Baking with whole wheat flour can be scary. Many of us have had bad experiences with whole wheat products – if not baked or cooked correctly, they can turn out tough, dense, dry, and flavorless. However, I’m here to tell you first-hand that whole wheat foods can taste just as good, and usually better, than their nutritionally-inferior white wheat counterparts.
The difference between whole wheat and the white flour to which most of us are accustomed is that whole wheat flour contains all three layers of the wheat grain – the endosperm, germ, and bran. The two outer layers, the bran and the germ, are where most of the grain’s nutrition lies; white flour has been stripped of these two nutritious layers, as well as the fiber, protein, and more than one dozen key vitamins and minerals they contain. White flour is often labeled as “enriched,” a sneaky way of saying that nutrients have been added back into it to make it more nutritious. While enriched flour contains some vitamins and minerals, these nutrients are not absorbed by the body very well; our bodies best absorb nutrients when they occur in their natural state, so the vitamins and minerals that are naturally found in whole wheat flour will be better absorbed than those added back into enriched flour. Additionally, white flour has nowhere near the fiber and protein content as its whole wheat counterpart, which means it won’t fill you up or keep your blood sugar levels stable for very long. Choosing products made with whole wheat flour will keep you feeling full, satisfied, and energized long after your meal or snack is over.
Now that you know the benefits of cooking with whole wheat flour, why not try making a healthy treat with it? This recipe calls for all whole wheat flour, but many baked goods can be made even a little bit healthier (and still taste more like the baked goods you know and love) by using half whole wheat flour and half white flour. Whether they contain whole wheat flour or not, however, treats are still treats, and should be enjoyed in moderation. I made the recipe below for a party, and it was a hit. I liked it so much that I saved a few for myself, and enjoyed them throughout the week as an after-dinner snack.
Whole Wheat Donuts
⅓ cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs (or ¾ cup egg substitute)
¾ cup brown sugar
1 cup + 3 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons cinnamon-sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease two standard doughnut pans.
2. Beat together the oil, eggs, sugar, applesauce, orange juice, vanilla, cinnamon, salt, and baking powder until smooth.
3. Add the flour, stirring just until smooth.
4. Fill the wells of the doughnut pans nearly to the rim; use about 1/4 cup of batter in each well.
5. Bake the doughnuts for 15 to 18 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of one comes out clean.
6. Remove the doughnuts from the oven, and loosen their edges. After about 5 minutes, transfer them to a rack.
7. While the doughnuts are still warm (but no longer fragile), gently shake them, 1 or 2 at a time, in a bag with the cinnamon-sugar.
Recipe adapted from King Arthur
“Skin color, family structures and relationships, ages, occupations and manifestations of the disease are different, but we are all powerless over food” These words, which comprise the daily meditation for Overeaters Anonymous, were some words of wisdom that came from a friend who was sympathizing with me about stress, children, and overeating. I have to tell you that I could not agree with it more. As I reflected on how this week went for me, compared to previous weeks, I realized that stress is my biggest enemy (does anyone else have this problem or is it just me?). I blame stress as the #1 reason why I was not as successful in losing weight this week. I have also come to the conclusion that I am an emotional eater and when I am stressed, I eat. The question is, what do I do to fight this battle?
I say I am an emotional eater because when I am stressed, nothing is more comforting to me than eating (especially overeating takeout food), even if I am not hungry. I am being truly honest when I tell you that this weekend I over-ate the chicken wings and those delicious Chinese egg rolls that come with the pu-pu platters, and all I can say is “Thank God there were not any crab rangoons!” For the most part, I am able to be prepared and not eat more than I can handle; however, on this particular weekend, I was overwhelmed, and tired of not only dealing with runny noses and children whining but also with not being able to get enough exercise and sleep throughout the week.
In thinking back about my week, what is most striking to me is the amount of stress we all deal with everyday, and the fact that how we handle it is key to success in our well being, and essentially our lives. For me, personally, weekends are not only very busy, but also very stressful. You see, besides caring for my two daughters, I also help my sister and brother-in-law in caring for my 2 nieces and my 2 nephews, one of them being a child with down syndrome, (come to think of it, it’s like running a daycare). Needless to say, there was a great deal of whining, not listening going on, and I felt like I had to keep them all entertained every 5 minutes. So when my sister came home with takeout food, not only was it one less thing to do, but at that moment, it became easy to let go, even though at the end I knew it was not the best choice.
Having said all this, there is one thing I feel I did right this week: I did not give up (like other times). You see, in the past, I simply quit, because I gained a pound or two from overeating. However, I did not give up this time; on Sunday I started from the beginning – I ate better, went for a long and brisk walk. I am also working on learning other healthy ways to deal with stress, eat healthier and take things one day at a time!
