower seed oil
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon (or pumpkin pie spice)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • Optional: 1 cup dried fruit of your choice (if using larger pieces like dried apricots, chop them coarsely)
  1. Preheat oven to 300*.
  2. Combine all ingredients except dried fruit in a bowl, making sure to coat evenly.
  3. Cover baking sheet with parchment paper and spread granola evenly in a single layer over the sheet. Cook in oven for 18-28 minutes, depending on personal preference. Toss halfway through.
  4. Let cool. Add dried fruit.

If you were curious, the main difference between my version of the recipe and Smitten Kitchen’s is that I didn’t add egg white. The egg acts as a binding agent and is great if you like your homemade granola chewy. I hate chewy foods, so I ditched the egg white. Because of this, my version of the recipe cooks more quickly, so just watch closely to make sure it doesn’t burn.

And you know what, in honor of not being a perfectionist… I’m not going to post a photo. The sun set and the light in my kitchen is not highlighting this granola’s assets. So instead of a picture,I’ll just tell you: this granola looks like granola.

xo,
Sarah

Food For Thought: Food News Roundup

Common Food Misconceptions

Sugar Alternatives in the news

Environmental Justice

 

 

Rosemary Shortbread Cookies

I wanted to make cookies for my office this week, and I ended up drawing my inspiration form this recipe over on The Year in Food.

Now I have a confession to make: these cookies never made it to my office.

They were so good. Too good. I may not drink pop or eat candy, but cookies are my achilles heel. I normally stop myself from baking them just because of incidents like this one.

I shared some of these with friends, but honestly, I ate most of them myself. It started with the dough… It was just so good, and I had to refrigerate it overnight, so I was hangin’ around that dough for a pretty long time. And then everything got worse when I actually baked the cookies, because this was one of those rare instances in which the cookies were even better than the dough. What’s a girl to do?!

Well I’ll tell you what this girl did. When I came home from the bars last night, there were 6 of these cookies sitting on a plate on my kitchen table. So I ate them. All of them.

Hey, nobody’s perfect. But these cookies? They’re perfect. Here’s my adaptation of the recipe:

Rosemary Shortbread Cookies Rosemary Shortbread Cookies

Rosemary Shortbread Cookies

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour + flour for rolling
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 1 cup turbinado sugar
  • 1 tablespoons fresh rosemary, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 large egg
  • Parchment paper
  1. Combine flour, cornmeal, rosemary, and salt in a medium mixing bowl
  2. In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the egg, and continue beating.
  3. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until combined.
  4. Divide dough in half and shape into disks. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour. May be chilled overnight.
  5. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  6. On a floured surface, roll dough to thickness of 1/4 inch. Flour 2″ or 2.5″ round cookie cutters and cut dough into rounds. I needed to add a LOT of flour to the dough as I was working with it.
  7. Lay parchment paper across two baking sheets and arrange cookies, leaving approximately 1″ between them. Bake for about 12-15 minutes, turning the sheet halfway. Cookies will be ready when the middles feel slightly firm, or you can wait until edges have browned. But be careful not to let them burn!

xo,
Sarah

How Much Sugar Is In That Drink??

One of the easiest ways to cut sugar from your diet is to eliminate purchased beverages. Most of us know there are excessive amounts of sugar in the obvious things, like soda and milkshakes— but sugar also lurks in drinks with health claims, like Vitamin Water and fruit juice. Check out TakePart’s article on 9 drinks that pack more sugar than candy bars. You may be surprised by some of these.

sugar

If you need help cutting a sugary-drinking habit, check out my post on tips for breaking up with sugar.

I stopped drinking pop when I was just 13 years old, and I definitely don’t miss it at all, ever. I have a weakness for mochas but try to overcome it by making them at home using pure cocoa powder, coffee, and honey, or just ignoring the craving altogether… because, honestly, I don’t care how creamy and delicious those drinks are– 18+ teaspoons of sugar just ain’t worth it.

