Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Stevia Experiments

Stevia is a South American herb with a sweetness that’s 300 times greater than sugar. Since Boris is from South America, it was no surprise to me that stevia comes from his homeland—being the sweet guy that he is and all! He’s waaay more than 300 times sugar’s sweetness! Anyway, I’ve been intrigued by stevia for some time now because I’ve read that it’s actually good for you. As hard as it is to believe, stevia actually helps stabilize blood sugar levels. This is amazing considering the terrible things sugar does to our blood sugar balance. So I tried a few products (mostly protein powders and drink powders) that were sweetened with stevia and didn’t like the taste. The best way I could describe it was like electric licorice. But, since I don’t give up easily, I thought I’d get my own stevia and see if I could make it work for me.
I bought a bottle of pure stevia extract called SweetLeaf Stevia Extract made by Wisdom Brands, about .9 oz for about $10. After realizing how little you use in recipes, I figure it will last me a couple of years.
There was another brand that looked like it had way more in the bottle (about 4 oz.) and cost about the same, but after looking closer at the ingredients (Boris’ suggestion), I realized that they had used a filler to pump it up. I thought that if I want to investigate this stuff, I need it to be pure.
After a couple of quick experiments, I came to realize that the trick to using it is not to try for an end product that is super sweet. Just use enough to bring out a sweet taste that balances with the other flavors. The usual substitution with sugar is 1 cup of sugar equals 1 teaspoon of stevia, but I would recommend that you use maybe 1/3 or ½ of a teaspoon of stevia per cup of sugar instead. That means that if you’re putting it in your tea or coffee, you would just put the slightest dusting on a spoon.I made a small batch of oatmeal cookies and some coconut tofu pudding and they were great! I tried another thing that was really crazy that I won’t tell you all the details about, but it involved frozen celery and a blender and it was horrible (although Boris claims he liked it)! So here are the two good recipes I’ve made so far:

Sugar Free Oatmeal Cookies 10 cookies
¼ cup brown rice flour
¼ cup barley flour
1 cup rolled oats
Pinch salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup walnuts
1 ½ Tablespoons flax seeds, ground
¼ teaspoon stevia extract
Optional: ½ cup chocolate chips
2 Tablespoons canola oil
½ cup vanilla almond, soy, or rice milk
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a cookie sheet with Pam or other spray oil.
Mix all ingredients except oil and milk. Stir in oil and milk. Spoon onto oiled
cookie sheet. Bake 15 to 18 minutes until lightly browned around edges.

Coconut Tofu Pudding Serves 4
12.3 oz. box Mori-Nu Silken Tofu, Firm
½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
¾ cup unsweetened vanilla almond, soy, or rice milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 teaspoon stevia extract

Put all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth and creamy. Use more or less
almond, soy, or rice milk to get it to the thickness you want. Adjust stevia amount to your
taste. Refrigerate for a few hours before serving. It will thicken a little more in the
refrigerator and the flavors will blend and mellow.
This is great spooned over bananas or other fruit.

Monday, May 18, 2009


I seriously love sweets but, unfortunately, I get addicted to them very easily. If I have dessert with sugar more than a couple of days in a row, I’m hooked. It only takes me a couple of days without it to unhook again, but during those days, I’m totally fixated on Kentucky Derby Pie and Raspberry Linzer Tarts. I don’t use the word “addicted” lightly because that’s exactly what happens. The fact that table sugar is so refined makes it into an actual drug that brings a response to a person’s brain chemistry similar to an opiate drug.
Speaking of refined, two other sweeteners come to mind that should be discussed. Splenda (or sucralose) is a non-caloric sweetener that is derived from sugar—they’ve replaced 3 hydrogen-oxygen molecules in the sugar with 3 chlorine molecules. According to a Duke University study, using sucralose causes the beneficial bacteria in our intestines to be diminished greatly, which is a very bad thing. Our intestinal bacteria is an extremely important part of our immune system, protecting us from all kinds of infections as well as cancer. It’s understandable that Whole Foods is refusing to carry products that contain sucralose. Good one, Whole Foods!
Another sweetener that goes on the Really Bad List is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). This is possibly one of the most destructive “foods” introduced into the system and is likely the main cause of our current obesity epidemic. When you ingest this crazy stuff, it goes directly to your liver and immediately turns into fat. For real. It also increases ghrelin (a hormone your body produces that creates feelings of hunger) and decreases leptin (a hormone that your body produces when you eat food that makes you feel satisfied). That’s insane! It’s like taking a drug where its sole purpose is to keep you addicted. To top it off, recent studies show that samples taken of foods with HFCS have mercury in them! Ewww! Mercury! That’s truly bad stuff.
Some sweeteners that are safe to use (they won’t cause huge spikes in blood sugar levels and they are natural) are brown rice syrup, barley malt syrup, and an herb called stevia. The best thing, though, is fruit—not juice, not fruit rollups, definitely not Froot Loops, just real fruit.

Here’s something for when you want a sweet/slightly salty/crunchy dessert:

Crunchy Snack

1 corn tortilla (much better for you than flour tortilla)
1 tablespoon natural, unsweetened peanut or almond butter
2 big, fat fresh strawberries, sliced

Toast the tortilla just until it’s crunchy (not brown) in a toaster oven. Let it cool until you can handle it, then spread the peanut or almond butter on top. Top with the strawberries. Please eat this over a plate or you’ll be decorating the floor with it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Mental Programs

Wow! Amazing news about cells! I’ve been reading Candace Pert’s book, “Molecules of Emotion” and I’m starting a revolution in my mind! Did you know that each one of your cells is like a little brain that stores memories and communicates with all the other cells in your body through an intricate system of chemistry that makes the Internet look as primitive as smoke signals?

