Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sweet weekend - is natural always better?

Last week I posted about artificial sweeteners and just how bad some of them are for us.

For those of you who prefer to go a-la-natural when it comes to adding sweetness in the kitchen, you may find the below run-down on natural alternatives interesting.

Agave syrup - Up until recently I had heard good things about agave syrup. With a low glycemic index (Low GI) this all-natural sweetener has been publicised as a great alternative for diabetics.
The reality however is that most agave syrups in fact have a higher fructose content than any other sweeteners out there, even higher than high fructose corn syrup (read more about just how bad HFCS is here).

Raw honey - raw organic honey is just about as close to 'natural' as you can get when it comes to adding sweetness to your cooking. It tastes great too. I wouldn't however recommend going overboard with this one (and if you're off the sugar then I would of course give this a miss all together) as it does raise your blood sugar level and it is higher in calories than white sugar.

Organic Maple Syrup - contains fewer calories and more minerals than honey. A good source of magnanese and zinc, organic maple syrup has a lovely rich, earthy taste. Great in tea or on porridge.

Brown Rice Syrup - Made by culturing brown rice with enzymes, brown rice syrup is 52% maltotriose, 45% maltose and 3% glucose. Can sometimes be used in sweetening drinks like rice milk.

Stevia - I mentioned this one in my post about artificial sweeteners. Stevia is a natural sweetener that is 250-450 times sweeter than sugar. Although it is naturally derived, it is still early days when it comes to known effects of this sweetener. 

Xylitol - Although the name doesn't exactly sound 'natural', xylitol has roughly the same level of sweetness as sugar and is made by fermenting xylose, which is a sugar found in the embryos of most edible plants. It is converted to glucose by our livers, so ultimately it looks like there are no ill effects on humans. 

Fruit - possibly the most natural of them all. Adding fruit to your diet can give you just the hit of sugar that you need. Whether it be dried, stewed or fresh, fruit tastes great when added to smoothies, on cereal or porridge, or in salads (think pear or mango in a salad... mmmm).

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Beauty Detox Solution

I first came across Kimberly Snyder's blog a few weeks ago and from the moment I started reading I couldn't stop.

Kimberly is a Clinical Nutritionist. She's travelled the world to research a variety health and beauty practices from different cultures.
She now works with clients (including many celebs) to help them incorporate a holistic approach to heal the body, increase energy and achieve optimum health, beauty and balance in life.
She believes in consuming a diet of enzyme-rich foods, as close to their natural state as possible, to increase the body's alkalinity.

I have to say I was impressed. Kimberly knows her stuff and she has such a positive outlook on health and lifestyle.

After trawling her blog for a few days I had to go ahead and order her book.
So far I'm only about a quarter of the way through but I love it already. Over the next few weeks I'm sure to be sharing some of what I have learnt through my blog and hopefully she'll inspire you to start living a cleaner, greener, sweeter life!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Pumpkin and Sweet Potato Soup

The weather is getting colder (especially if you're living in Melbourne!) and with the reintroduction of the Winter woolies comes yummy Winter food. And what better cold-weather food than soup!

Check out this delicious recipe I came across and made for dinner the other night. Really easy, and good enough that even my pumpkin-hating husband ate it (and actually enjoyed it)!

Pumpkin and Sweet Potato Soup
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 brown onion, diced
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon grated ginger
300-400g pumpkin, diced
200-300g sweet potato, diced
4 or 5 cups vegetable stock 
1 can coconut milk/coconut cream (see why I always use the full-fat stuff)
Salt and pepper

1/ Heat oil in large saucepan and fry off onion, garlic and ginger for 3 or 4 minutes, or until onion is translucent
2/ Add pumpkin and sweet potato and stir through for another minute
3/ Add stock and bring to the boil
4/ Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, or until pumpkin and sweet potato are soft
5/ Let cool slightly and use stick blender to blend
6/ Once consistency is smooth, add can coconut milk and slowly heat through without bringing to the boil
6/ Add salt and pepper to taste

Friday, May 20, 2011

Sweet weekend - Sugar: The Bitter Truth

Happy weekend lovelies!
Check out this video I came across. An interesting watch indeed...


