Thursday, December 23, 2010

Making Healthier Christmas Cookies

By Laurin Evans

Christmas means cookie time! Okay, it means a little more, but nearly everyone has that special cookie that reminds them of their favorite Christmas memories. Cookies are everywhere as it gets closer to Christmas – at work, school functions and, of course, all of the parties. What is it about the holidays that inspires people to pull out their mixer and get baking?

Although cookies have the advantage of being mostly bite-sized, they can fool you because they are usually high in calories and low on nutrition. If you take every cookie offered to you in December you'll be forced to make some serious resolutions by January 1st.

I'm amazed at how mostly flour, sugar and flavorings can morph into every imaginable type of tasty treat. With some minor tweaks, you can reduce the fat and calories while upping the nutritional punch of nearly every cookie recipe. I don't try to make a 100% healthy cookie, just one that is a little better for you.

White flour, white sugar and fats are the main ingredients in most cookie recipes, but all three can be reduced or substituted with healthier options.

Flour

White flour is highly processed and offers little nutrition. Substitute whole wheat flour in a one-to-one ratio or replace half of the recipe's flour with a high-quality whole wheat flour that will provide fiber, vitamins and minerals.

Since wheat flour can be denser, sift before using it. Increasing the wet ingredients in the recipe slightly will keep your cookies from being too dry. They may also need less time to bake, so keep an eye on them. If you don't like the consistency of whole wheat flour in your recipe, try whole wheat pastry flour.

Sugar

White sugar is juice from sugar cane that has been highly processed with chemicals to remove all of the color and flavor. The high sucrose level can have a negative effect on the body's blood sugar. The easiest way to reduce the calories in your cookies is to simply use less sugar. You can usually remove up to one-third of the sugar in a recipe without any noticeable difference. Sugar does provide moistness, so increase the liquid in your recipe slightly if you reduce the sugar.

You can also substitute white sugar with the less-processed raw sugar or sugar substitutes. One of the best alternative sugars is called succanat, which contains the whole sugar of the sugar cane and is dark brown. Succanat can be substituted for half or less of the sugar in the recipe. Experiment with replacing part of the white sugar with honey, real maple sugar, molasses or a natural sweetener called Stevia. Many recipes that use these sweeteners recommend adding a small amount of baking soda and less liquid ingredients.

Fats

Ingredients like shortening and butter make for a tasty cookie, but add unhealthy saturated fat, cholesterol and calories. You can replace the fat with pureed fruit. You can also use a healthy ingredient like coconut oil instead, but your cookies will turn out more cake-like than the original recipe.

Nutrition

Many cookies are just empty calories. The healthiest ones contain fruit and nuts, which provide protein, vitamins and nutrients. If your family typically eats a lot of cookies around the holiday, at least there's something good in there for them.

Make recipes for fruit sweetened jam-filled cookies. The natural sweetness of the fruit compensates for reducing the sugar and also provides vitamins. Cookies with nuts are a great way to incorporate protein. Substitute healthier dark chocolate for milk chocolate. A great way to add more fiber and an impressive amount of nutrition is to add ¼ cup of freshly ground flax seed to your recipes.

There are many ways to improve a cookie recipe without sacrificing taste or texture, so give one of these suggestions a try. Have you made your favorite Christmas cookie healthier?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Two Solutions For A Better World

This is my view.

The number one problem facing our world today is overpopulation.
Over 63 million people die each year from starvation related diseases.
A professional sports star brings in millions per year while a buffet to these 63 million starving people would be bread and water. Anyone see something wrong with this picture? It is projected that the world food and water shortage problem is only going to get worse. The more people on the earth the more resources are needed. To meet some of this demand rainforests are being cleared at an alarming rate of 1 football field per second, 60 football fields per minute, 3,600 fields per hour and so on. If this keep up all our major rainforests in 50 years will be gone. Rainforests are considered to be the "lungs of the earth" because of all the oxygen they provide. Rainforests soak up CO2 emissions. As we clear rainforests, animals lose their habitat/are edging closer to extinction. Where are we headed folks?

Solution #1: Zero Population growth

Adoption and having small families are encouraged.


