Look At My Muffins….Look At Them!

muffins

I’ve been reading a blog, Mackenzie’s Clean Eats, from a local Austin author for a few months now. Along with sharing her impressive weight loss journey and success from eating clean and working out, she likes to clean up recipes like burritos or pad thai and make them a healthier guiltless meal.

There was a bunch of overripe bananas sitting on my counter neglected by one of my roommates. Around Christmas I used to make my famous banana chocolate chip bread and give it away as gifts. This stuff is heaven in your mouth, let me tell you. I couldn’t let those sad overripe bananas be tossed away, but I also didn’t want to be burdened with eating an entire loaf of banana bread on my own (seriously, I could eat the whole thing in about 3 days). I decided to clean up the recipe, a la Mackenzie, and see what happens.

I tried two variations.

Batch 1: I simply reduced the sugar by half, butter by half, and substituted some unsweetened applesauce for the missing butter. I used dark chocolate chips instead of semi-sweet. These turned out pretty darn tasty, I didn’t even notice the missing sugar.

Batch 2: I halved the sugar again (so we’re down to 1/4 of what the recipe called for), did the half and half butter applesauce combo, but I added a scoop of whey protein and ground up 1/4 cup of flax seeds to throw in.

I wasn’t sure how the protein/flax muffins would taste. Have you ever smelled freshly ground flax seed? I gotta be honest, it’s weird. The batter was a lot gummier too and I was worried they would be really dense. But, lo and behold, they came out great and though I did notice these being less sweet and slightly grittier due to the flax, they were still stupid good.

Ok, enough of the blabber, you’re thinking, but are they good for you? Well, I don’t know if I would go that far, but at least they’re less bad…by quite a bit. Unfortunately, not paleo friendly since I used standard white flour and sugar but I’m sure there are paleo adaptions for a similar treat. Oh, look, here’s one!

Check out the original recipe nutrient profile vs. the protein/flax variation:

                                Original                                Protein/Flax
Cals:                          
260                                            169
Carbs (g):                  
40                                              25
Protein (g):                
 4                                                 5
Fat (g):                          
9                                                 6
Sugar (g):                  
22                                               10

Not so bad, eh? To further discourage my mindless nibbling of tasty treats such as these, I put them all in the freezer so when I pull one out I have to patiently wait 15 minutes or so before I can eat. Basically, I have to plan my intention to eat one. I think it helps.

Enjoy!

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Banana Chocolate Chip Power Muffins (Because adding “power” to any recipe makes it sound cool)

3 medium overripe bananas (mashed)
2 eggs
1 1/2 C flour
1/4 C sugar
1/4 C butter (softened or melted)
1/4 C unsweetened applesauce
1 tsp baking soda
1 scoop protein powder (I use Jay Robb’s Vanilla Whey)
1/4 C whole flax seed
1/3 C dark chocolate chips (I chopped mine into smaller pieces)

Preheat oven to 350. Whisk together eggs, butter, sugar, and applesauce. Add in the mashed banana. Stir in flour, baking soda, protein powder and ground flax seed (I used a coffee grinder). Chop up your chocolate chips and stir those in. Spoon into muffin cups, bake for 15-20 min. Should be golden brown on top and a toothpick will come out clean. Serves 12.

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Paleo Banana Pancakes (Fail)

Christmas morning my mom and I usually try and cook some kind of delicious breakfast. We frequently make paleo friendly pumpkin pancakes that took some practice at first, but I feel like I have the technique down pretty well now. I found this recipe for a similar style of pancake but made with banana instead of pumpkin.

Expectation:

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Martha Stewart would be proud

Reality:

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It’s the thought that counts

Yeeahhhh. It’s pretty clear that at some point I just gave up and turned it into a banana scramble. I’d like to say that at least they tasted good, but they were very sweet and extremely, well…banana-y. I’ll be sticking to the pumpkin pancakes from now on.

NatureBox Snack Service – A Review

NatureBox helps you eat healthier without needing to change your eating habits. We focus on snacks because that’s the easiest habit to change.”

This is from the NatureBox Mission Statement. Their goal, to make you healthier one snack at a time. Since starting back at a desk job, I don’t have the convenience of running to the refrigerator every time I get hungry. When I came across their ad on Facebook (damn you, Facebook ads!) I decided I would give it a shot.

