Meyer Lemon Ricotta Bars

If you’ve been reading my site for some time, you likely know that I do not label the way I eat. I don’t follow any particular diet or identify with any particular eating strategy. I eat whole/real/nourishing foods the majority of the time but I also eat things that don’t fit these descriptors when I want them…I don’t exclude anything from my diet unless I don’t like it. This moderation approach works really, really well for me.

Recently my friend/writer extraordinaire Peter Barrett interviewed me about my book for a local publication called The Chronogram. He really captured what I am about- he called the piece The Moderator!- and I could not be more pleased with the article. I encourage you to read it here.

lemons | www.healthygreenkitchen.com
lemon bars | www.healthygreenkitchen.com

In other news, January was a rough month. It was cold and filled with a lot of bad news. I am hoping for warmer, happier days in February, and these Meyer Lemon Ricotta Bars symbolize that hope.

lemon ricotta bars | www.healthygreenkitchen.com

If super tart is what you seek in a lemon dessert, these may not be for you (try these lemon bars instead). Meyer lemons are sweeter than regular lemons and the ricotta cheese “mellows” these bars, so they won’t make you pucker up. They are bursting with lovely citrus flavor, though; you can find the recipe I used for inspiration over on food52. (The easy crust recipe comes from One Bowl Baking: Simple, From Scratch Recipes for Delicious Desserts.)

There is sugar in this recipe and as Peter wrote in the Chronogram article, my stance on sugar has really softened in recent years. Though I wrote in my book that it is best avoided, I currently eat sweet foods, such as these lemon bars, without any guilt or worry. Do I eat 5 of them at a time on an empty stomach? No. I cut them very small and eat one or two at a time after a meal. This is moderation in action. You can find my current thoughts on sugar in this post, if you’d like more clarification on this topic.

I sure hope your February is as lovely as these Lemon Ricotta Bars :)

lemon ricotta bars | www.healthygreenkitchen.com

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Homemade Marshmallows

I’m participating in National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) which means I’m blogging every day of November, 2013!

Marshmallows are so much fun to make (and eat)…with the holidays coming up, it’s the perfect time to have homemade marshmallows around! You can use them in lots of different ways: bake them into the top of Thanksgiving sweet potatoes, melt them in homemade s’mores, float them in hot chocolate. Or just eat them plain ;)

marshmallows 2_text

This recipe comes from The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen, a beautiful, relatively new book. The super nice people from Clarkson Potter sent me a review copy a few months ago. I have a couple of the Lee Bros. cookbooks and I really love them all!

To make homemade marshmallows, you will need a candy thermometer. I have
this one and it works great. If you are on the fence about whether you need one of these or not, I say go for it! If you ever want to make any kind of homemade candy (I give away small packages of homemade candy to friends and family during the holiday season), it’s such a useful thing to have.

I made these marshmallows with Knox brand gelatin that you buy from the grocery store. An alternative is to use grass-fed gelatin. I haven’t tried this yet, but I plan to soon.

This recipe calls for sorghum syrup, a traditional Southern sweetener. I used cane syrup instead: Lyles Golden Syrup is really lovely. Or, you can make these with light corn syrup: I’d seek out an organic brand like this one in order to avoid GMOs. (Note that corn syrup is not the same thing as high fructose corn syrup. Using the former in a recipe now and then is not going to harm you, but I do recommend avoiding things like commercial sodas that contain the latter.)

marshmallows 1

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Homemade Oreos + My Current Thoughts on Sugar

Did you hear the news? Oreos are just as addictive as cocaine!

I was kind of shocked to find that out, actually, because it’s not at all my experience with Oreos. I generally feel more of a heroin-like effect when I eat them. Oh, wait…that’s probably because sugar is the same as heroin to the body. Yeah, it all makes sense now.

Ok, friends, I hope you know I am totally joking here. I have zero experience with either cocaine or heroin (and I haven’t had more than a handful of store-bought Oreos in many years). I’m going to share a recipe for Homemade Oreos with you in this post, but first I have some other things to say.

Homemade Oreos | Healthy Green Kitchen

I’m getting really tired of all of these “this food is the equivalent of a street drug” references out there (I mean…seriously? Can we stop with this already? It’s just wrong on so many levels). I’m sick of all of the articles that scare people into thinking they are poisoning themselves if they consume cookies or anything else containing sugar, too, without any mention of context or dose.

