dessert

Stranded on a Desert Island

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If you only had three foods to eat to stay alive, for the rest of your life, what would they be?

Beans? Eggs? Brown rice? Milk? Spinach? Salmon? Blueberries? Or maybe you would choose the top three in the super foods list.

Now, if I were trapped on a DESSERT island, I would surely be packing the dark chocolate bars, double chocolate brownie ice cream, and peeps. My peeps would keep me company and I would name one Wilson.

peep
^^Wilson^^

You’re just a peep, but let me tell you what I would choose and why.

Each food serves a purpose and a diet full of variety is what keeps one healthy. People often ask me: “what are the very best foods I can eat?”  I sigh and tell them all whole and natural foods on this earth are good for you!  Of course moderation is key.  But Wilson, three foods!  Just think!  If you had just three foods to sustain life, what would you pick?  What three foods would give you the best proportion of essential protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, and minerals to meet all the nutrition requirements the body needs to survive?

To start, I would choose a food that has all the essential amino acids, or building blocks of protein.  Essential amino acids (phenylalanine, valine, threonine, tryptophan, methionine, leucine, isoleucine, lysine, and histidine) cannot be made in the body and must come from the diet.  A complete protein contains these nine essential amino acids in the correct proportion.  While most foods contain all the essential amino acids, they do not necessarily have them in the correct proportions our bodies need.  Animal sources like eggs, milk, poultry, meats, and fish are examples of complete proteins.  Plant sources tend to have a lower amount of one or more essential amino acids and therefore need to be paired with a food that can compensate.  For example, combining beans and rice is a popular way to achieve a complete protein.

That being said, I would choose milk to be my source of complete protein.  It has a high protein digestibility score plus it is higher in calcium, magnesium, and B-12 than a serving of egg.  (And I would be so bored on the island I would learn how to make yogurt and cheese.)

Then, it would hit me that I’m on this island alone; I will need a lot of energy to build myself a home and arrange logs to spell out “help.”  Therefore, I need a high-energy food like a starch that will build up my glycogen stores as well as provide immediate energy.  At first one might think potato.  But I’m going to delegate a sweet potato to be my source of energy and added goodies like potassium, Vitamins A, C, and B-6, and fiber.  (I’m totally making sweet potato fries over the fire.  Wilson, you’re next!  You delectable puffy golden brown s’more, you!)

peep smore

Ok, now for my last choice.  (Big puff of air through small opening of mouth.) Man, this is tough.  I have many nutrient holes to fill such as Vitamins E and K, some of the B vitamin family, iron, and the list goes on.

The first food that comes to mind to fill these holes is spinach.  Spinach is high in Vitamins C, A, and K, and folate, and is a good source of calcium, iron, and Vitamins E, B2 and B6.  But even a 10-ounce package of spinach, a half-gallon of milk, and five cups of sweet potatoes, providing a total of 2137 calories, would leave me deficient in Vitamin E, iron, and zinc, and exceeding the safe upper limit for magnesium and calcium, and extremely exceeding the upper limit for Vitamin A.

Really Wilson, I hope this helps you realize you really can’t live off of just three foods and achieve all your daily requirements of every vitamin and mineral.  It would be extremely hard.  But what do you know about hard; you’re a marshmallow.

 

Please, don’t let Wilson and I carry on this ridiculous dialogue alone.  Leave your comments below.  What three foods would YOU take with you on this desert island?

How bad are artificial sweeteners?

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I love Diet Coke. Having one at lunch, with a sandwich and some veggies, somehow is just refreshing. But I’ve found that my acceptance of Diet Coke, and the artificial sweeteners that make it zero calorie, surprises people.

I get responses like “I won’t touch that stuff” or “I’ve heard that’s terrible for you” or “You drink that shit?”

It’s clear that sweeteners got a bad reputation. However, studies estimate that 75% of the population consumes them regularly (that’s right, they’re even in yogurt). So where does this criticism come from and is it justified?

The Saccharin Saga

Saccharin, most notably found in Sweet’n Low, gained popularity in the 1960’s as demand for a thin waist line increased. At that time sweeteners were widely believed to be a healthy alternative to sugar. But in 1970 a study was released linking bladder cancer in rats to saccharin consumption. Congress mandated that further studies of Saccharin be performed and that products containing it be labeled:

Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin, which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals.