NatureBox

I eagerly awaited my first order, which arrived approximately a week later in a tidy rectangular box. Your first order is a sample box with 5 bags of assorted goodies left to the discretion of the Gods of Packaged Snacking. So when I opened my box I was a little let down that 4 out of the 5 snacks were…vegan. GASP! 2 of them were corn products…seriously? Well, ok, but at least they are from non-GMO corn. And another was a granola product. So, coming from a mostly paleo diet, 80% of my snacks didn’t jive with me. Luckily, I am not a purist and have no allergies that would send me running to the bathroom or reaching for the Benadryl, so I tore everything open and began to sample. My first box contained:

  • Cherry Berry Bonanza
  • Vanilla Macaroon Granola
  • Masa/Flax Crisps
  • Toasted Corn Kernels
  • Pistachio Power Clusters

The vanilla macaroon granola was heaven in my mouth, but it was pretty much dessert in a bag. The pistacho power clusters were also very sweet, as well as the cherry berry bonanza. The masa/flax crisps (think healthy Fritos) were so salty I couldn’t even finish them and the toasted corn kernels (like Corn Nuts) were ok, but you’d better have strong teeth to chow down on those puppies. First impressions on flavor…not so hot, but these snacks are Nutritionist Approved!, so I took a look at the back of the bags.

Let’s examine the Cherry Berry Bonanza for a moment.

Berry Label

The second ingredient is sugar and if you look at the the total carbohydrates it is 33 grams per serving. You know what else has 33 grams of carbohydrates per serving? A full size Snickers bar. Yep. At least a Snickers bar has 4 grams of protein with all that sugar (not that I’m condoning snacking on a candy bar…step away from the vending machine). Not sure how this one  became Nutritionist Approved. The other snacks were a little better but still not in my ideal realm of nutrient composition and many of their products contain soy ingredients. No bueno.

The second month of service you can log in to your account and choose your own snacks. I picked out the following:

  • Plantain Chips
  • Dark Chocolate Almonds
  • Peanut Butter Nom Noms
  • Smokey BBQ Peas
  • Dark Chocolate Cherry Trail Mix

Much happier with this second round so far. The peanut butter nom noms and chocolate almonds were still too sweet, but had sugars under 11 grams per serving. The plantain chips are amazing. Light, crispy and just salty enough. I think they are my favorite of the snacks. The trail mix and BBQ peas are tasty too and much more acceptable with the sweet/salty factor than the first order of snacks.

My opinion of NatureBox is that it is a good transition for people who tend to snack on vending machine food looking to improve their food choices. It’s a good start. There are many options to choose from and their selection varies from month to month so you can always find new things to try. For $20/month, it’s not a bad way to ensure you will have some moderately healthy snacks around when you need them; especially if it keeps you from eating the donuts in the break room. Many of the products are high in sugar or sodium, and contain soy or vegetable oils, which I prefer to stay away from. If you are looking for a gentle push towards eating better then give NatureBox a try, but if you are a purist you’re better off seeking your own snacks where labels can be read meticulously before purchase, or just make your own from scratch.

21-Day Sugar Elimination: The good, the bad, and the chubby

We all go through phases in our life where our good intentions with diet and fitness get left behind. For me, I didn’t just fall off the wagon, I took an epic swan dive off of it and then got dragged behind for a few miles. Yeah, it was that bad, or at least, it felt that way to me. I decided I needed to take charge of my diet again, especially now that I have a consistent schedule. I decided to try a 21-day sugar elimination challenge. 30 days can feel like forever, and two weeks isn’t usually long enough to see results, but 21 is pretty manageable.

The What:

No processed food, no fruit, no honey, no sugar (obviously). I grappled with the idea of whether to include grains or not and opted for occasional grains. No wheat, but I did make some savory millet muffins to satisfy my texture cravings. I also did use stevia occasionally. I made up my own rules for this challenge, however, there is an official version of the 21-Day Sugar Detox complete with guidance and meal plans here.

The Why:

My weakness is poor planning. I dread coming up with meal ideas and I absolutely loathe going to the grocery store. If all the ingredients are there and a plan is in place I have no problems with the actual cooking. The sugar detox was less about eliminating junk food like candy, soda, or donuts which I don’t eat anyway, and more about actually cooking real meals on a regular basis instead of reaching for a Lara Bar as dinner (oh, yes, I did).

The Bad:

The first few days were a little rough. I had some mild headaches and fatigue as my body made the switch from carbohydrates to fat as its primary fuel source. Meal planning and prepping was definitely an effort and I had to set aside the time to make it happen. I never made it the full 21-Days. I didn’t think about Thanksgiving when I started this challenge. This holiday isn’t that indulgent for me, but I didn’t anticipate leftovers and it fell apart quickly after that. I only survived 15 days of the challenge.

The Good:

This was so much easier than I expected. I thought my sugar cravings would turn me into something like Gollum, lurking around my kitchen, tearing food out of my cabinets looking for any morsel of chocolate I can find hissing “my precioussssss!!!” I’ve totally been there before; you probably have too. Admit it. Honestly though, I didn’t have many cravings. I found that some tea or coffee with a little stevia easily squashed the sugar monster when it started to rear its ugly head. I did have success with planning ahead and cooking real food. Usually doubling the recipe to ensure I had lots of leftovers for lunch and dinners throughout the week. Now that I know I CAN do this, it will be much easier to commit to and maintain in the future.