I’ve never been anything but completely honest with you, my readers, so I have no problem telling you that I used to believe all that sugar is toxic/addictive/what have you stuff. That’s right, I did. Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while may recall that I’ve even written statements like that in the past. I am being very up front about this right now because I’ve changed my mind about it being helpful (or true) to refer to sugar that way. Well-designed scientific studies have not proven that sugar is either toxic or addictive when consumed in reasonable amounts by healthy individuals so I’m no longer going to use terminology that suggests it is.

Below are some quotes folks left on my Facebook page just the other day:

“Addictions are all the same! They control your life and often ruin it! Sugar is an addiction!”

“Proven fact sugar addiction is as tough as heroin”

“This whole country is addicted because our food manufactures add sugar to everything”

“People can become addicted to simple carbs just as they can to smoking or alcohol”

I did not make those up: they are real comments left by real people when I recently challenged the concept that sugar is as addictive as drugs. The people who left these comments were rude and argumentative when I asked them to back up their claims with scientific evidence. They claimed I was in “sugar denial” for not agreeing with them.

My intention here is not to call people out for being ignorant…it’s to draw attention to how damaging it can be to not have correct information…to be trapped in dogma that’s not evidence based.

In the sugar = heroin article I linked to at the top of this post, a certain doctor asserts that “when you eat sugar, it stimulates the release of dopamine into the nucleus accumbens, which makes you feel pleasure. The brain recognizes and likes this feeling and begins to crave more. It may startle you to learn that heroine, morphine and sugar all stimulate the same receptors in your brain.”

This is a quite a provocative statement, yes? It’s worded in such a way that you are very likely to come away from the article feeling:
a. guilty for enjoying sugar because enjoying sugar is just like enjoying drugs
b. convinced that you need a detox to heal yourself from sugar’s addictive grasp.

Guess what? Playing with kittens stimulates the pleasure centers in your brain, too, but I don’t see anyone recommending a detox for that. Just because you enjoy something does not mean it’s terrible for you, you have to feel guilty about it, and stop doing it altogether (not talking about doing drugs here, folks).

I have taken some flack as of late for not being willing to demonize sugar. For questioning the existence of sugar addiction. I really don’t care: I’ve hopped off the “sugar is ruining your health” bandwagon because there’s just no credible science to show that sugar abstinence is healthier than a diet that stresses balance and eating sugar in moderation. (For the record, I’ve always been a cheerleader for moderation…this is nothing new.) In fact, I think obsessing over this one thing, and running around screaming “SUGAR IS THE WHITE DEVIL”, is not really helping people figure out out how to live full, happy, healthy lives.

Do I believe eating lots of sugar fosters optimal health? No, of course not. I know full well that when sugar is consumed in large amounts, one is likely to run into health problems. I personally ran into health problems in the past when I ate too much sugar. There are certainly reasons to watch the amount of sugar you eat (I do). But am I concerned that a small amount of sugar will harm me? Poison me? No, I am not concerned. Not even a little bit. I enjoy treats made with sugar (like ice cream, cake, and cookies…mostly homemade, but sometimes not) and I don’t think they’re “bad” for me. Not in the least. They are a small part of my health-promoting, real-food diet and I enjoy the heck out of them.

Listen up: it’s more than fine to be concerned about food quality and nutrient density. I am obviously concerned about these: those concerns are at the heart of this blog and my book. But being concerned about those things does not mean one can simply ignore the realities of biology. The fact is that your body thinks sugar is sugar. I don’t really use much white sugar (and I do recommend against its use in my book); I choose organic sugar most of the time because it’s produced sustainably, it’s free of GMOs and pesticides, and because I believe buying fair trade is important, and I use many other unrefined sweeteners. Organic sugar, however, is not metabolized by my body in a measurably different way than white sugar. Raw honey? It’s lovely and I adore it. But again, it’s the same as sugar once it gets into my body. Maple syrup? It’s delightful and I couldn’t live without it, but my body doesn’t give a hoot how much I paid for it…my body still thinks it sugar. Coconut sugar? Sugar. Fruit? Sugar. I could go on and on.

