It’s that time of year- the time of rhubarb and strawberry peak ripeness overlapping. The sweet of strawberries and the tart of rhubarb are a time-tested, palate pleasing combo that means the spring season is full and almost ready to transition to summer. Peach rhubarb is also a stellar combo later in the summer!! Considering Wisconsin food culture has a large overlap with Scandinavian food culture, it is no surprise both have a penchant for rhubarb desserts of all types… rhubarb tarts like this one, rhubarb pudding, etc. It is used much the way tart cherries are.
When I look up recipes for rhubarb dessert, though, it seems they tend to have almost as many cups of sugar as they do rhubarb. Gross; this is completely unnecessary and hides the flavors of the season under a mask of refined sugar. This simple recipe has no refined sugar- sweetnesss comes from Stevia or fruit. You can pick up a Stevia plant at Edgewater Home and Garden at this time of year. I love them; at the end of the season I bring my Stevia plant inside for winter baking. My plant did die, though, when I went on vacation…. I came back and harvested all the dry leaves though and use them to sweeten oatmeal or tea or anything else for which I would otherwise use sugar.
2 cups of chopped strawberries
2 cups of chopped rhubarb
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 oz dried apricots, diced (about a half cup)
3 stevia leaves, minced* (see note)
1/4 c orange juice
dusting of coconut sugar
Crust- 1/2 c dates, 1/2 c walnuts or pecans
* If you don’t have a Stevia plant in your yard, there are a few options for replacing this ingredient. 1. Powdered Stevia. If you have pure powdered Stevia, that stuff is powerful and a small dash (less than an eighth of a teaspoon) will flavor this whole recipe; it’s easy to use too much. Most Stevia powders have fillers, though, exactly for this reason. If you have Stevia in the Raw packets, 3 will work. If you have a watered down Stevia powder with fillers, most would sufficiently flavor the dish with 1.5 tsp. May have to flavor to taste, though …. this is definitely the wild card ingredient in this recipe, but Stevia is worth learning how to use to replace an unhealthy ingredient with a healthy one in a lot of recipes.
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Combine all filling ingredients except coconut sugar. Put mixture into a greased 9 inch pie pan or glass (I used coconut oil; I would stick with either a flavorless oil like avocado or a nutty oil considering it is a dessert like coconut or pecan or hazelnut oil, etc.).
3. Dust with coconut sugar.
4. Combine nuts and dates in a food processor. Process on “high” until crumbly; this may take several minutes.
5. Sprinkle the date-nut crumble into the fruit filling.
6. Cover with aluminum foil and bake in preheated oven for 30-40 minutes. Uncover in the last 5-10 minutes to brown the topping (I left mine in the picture uncovered for too long thus the burned sections…)
Totally ok to double the recipe and have more for later/freeze as well. This dessert didn’t raise my sugar appreciably when I ate a 3/4 cup serving.
Take a banana, cut it in half, coat in almond butter, stick some fruit on top. My personal fave on top is sweet dark cherry halves, like Bing cherries. I could go more into it, but it’s really that simple. It takes a minute to create at most.
Health benefits of all ingredients:
1. First of all, congratulations on not using sugar in your dessert. Sugar causes unnecessary inflammation (the basis of all disease), messes with your metabolism, and just in general wreaks havoc on the body, whether it comes through soda, candy or dessert.
2. Berries: one of the best things you can put in your body. They are full of fiber, micronutrients like anthocyanins and polyphenolic compounds and plenty of vitamins. Increased consumption linked to all kinds of good things: with slowed cognitive decline in the elderly, cancer prevention and destruction,
4. Almond butter: although almonds are caloric because of all the fat they contain, it is a “good fat” that lowers serum blood cholesterol levels instead of raising them, perhaps because it is linked to other phytonutrients like fiber and plant sterols. Used in moderation, nuts and seeds of all kind are heart healthy, help absorb any nutrients eaten along with them (the fat helps the nutrients cross the mucosal barrier in GI tract easier), improve cholesterol levels, have lots of micronutrients like vitamin E and Several B vitamins, etc. Compare this type of fat to the fat found in fries or animal sources that has no associated micronutrients, worsens blood cholesterol levels, and causes vascular problems.
