Satisfy your sweet tooth while reducing added sugars

No Need to Give Up Sweets, Just Get Them Naturally

Improve the quality of your diet and satisfy your sweet tooth by replacing foods high in added sugars with those that contain naturally occurring sugars

I admit it, I have a sweet tooth. I’ve had it all of my life.  I never thought much about it when I was a child because everyone I knew had one too. Or a full set! My crowd simply liked sweet tasting foods more than salty, savory, sour or bitter ones. It surprised us when someone said they didn’t like sweets. But that didn’t mean we ate cake, cookies and candy all day long. Far from it. It simply meant we enjoyed naturally sweet fruits and vegetables as part of every meal and snack. And I still do today.

Imagine if no one had ever told you that Tootsie Rolls were candy and dates were not. You could easily get them confused. Same for the choice between a Popsicle or some frozen seedless grapes as a treat. And if you’ve ever had sweet potatoes mashed with some orange zest and butter you know they taste like you’re having dessert for dinner.

The point is, our eyes know the difference between a piece of chocolate fudge and a ripe banana, but our bodies cannot tell the difference between the sugars they contain since they are virtually the same. That is where the similarities end. The sugar in the fudge is delivered with saturated fats that can lead to heart disease while the naturally occurring sugars in the banana come packaged with fiber, vitamins and minerals that help prevent heart disease. Eating a banana every day, or any other serving of fruit, in place of something sweet made with added sugars is how I’ve maintained a balanced diet all my life without giving up the sweet taste I love.

So if you’re worried that you or your children eat too many added sugars, consider changing the delivery system to get your sweet fix.  The major sources of added sugars in American diets today are grain-based desserts, dairy desserts and soft drinks. If you’re relying on them to satisfy your sweet tooth you’re being cheated out of the nutrients your body needs in two ways. First, because those sugary foods and drinks supply very few vitamins and minerals along with all the sugar they contain, and second, they displace the foods we could be eating that provide plenty of essential nutrients.

This is where fruits and vegetables come into the picture. Instead of going on some bizarre “sugar detox” diet where you eliminate everything that tastes sweet in an attempt to “control your craving” for sweets, you can just use naturally sweet foods in their place and avoid all the drama. This approach is easier than you think when you realize all forms of fruits and vegetables are an option – frozen, canned, dried and 100% juices – not just the fresh varieties that have reached their peak of sweetness. And no matter what the form, including conventionally grown or organic, they all deliver important nutrients and fiber along with their natural sweetness.

Try some of these ways to satisfy your sweet tooth using fruits and vegetables at your meals and snacks . You may be surprised at how sweet life can be without all the added sugars!

  • Freeze a can of pears in natural juices and then scoop contents into the food processor and whirl for sweet sorbet
  • Mix golden raisins into homemade trail mix instead of candies
  • Add crispy freeze-dried fruits to unsweetened breakfast cereals for their intensely sweet taste
  • Make a tropical pilaf by adding crushed pineapple and toasted coconut to your favorite cooked whole grain
  • Reduce full-strength juices, like grape and apple, to replace sugary meat glazes and sauces
  • Stir chopped apple, vanilla and some apple pie seasoning into hot oatmeal
  • Roast parsnips and carrot strips together until caramelized for some sweet vegetable fries
  • Warm applesauce in the microwave oven before eating to heighten the sweet taste
  • Make watermelon pops with the juice and diced pieces from a cut watermelon
  • Add sliced strawberries to a peanut butter sandwich in place of strawberry jam

BONUS TIP: Keep a container of dried fruit like apricots, figs and prunes in the fruit bowl on the kitchen counter. They’re easy to eat, have no peels or pits to remove, they don’t bruise or spoil and are available all year round.

Related blogs:

10 Fun Ways to Eat Enough Fruit This Summer

Cutting Back on Too Much Added Sugar: Your Heart Will Say Thank You!

 

Visit a pick your own farm to get the best produce of the season

All-You-Need-To-Know Guide to Pick Your Own Produce

IF YOU CAN’T GROW YOUR OWN, A PICK YOU OWN FARM IS THE NEXT BEST THING

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, so the post has been reproduced here.

Even if you can’t grow your own produce, that doesn’t mean you can’t pick your own. Every state has PYO or U-Pick farms – including Alaska – that make it possible. It’s fun, invigorating and a great way to get the freshest fruits and vegetables when ripe for the picking.

Growing up in New Jersey, blueberry picking was our thing. My mother would allow my two sisters and me to each invite a friend because she wanted all the free labor she could get. Our nimble fingers were perfectly suited to grasping the plump berries and filling our beach pails. I will always associate those trips with the Fourth of July because we came home red, white and blue from the sun-burn and stained fingers!

