Banana Almond Butter Blondies

These.

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The other night I was craving a Hershey’s bar so bad I was making noises and embarrassing myself at the grocery store. I KNEW though that if I caved, I’d be upset. Not because indulging is bad but because Hershey’s bars are now made with more fake ingredients and isolates (ingredients found naturally that are then isolated and put into products in higher amounts than found in nature) than they once used to. Without going on a rant with this alone, I’ll get to the story about me laying in bed for over an hour pouting that my life was over that night because I wanted a chocolate bar and I couldn’t have it. The 26 year old version of a tantrum.

But I didn’t cave. Instead, I thought about what I had in my kitchen and decided to come up with a healthier recipe to satisfy my sweet tooth. Thus, the birth of the banana almond butter blondie bars was born and let me tell you, these are dynamite delicious! So much so that my husband and I inhaled the entire 12 bars within 20 minutes of them coming out of the oven. But you know, it was for science…and blogging…and all of you! I took one for the team! ….erm. Good lord I already want more of these!

This was also my first time buying and using dates. I’ll be honest, I was always hesitant because they look like a pile of bugs. But great odin’s raven are these things sweet and amazing! In fact, of all the dates I’ve experienced, these were definitely the sweetest (see what I did there – my Dad humor has no end). And while dates are high in fructose, they also are packed with magnesium, fiber, potassium, and antioxidants. In other words. they are a MUCH better alternative to get some sweet in your baking that just using refined sugar.

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I’ll stop teasing and give you the recipe already 😛

Recipe:

  • 3 bananas
  • 6 pitted dates
  • 1/2 cup whole grain oats
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons almond butter

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line a smaller baking dish (I used a glass 6×8 or so) with wax paper and cooking spray. Mash together bananas until creamy. Slice up pitted dates. Combine all ingredients into a bowl with mashed bananas. Pour mixture into lined baking dish and bake for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

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The beauty of these is you can eat them immediately for more of a bread pudding type treat. If you were really being bad you could add ice cream. Letting them cool for at least 20 minutes though gives them time to solidify more into bars. I can’t tell you what they are like cooled further or even refrigerated because we ate them too fast (nom nom nom) but I will do an update soon.

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Slice them into 12 pieces for the following nutritional info per serving.

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There’s WHAT in my pantry?! A look at hidden ingredients in your food

Like most people, I like to have a general idea of what’s in my food and what I’m putting into my body. I know that choosing a bottle of water over a bottle of soda is a better choice for a variety of reasons. But it wasn’t until recently that I started giving more thought to, well, everything I eat. The ingredients in any processed food I buy. I don’t know, I never thought I really needed to worry.

Last night I found out that my pantry and my fridge had some of the most dangerous substances in them when I started to really read the labels. I always used to think that people who bought organic everything and read all the labels were just —— assholes. No joke. Like it was some pretentious club “oh we’re better because we can buy more expensive margarine that saves whales and cures aids cancer at the same time” and while there are pompous jerks like that out there I realized that no, most of these people are just well-informed and have done their research. Something that I’ve avoided doing for so long because I already knew it wouldn’t be something I’d want to hear, realize, or accept.

What really had me start reading labels over a year ago was fake sugars. Sucralose, aspartame, stevia, you name it, they are in just about EVERYTHING and you can read more about my sugar rants here. The more conscious and I was about what I was putting into my body and what was in foods, the more aware I was that there are chemicals in so many food products and I don’t even know what 90% of them are or do.

So last night I decided to start reading the ingredients on some staple things I always keep in my kitchen. Re-fried beans for Taco Tuesdays, canned chili for when I need something in a rush, mayonnaise in my fridge; food items that I use often, food items that tons of people use often. I expected to see chemicals and things I didn’t know about, but what I didn’t expect to see was just HOW harmful these chemicals were when I started researching them.

The first thing I reached for was my beloved mayonnaise. I know it’s not healthy, at all really, but I LOVE mayo. I use it in my tuna salad, when I make egg salad, on sandwiches. It’s your typical bottle of generic store brand mayo.