For years saccharin carried that warning label on it, like cigarettes. But unlike studies linking smoking with lung cancer, that study was poorly designed. The lab rats ate more saccharin than a human could proportionately consume. And even then, only male rats had increased rates of bladder cancer, which they are physiologically prone to. Subsequent studies showed no relationship between saccharin and human illness, the FDA removed the warning label in 2000.

Currently there is no sound evidence linking artificial sweeteners to human illness.

Sweeteners and Satiety

In the last decade research has shifted to satiety and hunger, suggesting a link between sweeteners and weight gain.

Some scientists hypothesize that artificial sweeteners upset our brain’s pleasure centers. Eating sugar causes a spike in blood glucose levels that trigger dopamine release, making us feel happy. But because artificial sweeteners provide a sweet taste without raising blood sugar, the pleasure derived from eating sweet foods is decreased. Thus, we eat more in attempt to stimulate the happy feeling we missed by eating sweeteners.

Another theory suggests that satiety is only disturbed when we substitute food for zero calorie products. So, if you drink a diet coke instead of eating a snack, your body is going to respond by being hungry later in the day. This would happen with or without the sweetener. It’s simply how our bodies respond to skipping meals.

These are just two theories for why sweeteners are associated with weight gain. And there is contradicting literature that suggests sweeteners can be beneficial for dieters. If you enjoy the occasional low calorie soda, I recommend having it with a meal or snack to help balance any offset to satiety.

Bittersweet 

A recent Food Navigator article caught my attention as it focused on our demonization of artificial sweeteners. In it, scientists and public policy experts argued that sweeteners should be more commonly used to replace sugar. As a dietitian, that makes me cringe. Not because I believe them to be unhealthy. But because increasing their use would exasperate our already troubled relationship with food, causing us to eat more, well, shit.

People tend to latch on to simple remedies, or blame one food as a scapegoat for our health problems. When really, there aren’t terrible foods or magic bullets, just balanced and unbalanced eating.

Personally, I think artificial sweeteners are the same as most things in life. Great, if used in moderation.

Berrylicious Tostadas

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Berrylicious Tostadas

I have a fantastic treat for you guys today. I’m sharing one of my all-time favorite desserts with you, and it’s a perfect way to ring in the summer season. I’ve had friends request I make it when coming over for dinner, and almost every time I visit my parents my mom drops not-so subtle hints that she has ingredients for it. Fine, mom, I’ll make it for you.

The original inspiration for this recipe came from a Mexican cookbook that my sister bought at Goodwill. We found a recipe inside for fruit tostadas and knew we had to try them. That recipe, however, used cream cheese and heavy cream in the filling. While delicious, it wasn’t necessarily a dessert my waistline would enjoy. Also, those are ingredients I typically don’t have readily available in my refrigerator. Baking tortillas

So how did I health-ify it? Greek yogurt of course! I almost always have some in my fridge, so really the only thing I have to make sure I have on hand are tortillas. I kept the cinnamon-sugar tortilla shell and the chocolate drizzle, but using either plain or vanilla flavored Greek yogurt lightened up the recipe without sacrificing taste or the decadent feeling you get from eating it. Keep in mind that the vanilla Greek yogurt has more sugar than the plain and will taste sweeter, but both are wonderful.

baked shells

Do I even need to mention the health benefits of berries? Often touted as a superfood, berries are full of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. I don’t necessarily like the term “superfood” because there is no one food that will work miracles. Rather it is a combination of a healthy, varied diet and exercise that has proven time and time again to have the greatest effect on one’s health. Berries definitely pack a nutritional punch, as does the yogurt and whole grains also in this dessert. And the dark chocolate? Well I believe in feeding the soul, and a little chocolate here and there makes my soul happy.

Berrylicious Tostadas Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 4 whole wheat tortillas
  • 1 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp cinnamon
  • 2 cups plain or vanilla-flavored fat-free Greek yogurt, divided among 4 shells
  • 2 cups mixed berries, divided among 4 shells
  • 2 Tbsp dark chocolate chips, melted

Directions

Preheat oven to 350⁰. Using a brush or your fingers, evenly spread a thin layer of the melted butter on each tortilla. Mix the sugar and cinnamon together and then sprinkle it across the surface of the 4 tortillas (you may have some leftover). Using oven-safe bowls, place each tortilla in a bowl to form a cone shape. Bake tortillas for 15-20 minutes or until browned.