There are absolutely valid reasons to choose unrefined sweeteners and fruit over white sugar, such as concern for source, processing, nutrient value, and the environment. But it’s not necessarily correct to say your body metabolizes one type of sugar in a vastly different way than another. (I’m not talking about high fructose corn syrup here, folks, because it does appear to be metabolized differently.)

All sugars, and all starches, are carbohydrates. All carbohydrates break down in the body into sugar. This does not make all carbohydrates bad for you…far from it. If you don’t eat enough carbohydrates, you can damage your metabolism.

It’s really hard to know what to believe these days, isn’t it? Maybe you saw a documentary or read a book or news story in a major magazine and the message you took away was that sugar is addictive and toxic and it scared the heck out of you…gave you the impression that sugar is to blame for every health problem that exists in the world…made you think you should never eat sugar again.

It’s a real problem, though, when your body seems to want sugar while your mind is telling you not to have it. This can do a real number on you…it can makes you think there’s something wrong with you…it may “confirm” your fears that you do indeed are addicted to sugar.

Guess what? There is nothing wrong with you if you like sugar. Want sugar. Crave sugar. This is normal. It does not mean you have an addiction and that you need a detox. We evolved to want and need sugar. You heard me right: your body needs sugar. Once you have a clear understanding of this fact, you can move beyond the hyperbolic nonsense (because that is what much of the anti-sugar propaganda is) and give your body what it wants when it wants it. You can eat sugar without fear, even refined sugar, if you want to eat it sometimes.

I am open to the fact that you may have experimented with some form of sugar abstinence and that you have found you feel better without it (whatever “it” may be…all white sugar? all types of sugar besides fruit? all types of sugar designated bad by a diet guru?). Fine! Then don’t eat it. No skin off my back. But please don’t go out and tell everyone else, including me, that we’re sugar addicts and we’d all be better off giving it up, as well.

If you haven’t given up sugar, but you’ve been struggling with your perceived terrible relationship to sugar, if you are convinced you you are addicted to sugar, I want you to know something. I too once thought I had a real problem with sugar. I craved it constantly. I overate sweet things every time I took one bite. I thought I was addicted to sugar.

But then I radically overhauled my diet. I learned I wasn’t eating enough food overall. I dealt with my food sensitivities. I “discovered” real food and completely changed everything about how I ate. I figured out that I do best when I have protein at every meal. I incorporated high quality fats into my eating strategy and figured out how many carbs I do best with, and what kind. It’s been twenty years that I’ve been at this, and I am still making changes now and then. My diet now includes some sugar (generally unrefined sugar, but occasionally white sugar). When I want something sweet, I eat it. End of story.

Before you banish sugar from your life, please take the following into consideration:

1. Are you eating enough food? As in: enough calories to support your activity level? When you consistently under eat, it’s very common to crave sugar.
2. Do you eat breakfast and other meals at regular-timed intervals throughout the day? If you don’t, your blood sugar is prone to swings and this may make you crave sugar.
3. Are you eating enough protein? As in: protein at every meal and snack? When you don’t eat enough protein, it’s very common to crave sugar.
4. Are you eating enough healthy fats? Diets too low in high quality fats can lead to sugar cravings, too.
5. Might you have food sensitivities? When I had them, I had crazy cravings for sugar. Once I sorted them out: no more sugar cravings.
6. Is it possible your body is out of balance in some way? Is something hormonal or metabolic going on? Vague, I know, but entirely plausible. Sorry for not being more specific but this is a blog and I am not a practicing physician.
7. Do you get enough sleep? This one is so common…many people don’t…often leads to an increase in sugar cravings.
8. Do you have a lot of stress in your life? Again, so common. More sugar cravings.
9. Have you considered that your dependence on sugar is psychological? It’s very possible…this is different than an addiction. Have you tried removing the “bad” label you’ve given to sugar? Sometimes when we make things off limits we want them more than when we allow ourselves to eat them when we want them without any “judgement”.
10. Is it possible you over eat sugar because you have a binge eating disorder? Please, please, please talk to a professional about this.

Again, I want to be really clear that the point of this post is not to make a case for eating lots of sugar. It’s about making a case for consuming sugar in moderation. I repeat: I am not giving you the go ahead to eat a whole bag of store-bought Oreos nor am I telling you to eat the whole batch of my homemade version. That’s not moderation. Moderation isn’t about living your life in a constant state of swinging from one extreme to the other. Moderation is the opposite of extremes. It’s not eating a whole bag of something and then spending a week on a “cleanse”. It’s about finding balance…a place in the middle that works for you on a consistent basis.

