Thursday, July 24, 2014

Should You Cleanse? + A Summery Chopped Kale Salad with Grilled Strawberries

Different quick-fix diets are always trendy, and more recently, everyone has been all about "cleansing," especially when it comes to juicing. Cleanses are nothing new-- the infamous Master Cleanse (tea, lemonade, maple syrup and cayenne pepper) has been around since the 1940s, but the recent interest in health-conscious eating has caused dieters and healthy eaters alike to turn to juice cleanses in hopes of detoxifying their bodies and maybe shedding a few pounds in the process. 

The healthiness of these cleanses has been debated, and while I plan to go into some of the pros and cons of juicing at the end of this post, I first want to add in a personal anecdote.

Now let me just specify something-- everyone's body is different and can handle different food groups, longer periods of time without eating, different dietary choices to function, etc. I don’t cleanse because I know it won’t work with MY body. I know personally that if I don't eat every few hours, my brain becomes cloudy, I get irritable and I can't focus. I also have a relationship with food that goes beyond just nutritional nourishment-- I love the taste of a satisfying dish, and creating different recipes gives me as much pleasure as actually enjoying the food. Drinking liquids all day just leaves me craving the sensation of chewing, a crunch in my mouth, food being swallowed. 

With that being said, juice cleanses make no sense for ME. I get a plethora of fruits and vegetables in my everyday diet, I need solid food to feel grounded, and if I ever feel like I have been consistently eating poorly and need to "detox" my body, I stick to fresh fruits and vegetables and clean foods like quinoa and legumes—food groups that make me feel good both mentally and physically, but also keep me feeling satiated.

Does this mean I won't have a green smoothie for breakfast on occasion? No. But for me, the negatives of a juice cleanse definitely outweigh the positives. Juice cleanses are too high in sugar for me, make me feel like I'm not eating varied meals and probably aren't necessary for me, considering our bodies naturally detox themselves, and I am not lacking in plant-based nutrients.

So when would a cleanse be good for someone? A short cleanse could be beneficial for a person who has consistently poor eating habits, who is lacking in essential nutrients, and who may need a drastic way a kick start healthy eating habits.

If you do decide to do a cleanse because you think your body needs it, try this Dr. Oz Detox Cleanse, as it is sure to be balanced and includes other essential nutrients that aren’t just found in fruits and vegetables.

So now, as promised, here are just a few of the pros and cons of undertaking a cleanse. Take a look at this list and try to be in touch with your body to see if this makes sense for you. 

  • Juice cleansing can be a good way to get in an abundance of concentrated nutrients from fruits and vegetables, especially if your diet is currently poor
  • You are giving your body a break from toxins such as refined sugar, refined carbohydrates, gluten and processed foods
  • It gives your digestive system a break while still allowing you to absorb nutrients easily
  • Some people report feeling more energetic, lighter and clearer while on a juice cleanse.
  • You lose important fiber when you juice. Fiber helps with heart health, digestion and satiety (feeling full), so you lose those benefits from your produce when you juice them. 
  • It can be expensive. You either have to buy an expensive juicer, or you can do a preset cleanse, which can cost $70 and upwards. 
  • Juicing can be high in sugar and calories, due to the concentrated amount of fruit juice in many drinks. If you want to minimize sugar and calorie intake, stick to vegetable-heavy drinks rather than fruit ones. You can also balance out the nutrients by adding protein to your drink such as almond butter or Greek yogurt. 
  • You're leaving out important nutrients only found in other food groups.
Additional, in-depth research may be necessary for you to decide before undertaking a detox. I can tell you right now, though, if this is just a way to lose weight, cleansing is not the answer. This would fall under the category of an ineffective, quick-fix diet, with only temporary results. Any weight you may lose in a day or two WILL return, and you might even slow down your metabolism in the process. 

Now onto the recipe! This salad may be the next best thing to juicing. Filled with fruits and vegetables, it is the perfect amount of sweet and savory that reminds me of a tropical summer-- and grilling strawberries in coconut oil is one of the best things I have discovered! I will definitely be eating those again.

Summery Chopped Kale Salad with Grilled Strawberries

Two big leaves of fresh kale, chopped finely
2 green onions
1/2 an avocado
5 medium strawberries
A handful of fresh basil, chopped
1/3 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
A handful of microgreens
Olive Oil 
Balsamic Vinegar
1-2 Limes
1 tsp coconut Oil

1. Chop your kale finely, then massage by pouring a little bit of olive oil over the leaves and kneading with your hands. Chop basil and avocado and set aside.

2. Heat the coconut oil in a medium pan on medium heat. Add the green onion stalks and whole strawberries onto the pan. Cook until outside is well done (just a little blackened) and flip the strawberries a few times to cook on all sides. Onions and strawberries should look grilled. Set them aside.

3. In the same pan, toss the chickpeas for about 1 minute with a generous sprinkle of both parsley and cumin.

4. Toss all the ingredients in a large bowl (or arrange them beautifully!) with a splash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, along with the juice of one or two limes, depending on how much lime flavor you want on your dressing.