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Then I turned it over to read the label.

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What the crap is Calcium Disodium EDTA and what exactly does “protecting flavor” mean? Immediately reaching for my laptop, I nearly dropped the bottle on the floor. Calcium Disodium EDTA (Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid) is a food additive commonly used in things like pickled canned goods and canned beans. It’s made up of three ingredients:

  • Sodium cyanide – this ingredient is an inorganic compound, which means it is not considered organic, has been synthesized and is typically not found in biological systems. “Cyanide salts are among the most rapidly acting of all known poisons.
  • Formaldehyde
  • Ethylenediamine – this compound reacts in humid environments with air creating a toxic mist. It is commonly used in coolants and paints as a corrosion inhibitor, which helps prevent the corrosion of a metal. It is also used as a chemical in fabric softeners, adhesives, dyes, and clearly as something to keep mayonnaise from spoiling.

No wonder mayonnaise stays good for so long! It has so many preservatives in it! And if you’re like me, you may also be thinking “oh it’s just TRACE amounts, this isn’t THAT big of a deal, of COURSE they have to put something in it to keep it fresh…I mean…it’s not a big deal.” But isn’t it though!

Next up was the so called “no fat” refried beans. Anytime I’ve seen fat free, sugar free, light, or anything of the sort, it’s usually full of added sugars or fake sugar substances. But did you know most processed food products are also full of trans fat, MSG, and other chemicals? Gross!

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Notice that these are labeled “no fat” not “fat free” and there’s a reason. When I usually grab this in the grocery store, like most people, I expect to be able to believe the labels. No fat should mean no fat, right? The problem is that labels aren’t regulated, even organic items are labeled differently and have different requirements to meet depending on the type of organic label used.

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GAH! We were doing so well, Rosarita, until you got to autolyzed yeast extract (a cheaper chemical extract similar to MSG but with less glutamates) and partially hydrogenated soybean oil – which “adds a trivial amount of fat.” OH SO BY “NO FAT” YOU MEAN JUST TRIVIAL AMOUNTS OF TRANS FAT -__- Define “trivial.” This makes me mad for so many reasons. Products are allowed to make claims on their labels that simply aren’t true or that in exchange have fake or extracted ingredients and isolates. Partially hydrogenated soybean oil is the most commonly used trans fat in processed foods. Why? Because it’s inexpensive compared to butter and coconut oil. These oils go through a process called hydrogenation which sends hydrogen bubbles through the fat cells, making them more dense. Giving you that creamy, savory texture in foods. The problem is that these trans fats aren’t normal for the body, they don’t work like normal cells and they can cause major issues for your heart health.

When I reached for my Quaker oatmeal, the kind I had so lovingly eaten my entire childhood, I was outraged.

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Maltodextrin – a substance that forms into MSG in your system. More partially hydrogenated soybean oil – at least this one SAYS its trans fat. But what’s the point in saying “adds a dietarily insignificant amount of trans fat” – it’s still awful for you! Comparisons that I’m now going to make to that statement:

  • Going to get a massage and having them poke you with a sharp toothpick briefly once every 10 minutes
  • Adding a drop of gasoline to every gallon of water you drink
  • Having your boyfriend or girlfriend kiss another guy or girl once a year – what! It’s an insignificant amount!

My main point here is that these things shouldn’t be in our foods but they are. Companies have solid reasons to add them: to retain their shelf life, so you can use them longer, so the expiration date doesn’t expire so soon, so they can spend less and make more money.

And while we do have a choice to make better and more informed decisions about the foods we eat, we’re also limited. Limited by how much money we even have to spend on food, limited to the amount of whole and organic foods available in our neighborhood, city, or region. Believe it or not there are places where people don’t have access to fresh produce.

Things are slowly changing but there’s still plenty of changes that need to be made!