The Chubby:

Yeah, ok, I admit I did this a little for the weight loss. I know that eating proper whole foods is the key to having a healthy lean body and I wasn’t eating enough of it. I did lose almost 3 pounds in the 15 days I stuck to the challenge. That’s actually pretty good considering I haven’t been working out at all. It was the difference between pants that were unbearably tight, to pants that are now merely uncomfortable. Now that I have had some success with this experiment and will be starting to train again this week, I see no reason why I can’t get back to the fitter version of myself I was a year ago.

The Takeaway:

A challenge like this should never be used as a quick fix. Instead, view it as an experiment to see how your body, mind, and mood are affected when changing variables such as nutrition, fitness, or mindset. I noticed that when I did indulge in sugar again, the headaches came right back. I wasn’t expecting that but I’m glad I know that I have immediate negative reinforcement to keep me in check. I’m a little disappointed I didn’t complete the challenge, but instead of binging on cookies because I failed, I’m going to celebrate the success of my 15 days and use that to fuel the coming weeks, months and years of a healthier lifestyle. I won’t be perfect, but I’ll be a step closer. I also think a challenge like this would be good to do a few times a year to help reset any bad habits that have crept back in and keep you aware of your goals.

Changing bad habits doesn’t have to be agonizing and dreadful, but it does require effort and that effort is critical to the success of your goals. What effort will you commit to today, right now, this very moment?

What I Learned From Nutrition Tracking

I have a lot of clients who use the My Fitness Pal website to track their calories. I decided to make an account and try it so I could become familiar with the process.

It has been several years since I have bothered with nutrition tracking. I believe if you eat the right foods you shouldn’t have to count calories. I learned something interesting though; I don’t eat what I thought I did.

Mistake #1: I thought I ate more calories. I have always struggled to eat more than 1200 cals/day. I figured since going paleo, the additional fat in my diet would fix that. Nope. Still barely making it to 1200. This is too low, especially for an active individual.

Mistake #2: If my carbs are low, my sugars are low too. In my world, these are the same thing but MFP breaks these into separate categories. My carbs are doing well with under 120 grams most days, but my sugars are typically going over the recommended amount. That means the majority of my carbs ARE added sugars. Not good at all and probably the reason I still crave sweets. I’m feeding the monster without even realizing it.

I have also realized that the simple act of logging my food intake helps me make better choices. I feel guilty if I have to confess to eating something I shouldn’t. It’s there in black and white right in front of me, driving up those sugar grams!

My opinion on nutrition tracking has changed somewhat. I DO think it’s a good thing to do. Do you have to do it forever? No. Should you become obsessed and stressed out with your logging? Hell no! But logging can be helpful to determine where you are actually starting so you can more realistically define your goals and change your habits.

MFP is free and easy to use. It is a little time consuming at first while you build your library of foods that are typical for you, but it does have a pretty extensive library which makes it easy to find foods, even specific brands and restaurants. There is some guesstimating involved but it doesn’t have to be perfect.

A note on MFP: It automatically calculates target macronutrients based on your goals. These numbers are based on the USDA food pyramid and therefore, not accurate for those following a different diet. Your protein and fats may be in the red, while it expects you to exceed 150 grams of carbs/day. You may need to mentally adjust the targets to support what works for you.

UPDATE: Yes, you can change your macronutrient profile! Took some digging to find where to change the settings, but you can adjust these goals to fit whatever diet works for you.

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Target nutrients based on weight loss goal of .5lbs/week.

Coyote Creek Farm & Organic Feed Mill

Last weekend I had the egg-ceptional opportunity to visit Coyote Creek Farm & Organic Feed Mill located about a half hour outside of Austin. It is home to over 8,000 pastured chickens that produce outstanding, high quality eggs, as well as a dozen or so grassfed cows and a llama named Lala. Cameron, the general manager, and Emily, the office manager, were gracious enough to lead my Austin Primal Meetup Group on an egg-citing tour of the farm. Ok, I’m done with the egg cliches. Promise.

The chickens are housed in large pens. Each pen contains approximately 400 chickens, a mobile coop, and access to water, grasses, bugs, and feed. The coops are moved once a week and the pens are moved every two weeks, ensuring the chickens have access to fresh native grasses and weeds.  Once the pens have been moved the land will recover for about a year, allowing the chicken waste to fertilize the ground and the grasses to return.

Chickens require about 500 calories a day which is extremely high considering their size. They could subsist entirely on grasses and bugs, but to ensure the eggs are uniform in quality and consistency, they are supplemented with fresh organic feed made of a variety of grains. Each chicken receives a quarter cup of feed per day.  Because their primary business is milling organic feed, which they sell all over the southern US, their chickens get freshly cracked grains each day, giving the chickens immediate access to nutrients that degrade quickly.  Coyote Creek boasts a high nutrient content in their eggs with less saturated fat and cholesterol. Coyote Creek is unique in that they offer a soy-free variety of pastured eggs.