Simple Springtime Swiss Chard Salad

I’ve already confessed to my love affair with Swiss Chard. But I am aware that many people don’t share my feelings for this glorious green. People are constantly asking me what to do with it– they seem mystified by the broad leaves and bright stems. But it’s really not a particularly scary or confusing vegetable. I promise.

I eat Chard all the time. I put it in omelets, mixed-greens salads, burritos, pasta dishes, stir-fry, and cooked salads, like my Winter Rainbow Salad. On Saturday I picked a huge bunch of Chard from the greenhouses I help manage for the University of Michigan Sustainable Food Program, so today I whipped up this simple sauteed Chard salad to serve as a small side for my dinner (handmade black bean tamales, mmmm). I was cooking for one tonight, hence the fact that this only makes one serving– but it’ll be easy to multiply the recipe for however many people you need to feed.

Simple Swiss Chard Salad

Simple Swiss Chard Salad

Simple Swiss Chard Salad

Simple Swiss Chard Salad

Simple Springtime Swiss Chard Salad
Makes 1 side serving

  • 6-8 medium-large leaves Swiss Chard
  • Salt + Pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 tsp Sunflower Seed Oil (or olive oil)
  • Handfull Sunflower Seeds
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Lemon Juice
  • Optional: Grated Parmesan 

Directions:

  1. Wash chard leaves + slice length-wise into long strips. Remove stems if desired; not everyone likes them.
  2. Place chard strips in frying pan with oil on medium heat. Let simmer, stirring as needed.
  3. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Add just a dash of balsamic vinegar + lemon juice.
  5. After chard has cooked (leaves will turn dark green & ‘shrink’ down), toss in a handfull of sunflower seeds. Reduce to low heat. Let simmer.
  6. Remove from heat. Add a dash of grated Parmesan, if desired.

xo,
Sarah

Couscous with Eggplant, Garbanzo Beans, & Lemon Dressing

I made this for a potluck yesterday and was really happy with it. Inspired by this recipe over on My Kitchen Addiction, I only made some slight alterations.

Eggplant

Roasted Eggplant

Cous Cous with Eggplant, Garbanzo Beans, & Lemon Dressing

Roasted Eggplant, Garbanzo, & Couscous
Makes 8-10 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 large eggplant, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 2 Tblsp olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups cous cous (regular or Israeli Pearl couscous)
  • 2 to 2 1/2 cups water or vegetable broth
  • 20-25 oz garbanzo beans
  • 4-6 oz crumbled feta cheese

Dressing:

  • 4 Tblsp lemon extract or fresh lemon juice
  • 3 Tblsp olive oil
  • Black pepper

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400*F
  2. In a bowl, toss the chopped eggplant and garlic with olive oil and black pepper. Make sure eggplant is evenly coated with oil. Spread evenly over a baking sheet. Roast for 20-25 min. Turn off oven, but leave eggplant in.
  3. Pour couscous in medium saucepan with water or vegetable broth over medium to high heat. Simmer the couscous, stirring, for approximately 5 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed. Take off heat. Let sit.
  4. In a small bowl, combine lemon extract, olive oil, and black pepper. Mix.
  5. Transfer couscous to large bowl & fluff with fork. Add garbanzo beans (drained) and  feta cheese. Remove eggplant from oven and add to bowl. Pour the dressing and toss.
  6. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

*note: I accidentally added too much water to my couscous, which you can sort of tell in the photos because the individual pearls aren’t separated. It still tasted great, though!

Hearty Lentil, Black Bean, & Wild Rice Minestrone

I once read that before you can consider yourself a good chef, you have to be able to make a good soup from scratch. I’m not sure what the foundation for this statement is, but it stuck with me. With a good recipe, I can make fabulous soup, but I’ve struggled to develop my own recipe in the past. But that has finally changed!

When I was sick the other week, I was inspired to make this really hearty, nutritious soup.

Hearty Minestrone

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