 

 

 

Zucchini Pasta with Garlic Avocado Sauce

Pasta is a magical food. I could eat pasta all day every day. Spaghetti night? How about spaghetti week!! Seriously, I can’t get enough of the stuff but my goals for this year and proving otherwise. When 2 cups of whole wheat pasta comes close to 350 calories, it can be hard to justify going back for seconds. That’s when I figured out that 2 cups of spiralled zucchini was only 55 calories and I ended up dancing around the kitchen with zucchini in my hands.

I introduce to you, the zucchini, a vegetable that you may not have given enough attention to. I’ll be honest, I certainly didn’t. So what’s so great about this cucumber wannabe? Well first off, it has the magical ability to transform itself into soft pasta-like swirls and if you invest in a vegetable spiraller like I did, your world will change.

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Before I get to the recipe, let’s talk about how awesome the zucchini is, so awesome that as you read this, you may want to pronounce it “ZEE ZOO CHINI!” It just feels worthy of some italian splendor. This veggie is chalk full of nutrients and fiber that you may end up getting as addicted to it as regular pasta. Plus you don’t even have to get out a pot to boil it with. The stuff is ready to go the minute you spiral it. Thanks, veggie.

Zucchini is full of vitamin C and other nutrients and is so low-calorie you’ll be amazed at how filling it is!

The best investment I’ve made in a while is my vegetable spiraller that makes creating zucchini (or any squash) pasta super easy.

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For one serving, I spiralled 1 large zucchini and it made close to 2 cups of “pasta.” I then mixed an entire hass avocado with some garlic powder to make the sauce and then mixed it with the zucchini.

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Next, just cut up some grape or cherry tomatoes and add in the garbonzo beans and you’ve got yourself a creamy and filling meal!

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Ingredients:

  • 1 hass avocado
  • 1 large zucchini (yields about 2 cups pasta)
  • 10 cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup garbonzo beans
  • garlic powder

Directions:

  1. Spiralize zucchini
  2. Scoop out avocado and mash into bowl with desired amount of garlic powder
  3. Pour avocado sauce mixture over pasta and stir until well-coated
  4. Cut tomatoes into halves and drop on top of pasta
  5. Add garbonzo beans

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Eat for dinner or take with you as a satisfying lunch at work! Higher in calories but with 22g of fiber it will keep you full way past snack time.

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5 Warm & Healthy Holiday Drinks

Five Warm and Healthy Drinks

Guest Post by Emily Newhook

By the time January rolls around, my warm drink repertoire could use an update. I’ve made pot after pot of Earl Grey tea and my standby recipe for hot chocolate is starting to get stale (even when I add more mini-marshmallows). Here are five healthy options to help you kick the holiday sugar coma and ward off cold season.

1.    Turmeric Tea

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Spicy, sweet, peppery – this tea is not for the faint of heart, but it may be good for the rest of you. Many of us would be more inclined to include turmeric in a vat of curry than a pot of tea, but research from the past half century corroborates the spice’s long-standing reputation as a salve for myriad health problems. Curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric) boasts significant antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which could in turn help alleviate chronic diseases like arthritis and discomfort experienced by skin cancer patients. An important caveat: recipe curator Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks urges readers to use hot – not boiling – water to preserve the properties of raw honey.

2. Lemon + Honey + Ginger Tea Base

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Different variations of this recipe have proliferated rapidly throughout the blogosphere over the past few years, largely because the make-ahead tea base is essentially a one-two punch for whatever ails you as flu season sets in. The recipe lends itself to customization, but the fundamental preparation is pretty unwavering: pile sliced ginger and lemons in a mason jar, cover with honey and let the mixture set in your fridge for a few days. (Sandra’s Alaska Recipes advises a touch of cardamom for added spice.) Mix a scoop of the final product with hot water and enjoy.

3. Coconut Hot Chocolate

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Dates and coconut milk may seem like unconventional ingredients for a great cup of hot chocolate, but Kelly Brozyna’s recipe is a great option if you’re wary of sugar or dairy. Even if you’re not, consider this: coconut milk is also a great source of healthy fat (like the kinds you might find in avocados and olive oil), and dates – which substitute for the processed sugar used in most cocoa recipes – are high in dietary fiber. Make sure you have a blender on hand before you gather supplies, though.