You can put this system to work for you just by knowing this—because once you know this, you’ll be communicating that knowledge to all the cells as well! That is, once you involve your conscious brain, you can think thoughts and make decisions that will affect not just your mood and energy levels, but things like chronic pain, blood pressure level, your immune system, and your overall health and well-being.

This is a huge topic with an infinite number of ways to put it to good use, but let’s start with using it to help you stay motivated to stick with a healthy lifestyle. The choices you make every minute of the day that determine what you would call your “lifestyle” have been put in place by you because of the chemicals in your brain that make you happy, your endorphins. Your response to seeing a pile of French fries vs. a clean, green salad is similar to the way the filing system in your computer works. You make associations with foods, experiences, etc. that you’ve had before and every time you have that experience and think the same thoughts, you reinforce a “default” response.

Often when people start a new fitness program or diet, unbeknownst to them, the deepest part of their mind thinks that it’s going to be a temporary situation. They haven’t yet created a new “default” response to their new choices. So how do you reprogram these default settings? First you have to very gently and very seriously ask yourself about what kind of pleasure you may be getting from your previous habits. This isn’t just the obvious stuff like, “Well, French fries are just superdelicious!” Because if you know that they’re bad for your health (and they really are!) but you continue to choose them anyway, you’re going against goals you’ve set for yourself and you’re going to end up feeling bad about that choice later. So you’ve got to really get into the deeper parts of your mind and ask why you’re not taking your new goal seriously.

Then, of course, you’ll need to create positive mental associations with the things you’ve chosen to be your new habits. For instance, while you’re eating something healthy or sticking with your plan to exercise, make a point of thinking about how happy you are to be doing something so good for yourself. Over time, the association will be automatic.

By approaching your system this way, you will develop a clear communication with your body and your subconscious mind that will become easier and easier to make use of.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


No, these wolves aren't having dinner! I just took a break from working on painting these wolves to make this dinner for Boris and me.

Baked Tofu Dinner

This mixture of tastes and textures hits the perfect balance. When you eat it, you'll feel balanced, too!

1/2 cup short grain brown rice
1/2 cup hulled barley (with the bran intact)
Sprinkle of salt
1 1/2 cups water (if you're using a pressure cooker) or
2 cups water (if you're cooking grain by traditional method)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 dried shiitake mushrooms soaked in 1/2 cup hot water for about 15 minutes, sliced (save the
water you used for soaking)
1 cup fresh asparagus, cut up
1 cup fresh dark greens such as kale or collards, chopped
Sprinkle of salt and pepper
8 oz. package teriyaki or other flavor baked tofu
1/2 ripe avocado, sliced
10 cherry tomatoes, cut in half

Rinse rice/barley mixture and drain. Bring salted water to a boil, cook grain according to your preferred method.
In a skillet with a lid, saute garlic in the olive oil on medium high heat until it just starts to brown at the edges. Add vegetables and water from shiitake mushrooms. Cover skillet and let vegetables cook until tender for about 8 to 12 minutes, adding more water as necessary.
While vegetables cook, place tofu on pan sprayed with Pam or other cooking spray oil and broil until lightly browned.
Put the cooked grain on your plate, with your vegetables and tofu arranged around the sides, top with avocado and tomatoes.

Now you can eat your dinner and get back to work. Yay!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Favorite exercise

When it comes to leg exercises, most people first think of squats (there's an expression that "squats are king"), but I've personally come to appreciate the deadlift as a much better choice. It's been shown that putting the bar on the back of the shoulders (as is done with squats) puts the knees in a position to receive more stress than keeping the weight in the front of the body. Also, resting the bar on the shoulders can have a bad effect on your neck and upper spine over the years. I know because I had both knee problems and neck problems that seemed to come from excessive squatting. By switching to deadlifts, I don't have those problems anymore. Deadlifts just seem more natural anyway--I mean, when you're just doing things in real life and you need to lift something heavy, do you think you'd put it on your back or just pick it up?
The deadlift is, in my opinion, the most basic weight training exercise and it works your entire body in one exercise. You can do this with a barbell, with dumbbells (as shown in these pictures), cables, heavy objects, or even with no weight at all. However, this movement must be performed correctly with strict attention to keeping the spine in a safe position.
There are several different ways to do this exercise, but here's a good way to start. Start, as in figure A with your weights on the floor in front of you. First, stand straight, keep your core tight with your chest out and your butt slightly sticking out, feet a little wider than shoulder width. This keeps the muscles along your spine flexed throughout the movement and protects your lower back. Now squat down, maintaining the "butt out" position (NEVER round your back, as shown in the third photo). Keeping the weights close to your body, pick up the weights, grip tightly, keep your shoulders back and head up, and then stand up. When you're standing with the weights, keep everything tight. Then, keeping your back in that tightened position, squat back down almost to the floor, then stand up again. Do 2 or 3 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions, resting about a minute between sets. It's super important that you don't let your back round (this puts the muscles in your back in a vulnerable position). You can do this with your feet closer together or farther apart. Closer together will work more of your quadriceps, farther apart will work more butt and hamstring muscles.