Why not plan an outing with your own kids, grandkids or like-minded friends? Check here to find the PYO farms in your state and what’s in season. The site provides pretty much everything else you need to know about picking your own produce as well.

Helpful Hints Before U-Pick

Call the farm first to get the most up-to-date information about crop availability. Weather conditions can alter ripening by a few days or weeks.

Have a back-up plan in case it rains once you get there, such as a visit to a local historic site or other points of interest.

Check with your local food bank about donating any excess crops you pick or grow yourself.

What to Bring

  • Small containers that are easy to carry when picking if the farm does not provide their own. Depending on the crop, you may need pails with handles, single-strap shoulder bags, or sturdy sacks you can drag.
  • Larger containers to transfer your harvest into for weighing, volume check or count. Sturdy cardboard boxes or woven bushel baskets are suitable. Use smaller containers, such as plastic produce baskets, for delicate fruits so they don’t get crushed by packing too deep.
  • Optional pail to fill with water and use to rinse produce before packing
  • Picnic coolers with ice packs if it’s very hot and crops will be in a closed car for a long time
  • Snipping shears or small knife to cut stems
  • Plastic zip-top bags for herbs
  • Drinks to stay hydrated all day
  • Meal and/or snacks depending on how long you will be picking
  • Picnic blanket to use when you eat, preferably under a shade tree
  • Hand sanitizer and/or disposable wipes to clean up before eating and at the end of the day
  • Cash, check or an accepted credit card – inquire with the farm first
  • Camera if you want to capture the memories!

What to Wear

  • Sunscreen on all exposed skin and possibly insect repellent if in a marshy area
  • Old clothes that you won’t worry about getting stained
  • Pants and long-sleeved shirt if picking from thorny plants or climbing ladders to reach into tree branches
  • Layers if starting in cooler morning hours that may grow warmer
  • Wide-brimmed hat and neck shield if out in full sun
  • Sunglasses or protective lenses if picking where branches may brush the eyes or face
  • Gloves, if preferred
  • Comfortable, enclosed shoes, such as old sneakers, that can withstand mud
  • Back brace if not used to a lot of bending

Alternatives to Picking When Visiting the Farm

  • Farm tours & Petting Zoos
  • Worm beds & Bee Hives
  • Jam Making, Canning & Preserving
  • Herb & Flower Drying
  • Homemade Ice Cream Churns
  • Hayrides & Sleigh-Rides
  • Apple Cider & Wine Presses
  • Corn Mazes & Haunted Pumpkin Patches
  • Cut-Your-Own Christmas Trees & Wreath-Making
  • Gift shops with supplies, cookbooks, and homemade foods
  • Seasonal Festivals featuring a particular crop

I’m ready for peaches and raspberries, what’s on your list?

Keep this Guide handy along with my All-You-Need-to-Know Guide on Shopping in Local Farm Markets

Tips to get the whole family to eat enough fruit this summer

10 Fun Ways to Eat Enough Fruit This Summer

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Family Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read the blog here.

USE THESE TIPS TO GET THE WHOLE FAMILY TO EAT ENOUGH FRUIT FROM THE SUMMER BOUNTY

I love fruit and eat plenty of it, but most people do not eat enough fruit to get the minimum 2 servings a day recommended in the Dietary Guidelines. That’s too bad because fruit is an important part of a balanced diet, right along with its side-kick, vegetables.

Fruits and vegetables are routinely grouped together in government issued food plans, pyramids and plates, yet some people think vegetables have higher status. Maybe it’s because they have a permanent place on dinner menus, while fruit is relegated to snacks and dessert? Whatever the reason, fruit deserves to be counted on its own merits.

Fruit contains essential vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fiber that are not available in plentiful amounts in other foods. The nutrients in fruit help protect us against cancer, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer disease, cataracts, and many other chronic diseases.

Taste is high on the list of reasons why people don’t eat all of the vegetables they should, but that’s no excuse for not eating enough fruit. It can be sweet or sour, juicy or dry, soft or firm, chewy or crisp – something to please any palate. And you can eat it fresh, frozen, cooked, juiced or dried.

One of the easiest ways to make sure teens and adults eat enough fruit is to get them started young. Summer is the perfect time to introduce your little ones to the abundant variety of fruit that is in season and ready for sampling. You can include fun lessons on colors, shapes, and sizes, too, as you shop for an assortment of berries, melons and more.