4. Rose Petal and Vanilla Tea

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This fragrant combination of roses, vanilla and honey is a great olfactory alternative to the richer scents and flavors that usually characterize cold weather recipes. (The specialty ingredients may take a little extra time and money to procure, so you might reserve it for special occasions rather than everyday drinking.) Prep is easy – just assemble the rose petals, vanilla, honey and hot water – but give this one ample time to steep (about 30 minutes) before straining and serving.

5. Superfoods Hot Apple Cider

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Apple juice, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon – at first glance, it might sound more like a pie, but Leanne Vogel’s superfood cider gets an extra boost from spices and ingredients reputed to improve your immunity and energy levels. If you plan to follow this recipe to the letter, though, make sure you’ve got a juicer on hand. The preparation stage is a little time-intensive, but it also ensures that the final product is free of processed sugars and other energy-draining additives.

Emily Newhook is an outreach coordinator for the MHA degree program from The George Washington University, MHA@GW. Outside of work, she enjoys writing, film studies and powerlifting. Follow Emily on Twitter @EmilyNewhook and Google+

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Chocolate Microwave Mug Cake: Less Than 8g of Sugar

I have a sweet tooth. And after the holidays I find myself craving chocolate like CRAZY! Instead of banishing all things sugar, I’m trying to work to find the right lifestyle balance. Tonight I embarked on creating my first mug cake and lord help me, I’m still sitting in my living room in shock at how good it was. There’s a 100% chance I still have hazelnut spread on my face…oh and apparently on my shirt, oops.

If you just HAVE to have a piece of cake, this is the way to go.

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What you’ll need:

  • A microwave
  • A mug
  • Cooking spray
  • A desire for cake
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour (or regular)
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 teaspoon unsweetened baking cocoa
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure honey
  • 1 teaspoon chocolate hazelnut spread (or peanut butter of your choice)
  • Sprinkles (optional)

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Directions

  1. Spray mug with cooking spray to coat bottom and sides
  2. Combine all ingredients except hazelnut spread or peanut butter (this will be the frosting) and sprinkles
  3. Beat together with a fork
  4. Pour into mug
  5. Microwave in 1 minute increments until top is fluffy and cooked through. It took my 800 watt microwave 2 minutes.
  6. Take out and pour onto plate. It should just plop right out and look like a cute little muffin and look something like this:

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7. Let cool for 3-5 minutes (this thing is a little hottie!)

8. Take 1 teaspoon of chocolate hazelnut spread and frost your cake muggy!

9. Sprinkle on some sprinkles!

10. Try not to moan as you eat it

Tips and suggestions:

  • As I spooned on the hazelnut spread, it began to melt which made it easier but you may find that melting the spread or peanut butter ahead of time and then drizzling it on is easier.
  • I used Barefoot & Chocolate’s  hazelnut chocolate spread but try any kind you want! Regular peanut butter would work fine as well. Or White Chocolate Wonderful. I like Barefoot & Chocolate because they use all natural, fair trade, and organic ingredients.

IMG_2292I was amazed at how tasty, satisfying, and delicious this came out. Unlike some of my past alternative recipes (that have maintained the texture of sweets but not the taste) this actually taste like and felt like real cake!

The entire thing is under 200 calories and 8g of sugar. If you’re watching carbs it nets you 20g WITH the frosting. Below I’ve compiled the nutrition facts for my recipe and then some of the Betty Crocker cake mix and frosting. By the time it’s said and done, a regular piece of cake can be as much as 440 calories and 38g of sugar!

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Let me know how you like it!

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Easy Appetizer: Hummus and Kale Roll Ups

I wanted to make sure I wasn’t famished before hitting the grocery store tonight so instead of shoving my usual tablespoon of peanut butter in my mouth I made something a little more appealing.

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Clocking in at only 184 calories (130 if you don’t add the olives) this little appetizer was super yum and satisfying!

