Eat Food. Real Food.

This is the subtext for our blog.  Eat food.  Real food.  And as we have met so many fascinating people through this blog – and seen so many fascinating and clever approaches to eating healthfully (and joyfully!), Little Sis and I come back to what started all of this blogging for us.  Real food.

It is a difficult but rewarding journey to procure, prepare and eat real food within this crazy, convenience-ized, instant gratification culture of ours.

There are many wonderful epicurean lifestyles out there that claim to improve people’s health.  Sometimes they are at complete odds with each other and both sides claim to have scientific ‘proof’ that their diet is the one that will lead all people to optimum health.  Well, since when has one approach ever led even 75% of the world’s population to the same conclusion or end goal?  I mean even the notion that we should be kind and not kill each other is present in all the world’s major religions and yet, we’re still killing each other!  But let me get back to food.  Real food.

I would argue that be it the Paleo diet (lots of meat and veggies – little carbs) or a plant-based diet (with or without oil), vegan vs. vegetarian, no dairy vs. yogurt-makes-people-in-the-Caucasus Mtns-live-into- their 100’s… these diets improve people’s health when, and perhaps primarily because, they decrease the amount of processed foods in the diet.  And do you know what processed food includes?


Sugar is not a natural food.

What?  Bigg Sis have you lost your mind?  Sugar is the MOST natural food.  It’s what plants make from water and sunlight.  It’s what your brain consumes to allow you to sit there and type out your thoughts.  Sugar is the only food.

Let me elaborate.  Refined sugar…. concentrated sugar…. sugar beyond the amount that exists in the wonderful fruits, vegetables and milk we have at our disposal is not natural.  Even sugar cane has other stuff in it.  It doesn’t pour out of the end of the cane like a Pixie Stick!  Our bodies use incoming calories to make sugar and energy, but our bodies evolved, were created, came into being, with lesser amounts of the stuff than we currently consume.  And sugar, as in refined, as in un-natural amounts, is proving to be a very bad physiological choice for humanity.  Hummingbirds seem to do okay with it, but not humans.

So, as far as taking the first steps to improve your health via a nutritious, and beneficial diet?  Reduce processed food.  Reduce processed food and you reduce sugar – along with a host of other nasty chemicals that are also used as rocket propellant (sodium nitrite a meat preservative) and boat cleaner (azidocarbamide – a dough conditioner).  Little Sis and I are thinking that along with the series we did on sugar, we’d like to share how we have reduced the processed foods in our lives.  We’re looking for the common things that many people like to use and abuse that they think are cheaper and more convenient.  We abused too!  I promise.  I used to think it was a healthy choice to buy Mrs. Paul’s fish filets as opposed to the sticks!

I think once you get used to a slight change here and there in your routine, you will find that our methods do not take more time and are definitely not more expensive if you measure cost per nutrient.  And hey… hospitals, diabetic supplies, dialysis, drugs, and coffins are WAY more expensive than any of the concoctions my cheapskate little sister and my-cheapskate-self have come up with.

So I’d like to offer several more alternatives to boxed cereal – one of the MOST egregious users of sugar.

Little Sis has given you lots of great ideas for oatmeal – both cooked easily overnight, and soaked easily overnight.  Here is another soaker cereal recipe:

Buckwheat Groats

Buckwheat Breakfast Bowl (Gluten free)
Buckwheat is not actually wheat – it is a seed from a non-wheat plant that is somewhat pyramidal in shape.  For this recipe you want the actual seeds, not flour.
1 handful of buckwheat groats per person
1 handful raw sunflower seeds per person
Place in a bowl and cover with about 2″ of water.
Cover the bowl and let it sit overnight.
Rinse until the water runs clear the next morning – it will look a little cloudy and slimy.
Serve as is or add a little almond, soy or cow’s milk along with some raisins or chopped dates, nuts, or other fruit, a little cinnamon adds some sweetness as well.

Make your own Granola on the weekend and enjoy all week long!
Recipe adapted from Ruth Yaron’s Super Baby Food
Pre-heat oven to 350
Spread 5 cups oats in a 9×13 dish (I usually do 2 dishes at the same time)
Heat the oats for 10 minutes
While the oats are heating, mix:
1/2 cup oil
1/3 cup honey, maple syrup or a combo
1 teaspoon vanilla
(for each batch : if making 2 batches at once I mix this in 2 separate measuring cups so I can add one to each dish of 5 cups oats)
Chop or break one cup of nuts for each batch
When oats are warm add the nuts plus:
1 cup coconut (unsweetened is less sugar and available at some groceries in the bulk and definitely at health food stores)
1 teaspoon cinnamon and
an oil/sugar mixture to each pan
Bake, mixing granola after 10 minutes and then after every 5 minutes for a total of 25 – 30 minutes, or until brown.  Let cool.  Keep in airtight container