This is the idea with healthy desserts. If you can choose things like fruit sorbets without added sugar or other dishes that use fruit that is loaded with nutrients instead of empty calories without any nutritional benefit like most desserts on the market, this can only do good things.
Saturated fat is the source of a lot of great flavors, but also the source of a lot of disease.
Saturated fat is solid at room temperature, like butter and lard. However, it’s not necessary to make a choice between flavor and health. The message of my blog and practice remains the same when it comes to the flavors we get from saturated fat; you can approach recipe changes with joy and excitement at how good it tastes rather than feeling like you are giving something up. Most people just need an increased awareness of what’s out there.
Quick primer on the different types of fat, their sources and how they affect your health:
High levels of macronutrients- sugar or fat rather than micronutrients like vitamins are minerals- are typically bad for you. Some fats are worse for you than others.
An extreme example of how a fatty meal can affect arterial health is “post-prandial angina,” or chest pain after a fatty meal, which was first described over 200 years ago by William Heberden. There has even been research done in which arteries were shown to harden after people consumed fat. This happened both after high-fat meals were eaten, and after fat was infused into the blood stream in an attempt to bypass the brain and GI system to see if it was due to the fat in the blood alone causing hardened arteries or some other factor in the body.
If one high-fat meal can cause chest pain in people with pre-existing arterial disease, imagine what a lifetime of high fat consumption can do for your baseline arterial health. We know high fat diets worsen risk factors for coronary artery disease and associated arterial disease.
We also know that eating a low fat vegan diet can reverse heart disease, EVEN in people who are so bad off they are getting ready to have coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) or surgery. This is a surgery cracks open the chest at the sternum, takes veins from the leg and sews them around blocked coronary arteries in the heart. There is actually a lifestyle program that is so successful, it is Medicare-approved to reverse disease with lifestyle instead of surgery. This cardiac rehab program created by Dean Ornish, MD, that focuses on stress reduction, exercise, and a very lowfat diet.
HOWEVER, there are some types of plant fats that REDUCE cholesterol, like fats from avocados and nuts. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated (liquid at room temperature) tend to cause less problems in our body than the saturated variety.
So what are the easy ways to increase fiber and nutrients while decreasing fat or choosing healthier forms of fat?
1. Switch sources of nutrient-poor saturated fat, like cream, butter, or cheese, for nuts.
Health benefits of Nuts: Nuts are rich in high-quality protein, fiber, minerals, tocopherols, phytosterols, vitamin E, vitamin B6, folate, and phenolic compounds. Honestly, there isn’t much nuts do that’s not absolutely fantastic for you. Epidemiologic studies have linked nut consumption with reduced rates of heart disease and gallstones, as well as beneficial effects on hypertension, cancer, and inflammation…. So basically reduces risk of everything bad.
Compare this with the increased rates of obesity and heart disease linked with the ingredient you are using nuts to replace, and it’s easy to see why this is a good change to make.
Best types of nuts to use and how to use them: For a buttery taste, I like to use roasted pecans (see Pumpkin Spice Pudding post). For a creamy taste, I like to soak cashews or macadamia nuts for about 8 hours (during a workday or overnight, depending on when you need them), then pureeing them in a food processor. Any type of nut butter (almond, walnut, etc.) can easily replace butter on a peice of toast. Here is a simple, 4 ingredient recipe: Vegan Parmesan Cheese. Or to replace heavy whipping cream, All Purpose Cashew Cream (https://www.thefullhelping.com/purpose-cashew-cream-recipe/).