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The pill debate

When the birth control pill was introduced back in the early 1960's it gave women a sense of freedom.
We were finally able to call the shots on when we wanted to have our families.
Since it's introduction it has been prescribed to woman all over the world as a means to fix excruciating period pain, regulate otherwise erratic cycles, improve acne, and assist in the symptoms of illnesses including endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
It was the miracle women were looking for.
It wasn't until years later however that the side effects of the pill became apparent to many of us. Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), stroke, heart attack, migraines, depression and low libido. Thanks to medical advice however, the positive effects outweighed the bad.

I went on the pill when I was around 16. I had suffered from irregular cycles (sometimes going almost a year without a period) and when they did come, they were horribly painful. At the time, the only option appeared to be going on the pill. I remained on it for many years, having a short break from it when I was around 21. Around that time, I got sick. After months of not knowing what was wrong with me I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's Disease, and, only months later, polycystic ovaries. So I was advised to go back on the pill and over the next few months it yet again helped to mask the symptoms of my illnesses.

A few years later, in my late twenties, I decided to take a break from the pill. I knew that it felt abnormal to be on it for so long but I had always read about the positives of being on it. I had no idea the ill effects it was in fact having on my body.

It took me a while to get a regular cycle back. The funny thing was that all along my lengthy cycles were due to my illnesses, something that was fixed with medication for my thyroid.
Although I now have regular cycles, I still suffer from painful periods but instead of falling for the quick-fix-it that is the pill, I am trying alternatives to fix the problem, rather than just masking it.

Last week Nat from The Pagoda Tree posted a very interesting piece on the pill and her side of the debate. Nat is a Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioner and Acupuncturist. She sees women on a daily basis who are facing fertility issues. The pill is something Nat feels very passionately about and she will be talking more about it on her blog.

Now don't get me wrong, I do believe that to pill is of great benefit to many women out there who suffer from painful periods and other illnesses as mentioned above. In my opinion however, it is not a long term solution. It's highly unlikely that if you have gone on the pill in the first place for pain, acne or irregularity, these issues will simply be gone when you come off it. We are purely masking the problem, or, as Nat has put it, putting a massive band-aid over the uterus and leaving it there until it's time to have babies!

Where do you stand on the pill? I would love to know your thoughts!

Monday, May 16, 2011

The sweet debate - is faking it ok?

Up until a few months ago I was a Diet Coke or Coke Zero drinker.
I had always avoided 'real Coke' as I knew just how much sugar was in it (10 teaspoons in a single can, to be exact!) but I never really knew just how bad for me the low calorie alternative was.

Diet soft drinks like Coke Zero and Diet Coke contain a mix of potentially harmful sweeteners, including aspartame, which is in fact being investigated by the National Cancer Institute for a potential link to brain cancer. Not only that, but a recent study undertaken in the US found that people who drank diet soft drink every day were 48% more likely to suffer a stroke or other vascular illness over a nine-year span, compared with people who didn't drink any soft drink.
In fact, did you know that Coke Zero was even banned in Venezuela due to potential health risks?!

This stuff is addictive. I know people who drink can after can each and every day. Funny thing is that they think they're doing their body good by opting for the sugar-free stuff when they'd probably be better off choosing the full-sugar stuff!

These days artificial sweeteners are in everything. From cakes and biscuits, to chewing gum, to chocolate, to dairy, to beverages. If you're not familiar with the different sweeteners out there, both good and bad, here's a quick guide to go by:

Aspartame - also known as Equal or NutraSweet. As already mentioned this is the worst kind of sweetener out there. Simply put - avoid at all costs.

Sucralose - 600 times sweeter than sugar, you may be familiar with sucralose in the form of Splenda. The chemical process used to make sucralose includes the use of chlorine which may cause skin irritations and headaches. Sucralose is the 'new kid on the block' when it comes to artificial sweeteners. Canada was the first nation to approve its use in the early 90's. As it stands, there has been very little in the way of testing of this artificial sweetener. With its long term safety still being unknown, it's best to avoid this one as well. In fact, testing undertaken on animals showed that it resulted in many health issues including aborted pregnancies, extension of the pregnancy period, enlarged liver and kidneys, reduced growth rate... and the list goes on.
Enough said.

Stevia - a natural sweetener that is 250-450 times sweeter than sugar. Although it is naturally derived, it is still early days when it comes to known effects of this sweetener. Some studies have suggested it can lead to male reproductive problems, and can interfere with metabolism. A better than alternative than aspartame, perhaps, but we're still in slightly murky water with this one...

