Healthy Monday Tip #5: Avoid Processed Foods

Healthy Monday is a public health initiative founded in 2005 in association with Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University, and Syracuse University. HM’s goal is to end chronic preventable disease in the U.S. by offering people and organizations a weekly prompt to start and sustain healthy behaviors, intentions, actions and initiatives. For most Americans, the week begins on Monday. Studies suggest we are more likely to maintain behaviors begun on Monday throughout the week. That makes Monday the perfect day to make a change for your health and the health of our planet.

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Last week’s semi-controversial post, “Stop Thinking, Start Eating” had some interesting responses. The main thing that people seemed to criticize me for was this: ok, “real food” is great… but what the heck is “real food”?

For me, eating real food means avoiding processed foods, but aside from that eating everything from fried chicken to fresh salads. (I think that) nearly all of the health problems in our society come from eating processed foods. Not from eating meat, or fat, or even white bread – no! The problems start when we start eating chemicals and preservatives and pre-packaged sweets or snacks.

Why avoid processed foods?

  • I don’t think that the human body recognizes them as food the same way that it does non-processed foods. I don’t really know the science behind this; it’s just a hunch.
  • People have been eating “bad” things like red meat and butter for years, but the truly awful epidemics – obesity, heart disease, diabetes, etc… – did not really become epidemics until the advent of processed foods. Maybe it’s correlation and not causation; I think it’s better to be safe than sorry.
  • Avoiding processed foods is (I think) less restrictive than avoiding, say, meat or dairy or some other random set of foods that some health professional deems unworthy. I think pretty much everyone is in agreement that processed foods are crap.
  • It’s nice to eat things that were prepared by real humans instead of machines.

Examples of processed foods I would probably avoid:

  • Oreos and other pre-packaged cookies. (This does not include pre-made cookies from Whole Foods – those are fabulously delicious.)
  • Pringles and other chips that are not recognizable as a potato.
  • Breads that don’t go moldy. (Scary.)
  • Sugary candy like Twizzlers. (If I’m going to eat candy it’s going to be something with fat, like chocolate or peanut butter.)
  • Twinkies. (Ha. I have never had a Twinkie.)
  • Fake butter or margarine.
  • Ritz crackers (these don’t go moldy as far as I know).
  • And so on…

In the ideal world we wouldn’t have to worry about how to find real food. But we do. I’ve found that a lot of it comes down to WHERE you want to eat, and not WHAT you want to eat. For example, going to a fresh Mexican restaurant is much preferable to eating at Taco Bell. Or getting a nice juicy burger from a deli is probably better than getting it at McDonald’s.

Remember that your diet will not ever be perfect.

We can and should try to avoid the clear yuck foods (like those on my list above). We can try to set good examples for our friends and families. Little things really do add up, and they can start a revolution ūüėČ

Do you have a list of no-no’s? What foods do you eat that other people might think are “bad for you”?

For more Healthy Monday tips, check out the archives.

Fun Food Friday

Time for some Friday Fun Foods!

Here is a vegetarian breakfast:

  • pita + tomato + avocado + cheese (grilled)

A vegetarian lunch:

  • pita French toast (whole eggs + almond milk + cinnamon), honey, cream cheese
  • spinach sauteed in butter + cream cheese

And a pescatarian shrimpalicious dinner:

  • 2 sweet potatoes cut into fries with coconut oil and ketchup
  • shrimp and spinach cooked in butter and peanut dressing

Sometimes I think my blog should be called “Better With Butter”. Do you have funny blog-name ideas? (For your blog or for mine.)

I am off for some R&R. And Burn Notice.

Happy Friday! (I have a bunch of great Saturday Links for tomorrow, so come back in a day.)

Menu Plan Monday: when things don’t go as planned!

I started doing Menu Plan Monday (MPM) again last week in an effort to get myself cooking regularly again. I ended up making a few new dishes (Vietnamese Shrimp Salad, Summer Rolls).

I realized though that I can’t decide on Sunday what I’m going to eat on Wednesday or Thursday or even the very next day (Monday). I usually don’t know what I want until 10 seconds before it’s time to eat… Unless I plan a salad, because I’m always in the mood for a salad.

Last week I made 2 noodle dishes that were really yummy (will post soon). I brought them for lunch, but I don’t like having noodles for lunch. I like having a salad from downstairs, or oatmeal, or some other weird Maggie food that probably smells funny.

Anyhow, I did find a new breakfast favorite. I have been eating eggs cooked in butter again after listening to these podcasts (Dishing Up Nutrition). Along with my eggs I have veggies – cabbage sauteed in some butter is simple and delicious. I tried a few other veggies but none were as good as the cabbage and butter.

Source.

I told my dad he should try eggs with butter for breakfast and he looked at me like I was nuts. But I really do believe that healthy fats are so important and my skin is agreeing with me. So are my energy levels and my mood.

I won’t be doing an¬†MPM this week, but I will be eating my usuals – lots of eggs and veggies for breakfast; salads, sushis, oatmeals , and whatever else I want for lunch; and probably salads and veggieful meals like these ones for dinner. I also plan on lots of Whole Foods hot/cold bars for lunches and dinners (which happened a lot this past week).

I had a really great weekend in New Jersey (we got back last night) and I do have a few pictures and adventures to share, but I want to go enjoy the last moments of the weekend so I’m going to save that for later. I have also been walking with my new iPod (built in pedometer) while listening to those podcasts I mentioned earlier, and I still love the step count way more than measuring my walks in miles. I like walking and steps are a great way to measure my walks.