Here is an example of using nuts to replace cream and butter in a recipe. This is a recipe from America’s Test Kitchen cookbook, Vegetarian style. It was a chowder that called for heavy cream; I replaced the heavy cream with pureed macadamia nuts, and it was heavenly. No one who tried it could tell a difference.
2 Tablespoons Pecan oil (original recipe called for butter)
1 onion, cut into half inch pieces
1 fennel bulb, 1 tablespoon fronds minced, stalks discarded, bulb halved, cored and cut into 1/2 inch pieces.
Salt and pepper
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme or 3/4 tsp dried
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1/2 cup dry white wine
1.5 c water
4 cups vegetable broth
1 celery root (14 oz), aka celeriac, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
12 oz red potatoes, unpeeled, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 Golden Delicious apple, peeled and shredded
1 bay leaf
1 (3-inch) strip orange zest
1/4 c macadamia nuts w/enough water to cover in a blended
Saute pecan oil, onion, fennel for 5 to 7 minutes over medium heat.
Stir in garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant (30 sec), then stir in flour and cook for 1 minute. Stir in wine and cook until almost evaporated (1 min).
Stir in broth, water, celery root, potatoes, apple, bay leaf, and orange zest and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, partially cover, and simmer gently until stew is thickened and vegetables are tender, 35-40 min.
Turn off heat, discard bay leaf and orange zest. Puree 1/4 c macadamia nuts with enough water to cover. When it takes on a creamy consistency, add 2 cups of vegetable mixture, puree until smooth, then combine with the rest of the stew. Stir in fennel fronds, season w/salt and pepper to taste, then serve.
2. Incorporate beans or squash in a recipe for creaminess instead of using cream or butter.
Health benefits of beans: The consumption of beans and other legumes is also associated with a slimmer waistline and can help lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some forms of cancer. The healthiest societies in the world (known as Blue Zones) that have the most centenarians and the least rates of disease will regularly eat 3 servings of beans per day.
Best types of beans to use and how to use them:
White varieties of beans like cannelini and Great Northern become creamy very easily in the food processor. Garbanzo beans, though, tend to remain a bit grainy- think of the texture of their most famous dish, hummus. That dish has creaminess added with Tahini, or sesame seed butter, but still is typically more grainy than the first varieties I mentioned when pureed.
What it is and how to use it: Nutritional yeast is made by growing S. cerevisiae (the same variety of yeast used to make beer, bread and kombucha) on a sugar-rich molasses medium. Then, it is deactivated with heat, washed, pasteurized, dried, and crumbled. It’s almost always fortified with nutrients, particularly B vitamins, before ending up on store shelves. Unfortified versions are also available.
REFRAIN from this ingredient, though, if you have Crohn’s Disease or gluten intolerance. If you have gluten intolerance, may need to do some extra digging to see how it was cultured, as many varieties of nutritional yeast are grown using gluten-containing substrates. If you find varieties that aren’t cultured this way, though, you are likely safe to consume it.
Sorry this post ended up being finished later than I expected! I thought I would finish it two weeks ago but it just got finished today. Oh well it’s here now.
Although sugar-based foods and meals continue to hold a nostalgic place in my heart regarding treats at holidays with family, I am not excited about actual sugar, as it is the basis of a lot of disease, weight gain and heartache. “All of our biological systems for regulating energy, hunger and satiety get thrown off by eating foods that are high in sugar, low in fiber and injected with additives. And which now, shockingly, make up 60 percent of the calories we eat,” Michael Hobbes noted in a Huffington post article titled “Everything You Know About Obesity is Wrong.” I don’t really like fake sugar, either, like aspartame…. It had a super sketchy introduction to the food marketplace, and long-term studies done since that time have not been reassuring. Aspartame breaks down into formaldehyde in the body, and has been linked to increased risk of leukemia in men in the longest term study (22 years) performed on this question, although in shorter studies (8 weeks or 5 years) this link has not been found. Aspartame has also been linked to various neurological issues like depression, headaches, and even
So what to do? Use natural sources of sweetness that are good for you. It’s not a myth; see below.