Pomegranates, like many other Healthy Ingredients of the Week, are a real superfood. They are an excellent source of fiber and Vitamins C and K, and their dark red color signifies that they are loaded with antioxidant polyphenols. Pomegranates are distinct from other fruits in that they are prized for their seeds, or arils. Whereas you might discard or spit out the seeds of a watermelon or orange, the seeds of a pomegranate are the part you’re most likely to consume. Pomegranate arils are sometimes sold separately, but they’re also easy to collect from a whole fruit. The easiest way to separate the seeds from the flesh of a pomegranate is to cut the flesh off and soak it in a bowl of water; the seeds will sink to the bottom of the bowl, while the flesh will float.
Now that you know the technique for de-seeding a pomegranate, you should have no trouble making the recipe below, which makes use of the fruit in two different forms. This recipe also teaches you another valuable cooking technique – how to make your own salad dressing. I have never been a huge salad person, but I recently started making my own dressing at home, which has made me actually enjoy eating salads. Homemade salad dressings are quick, easy, nutritious, and delicious. Especially when they involve a fruity twist, like the vinaigrette used here.
Spiced Pomegranate and Orange Salad
½ cup pomegranate juice
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground mustard
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
8 cups baby or spring salad greens
3 oranges, peeled and sectioned
6 tablespoons pomegranate seeds
1. Mix pomegranate juice, oil, vinegar, allspice, mustard, and pepper in small bowl with wire whisk until well blended.
2. Toss salad greens and vinaigrette in large bowl. Divide salad mixture evenly among 6 plates. Top each with about 5 orange sections and 1 tablespoon pomegranate seeds.
Recipe adapted from McCormick
One of my first jobs out of college was working for Girls Incorporated of Greater Haverhill; this week I am using their motto of encouraging girls to be, “Strong, Smart, and Bold.” The reason for this is that throughout this week, I have found myself being all of those three words:
STRONG because I have found myself being strong-minded and really staying true to my word – and to myself – by not eating large portions. You see, I don’t know about you, but I have a husband who is skinny, eats whatever he wants without gaining weight, and on top of that he eats snacks late at night (I really don’t like him sometimes). He is also someone who loves his big servings of arroz, habichuelas, y carne (rice and beans with meat) every night for dinner, with a glass of soda and dessert (of course). Well, needless to say, he does not need be on a weight loss diet at this time, but I made it very clear to him that I do (after all why should he be punished?). Even though he is very supportive, I have to tell you that I feel so proud of myself, because not only I am now able to sit and enjoy dinner together, but I can do it with him with his big servings, eating everything he wants and then some, and still be happy with my portioned healthy meal that keeps me feeling full, but also very satisfied.
SMART because I found myself making smart choices when tempted to eat badly. For example, the weekends are extremely difficult for me because I am surrounded by the crazy busy-ness of my children and my nieces and nephews, and nothing is more easy and convenient than going to McDonald’s for lunch or dinner. Let’s face it, how can I resist having a delicious french fry or two or three? However, my sister and I have teamed up in taking care of ourselves, as she has seen the great results I have achieved just by staying away from fast food, so now we are both making better choices for ourselves and our kiddos.
BOLD because I felt confident in saying to my husband, “No honey, I will not have chips and salsa and Oreo cookies for a snack before going to bed.” And in saying, “No,” as I am being offered bread (from Tripoli Bakery, the best!) or homemade brownies or any other leftover desserts that appear at work from time to time. You see, I work in a place where there are lots of luncheons, baby showers, birthdays, and many other celebrations which are all so nice, but not helpful in losing weight. However, just last Friday, when I was at a luncheon, I was able to serve myself one plate with healthy choices while feeling that I did not need to go back for seconds and did not need to have more than I could handle, because at the end of the day, I am the only one responsible for what I put in my mouth.
Please don’t get me wrong, there are weekends that I have failed in being Strong, Smart, and Bold; however, this week was a successful week for me, and cheers to many more!
Barley, a whole grain, may not be as ubiquitous as rice, but its similar texture and mild taste make it a great substitution for the popular staple. Barley is a good source of both soluble and insoluble fiber, making it beneficial to both heart and digestive health. Barley is also a good source of iron, protein, and the B vitamin niacin. If you are familiar with barley at all, it may be as an ingredient in soup; I’m here to tell you that the grain has many more delicious uses, including as the base of a popular staple of Southern cuisine.
Barley Hoppin’ John
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 14-ounce can low-sodium vegetable broth
1 cup quick-cooking barley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
2 teaspoons lemon juice
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
2 15-ounce cans black-eyed peas, rinsed
1. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion, bell pepper and celery. Cook until the vegetables soften, 3 to
2. Add garlic and cook 1 minute.
3. Add broth, barley, thyme, lemon juice, crushed red pepper and salt; bring to a boil.
4. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until the barley is done, 15 to 20 minutes.