Major problem #2 is animal agriculture in the world. Food from animals is killing people, killing the earth, and killing animals. Animal foods promote major human diseases- cancer, heart disease, dementia, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, Crohn's, arthritis, the list goes on and on. Factory farmed animals/birds/fish live their entire lives in misery.
Run off from animal agriculture pollutes our land, water, and air, not to mention our bodies.

Solution #2: Transition to a plant based agriculture.

What we eat affects our health and the health of the earth. Let's fire the heads of the Food and Drug Administration, Department of Agriculture, and the Surgeon General and put people in there who know what is healthy and what is not- people who "get it".

I have a list of candidates.

Greg Kaler

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sugar Ages You! Makes Your Skin Crack! The Facts!

From Michael Klaper, MD

"To arm oneself with a sword of knowledge, a little sweet chemistry understanding is called for. Sugars do taste good, and there is no problem in enjoying the naturally occurring fructose in whole, fresh fruits. The problem is in eating sugar as a food! When you are holding a cookie in your hand, a piece of cake, a candy bar, you are holding a chunk of sugar in your hand. You would not consider going over to the sugar bowl and shoveling in tablespoons of the white stuff, but here you are, actually considering eating this large chunk of sugar as a food.
If you do eat it, within minutes, your bloodstream is flooded with sugar and your pancreas is on high alert. Soon, the structural proteins in all your tissues – the elastic fibers of your skin, the hemoglobin in your blood, the filter membranes in your kidneys, the inner lining of your blood vessels, the lenses of your eyes – all get “sticky” with sugar (the chemists say they become “glycosylated.”) In the 98.6 F metabolic “oven” of our body, the sugars and proteins melt together and oxidize, like the browning of bread crust (called the “Maillard reaction.”) These oxidized, damaged, and congealed proteins, officially called “Advanced Glycation End Products” do not function normally – the gummed up, oxidized protein fibers break, skin cracks in the sunlight, eyes become less permeable to light, muscle proteins do not contract as vigorously, brain function dwindles – sound familiar? The aging process perhaps? Besides promoting the generation of cancer cells, EATING SUGAR AGES US!
It is said, “The truth shall set you free” - and the truth is, whether it is mixed with fat, as in ice cream, or baked into pies, candies and cakes, or dissolved in soft drinks, refined sugars are sweet poison. Like the poisoned apple in Sleeping Beauty, sugary treats taste good upon the tongue, but silently and relentlessly, they damage us."

So, as my eyes fall upon the plate of cookies or candy, I actually flash the image in my mind of myself eating it, and simultaneously think, “This is a chunk of sugar in my hand. This stuff ages me. It makes my skin crack, my arteries stiff, is hard on my pancreas, and it leads me towards frailty and Alzheimer’s disease. Do I really want to eat it?
Is it really worth it?”
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*Editor's comment: I am reminded of a commercial that's been playing on TV for quite awhile sponsored by a high fructose corn syrup company. The purpose of the commercial is to refute the claim that high fructose corn syrup is unhealthy. The commercial refers to scientific evidence purporting that corn syrup has pretty much the same make-up as processed sugar. The claim is that there's nothing to worry about because corn syrup is the same as sugar. I have to laugh! Then corn syrup is just an unhealthy as processed sugar! Appreciate you pointing that out Mr. Commercial Maker! Ha!
I for one am making every attempt to stay away from all forms of processed sugar, corn syrup, plus the concentrated sweeteners of maple syrup, honey, agave, brown rice syrup, molasses, barley malt, and frozen and bottled juices/in cartons. They all are detrimental to your health. I am making one exception- for occasional baking treats we do use date sugar (a healthier choice/has some nutrients/health benefits), and my wife Bev does make a wonderful ginger cookie with date sugar and a little bit of molasses. (We're not perfect!) We also make a sweet banana bread using no added sugar, only ripe bananas- plenty sweet! Otherwise I get all the sweet tastes in my diet from natural fruits and vegetables. As a consequence my taste buds are extremely healthy- not used to the strong tastes of processed sweeteners. Because of this, natural, healthy sweet tastes especially from fruits are amazing and strong! The only way you will ever experience this is to steer clear from processed sweeteners and maintain a healthy diet. If you can give up your sugar addiction, you will be greatly rewarded. Try it for a month! You may never go back.