Healthy sources of sweetness
Stevia promotes gut microbiome health (good gut bacteria which has a host of other downstream health effects that are positive) and has been shown to lower blood pressure through metanalyses (a collection of studies that gives a better idea of the outcome of a question rather than a single study alone) and through single studies.
I like to grow a plant outside during the summer and bring it inside, chopping off leaves as I need them. This ends up being less sweet than using the extract, and using fresh green leaves to sweeten my coffee or whatever just sounds healthy. The last recipe I made with fresh stevia leaves was chopping up local apples, adding stevia and a pumpkin spice blend, and sauteeing in coconut oil with a fire-finish with rum.
Sugar alcohols like Erythritol, xylitol and sorbitol – these are all sweeteners that originate from plants but do not have the calories or blood sugar raising capacities of sugar like fructose or glucose. In fact they REDUCE tooth decay instead of encouraging it like sugar does. They stimulate sugar receptors on the tongue, but are not associated with the detrimental health affects ascribed to aspartame or saccharine. However, in very large doses they can have a laxative effect and cause diarrhea. What dose is too large? This effect is noticed in smokers who quit smoking and chew sugar free gum all day to relieve the oral fixation from smoking. So having it in a single meal or serving size shouldn’t caused the laxative effect, but having it in everything you eat that day will be uncomfortable.
– Erythritol is found naturally in pears and grapes. This low-calorie sweetener can be made industrially by having yeast produce it. It has been shown to have antioxidant effects (anti-aging effects associated with compounds in fruits and vegetables that protect them from the sun), and seems to be a prebiotic, or food source for good gut bacteria.
– Xylitol was a molecule originally found in hardwoods and corn cobs, but can be produced industrially by yeast as well. It doesn’t have the same health benefits as erythritol from what research I found, but it is not as harmful as sugar.
Monk Fruit Extract– this is a sweetener from China and it has been extolled in Chinese medicine for various benefits, but there hasn’t been large research studies I know of proving these benefits. It has similar delayed effects on blood sugar- but not direct effects on blood sugar- like the sugar alcohols described above. Better than sugar, but not as good as berries, dried fruit, or other whole plants as a sweetener. No ill effects noted, though.
Maca Powder– Maca has a slight coconut flavor and tastes amazing as a sweetener in macaroons. I prefer it for baking or smoothies rather than as a mix-in sweetener for drinks because unless it is mixed well in a blender or baked- good recipe, it doesn’t tend to combine. If I try to mix it in to coffee, for example, it just won’t unless I am blending my coffee drink for some reason. But again, works well in baked goods and smoothies. There are a lot of health benefits ascribed to Maca and it even has “superfood” designation… but a good portion of the health claims of Maca are not supportable by current scientific evidence. So maybe it is an “adaptogen” (a term used for “whatever your body needs, this product gives it to you!” that I am wary of in health food circles), but I don’t have a lot of evidence to support this. What I do know is that it is high in protein, fiber, calcium and magnesium, all important nutrients. It is also a part of the Cruciferous Vegetable family, which has been shown to reduce cancer risk in vivo because of an active ingredient called sulfurophane. It also doesn’t raise blood sugar anywhere close to what sugar does.
… aka do not let perfect be the enemy of good, and oh its so gooood….
Ratatouille is a Mediterranean recipe from the south of France. Despite the fact it is French cuisine, it is more of a throw-the-gloriousness-of-summer-produce-into-a-pot type of recipe than an haute couture follow-it-to-a-T recipe like you might expect of French cuisine.I am often making iterations of this recipe throughout the summer. The one thing that happens in each of those recipes is a combination of lemon juice, fresh dill and basil from the garden, freshly ground black pepper, and balsamic vinegar (or white wine vinegar instead of balsamic or an 18 year aged balsamic if you need to avoid sugar). As long as all those ingredients are present in sufficient amounts, put whatever you need to get rid of along with onions and garlic, and you are set. For us, we had a plethora of zucchini, tomatoes, and yellow squash this year. We would mix that with some canned beans to give it more of a stick-to-your-Ribs quality, and never got tired of it.