Cameron was extremely knowledgeable and spent the entire tour answering all of our questions. He said that the reason they house their chickens in groups of less than 500 is because the pecking order truly does exist, but too many in a flock will cause the social system to break down causing anxiety in the chickens. Anxious chickens produce poor quality eggs so it is important to keep the chickens happy!

Eggs are collected twice a day and taken to the egg washing and packing station. They are run through the egg washer which removes the dirt and debris but isn’t vigorous enough to wash away the bloom, the protective coating that keeps the egg fresh, longer. They are inspected for cracks and other anomalies, graded, then packed.  We learned that grading is purely an aesthetic practice. A grade A egg must be well formed (egg-shaped) with a smooth shell free of calcium deposits. The eggs that don’t make the Grade A cut are packaged up and donated to local food banks. Coyote Creek is active in the community and committed to providing low income families access to real, nutritious foods.

Some interesting egg facts: Cameron stated that the eggs you see in the grocery store have typically already been in storage for 30 days. Farm fresh eggs can easily last 60-90 days in refrigeration. A fresh egg has a small air pocket at the top that you can see if you shine a light through it. The bigger that pocket is, the older the egg. You can determine what color egg a chicken will lay by the color of their ears. Yeah, I didn’t know chickens had ears either.

Visiting the farm and meeting Cameron and Emily was such a great experience. I now have a much better idea of what goes into the eggs I eat. Making that personal connection in the food chain allows you to take an active role in your health while helping small local farming operations thrive.

Visit your local farmers market and start up a conversation with some of the vendors. Most of them would be happy to have you come out and take a tour. While there, ask if they can provide you with products direct from the farm. Buying in bulk straight from the farm can save you money and provide you with the best nutrition!

The Conventional Grocery Store…of Doom!

My favorite health food store closed a while ago and has forced me to seek my groceries elsewhere. You’d think this wouldn’t be a problem, but unfortunately, it has become quite a dramatic quest.
I subscribe to the “try not to put chemicals and vast quantities of sugar into your body” theories. So before, when I shopped at Wild Oats I could find all kinds of fun and tasty things to try that were mercifully free of dyes, sugars, and multitudes of preservatives. I didn’t mind spending the extra money. It was worth it to me. So I happily shopped there for years until its demise. Now I am forced to go to…(insert ominous scary sound here) The Conventional Grocery Store.

Let us list a few factors to be wary of:

  1. Normal grocery stores all smell like sour milk to me. Gross.
  2. There are usually ill-behaved children at these stores. (not once did I come across one at Wild Oats)
  3. 95% of the food contains chemical preservatives, dyes, vast amounts of sugar in more forms than one can count, is made from dehydrated bits of things or overprocessed into forms you can’t even understand.
  4. The other 5% is produce which a) is almost never organic and the small selection they have is rarely fresh, b) covered in waxes and pesticides.
  5. Products have far too much packaging and are designed to attract the attention of children.
  6. Long lines for checkout.
  7. The shopping carts always seem to have that one wobbly wheel that forces you to wrestle the cart around the store not unlike trying to get a stubborn horse or mule to move.
  8. The checkout ladies always seem to have those scary 2″ talons in the place of normal fingernails, strange unnatural hair colors and usually smell like smoke. The men are less scary, but usually look downtrodden and sullen. Not the way to perk up my day, let me tell you.
  9. Poor attitudes and health. No really, usually the people that shopped at Wild Oats were generally friendly, seemed to be in healthy weight ranges, and went about choosing food in a calm and pleasant manner. At the regular grocery store people are stressed, overweight and hastily throwing cans of overprocessed slop into their carts. Eeeek!
  10. And have I mentioned there is sugar or chemical sweeteners in literally EVERYTHING?! Yeah, just making sure you get the point.

So my only other option is to drive about 25 minutes to Whole Foods, which is a great store, but definitely more crowded and expensive than Wild Oats was. I don’t mind going every once in a while but that is a long way to go when you just need to pick up a few things. Trader Joe’s is generally natural and cheap; I love them for certain items. However they do focus on packaged foods and their produce is usually in bulk and not very tasty. Sprouts is where I go most often these days. However, they have the worst tomatoes of all the options and a lot of packaged foods that contain ingredients I’d rather not eat.

I am looking forward to moving to Austin because, though I wept quietly when I heard they don’t have a Trader Joe’s, farmer’s markets are supposedly abundant there. Hooray for convenient and fresh produce!

Does anyone else feel my pain? What solutions have you found to eat healthy in the absence of convenient health food?