Xylitol - with roughly the same level of sweetness as sugar, this sweetener is made by fermenting xylose, which is a sugar found in the embryos of most edible plants. It is converted to glucose by our livers, so ultimately it looks like there are no ill effects on humans. This is my personal choice of sweetener, it's fairly good in coffee and when baking.

What's your thoughts on artificial sweeteners?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Why bananas aren't the bad guy I once thought they were

Back in my low-carb dieting days I avoided foods like potatoes, rice, pasta and bananas like the plague. In a way, my opinion of these foods was forever tainted. I would fear that too much of them would lead to weight gain, and so for a long time I avoided them altogether.

Now, I’m not saying that I’ve had a sudden change of heart and now I live on these foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I have however learnt to enjoy them in moderation. And I know what my body likes and what it doesn’t. Take pasta for example. Regular pasta makes me feel bloated, where as gluten free isn't so bad. So when I do have a craving for some pasta I simply choose the right type.

There was one food on the no-go list that I found sat really oddly with me when I started to cut them out. Bananas.
Sure, they are higher in sugar than some other fruits, but they’re fruit - surely they can’t be that bad, right?   

Well, like anything we eat, of course you don’t want to eat 10 bananas each and every day. But, stealing an old saying from the trusty apple - a ‘nana a day keeps the doctor away!

Bananas are super rich in potassium. Potassium is key when it comes to building muscle, preventing fluid retention, regulating blood pressure and aiding in heart and kidney function. Not only that but they are awesome at filling you up! Research shows that just 2 bananas alone provide enough fuel for a strenuous 90 minute workout!

Bananas are also high in iron (good for those who are prone to suffering from anaemia), high in fibre (helping to keep you regular), and help to beat depression (that’s because they contain tryptophan, a type of protein that the body converts into serotonin, known to make you relax, improve your mood and generally make you feel happier).

Not only that but they are a great addition to your morning smoothie, and they make a great sweet-alternative to reaching for that chocky bar!

I loooove them (if you can't already tell!) and I don't think I'll be going back to my old opinion of them now I know just how many health benefits they have!

Monday, May 9, 2011

I did it!

Yesterday I did it... I completed my very first fun-run! And I have to say, after some morning tummy-churning nerves, once I started, I think the adrenalin of it all urged me on, even up a somewhat endless hill early into the second kilometre.

I ran the whole way, next to my Mum. And we crossed the finish line hand in hand.
We had a blast, and felt so great afterwards.

I'm already planning my next run :)

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Sweet weekend - why Mums are the best

This weekend we celebrate our mums.
All they do for us and have given us. Mums are selfless and always put others before themselves.

This mother's day I will be running in the Mother's Day Classic with my Mum. It's something we've both wanted to do for a while.

My Mum is an inspiration. She is amazing, and I owe her so much.

Happy Mother's Day Mum, I love you very, very much!

Friday, May 6, 2011

In the garden - carrots

I heart carrots. And I have just started harvesting the first lot of my very own baby carrots - yum!
I love the funny shapes. It's hard to look at a chemical-ridden supermarket carrot the same...

Carrots contain fibre, vitamin A, B2, B6, C and K, potassium, thiamine, and are an excellent source of beta-carotene.
They're good for our spleen, stomach and liver.

Carrots are one of the richest sources of carotenoids. Carotenoids enhance the functioning of your immune system, improve your reproductive system function and protect your cells from the damaging effects of free radicals.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Some oil-y tips

Yesterday I came across some handy tips on cooking oils. I thought I would share.

Store oils like olive and grapeseed in a dark bottle, not a clear one like the one pictured above. This prevents them from oxidising and becoming rancid. If you do have oil in a light container, make sure you keep the bottle in a dark place like a pantry or cupboard, and not on your kitchen bench.

Make sure you keep the lid on your oils. Always replace the lid as soon as you have used them.
Oils are also air sensitive. Leave the lid off for long amounts of time and your oil will oxidise.

Good extra-virgin olive oil will last about a year if stored properly.

Use olive oil to balance acidity in foods. Good to keep in mind with foods such as tomatoes, vinegar, wine and lemon juice. Think balsamic vinegar and olive oil salad dressings...

Many of us stick to good old olive oil when it comes to cooking in the kitchen. Try oils like coconut, flaxseed, sesame and safflower. I like to use coconut oil when cooking things like curry's, and flaxseed oil drizzled over salads. 

What's your fave oil to use in the kitchen? Have you got any tips for using oils in cooking?

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