Chia seed pudding is a tapioca-like pudding that gets its consistency from a type of soluble fiber in the chia seed called mucilage. What a weird sounding name! But! I am always talking about the benefits of getting soluble fiber into the diet, and here’s a tasty way to do that that could be considered dessert OR something for the breakfast meal that will set you up feeling full all day rather than setting you up for sugar highs and lows the way most sugary breakfast cereals and yogurts will. Also, you can make this at the beginning of the week and have healthy breakfasts all week with little to no effort.
The chia seed absorbs water readily because of this fiber, so the OTHER thing to remember is that chia seeds aren’t supposed to be eaten raw. It is better to put them in a recipe where they can absorb water BEFORE you eat them, otherwise it may be uncomfortable for them to be absorbing water/expanding in your stomach and GI tract. Haven’t ever eaten them raw, but I’ve heard it’s pretty uncomfortable.
Health benefits of soluble fiber
Promotes release of leptin, the hormone that makes you feel satiated/full
Other than that… honestly it’s hard to pin down exactly, but it’s probably good. Let me explain: people who eat high-fiber diets tend to have lower rates of most diseases I can think of (cancer, diabetes, heart disease, cholesterol to name a few). But often times if they test out the health benefits of taking a fiber supplement alone, and not getting fiber through healthy food, people don’t achieve the same benefits. Foods that contain fiber, like chia seeds, fruits, and vegetables are healthy and show reduced rates of disease, whereas fiber supplements may lower cholesterol a bit but really don’t really have the same effects as eating the whole foods.
Health benefits of chia seeds
Contain cancer-fighting compounds like lignans
High in anti inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids; high in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals
Vitamins and minerals it is rich in: calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, manganese, copper, zinc, iron and niacin.
Also high in the macronutrient protein
So let’s get to this easy, healthy recipe!
Chia Seed Pudding
Prep time: <10 min of actually doing things, but will need to sit for at least 4 hours to create pudding consistency.
Serves: 4 generous servings
2 cups of almond or coconut milk (lowfat dairy milk could also be used, but then may need to add almond flavoring)
1/2 cup of chia seeds (found in most grocery stores including Wal-Mart, Aldi)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon
If you have problems with processing sugar (sugar addiction, diabetes), use: 2 tsp sugar replacement containing stevia or monk fruit extract. If no issues with this, then 2 tsp honey or maple syrup.
The link above goes to my favorite sugar replacement- it can be used in the same quantities you would use sugar, tastes sweet, and is relatively non-processed, but doesn’t spike blood sugar like sugar does or cause reactions the way some people get to saccharine/aspartame/etc.
If you are using actual Stevia, this is incredibly sweet, and only 1/4-1/2 tsp would be necessary. Stevia is a South American plant that has very sweet-tasting leaves but doesn’t raise blood sugar the way real sugar does.
Combined almond milk, chia seeds, been no and sweetener in a ball. Mix well until combined in the mixture begins to thicken. Store covered in the refrigerator overnight or for 4 hours.
Stir well, then serve topped with fresh or frozen/thawed fruit and whatever else sounds yummy and is healthy… roasted pecans, toasted coconut, etc.
I discovered a form of pasta with almost no carbs and plenty of fiber that tastes like glass noodles. Also, it’s easy to find- in the produce section at Wal-Mart or the health food refrigerated section of Festival Foods. AND it’s only about $3 per package. AND if you are diabetic, you don’t have to give yourself insulin correction for it since it has no carbs your body can use (it’s all fiber). This food is shirataki noodles.