Let the tortillas cool (speed this up by placing them in the refrigerator). Spoon the yogurt into each tortilla shell and place in the freezer for 30-60 minutes. You don’t want to leave them in too long as the yogurt will harden too much (I found this out the hard way).

When ready, remove the shells from the freezer, add the berries, and drizzle with melted chocolate.

Nutrition Facts

  • 274 calories
  • 17 g protein
  • 43 g carbohydrate
  • 6 g fiber
  • 5 g fat
  • 230 mg sodium

Mini Greek Yogurt Cheesecakes

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Guys, this is a safe place, and in safe places, we can confess things we are not proud of. With that being said, I have a confession. Sometimes I turn into Cookie Monster. This past Saturday I was grumpy when I got home from work (thank you, Chicago traffic), and because I had been traveling the week before and had no food in my apartment, I decided to walk down to a pizza place to get something to go. Next to the register was a case of chocolate chip cookies whispering, “buy me… buy me.” Who am I to refuse a cookie?? What I didn’t realize when I bought the cookie was that there were 2 wrapped together. When I got home, I told myself I would eat one and save the other, but is that what happened? No, no it is not. I ate both, only regretting it after the last morsel disappeared.

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I would have been happy with just one cookie, craving satisfied, but my willpower faltered when it came to that second cookie. Sometimes avoidance is the best policy. Certain foods, especially chips, crackers, and cookies are addicting, and if you keep them out of your home, you don’t have to worry about exercising restraint.

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Okay, Courtney, that’s all well and good, but what about when that sweet tooth won’t shut up? You are in luck today because I have an answer: CHEESECAKE! And not just cheesecake, but MINI cheesecake. I rarely bake because I don’t want an entire cake tempting me, so when something can be made as an individual serving, I’m a fan. The ingredients are for 4 individual servings, so it could be made for a small dinner with friends, or you could make one serving and then refrigerate or freeze the rest until you’re ready to make another (I wouldn’t keep it in the fridge much more than a week). Using Greek yogurt really lightens up the cheesecake without sacrificing flavor or richness. I made homemade strawberry compote to swirl into the cheesecake, but in a pinch you could use strawberry jam instead.

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At the end of my recipes you’ll find nutrition facts. Cheesecake is not typically a “healthy” dessert, but for the sake of comparison, I looked up The Cheesecake Factory’s Fresh Strawberry Cheesecake. One piece has a whopping 730 calories, 29 g saturated fat, and 430 g sodium. While fruit is always a good dessert option, sometimes a girl’s gotta have some cake, and in those situations, this mini cheesecake is much better that anything you would buy. And it’s just so cute!

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Ingredients (4 servings)

  • Crust
    • 4 graham crackers
    • 2 Tbsp butter, melted
  • Filling
    • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
    • ¼ cup honey
    • 1 eggDSC_6142
    • ½ tsp vanilla
    • ½ Tbsp cornstarch
  • Strawberry Compote
    • 2 cup strawberries
    • 1 tsp sugar
    • Juice of ½ lemon

Directions

Preheat oven to 375⁰

Crust:  You can make 4 crusts at once or each one on a separate occasion. Place graham crackers (1 per cake) in small blender or food processor; pulse until a coarse powder is formed. Melt butter (1/2 Tbsp per cake) in 7 oz ramekin. Add graham cracker crumbs to butter and mix with your fingers, pressing into the dish. Bake for 6-7 minutes.

Filling:  Place all ingredients in blender and blend until well-mixed. You may have to stop and scrape the sides a few times since the honey is sticky. When the crust has cooled slightly, pour ¼ of filling into each ramekin. If you are making one serving at a time, you can store the remaining in the refrigerator for a few days or freeze it.DSC_6180

Compote:  Add strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice to a saucepan and heat over medium heat. Use a potato masher to smash the strawberries. Simmer mixture until it starts to thicken, ~15-20 minutes. Spoon a small amount (1 Tbsp) into the ramekin and use a toothpick to swirl it in with the filling. You will likely have compote leftover, and it’s a great topping for pancakes, toast, or ice cream.

Bake cheesecake 35-40 minutes. It will start to separate from the sides of the dish and turn a golden color. Chill for 2 hours, top with fresh strawberries, and enjoy!

Nutrition Facts 

  • 262 calories
  • 35 g carbohydrate
  • 8 g protein
  • 10 g fat
  • 5 g saturated fat
  • 130 mg sodium
Hugo is addicted to donuts
Hugo is addicted to donuts