Optional: I didn't try this, but after I finished, I thought it might be tasty to add a little bit of unsweetened, shredded coconut to enhance texture and bring out the tropical flavor. Let me know what you think if you decide to give this edition a try!

(Serves 1)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Why is Sugar So Bad for You? + Vegan and Sugarless Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Happy summer everyone! While I have to say (again) that it has been awhile since I have posted, I wanted to let you all know that the Kale Me Maybe Instagram is really starting to take off. I will be posting there about once a day with all my culinary creations, and I am going to REALLY, REALLY put in the effort to post on here about once a week so you can get the full recipes as well as learn some nutritional tidbits.

When it comes to nutrition, we have heard the common enemies: fat, preservatives, salt, pesticides.
But one of the worst things you can consume is sugar.

Even if you are avoiding desserts, sugar is probably finding its way into your diet through fruit drinks, coffees, packaged foods and maybe even unsuspecting meals like salads. Just because your label is free of the word "sugar" doesn't mean you are in the clear, either. Sugar likes to disguise itself as "sucrose, fructose, corn syrup, dextrose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, barley malt, brown rice syrup, cane juice..." the list goes on.

It still surprises me that people ask "Why is sugar so bad?" but then I think about how most of us were raised on sugary breakfast cereals and artificial fruit snacks and that the current food industry pushes these products onto us through the mass media. For some people, sugar is just a normal part of their diet-- no one has ever told them the harm it causes. Sugar damages us beyond just our weight, putting us at risk for diabetes, cancer, heart disease and addiction. It also can be harmful to our mental states, with studies showing that it can cause depression (and you know how big I am on the food and mood correlation).

Here are some of the most important reasons that sugar is our nutritional nemesis:

  • It contains no essential nutrients: Did anyone say empty calories? The things you eat should benefit you in some way, and sugar does not.
  • Sugar makes you fat: Sugar is a leading contributor to obesity, not just in children, but in adults too. People who consume the most sugar are most likely to be obese, especially because of the way sugar affects the brain and causes us to not feel satiated. 
  • It can cause cancer: Constantly elevated insulin levels and chronic inflammation-- both an effect of sugar-- can contribute to cancer risks
  • It's highly addictive: Many nutritionists and scientists liken the effect of sugar on the brain to that of drugs-- and take it from a former [sugar] addict-- they're right! Sugar causes a massive release of dopamine in the brain, activating our reward centers and causing a strong addiction to the sweetener. I can definitely attest to this: at one point in my life, I was constantly eating candy and craving dessert after every meal. Once I ditched sugar completely, I stopped craving it. Simple as that. But the same as a drug relapse, if I start to get in the habit of eating it again, I need it constantly and slip back into addiction. This just goes to show how powerful the effect of sugar really is, even if you are not aware of it.
  • It puts you at risk for heart disease: Sugar raises your cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and it also affects the pumping mechanism of your heart. 
  • It can make you depressed: The ups and downs from glucose absorption disturb the brain and exacerbate anxiety and depression. Not only that, but sugar also uses up the mood-enhancing B vitamins. 
That being said, "sugar-free" isn't always the answer, as many substitutes have similar effects, especially ones that contain aspartame like Equal, as aspartame is carcinogenic and can cause emotional disorders, tumors and various diseases. Even agave nectar, which was once considered a good alternative, is considered harmful, as it is still a processed sugar and the amount of syrup needed to sweeten things is very high in sugar content.

So what's the best sugar alternative? If you need to sweeten something, it's best to use Stevia, honey or maple syrup, as they are all natural and contain various other health benefits. Of course, use these in moderation too, as sugar in excess is never good for you, even if it's from a natural source.

To go along with the sweet theme of this post, I thought I would share a dessert recipe, which is rare for me since I am not much of a baker. I just came up with this new Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, which, of course, has no sugar and instead uses a small amount of maple syrup as a sweetener. These came out SO tasty, and it will be easy for you to recreate them, as I actually accurately measured everything this time.

These cookies are vegan, have no added sugar, no butter and no eggs, and they can be gluten free if you take out the oats and use another flour instead. There are no bad ingredients, so these can even be used as breakfast cookies.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup pumpkin puree
1 cup almond flour
1 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup maple syrup (Grade B)
1/4 Unrefined Virgin coconut oil
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3 tsp cocoa powder
6  small squares of 70% or higher dark chocolate, with no sugar or dairy added, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl.
3. Grease a baking sheet with some coconut oil. Place spoon sized chunks of the batter onto the baking sheet, leaving a little bit of room for the cookies to expand (they don't get much bigger).
4. Bake for about 15-20 minutes. If you like your cookies softer, bake for 15 minutes, and if you like them harder, bake for a little over 20.
5. Let cookies cool. If you want a little extra sweetness, drizzle maple syrup on top of the cookies when they are done baking.

(Makes about 10 cookies)

What are your favorite no sugar added recipes? Share in the comments! And be sure to follow @kalememaybe on Instagram!