So, what is shirataki? It’s a Japanese tuber or yam. It is purported to have health benefits like helping with weight loss/making you feel full because of it’s large amount of soluble fiber. As far as the validity of these studies, the studies that show benefit were done with supplements that had the active ingredient in the shirataki pasta… so it would make sense LOGICALLY that the same benefits of the main ingredient in the pasta would have the same benefit in the food… but I don’t know of any studies done on the pasta by itself. There is also a higher protein version of the noodle that includes tofu in the recipe.
The fact that it takes the place of pasta in recipes, but has nowhere near the amount of calories pasta has, and is high in fiber, is a great thing. As far as taste, if you just open the package and start eating it, it doesn’t taste good. However, it will take on the taste of whatever recipe you use it in, so it tastes good once you actually use it as an ingredient.
Other tips: the strands of noodles are long, so you may want to cut the noodles into halves or thirds before using it to avoid having a big bunch of noodles that doesn’t mix well with the rest of your ingredients. So here are some recipe ideas:
1.) Drain and use instead of spaghetti in any recipe that calls for spaghetti. You don’t have to cook it, though, you just need to warm it. So drain it, rinse it, and add it to the cooked sauce to warm it for a few minutes before serving, but don’t boil it for 5-10 minutes like you would pasta.
2.) At the end of a stir-fry, after sauteeing together the ingredients of your choice (leeks or onions, carrot, celery, beans of your choice, whatever veggies you have lying around in your fridge that need to be used up along with garlic, Chinese five-spice powder and sriracha to taste), add drained, rinsed shiritake noodles instead of cooked rice.
3.) Make a simple one-pot pasta, adding the shiritake noodles at the end instead of the beginning since they don’t need to be cooked: https://www.marthastewart.com/978784/one-pan-pasta.
Coat halved, fresh Brussels sprouts in a high smoke-point oil like avocado oil, fresh ground black pepper, and three cloves of minced garlic. Roast until they look like this … 10-15 min? Dip in hummus mixed with sriracha and lime juice.
This is full of every important nutrient ever, fills you up, and is relatively easy.
Pumpkin is one of the best things you can put in your body; it’s full of fiber (3-5 grams per 1/2 cup serving! That’s huge!), carotenoids, other fancy veggie phytonutrients that fight aging and disease. It fills you up without using up all your calories for the day- about 7 net carbs per 1/2 cup serving and 50 calories. The typical spice used with pumpkin, cinnamon, is also amazing for you, with anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antitumor, pro-cardiovascular, and cholesterol-lowering effects… So then WHY do we typically screw up all those health benefits by processing pumpkin into a sugary pump to put in a coffee drink or making a dessert that’s basically sugar instead of enhancing the natural deliciousness of this incredibly healthy vegetable??? 😦 Fall should be a time of increased health from the rich variety of colorful produce we have, not a time to start packing on the processed, sugary food. But anyways.
Here is an easy recipe using canned pumpkin (fresh pumpkin DOES taste more fresh but takes 1-2 hours longer to produce once you cut and bake it) and toasted nuts instead of butter. Butter = increased cardiovascular disease risk.1, 2, 3 Nuts, although they still contain fat, contain the good kind of fat and actually DECREASES cardiovascular disease risk when eaten in proper portion size.4 You don’t have to toast the nuts but it really adds a caramel-y fall goodness to the dish.
Pumpkin Pudding– Serves 5-6
1 X 29 oz can pumpkin
1/4 cup real maple syrup or honey
1 cup roasted pecans, plus more for plating if desired
2 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp ground ginger
Put all the above ingredients in a blender, blend until it’s well-mixed while scraping down the sides, and you may need to add water or milk of some variety for it to mix fully if it gets too thick. Split into ramekin dishes to serve as pudding or add more water or milk of whatever variety you choose to turn it into a smoothie. If served as pudding, may sprinkle with roasted pecans and cinnamon to change up texture.