10 Fun Ways to Eat Enough Fruit This Summer

  1. Melon Bowl Soup Most children don’t like their soup too hot, so make a cold fruit soup and ladle it into carved out half-cantaloupe as a bowl.
  2. Rainbow Pizza Spread cream cheese on toasted English muffins or whole wheat pita bread and top with colorful sliced plums, apricots, and kiwi.
  3. Honey-Grilled Fruit Place pitted and halved peaches and nectarines and sliced pineapple on the barbecue grill for a sizzling fruit platter you can top with a drizzle of honey.
  4. Tropical Dip Cut chunks of banana, mango, and papaya for dipping into lemon yogurt then sprinkling with toasted coconut or crushed cereal.
  5. Green Slushies Puree kiwi, green grapes and honeydew melon together, freeze in ice cube trays, then process again in blender until a slushy consistency.
  6. Fruit Dunkers Easier than fondue, just dunk fruit chunks into caramel or chocolate sauce thinned with hot water or use maple syrup, honey, or whipped topping.
  7. Asian Fruit Salad Combine mandarin orange segments, boysenberries, and cubed Asian pears, top with Chinese noodles, and let everyone eat it with chop sticks.
  8. Crazy Quesadillas Spread shredded mozzarella cheese over a one half of a flour tortilla, top with sliced strawberries, then fold other half over and heat until the cheese has melted.
  9. Parfait Cones Layer yogurt and berries in an ice cream cone for a portable snack filled with summer’s best.
  10. Melon Stick Cube watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, and/or Crenshaw and thread onto popsicle sticks.

What’s your favorite fruit of the season?

For more ways to increase the fruit in your diet check these blogs:

  • 11 Ways to Get Kids to Eat More Vegetables
  • Getting More Fruit in Your Diet is Easy with Dried Fruit

 

Use these tips to shop at local farm markets this summer

Shopping at Local Farm Markets: All-You-Need-To-Know Guide

USE THESE TIPS TO SHOP AT LOCAL FARM MARKETS THIS SUMMER

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, so the post has been reproduced here.

There’s nothing better than visiting local farm markets to buy fresh produce. That is, unless you grow your own. I’m lucky enough to do both.

Each summer I grow what I can in my backyard and shop from the back of pick-up trucks and simple road-side stands for the rest. If you’ve never shopped at a farmer’s market before, it’s time to start!

Why Shop at Farm Markets?

Buying fresh, seasonal and locally produced food has nutritional and environmental benefits and helps support the farmers in your area. Of course, you will still have to buy produce in your grocery store since no part of the country grows everything you may need – especially if you like bananas – but your first stop should be the farm stand.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has made it easy to find farm markets in every state. Just plug in your zip code on the Agriculture Marketing Service site to get market locations in your area and information about what’s in season and forms of payment accepted.

If you prefer to buy organically grown produce you will find the prices much better than those charged in health food stores and supermarkets. Farms that have received organic certification will display a sign on their stand, but it’s worth asking the others. Since getting certified is a costly process, many farmers use organic growing methods and skip the certification.

Tips on What to Buy

  • Check your calendar before arriving to have an idea of how many meals you’ll be shopping for in the coming week.
  • Carry a cookbook to get recipe ideas for less familiar products.
  • Be flexible with your menu plans, the market only carries what’s ripe and recently harvested.
  • Ask the farmer to identify unfamiliar items and how to prepare them. They love to share ideas.
  • Don’t forget some flowers for the table!

Tips on How to Shop

  • Bring cash, preferably smaller bills.
  • Tote your own bags for individual items and a strong satchel to put everything in.
  • Use saved plastic baskets or other plastic containers with lids for delicate berries, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes.
  • Put a cooler in the car if produce will be left in it for any length of time on hot days.

Tips on Buying in Bulk (for Canning, Drying & Freezing)

  • Prices drop after the first harvest of any crop. If you want a quantity of something, wait until the second or third week it’s for sale. (Ask the farmer for expected harvest dates.)
  • Request “seconds,” the slightly bruised pieces that are fine for jams and pies. Farmers are happy to sell them for less.
  • Arrive later in the day to get close-out deals.
  • Buy fresh herbs to make pesto.

Watch for my upcoming story on pick-your-own fruit and vegetable farms – the perfect combination of food and fitness in a fun afternoon!

Dried Fruit Can Help Meet Daily Fruit Requirements

Getting More Fruit in Your Diet is Easy With Dried Fruit

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, so the post has been reproduced here.

QUICK Q/A ON DRIED FRUIT SHOWS HOW EASY IT IS TO GET RECOMMENDED SERVINGS OF FRUIT ALL YEAR ROUND

Dried fruit is a nutritious, delicious and affordable way to meet the dietary guideline to consume 1 ½ to 2 cups of fruit each day. It can also help expand the variety in the diet when fresh fruit is not available. And it may even provide more nutritional benefits than the fresh fruit in your market if that has traveled from other continents to provide varieties that are not in season anywhere close to your home.