5. Remove from the heat and stir in black-eyed peas.
6. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Serve hot. Serves 4 as a main dish; 6-8 as a side dish.
Recipe from Eating Well
Having a strong support system is another key element in being successful in my road to losing weight. The words, “I am not alone,” came to mind as I pondered who my strong supporters are. As you may recall from one of my previous blogs, I talked about my mother and how she is not only one of my biggest supporters, a person who will honestly tell me when I am gaining weight, but also the person who has always been there to help me succeed. Well, this week I am dedicating my success in losing 5 pounds to my mother. It was because of her help that I was able to be successful this week!
I have to be honest and tell you that I have struggled with my weight my entire life. Out of all the people that I consider my biggest fans and my helpers, my mother has been there through all my struggles: When I could not find a dress like my sister’s (because I was chubbier), when she would catch me eating my sibling’s leftovers, when my pediatrician would tell her that I was “fat” and needed to lose weight, when others (especially family members) would comment on how much chubbier I was than my sister – I could go on and on. The point I am trying to make is that my mother knows the struggles I have gone through, and she is also the solution to help me succeed this time.
Because of my mother’s help, I was able to incorporate more fruit and vegetables into my daily routine this week. I watched her prepare chicken breast (by taking the skin off in order for it to be healthier) for the week, and I noticed that she made sure to prepare different vegetables with every meal. Not only did she help me prepare meals, but she would also pack lunch and snacks for me. Isn’t she just great? You see, part of being successful in losing weight is preparation, and taking the time to eat healthy things over eating out or eating unhealthy snacks.
I have to tell you that the way I ate this week, with my mother’s help, completely opened my eyes in that I realized that I need to really focus on spending the time to prepare my meals. It was great to see what she would do to the point that I started to mimic what she was doing and it worked! You may ask, “Why would I do all this?” The answer is, because this time, I deserve and I am willing to succeed in this battle called weight loss.
You probably know that oranges are an excellent source of the antioxidant Vitamin C (a large orange contains over 150% of the Daily Recommended Intake), but their nutritional benefits don’t stop there. Oranges are also high in fiber and a good source of folate and potassium. I usually recommend that participants who are trying to lower their blood pressure consume at least one orange or a glass of 100% orange juice every day, as the potassium in oranges helps lower blood pressure (and reduce the risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke) by counteracting sodium in the bloodstream. Oranges make a great quick and easy snack, but your daily consumption shouldn’t have to end there. Try using oranges to add flavor and depth to your next meal or side dish, as is the case in the following recipe.
Orange, Raisin, and Pine Nut Cous Cous
2 cups water
1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup diced red onions or shallots
½ cup diced carrots
½ cup dried raisins
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
½ teaspoon freshly ground white or black pepper
10 ounces (or about 1 ¼ cups dry) whole wheat cous cous (Trader Joe’s sells the whole wheat kind – you can find it near the pasta)
1 orange, peeled and segmented
¼ cup pine nuts or chopped walnuts, lightly toasted
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh mint or parsley
1. Combine the water, olive oil, red onion, carrots, raisins, orange zest, and pepper in a small saucepan, and bring to a boil. Cover, and cook at a slow simmer for 2 minutes.
2. Remove saucepan from heat and add in the cous cous. Let sit for 5 minutes.
3. Add the orange segments, nuts, and mint or parsley, and fluff the cous cous with a fork. Serve hot as either a meal or side dish.
Recipe adapted from Emeril 20-40-60: Fresh Food Fast. Emeril Lagasse. New York: Harper Collins, 2009.
The second annual WellMASS Weight Loss Challenge is in full swing at many state agencies, and I’ve already heard several great examples of how Wellness Champions are getting – and keeping – employees engaged in making the six-week commitment to eat right and exercise more in order to lose weight. I was able to experience one of these examples first-hand when I was invited by GIC Wellness Champions Margarita Polanco and Liz Layton to participate in a healthy smoothie demo during lunchtime.
The purpose of the demo was two-fold: to kick off and drum up excitement for the Weight Loss Challenge, and to teach employees how to make and incorporate healthy smoothies into their daily routines. Smoothies as they are typically sold in stores or at fast food restaurants are often loaded with sugar and unnecessary ingredients. The smoothies that were demo-ed at the GIC contained no added sugar, and only whole, natural ingredients. They also took only minutes to make, proving that it certainly is possible to eat well in a time crunch.
Participants learned the basics of smoothie-making, including the types of ingredients to include (and exclude) and the proper order for adding them into the blender for optimal taste and texture. Using this information, Margarita demonstrated how to make three different smoothies, and then invited employees to come up to the blenders to make their own creations using a host of healthy ingredients like frozen fruit, lowfat yogurt, almond milk, flaxmeal, and peanut butter.
