New Learnings from Fed Up

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A couple of nights ago, Travis and I sat down to watch the documentary Fed Up, exploring the childhood obesity problem in the United States. Not a dietician, doctor, or chef, I love to continue to learn—especially about food, health, and nutrition—and this film did provide me with some new insight.

First of all, I learned that juice is not what it’s cut out to be. A couple of years ago, after watching a documentary entitled Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, Travis and I were inspired to have more fruit and vegetable juice in our lives. In that documentary, an overweight gentlemen got his health in check with a juice-only diet. He bought a high-quality juicer and transformed his whole produce in seconds. He did lose weight and became a healthier person all around.

I remember thinking that I could never sustain myself on liquids only, but that I would try to make freshly squeezed juices a bigger part of my diet. Travis and I bought a juicer and started drinking juice (with an approximately 70%/30% ratio of vegetables to fruits) every morning with or for breakfast. I found that this practice helped me to feel more energized throughout the day and kept me regular, too. Until we obtained a high quality blender capable of pulverizing whole fruits and vegetables to a smooth consistency, we kept juicing. Our juicer has since been collecting dust for the past couple of years.

Despite our short period of success with juicing, I have always known that eating the whole fruit or vegetable is preferable, thus leading to the switch to smoothies. Why juice an apple when you can just eat one, skin and all, whole or in a smoothie? The skin and pulp of fruits and vegetables are where the fiber is contained and of course, fiber is nutritious and essential to a healthy diet.

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Even though I knew that whole foods were better, I didn’t really understand what the body did to process juice until I watched Fed Up. The example given was comparing eating an apple to drinking the equivalent in calories in soda. Because the apple contains fiber, it is processed much more slowly, preventing its sugars from turning into fat. Soda, containing no fiber, runs quickly through the digestive system and well, you know the rest.

After providing this example, the expert explained that our bodies process juice similarly to soda. Without the fiber from skin, flesh, and pulp, the sugar in juice is really no different than the sugar in soda, as far as how the body processes it. Now, if the juice contains skin, flesh, or pulp, you’re in a little better shape, but no matter what, it isn’t the same as consuming the whole food.

Nowadays, I sometimes use juice in smoothies, salad dressings, etc. While it goes through the body similarly to soda, it does still contain nutrients that soda never will. I figure if I were a regular, everyday juice drinker, then I’d have a habit to worry about.

This lesson, illustrated with fruit vs. soda, also made me realize why counting calories is a flawed system. I have never counted calories and don’t plan to start, but I have many friends that do/did. It is clear that 160 calories in apples and 160 calories in soda are not the same calories at all. It isn’t enough to decide to eat only 1,500 calories a day without conscious thought about where those calories are coming from. If you eat 1,500 calories of just soda, rather than 1,500 calories of fruits and vegetables, the body won’t use them in the same way. I have heard too many times things like, “I have 500 calories left for today, so I can eat that piece of cheesecake!” We all know where that cheesecake will end up…

The second major learning I took from Fed Up was that the legal requirements for school lunches in America are really just missing the beat. Did you know, that in the U.S., French fries are considered a vegetable and so is pizza, because of the tomato paste? I’m sorry, what?! If the fries were baked with minimal oil (check out my version!), that would be one thing. If the pizza were totally vegan (I’ve got a formula for that, too!), topped with a homemade sauce, and loaded with vegetables, that would be different, too. Ugh.

DSC_1727DSC_1869At the end of the day, it feels hard to make a difference in the childhood obesity epidemic. I can play my part by teaching Nolan how to eat healthy foods. In the grocery store today, he spotted his favorite food and went right over and picked some up to put in the cart. Was it French fries? Pizza? Nope, blueberries. An older gentlemen who was doing his shopping and had observed my son’s excitement for fresh fruit was impressed and said, “You don’t see too many kids these days excited about healthy food. Bless you for what you’re doing with your son.” Made my day. 🙂

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Easy Homemade Granola

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I love granola! It’s versatile, filling, and when made properly, very nutritious. Today, I’m going to walk you through my homemade granola formula that is low in sugar, fat, and sodium, and free from high fructose corn syrup and preservatives found in many packaged varieties.

The staple ingredient of granola is rolled oats. Oats are among the first foods a baby can eat and I figure, if they’re safe for a six-month-old who’s trying food for the first time, they’ve gotta be some really good-for-you stuff. Oats contain more dietary fiber than any other grain and even have cholesterol-lowering properties. Given my history with battling hereditary high cholesterol, I’ve always been in when it comes to this super food.

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Of all of the different types of oats out there, granola comes together best with rolled. Rolled oats are whole grain oats that have been steamed and pressed. They retain more texture in many kitchen applications than instant oats and cook faster than steel-cut oats (which I also love). I buy them in bulk and always have some in my pantry for a quick oatmeal.

In today’s granola, I’m also using raw sunflower seeds. Their flavor is mild and texture crunchy, but easy to chew; Nolan will eat a whole pile of them as is. Sunflower seeds are rich in Vitamins E and B-1 and copper, which benefits skin and hair. In addition, if you’ve got a nut allergy, you can buy sunflower butter as an alternative to peanut, almond, or cashew.

DSC_1957Before you get into making this breakfast formula, you should know that on its own, it is not very sweet. The low sugar content doesn’t bother me one bit since I never eat my granola without fresh fruit on top or with togurt, but you could always add more dried fruit if you want to take the sweetness up a notch. With very little exposure to sweets in his young life, Nolan is perfectly content eating this granola with just plant milk.

A couple more notes… If you don’t have all of these seeds on hand, no worries; you can make the granola without, it just won’t be as nutrient-packed. And finally, whenever possible, make your own juice to avoid preservatives and added sugar.  Enjoy!

DSC_1961FORMULA BASE: GRANOLA

Serves 6

  • 4 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup dried fruit*, raw nuts, and/or raw seeds –> I’m using a combination of sunflower seeds, dried cherries, dried cranberries, almonds, and pecans.
  • 1 tbsp ground flaxseed
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1 tbsp hulled hemp seeds
  • 1 cup 100% fruit juice –> I’m using fresh-squeezed orange (2) and grapefruit (1/2).
  • 1 heaping tbsp nut butter –> I’m using peanut.
  • 2 tbsp sweetener –> I’m using agave syrup.
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • Oil enough to grease a cookie sheet or baking dish –> I’m using coconut oil to grease a 9 x 13 glass baking dish as it is easier to stir the granola.

*Whenever possible, if you do not dehydrate your own fruit, look for dried fruit that contains little to no added oil or sugar. Also avoid dried fruit that contains sulfur dioxide, as it is not allergy-friendly. See my trail mix post for more info.

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Combine juice, nut butter, sweetener, and cinnamon in a saucepan over medium heat. Once it begins to bubble, turn the heat down to low and let thicken for about 15 minutes.

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While what I call “the sticky” simmers, finely chop your dried fruit/seeds/nuts, if necessary, and combine with the oats and seeds in a large bowl. When the sticky is ready, slowly incorporate it into the oat mixture as you stir. Spread evenly on a lightly greased cookie sheet or in a lightly greased baking sheet.

Bake for 30-35 minutes – or until granola is crunchy and golden brown – turning every ten minutes or so. Let cool completely and store in a tightly sealed container in the pantry.

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Want to make granola bars? Try doubling “the sticky” and spread the complete mixture onto parchment paper. Bake at least 20 minutes, or until golden brown.