Every single time I mention moderation in the context of eating sugar (both online and in my real life), someone tells me “that doesn’t work”. I vehemently beg to differ. Moderation may not be sexy enough to get someone on the bestseller’s list, but there’s plenty of scientific evidence that it does indeed work. Can you “do” moderation overnight if you’re more accustomed to swinging from one extreme to another? No, probably not. It may take some time, and you’ll have to put in some work. but I believe the payoff for doing that work is big.

Before I get to the cookie recipe, I am quite sure some of you are currently thinking something along the lines of:

“But Winnie! Sugar causes type 2 diabetes! Why are you telling people it’s ok to eat sugar?

or

“But Winnie! Sugar causes obesity! Why are you telling people it’s ok to eat sugar?

To the first point: Sugar does not cause diabetes. Saying so is a vast oversimplification of the situation. Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder. Over consumption of sugar may play a role in the development of type 2 diabetes, but it is not the cause. Want to prevent and/or treat insulin resistance? Exercise. It’s pretty much the best thing you can do to improve insulin sensitivity.

To the second point: Sugar does not cause obesity. No one thing causes obesity. Not sugar (nor high fructose corn syrup)…not carbs…not GMOs…not food from fast food restaurants. Over consumption of sugar may contribute to obesity but sugar is not the cause. I hope to address weight in a future post or posts…this one’s already way too long to dive into that issue.

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Tangerine Sugar Body Scrub

Tangerine Scrub from www.healthygreenkitchen.com

I love making homemade body products, and scrubs made with sugar (or salt) are particularly easy to put together. They are pretty inexpensive and another plus: they’re free of the potentially toxic chemicals that similar store-bought products may contain.

Tangerine Sugar Scrub from www.healthygreenkitchen.com

I’ve got a bit of an obsession with tangerines lately, so I used tangerine essential oil, as well as tangerine zest, to scent this scrub. Tangerine essential oil is said to be calming to the mind as well as uplifting to the spirit, which all sounds good to me, but you could certainly use a different essential oil (such as lavender) if you like. In fact, in the photo above, the brown sugar scrub was made with lavender essential oil.

Though I do enjoy the way my skin feels when I exfoliate with sugar (or salt) scrubs, it’s important to note that these can be pretty abrasive. I wouldn’t use this or a similar product on a daily basis because you will quickly strip away your skin’s natural oils if you do. I like to use this type of scrub once or twice a week at most. (According to Dina Falconi, author of Earthly Bodies & Heavenly Hair: Natural and Healthy Personal Care for Every Body, it’s better to use scrubs made from ground grains and seeds if you like to scrub frequently. These gently cleanse and polish, without stripping away the skin’s protective oils.) Another caution: be sure to use care on sensitive areas of your body, such as your face.

I store my scrubs in pretty glass jars. Weck jars are perfect (I used the 1/5 L size, which are slightly smaller than these, but both sizes will work).

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One Simple Change: Straight Talk About Sugar (And Pumpkin Date Scones)

pumpkin date scones

Hello, my friends! It’s Friday and I have a new One Simple Change post to share with you today…all feels right in the world again :) I also have a great recipe for Pumpkin Scones!

Pumpkin Scones | Healthy Green Kitchen

I always planned to write a post about sugar but to be honest, I’ve been a little worried about doing so because…well…sugary treats are awfully popular in the blogosphere. But with October Unprocessed right around the corner (it starts Monday, people…go sign up!) and since Andrew did a great post on sugars and sweeteners just the other day, I was inspired to get going on my own.

Here’s the thing: I like sweets as much as the next person. But I also know first hand that eating too much sugar can be problematic.

At one point in my life, I ate quite a lot of sugar. This was back when I was a diet-obsessed teen: I craved and ate sugar pretty much constantly (as long as it wasn’t accompanied by fat…I avoided fat like the plague). Non-fat frozen yogurt was my very best friend and we got together to hang out several times a day. I’m not going to go into all the details here but suffice it to say that I really messed up my body by eating that way for years: my diet was terribly imbalanced and it really took a toll on my health. It took a real commitment to eating a balanced whole foods diet- one full of protein, high quality carbohydrates, and healthy fats (and I also gave up sugar for a little while) in order to get better.