And lastly – for replacing processed breakfasts – to add to Little Sis’ wonderful pancake recipes – a relatively simple mix.  Make the dry ingredients ahead of time and your morning routine will be quicker.  In fact make 2 or 3 dry batches in advance!  After everyone has eaten, lay the leftover pancakes on a plate, put them in the freezer and the next day transfer them to a plastic bag for future breakfasts.
Buttermilk  Whole wheat Pancakes:
1 cup whole wheat or white whole wheat flour
1 cup oats
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 & 3/4 cups buttermilk
2 eggs
2 Tbsp. oil
1 tsp vanilla (optional)
handful raw cashews (optional but very tasty!)
I usually make 1 & 1/2 or 2 times this recipe so there will be leftovers to freeze.
Mix dry.
Mix wet.
Mix the 2.
follow usual pancake cooking procedure – see Cast Iron Pancake Chef for tips

One need not eschew everything one loves to achieve a more healthy diet.  Unless of course all you love comes from the back of a Hostess or Frito-Lays truck.  But part of the journey is finding the healthy foods that work for you and your family.  Find the foods that bring you pleasure while nourishing your body.  You may just find that list expanding as you try new things without the numbing overly sweet and salty tastes which the processed food industry would like us to crave.  Keep us posted on the new discoveries that you make.  We have learned so much from the input, comments and blogs of our on-line companions on this journey.  It is nice to be in community with you!

Abstinence Makes the Taste Grow Stronger

ImageI have been unable to find scientific proof for this – but I know this to be true.  Perhaps I just need to go back to school and choose the degree that would allow me to do the research and write the dissertation with the above title……Nutritional psychology?  Physiological Psychology?  Phys Psy – I kind of like that.  So, that’s it! I will go back to school and do all of that work to prove something that really is innately sensible and I know from experience….. Naaaah.  I’ll just take a risk and tell you about it.

This is me before giving up chocolate for Lent (40 days, no chocolate… you heard me right): Gimme some chocolate, gotta have chocolate,
I’m sleepy – I need chocolate
I’m cranky – I need chocolate
I had a bad day – I need, I DESERVE chocolate
I’m happy – I need chocolate

This is me after giving up chocolate for Lent and presuming that I was going to eat every piece of chocolate in sight including all of my son’s Easter basket at the end of the period of deprivation:
Wow, that is incredibly sweet.
I mean really, that is much too sweet.
That’s enough, thank you.

So in my sample size of one, with no control group, I found that abstinence does indeed make the taste grow stronger.  Whew!  I just saved myself lots of time and money, didn’t I?  There will be arguments about the validity of the results of this study from some of you I’m sure, and I have to admit that after the first Lent that I gave up chocolate (yes, I did it more than once, and being an over-achiever you will see that it gets even worse) I did find my desire for milk chocolate and other excessively sweet candy snuck back into my life and grew.  And therein lies the
real basis for my dissertation.  It is the sneaking in that gets me.  It is not the getting out that holds psychological interest, but the getting in.  How does that desire for sweets eke back into my life?

One teaspoon at a time baby.

We like food to give us a big Ka-Pow!  That’s what all the ads promise… mouth-watering, delicious, knock your socks off taste.  The hottest, the sweetest, the saltiest, the creamiest, etc.  So we look for the ka-pow and if your cinnamon toast ain’t got enough ka-pow anymore you can just add some more cinnamon sugar… Ka-Pow!  Eliminating that particular ka-pow for awhile helps you savor the flavor again.  Notice the sweetness.  It’s enough.  Notice the other flavors.

Try no cinnamon sugar/jelly on your toast, or no sugar in your coffee tomorrow morning with the intention of tasting the other flavors involved.  Imagine the positive effects of that toast… nourishment.  Taste the different flavors.  Imagine the positive effects of that coffee…. energy.  Taste the new flavor.  It’s a brand new taste sensation!  Ka-Pow!

Back to my research with my sample size of one.  After giving up chocolate and then all sweets (even jelly on toast) for five or 6 Lents in a row, I have lost my taste for milk chocolate and pure sugar candy like twizzlers, smarties, and other crap, I mean sweets, like that.  And here comes the piece de resistance that allows me to resist even doughnuts (which I used to LOVE).  Now that I eat better, I feel BAD quickly when I eat bad food.  I look for the effects and notice them.  I have made an indelible connection between what I eat and how I feel.  It’s much easier to ignore the doughnut when I prefer to feel good.

So how does this work with the Baby Steps Little Sis and I are always talking about?  Well, for me this was a 5 or 6 year process that got a little stronger each time I did it.  That was a larger and larger portion of each year when I ate less sugar.  That’s progress.

You don’t need Lent to make this work.  Just choose an amount of time that you will go without or with less sugar and do it with the knowledge that you can have your sugar back again.  You just might find that you don’t want the sugar as much as you used to.

For other tips on fighting sugar cravings check out this article from WebMD – it’s full of great ideas to bust a sugar addiction… I mean desire for sugar.