Fruit…Sweet!

We all love sweet things but sugar, and especially the highly refined sugars that are present in many processed foods, can really do a number on our waistline and our health.  Artificial sweeteners come with their own problems – they may damage our gut and cause us to crave sweet things even more.

I feel the best way to address our natural preference for sweet tasting foods is by eating fruit every day.  Most of the time that should be in the form of whole fresh fruit enjoyed as a snack or dessert but sometimes I step it up a notch and use fruit to sweeten something really decadent.  Case in point:

  • Chocolate Power Bar Balls
  • Chia Seed Jam

Chocolate Power Bar Balls

The recipe for these Chocolate Power Bar Balls comes from one of my favorite sources for gluten free and other healthy recipes, Elana’s Pantry. Although there is a small amount of refined sugar in the chocolate, the “sweet” is achieved primarily with dates. Dates are so sweet that you can use a really dark chocolate (70-80% cacao) here. The higher the cacao content the less sugar! I usually buy a good quality bar and chop it into pieces for this recipe.

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These are so easy to make; the only preparation required is to chop the chocolate bar and the dates into small pieces and throw everything in the food processor.  I only added a tiny bit of water because my dates were really juicy.  As you can see I used a small cookies scoop to portion out the mixture.  I like to put them in the refrigerator to firm them up.

A word about dates – although I’ve seen dozens of recipes in old cookbooks for date bars, breads, cookies, etc. I don’t ever remember eating a date while I was growing up.  When I started reducing the sugar in my diet a couple of years ago I tried them and I am hooked.  I always have a container or two of Medjool dates on hand.

Blackberry Chia Seed Jam

Chia seeds have come a long way since the 1970’s when they were used to sprout greenery on the iconic chia pet. They are now one of the “pets” of the nutrition world because they are packed with healthy fats, protein, and fiber. Their fiber is in the soluble form that helps to absorb dietary fats and cholesterol. That solubility also gives these seeds a unique quality that makes them “gel” in liquid. They can be used as a thickener, egg replacement, or to create jams.

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There are many recipes for chia seed jams. The first one I tried was this one from the Oh She Glows website. Since then I’ve made jam with strawberries, raspberries, and even rhubarb.  The chia seeds don’t require heat to do their magic so I even made a raw version recently as a topping for strawberry shortcake dessert.

This time I used the Oh She Glows recipe and frozen wild black raspberries I picked from my back yard earlier this summer. Don’t worry if everything looks a little dry when you put it in the sauce pan – the berries will release their juice as you heat the mixture. The jam should keep for up to a week in the fridge and freezes well.  Use it to stir into plain yogurt or to top oatmeal, toast, etc. This went on top of my overnight oats this morning!

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There are some people out there who may be avoiding fruit because they are concerned about the fructose content. I don’t think you should be worried about  that if you are consuming whole fruits.  I’d like to direct you to this video from Dr. Michael Greger’s website nutritionfacts.org in which he describes the results of a weight loss study involving women who added fruit to their diet (and consumed more calories than the control group). They lost more weight than the group eating fewer calories but no fruit.

I highly recommend Dr. Greger’s website and his new book “How Not to Die” if you would like to learn more about eating for your health. I was privileged to hear him speak recently and to meet him.  He’s a wonderful person!

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Cream Without the Cow

Scientists believe that mouth feel has something to do with our enjoyment of food. One of the textures we enjoy most is the fatty, “creamy” mouth feel of foods like ice cream, sour cream, cream cheese, etc.

Of course I enjoy a creamy texture, too but I am eating and drinking far fewer dairy products than I used to to avoid saturated fat. Luckily, there are other ways to achieve creaminess without relying on farm animals. Nuts, nut milks, and nut butters with their healthy fat are one notable example as with the ranch dressing recipe I posted recently.  You can also achieve a creamy texture with foods that have no fat at at all. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Banana Soft Serve
  • White Bean Gravy

Banana Soft Serve

I always have bananas in the freezer. I use them as a base for smoothies and they make a pretty awesome milkshake.  I freeze bananas when are really, really ripe.  This makes them extra sweet and I can often save money at the grocery store by buying the reduced price bananas.

I used to slice bananas and lay them out on a cookie sheet to freeze but I have discovered that a whole, frozen banana is fairly easy to slice with a sharp knife so now I just peel and freeze. To keep them from getting brown or freezer burned, put them in a large ziploc, insert a straw, close the zipper as tight as possible around the straw, suck out as much air as possible and close the zipper.

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Here are my bananas along with a bag of frozen cherries; the ingredients in my current favorite milkshake recipe:

  • 1 frozen banana, sliced
  • 1/2 cup frozen cherries
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup (or more) plant milk of choice – I like almond or cashew

Add all ingredients to blender and blend until smooth.  You may need to add a little more milk to get it to blend properly.  Enjoy!

And now for the banana soft serve.  If you don’t mind having an extra gadget or two in the kitchen look for a YoNanas machine.  I saw it at a cooking demonstration and bought one soon after. It turns frozen bananas into soft serve ice cream.  Period.  You can add other frozen fruits and mix in other flavorings but it’s hard to beat the simplicity and pure wholesomeness of a one ingredient frozen treat.

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The machine is available at Amazon and also at Bed, Bath. and Beyond. It’s easy to use and the parts that come in contact with food can be disassembled and cleaned in the dishwasher.

White Bean Gravy

This recipe contains zero fat or flour so it’s great for heart health and for those wanting a gluten free alternative to other gravies.  It couldn’t be easier to make; you just blend a can of beans with some seasonings and spices. I found a basic recipe here at Potato Strong.  To increase the savoriness and depth of flavor I sauteed some onion and garlic slices in a little water until soft and blended them with the other ingredients.  I heated up a small portion of the gravy and served it over a baked potato.

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The next day I took things a step further. I sauteed sliced baby bella mushrooms and seasoned with salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder.  After the mushrooms were cooked I added the gravy and 2 cups of chopped kale to the pan and heated everything through until the kale was wilted. The results were so good I may try to sneak this one by my family for Thanksgiving!

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Here’s a note about canned beans.  They can vary greatly in terms of sodium content and that’s why I usually avoid them. Since this recipe uses the liquid from the beans I shopped around to find the lowest sodium option.  This one had only 90mg per serving.

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Hope you enjoyed this post.  Please let me know if you have any questions.