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What you’ll need:
-hummus
-a tortilla (I used Mission Artisan Style Multigrain Tortillas, they are only 100 calories each and filled with 3g of fiber and 3g of protein)
-kale

Directions:
Slice the tortilla into long thin strips in one direction. Take a tablespoon of hummus and spread over the strips. I then added small pieces of kale onto each one. Roll up and voila!!

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I also indulged in a small handful of pimento olives (I’m such a salt person)

They fight with you to re-open so eat em quick or balance them against each other.

Kale is also such an amazing superfood!! Packed with tons of protein and vitamin A, C, and K! You can read more about kale in one of my first posts here.

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Happy nomming!!

Gluten Free: Why it Won’t Benefit You if You’re Not Allergic

The gluten free craze has hit America hard. Just a few years ago it was difficult for individuals with gluten intolerance and celiac disease to find many foods that most people enjoy on a daily basis. The first time I remember hearing about a wheat allergy was my freshman year in college where I watched one of my guy friends chow down on a pile of lunch meat and I jokingly asked him what he had against bread. He explained how sick he’d get if he had wheat or gluten of any kind and I patted him on the back as I realized how much beer he’d have to give up.

In all seriousness though, gluten allergies are serious. Celiac disease is a condition where the body reacts negatively to gluten and damages villi, which are what line the intestines and help absorb nutrients. When people with this allergy eat gluten (found in wheat, rye, barely, and even oats) their body attacks these villi and can make them extremely malnourished over time. Gluten allergies can also cause extreme bloating and uncomfortable stomach problems. So make no mistake, a gluten-free diet is important for people with the allergy.

But what about the rest of us? Is eating gluten-free actually healthier? Can it benefit us, too? Actually no. Going gluten-free and eating more gluten-free products can actually cause you to gain weight since most products contain added fats and sugars. Currently, there is not any scientific research showing that eating gluten-free when you aren’t allergic will create any real benefit.

Also – look at the current market for food products. Upwards of 7 billion dollars in sales are estimated to be made in 2012 alone due to the popularity of eating gluten-free. While more cases of celiac disease are being diagnosed, doctors are now more aware of the condition than ever before. A lot of people are diagnosing themselves with an allergy they probably don’t have and don’t know much about. And with celebrity endorsements and people claiming that eating gluten-free is a great way to lose weight, many American’s are jumping on board without doing much research. Just because your local supermarket is selling more of a product (and at higher prices) doesn’t mean it’s the healthiest option for you.

Going gluten-free can also back fire on individuals trying to lose weight who aren’t allergic. Not only is it expensive to eat gluten-free but as stated earlier, most of these products add in excess sugar, fat, and salt. Eating a gluten-free diet also drastically limits your food options and can make dieting harder and people more likely to overeat in the long run.The key to losing weight isn’t found in any “miracle” diet. Just because you eat gluten-free pizza doesn’t make you any healthier – you’re still eating pizza. Losing weight is about eating less calories, getting enough fiber, and not drastically eliminating anything from your diet in an attempt to lose weight faster. This goes back to my post about carbs and how they are still important. Whole wheat grains provide many nutrients. Without these it can be harder for individuals to sustain blood sugar levels which can induce headaches, make you moody, and extremely lethargic.

Gluten-free foods aren’t a solution to eating the same foods you love without the guilt. In most cases, you’re not only eating the same calories but they are also packed with less nutrients (and more fat calories). In comparing gluten free bread to regular – regular bread continually has more fiber, less sodium, and more protein. Proponents may argue that gluten-free has less calories, which may be true, but those calories are “empty” and lack important nutrients. If you are going to eat a piece of bread, you might as well eat one that’s 110 calories and chalked full of the fuel your body needs instead of eating a 70 calorie piece that will leave you feeling hungry and more likely to overeat or grab something sugary.

So what’s my ultimate message here? It won’t seriously hurt you to eat a gluten-free product, but if you don’t HAVE to, there isn’t a real benefit to buying and eating these products. The only thing that will get smaller from eating gluten-free if you’re not allergic is your wallet.