One more thing I want to mention is yoga – I haven’t talked about yoga recently because I haven’t really been doing it, but I have snuck in a few 20-minute yogadownload sessions and they have been great. I want to start doing these a few times a week. Just have to get in the habit of doing them after work or after dinner.

What are your favorite standard eats?

The Great Fat Animal Experiment

Nope, I’m not talking about these lazy boys (cats… or as we call them: fats).

I’m talking about some new dietary things I’ve been trying. The changes involve fat and animals. Like steel-cut oats cooked in water and almond milk, then topped with organic butter and maple syrup:

I take food to work in these containers. Here is another, better picture of steel cut oats from the other day (this is after the butter had been stirred in).

I cooked (makes ~3 servings):

  • 4.5 cups of water and almond milk (I did half and half)
  • 1 cup steel-cut oats (the “serving size” is 1/4 cup)
  • few dashes of salt
  • cinnamon optional
  • …in my rice cooker.

Just be careful as it cooks – unless you have a very large rice cooker it will overflow. What I like to do is let it start to boil (on the “cook” button), and then turn it to “warm” and let it sit overnight. In the morning you have creamy, chewy, luscious steel-cut oats. They’re just as good as Jamba Juice‘s.

Or how about this guy…

Veggies cooked in 1-2 tablespoons of organic butter, topped with whipped full-fat cream cheese. I actually didn’t have this yet because my boss bought us lunch today (snow day!) – so I saved it in the fridge for tomorrow.

What are your thoughts on diet and healing? Do you think that food can really have that much of an impact on your well-being?

Low Sugar Black Bean Brownies

When I saw this recipe over at 101 Cookbooks, I knew I had to try it. Many Asian desserts use the red adzuki bean and I always like them a lot. I recently bought a loaf of red bean bread, which is similar to cinnamon swirl – except the swirls were a smooth and creamy red bean paste. It was delicious. I wanted to try this recipe with the adzuki beans, but alas, I was short on time and couldn’t find canned adzuki beans. I did buy a bag of dried adzukis for another time, but decided to settle for black beans, at least for now.

I also decided to try three permutations of the recipe. I love butter, but some people watch calories. I subbed out the butter in 2 variations and tried them with applesauce and then with mashed banana. I made three half batches and tested them on my coworkers, friends, and roommates. I think the banana won out in the end, but the applesauce was a close second and (surprisingly) butter was a definite last.

Another change I made had to do with the sweetening method used. ¬†I always cut down the sugar when I bake so this time I severely reduced the amount of agave nectar called for. If you like your desserts very sweet, up the amount of agave nectar to up to a 1/2 cup for the recipe listed below. You can also substitute honey for agave nectar at a ratio of 1:1. If you don’t know where to find agave nectar, try Trader Joe’s or any local health food store.

I made three half batches, so I’m going to list the recipe for a half-batch below.

  1. In the first version, I used creamy unsalted butter.
  2. In the second I used unsweetened applesauce.
  3. In the third I used mashed banana.

This is how (my version of) the recipe goes.

Adapted from Baking With Agave Nectar: Over 100 Recipes Using Nature’s Ultimate Sweetener by Ania Catalano.

Black Bean Brownies

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips (about 1/3 cup)
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter OR 1/2 cup applesauce OR 1/2 cup mashed banana (about 1 medium)
  • 1 cup soft cooked black beans, drained
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/8 cup instant coffee
  • dash of salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons agave nectar

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325F. Line a 9×9-inch pan with wax or parchment paper. Spray with nonstick cooking spray (optional – but makes for much easier removal, as I found out. I did not use the spray, and mine stuck to the paper.)
  2. Melt the chocolate and butter/applesauce/banana in the microwave (about 1 minute). Stir to melt completely. Place the beans, 1/4 cup of the walnuts, the vanilla extract, and a few spoonfuls of the melted chocolate mixture into a food processor. Mix on high until creamy, about 1.5-2 minutes.  The beans should be smooth.*  Set aside.
  3. In a separate medium-sized bowl, mix together the rest of the walnuts, the remaining chocolate mix, the instant coffee, and the salt. Mix and set aside.
  4. In another bowl, beat the eggs until light and creamy (I did this by hand and didn’t get them as creamy as I would have liked; the brownies turned out fine anyway). Add the agave nectar and set aside.
  5. Add the bean mixture to the chocolate mixture, stirring well. Then add in most of the egg mix, saving a few tablespoons to drizzle on top.
  6. Pour the batter into your baking pan. Beat the remaining egg mixture a big more, then drizzle overtop of the batter. Using a toothpick, mix around the batter and egg drizzle to create a marbled effect.
  7. Bake about 35-40 minutes, until brownies have set. You can use a clean toothpick to determine whether they are done. Let cool, then cut into squares. It’s best if you refrigerate them before cutting as they are quite soft.

These are the ones with applesauce (I mixed the beans a little bit longer than I did with the buttery batch, so they look very smooth):

And these are the banana ones (they were slightly thicker because I used a different shaped pan):

The butter ones are pictured at the beginning of this post – as you can see, they are a little more chunky than either the applesauce or banana ones! As I kept on making batches, I learned the proper times for mixing the beans and the appropriate amount of egg mixture to reserve for drizzling. It all comes down to personal preference, so bake as you like!

*Note: In Asian desserts, sometimes the red beans are whole. If you want more of the bean flavor in these brownies, don’t blend them too long in the food processor. When I make these with red beans I’m only going to mix for about 30 seconds to keep some of the beans from being completely mashed.