To explain why dried fruit may be a good option to meeting your daily fruit requirement this winter here’s aQuick Q/A on Dried Fruit:

What happens when fruit is dried?

Drying, or dehydrating, involves removing 82%-97% of the water, depending on the type of fruit.

How is it done?

Dehydrating can be done naturally by the sun or by using dehydrators. It takes about 3 days in 100° F temperatures to dry fruit in the sun or 10-20 hours at 120-140° F in an electric dehydrator.

Is anything added to dried fruit?

Sulfur dioxide may be added to block browning reactions that darken the color of the fruit. Check the food label if you are allergic to this safe preservative.

Sugar is added to some fruits before or after drying to sweeten them, such as cranberries, blueberries, cherries, mangoes and strawberries. Again, check the label.

Is dried fruit higher in calories?

Calories are not affected by drying a piece of fruit, but the calories are higher in an equal volume of dried fruit compared to fresh. A grape has 4 calories whether eaten fresh or as a raisin, however about 32 seedless grapes fit into a cup while 120 raisins can fit into that same cup.

Is dried fruit as nutritious as fresh?

  • Some heat-sensitive vitamins, such as Vitamin C, can be affected by the high temperatures used to dry fruit. Those losses are no more significant than what can occur when fresh fruit is harvested early to be transported long distances and stored for extended periods of time before consumption.
  • Dried fruits are an important source of antioxidants and other naturally occurring phytonutrients, such as flavanols and anthocyanins, which have many health benefits.
  • Fiber content of fruit is not affected by dehydrating.
  • Like fresh fruit, dried fruit contains no cholesterol and practically no fat and has very low sodiumcontent.

Why is dried fruit so sweet?

  • The sweeter taste of dried fruit is due to the concentration of the natural sugars in it once the moisture has been removed.
  • Fruit that is going to be dried is allowed to fully ripen before it’s harvested, which enhances the naturalsweetness.

Can people with diabetes eat dried fruit?

Any form of fruit can be used by people with diabetes, whether fresh, frozen, canned, dried or as juice. It’s the serving size and number of servings in your meal plan that matters.

What advantages are there to including dried fruits in my diet?

  • Dried fruits have a long shelf life since drying inhibits bacterial growth.
  • Long shelf life makes dried fruit price-stable and available year round.
  • It’s easy to use dried fruit since they don’t require peeling, seeding or other preparation.
  • Dried fruit is convenient to take with you when traveling away from home.
Super foods are not enough for a healthy diet

Are Super Foods the Key to a Healthy Diet?

Quality and variety are essential for good nutrition

The battle of the super foods has always fascinated me. We live on a planet with more than 390,000 plant species, many of them edible but never sampled, yet there are some who think they have figured out what the Top 10 Super Foods are that we should eat for good nutrition.

I don’t buy it and never did. Any time you limit your diet to a top 10 food list, no matter how virtuous, you are losing the value of variety.

Eating a wide variety of foods is one of the basic tenets for a healthy diet. This means you should spread out your choices over all food groups and within each one, while also switching it up with the seasons. For example, if you like apples, it’s a good idea to buy some from New York State as well as Washington and swop out a Cortland for a Crispin or a Cameo occasionally, too.

That said, eating an apple a day is not the goal. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that we eat 3-4 servings of fruit every day. That’s 1 ½ – 2 cups of fruit 365 days of the year. Most Americans don’t even come close to meeting that goal.

A 2009 report from the Centers for Disease Control found that in no state were U.S. adults eating the recommended 3-4 servings of fruit a day and only 32.5% were consuming fruit two or more times a day. Debating whether blueberries or pomegranates should hold first place on this year’s super food list is a distraction from the more important issue that most Americans simply need to eat more fruit!

Eating fruit in any form can help close the gap. Fresh fruit is fine when available and affordable, while frozen fruit offers year round value. Canned fruit in unsweetened juice provides convenience and cost savings every day of the week, and dried fruit offers economy of space as well. And what could be easier than drinking a cup of 100% fruit juice once a day?

My strategy has been to always include a serving of fruit as part my breakfast and lunch, then have another as an afternoon snack. Even if I’m traveling, I can always get a glass of juice on a plane or in a bar and buy some trail mix with dried fruit in any convenience store. When the fruit bowl is empty at home, I always have berries in the freezer for my yogurt, mandarin orange segments in the pantry to toss into a salad and sundried tomatoes to snack on.

Something as basic as eating more fruit can result in dramatic changes in the quality of your diet. You’ll benefit not only from all of the vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients you’ll be consuming, but also because of all the other stuff you won’t be.

Why not keep a list of the different types of fruit you eat over one year to see if you can come up with 100? That’s a as a super food list I’d really like to see!

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