The comment I heard most among the 18 employees in attendance was that they never knew smoothies could be so healthy and taste so good (especially without the addition of sugar!). Everyone in the room realized after the demo that smoothies can make a healthy snack, or, in certain cases (such as with the recipe below) serve as an on-the-go meal replacement. This newfound knowledge certainly gives employees a leg up in starting their weight loss journey, as they now know how to make tasty, filling meals and snacks that are low in calories and high in nutrients – a key strategy when it comes to losing weight.
Here’s the recipe for the most popular smoothie that Margarita made:
Peanut Butter and Banana Smoothie
10 ounces unsweetened soy or almond milk
1 tablespoon natural peanut butter
1 medium banana
1. In a blender, combine all ingredients and mix until smooth. Use 6 ice cubes for a thicker consistency.
“IF YOU BELIEVE IN YOURSELF, THEN YOU CAN MAKE YOURSELF WHATEVER YOU WANT TO BE.” This is the way I begin the email I send to the Weight Loss Challenge participants in our office reminding them about our weekly meeting and providing them with information for the week. You see, inspirational quotes and notes, other people’s testimonials, daily affirmations, positive thoughts, and positive reinforcements and comments from others are my biggest motivators in life. Since quotes motivate me to keep going, I love to share them with others. I specifically feel that this applies during this Weight Loss Challenge, because I realized that a big part of being successful at losing weight starts in my mind.
With that being said, when I joined this Challenge, I proposed to myself that decreasing my caffeine intake, decreasing unhealthy snacking, eating more vegetables, and exercising more were key components to losing weight. The big question was, “How do I do these things?” Well, you may think I am crazy, but one of the first things I do when I get up is check Facebook and read the inspirational posts from people like Jack Canfield, Dr. Wayne W. Dyer, Living the Law of Attraction / The Secret, and Power of Positivity, and that sets my day and helps keep me focused. I also have to thank my mother for continuing to say, “Wow Nancy, I am so proud of your weight loss thus far; you look great!” Though she is my mother and mothers are sweet as pie and tell us what we want to hear, I know she means it and she is being honest, since she is the first one to let me know when I am gaining weight.
I also keep hearing and reading that it takes 21 days to create a new habit, and even though not drinking 3-4 cups of coffee with sugar and eating crackers with mayonnaise and ketchup (I know it sounds gross, but I love my ketchup with everything) is difficult, I am hoping that creating new habits will come with time. Reading motivational quotes, in combination with having the mantras of “one day at a time”, and “yes I can,” is helping me get through those days when I really want to break down and eat everything in sight. Since I have also realized that I am an emotional eater, I know that being emotionally and mentally well is only going to help me reach my weight loss goal.
Oatmeal is one of my favorite cold-weather breakfast foods. It’s thick, warm, and comforting, not to mention filling. When done right, oatmeal is one of the healthiest breakfast options around, as it’s a good source of fiber (especially the soluble kind that helps lower cholesterol), protein, iron, magnesium, and zinc. Oatmeal as it is most commonly eaten – out of a packet often containing ingredients other than oats – cannot really be considered a health food, as the flavored instant oatmeal packets many of us know and love are high in sugar and aren’t as filling as oatmeal in its natural form. The reason instant oatmeal cooks so fast is that the oats are cut thin, which makes them not only heat up faster, but get digested faster as well. For those of us looking for a breakfast that will keep our blood sugar levels stable and our stomachs full until lunchtime, heavily sweetened and processed instant oatmeal is not the way to go. For a better breakfast, choose old-fashioned rolled oats or steel cut oats that come in a canister, not a single-serving packet. Since the only ingredient in old-fashioned oats is, well, oats, you can be assured that you’re getting a wholesome, natural food.
Even though old-fashioned oats are not advertised as quick-cooking, they can be prepared in the microwave in 3-4 minutes (or on the stovetop in about 5 minutes), which is still pretty fast in my book. You can also prepare a big batch of oats ahead of time in the slow cooker or on the stovetop so that you can have quick leftovers all week.
If you prefer your oatmeal on the sweeter side, add 1-2 teaspoons of brown sugar or maple syrup to it after cooking. Make your oats even more filling by adding a teaspoon of nuts or nut butter, or some cut-up fruit. If you prefer your breakfast to be on the savory side, try the recipe below for a new spin on oatmeal.
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
½ small red onion, diced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 cup old-fashioned oats
2 cups water
½ bunch kale, thick stems removed, leaves chopped
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
1. Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
2. Add onion and garlic; cook until softened, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Stir in oats and cook until coated.
4. Add kale a few handfuls at a time, stirring and adding more as the leaves wilt.
5. Stir in water; bring to a boil.
6. Cook for 5 minutes, or until oats are soft, stirring occasionally.
7. Remove from heat and let sit 2-3 minutes.
8. Serve garnished with Parmesan cheese. Serves 3-4.
Recipe adapted from Whole Foods