I have a different relationship to sugar now. I don’t crave it like I did before because my diet is balanced. I use very little white sugar at all because I don’t think it fosters optimal health (I use it when I am canning, but that is about it): when I am sweetening something, I always try to choose organic, unrefined sweeteners that have some redeeming qualities (see later in the post for suggestions).

How do YOU know if you are someone who should be concerned about sugar? Well, if you eat packaged/processed foods, your diet may be pretty high in sugar (and likely high fructose corn syrup) because things like breakfast cereals, donuts, cookies, cakes, candy, and sodas are loaded with it. These foods also contain unhealthy fats, preservatives, and other chemicals, so I hope you don’t rely on them too often. There are so many healthy things to have for breakfast other than packaged cereals, and if you want to eat baked goods, then I suggest you make them yourself. A dessert made at home with high quality ingredients such as unrefined sweeteners, organic flours, and real butter is much better for you and your family than something you buy at the store made with less-healthy ingredients.

There is also a lot of sugar added to packaged foods that are marketed as healthy. Manufacturers add sugar to replace the fat in low-fat foods; many brands of granolas and yogurts have quite a bit of added sugar, too. Read. The. Labels. And make these foods yourself if you are so inclined. I have a few different granola recipes here on my blog, and I have a recipe for homemade yogurt, too.

So, would it be best if we all didn’t eat any sugar at all? Some health experts seem to think so, but I don’t necessarily agree. I think we can eat less without eating none at all.

I honestly believe we’re programmed to love the taste of sweet things because our body needs them. I don’t think all sweet foods are bad for you…I think they are fine when consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet (and as part of a lifestyle that includes plenty of physical activity). I know there are people who are avoiding not just added sugar in their diet, but naturally sweet fresh and dried fruit and root vegetables because they are afraid these foods are bad for them. I think these fears are completely unfounded; I believe all of these foods to be quite healthy as long as they are not consumed in giant amounts (I don’t think anything should be consumed in giant amounts).

If you feel as if you are addicted to sugar/have a tendency to overeat sweet foods, be sure you are eating enough food, and enough protein and healthy fats…eating a nutrient-dense whole foods diet with enough calories distributed throughout the day seems to help people who tend to binge on sugar when they eat it! (One caveat: be careful about eating too much dried fruit- I once went on a month long dried mango rampage, then found out I had a few cavities…I don’t think it was a coincidence.)

While I do suggest avoiding processed store-bought baked goods (not just because they are high in white sugar, but again because they contain unhealthy fats, preservatives, etc.), this does not mean you cannot enjoy treats…you can bake your own! What should you use when baking or otherwise sweetening foods at home? I suggest exploring the range of natural (and preferably organic and fair-trade) sweeteners on the market: examples include sucanat™, rapadura™, and coconut sugar, raw unprocessed honey (this is why I got my own bees), real maple syrup and molasses. I also use jaggery and palm sugar on occasion, as well as organic fruit juice. All of these are less refined/processed than sugar (they also contain some minerals so they are not 100% empty calories). I used to feel good about agave but then I started reading bad things about it so I don’t really use it any more. If you do want to use it, make sure to look for organic, raw agave. See this for a full list of unrefined sweeteners…there are many I didn’t mention here. Note that some of these are more processed than others; again, go with the ones that are the least processed.

Some people may want or need to try low carbohydrate sweeteners like stevia or one of the sugar alcohols (like erythritol)…note that I have no experience using either one, but have heard good things from diabetic friends who do.

Whatever you do, don’t use artificial sweeteners. These are about as far as you can get from a natural food. They may have no calories, but your body still secretes insulin when you consume them because they taste sweet and your body is expecting sugar. So the insulin is floating around, but it has nothing to do…not good. The use of these will then cause you to crave sugar even more because the released insulin really wants some sugar to deal with. And another thing: artificial sweeteners contain known toxins…if you use them, please give them up. This means diet soda people, which you already know you shouldn’t drink.

Most all of the baked goods/dessert recipes on my blog are made with natural sweeteners, and here’s one I recently posted over at MindBodyGreen: Pumpkin Date Scones (which also happen to be gluten-free and vegan).

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