Friday, April 30, 2010

TGIF and Tasty Treats!

Okay, truth: while I LOVE me some chocolate and peanut butter pies and cakes, I'm definitely a little more traditional when it comes to cookies. Seriously, folks, I'll take an oatmeal raisin cookie over chocolate chip any day of the week...which is not to say I'd turn down a chocolate or peanut butter cookie if you handed it to me, just that I prefer the oatmeal variety.
Anyhoo, did you know that today is National Oatmeal Cookie Day? In honor of the big day, here's a yummy, sucralose-sweetened recipe ideal for calorie counters.

Crispy-Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Also, I'd like to thank Hungry Girl for these fabulous, low-cal dessert discoveries. Stock your freezer with them, gang. They're that good!

Skinny Cow Low-Fat Ice Cream Cups

Blue Bunny Raspberry Vanilla Aspen Frozen Yogurt Granola Bars

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Letting The Good Times Roll...

As previously mentioned, I just got back from a long weekend in New Orleans. There, there...I know you're jealous, but if it makes you feel any better, it poured the first two days we were there. Seriously, we left the first day of the festival soaked to the bone and covered in about three inches of mud. Still, we had the best time in the Crescent City. Between all of the food and the fabulous music, I couldn't have asked for a better time. So what did we eat, you might ask? It's pretty sick, so don't judge me! Ahem. The list includes a muffuletta, boudin, jambalaya, cracklins, spicy meat pie, a pulled pork po-boy, gumbo, praline effin' bacon (aw yeah) and so much more. Thank goodness we walked everywhere!
And almost better than the food, if that's possible, was the music. We heard so many wonderful bands from all corners of the globe...We saw George Clinton, the Black Crowes, Cowboy Mouth, the Meters, Terence Blanchard and SIMON AND GARFUNKEL!!! It's true - one of my favorite bands of all time reunited to play the show and let me tell ya, it was an unbelievable experience. I'm still giddy.

Anyhoo, for all of you fellow NOLA food fans, here are some low-calorie variations of two of their most famous menu items.

CHICKEN JAMBALAYA
Ingredients:
1 spray non-fat cooking spray
2 1/2 oz raw turkey sausage, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 medium celery, stalk, chopped
1 small green pepper, chopped
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp table salt
1/2 tsp black pepper, ground
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 medium chicken breast, cooked, skinless, cubed (about 2 cups)
28 oz canned tomatoes, whole, plum, peeled with juice
2 cups fat-free chicken broth
1 cup uncooked white rice, long-grain
Directions:
1. Coat a large, nonstick saucepan with cooking spray. Over high heat, sauté sausage until crispy on edges. Add onion, celery and green pepper; sauté until tender.
Reduce heat and stir in cayenne, thyme, salt, pepper and garlic; sauté until garlic is fragrant.
2. Stir in chicken, tomatoes, broth and rice. Bring to a simmer, cover and let cook until rice is tender, about 20 minutes.
Flavor Booster: Popcorn rice, a specialty of Louisiana, is a delicious substitute for long-grain rice. The rice, which has a mild nutty taste like basmati rice, is available through gourmet food stores and Internet specialty shops

BEIGNETS
Ingredients:
2 tablespoons granulated Splenda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter
1 cup water
1 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Vegetable oil for frying
Powdered sugar
Directions:
1. In a saucepan, combine Splenda, salt, butter, and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil.
2. Add flour and cook over medium heat, beating with spoon until dough forms a ball and leaves side of pan. Remove from heat.
3. Add eggs, one at a time, beating with electric mixer at medium speed after each addition. Continue beating until the mixture is smooth.
4. Mix in vanilla.
5. Roll dough on a floured surface and cut into 2-inch squares.
6. In skillet, heat 1 to 2-inches of oil. Then fry dough (three or four pieces at a time) until puffy and golden brown on both sides.
8. Remove beignets and drain on paper towels. While hot, sprinkle generously with powdered sugar.

And, here are some videos of my favorite folk duo, because I HEART S&G.





Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tru Blood

Any True Blood fans out there? Interestingly enough, I've never been into the whole vampire thing - can't stand the Twilight series, never watched Buffy or any of the other Dracula shows - but I recently discovered this HBO series through some friends. And I'll admit, it's a wee bit addicting!
Maybe it's the over-the-top acting and colorful characters. Maybe it's the brilliant writing and direction of Alan Ball, previously of American Beauty and Six Feet Under fame. Either way, I'm kinda hooked.

Anyway, turns out there is a carbonated beverage called Tru Blood that now graces grocery store shelves. For those unfamiliar with the show, Tru Blood is the preferred synthetic blood drink of integrated vampires on the show, so the consumer version was crafted to replicate the appearance of the beverage desired by the show's undead. So what, you might ask, does it taste like? Well, I haven't tried it myself, but according to reports, "the blood-orange carbonated drink has a slightly tart and lightly sweet flavor that is sure to taste better than the O negative blood consumed by the show's fictional vampires." Some good news for all you calorie counters. One bottle of the sucralose-sweetened beverage is only 99 calories.

So have any of you tried it? If so, what did you think?

On a different note, I'm off to New Orleans tomorrow morning for a long weekend of festivities and amazing food. Don't hate, but I'm attending Jazz Fest and will get to see Simon & Garfunkel performing together again. Can you tell I'm beyond thrilled? I'll be back next week with more sugar-free dieting tips and fun stories from the Big Easy. Have a great weekend!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Sugary foods bad for the heart

Were you looking for a good reason to cut back on your sugar intake? Try this: a new study shows that women who consume large amounts of certain high-carbohydrate foods increase their risk of heart disease.

The study, which was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, showed an increased incidence of coronary disease in women -- but not men -- whose diet is rich in foods with a "high glycemic index," such as white bread, sweets and some sugary breakfast cereals. The study noted that all high-carbohydrate diets increase the levels of blood glucose and harmful blood fats known as triglycerides while reducing levels of protective HDL or "good" cholesterol, thereby increasing heart disease risk. But the researchers found not all carbohydrates have the same effect on blood glucose levels. They concluded that blood glucose and triglycerides were impacted more by foods with a high glycemic index, compared with other carbohydrates with a lower index, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

So there you go...add it to the list of reasons why a sugar-free lifestyle is the best dietary path to follow. Speaking of sugar-free, check out this yummy sucralose-sweetened dessert recipe. I whipped these up night to satisfy my sweet tooth and, well, I was a very happy camper! Good stuff.

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bars

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sweet Dreams

Well, this might explain why I've been so hungry the past few days. According to a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition sleep restriction could factor into obesity. Researchers found that normal-weight young men took in 22 percent more calories when they'd gotten four hours of sleep the night before compared to when they slept a full night. To investigate, scientists studied sleep, eating, and energy expenditure in 12 healthy young men across two 48-hour sessions. After the night of short sleep, the researchers discovered that the men took in 22 percent more calories, on average, than when they were allowed to sleep for eight hours. The average calorie increase was about 560. Researchers said the findings prove that people need to do their best to get an adequate amount of sleep so their bodies can function properly.

It's perhaps interesting to note that I've been craving a lot of sweet treats and salty chips in recent weeks, which is about the same amount of time that I've spent several sleepless nights tossing and turning due to pollen-related allergies and/or stress. But if you're like me, it's hard to force myself back into bed when I'm feeling wired. Fortunately, Mayo Clinic has a list of tips to help rock us all back to sleep.

* Go to bed and get up at about the same time every day, even on the weekends. Sticking to a schedule helps reinforce your body's sleep-wake cycle and can help you fall asleep more easily at night.
* Don't eat or drink large amounts before bedtime. Eat a light dinner at least two hours before sleeping. If you're prone to heartburn, avoid spicy or fatty foods, which can make your heartburn flare and prevent a restful sleep. Also, limit how much you drink before bed. Too much liquid can cause you to wake up repeatedly during the night for trips to the toilet.
* Avoid nicotine, caffeine and alcohol in the evening. These are stimulants that can keep you awake. Smokers often experience withdrawal symptoms at night, and smoking in bed is dangerous. Avoid caffeine for eight hours before your planned bedtime. Your body doesn't store caffeine, but it takes many hours to eliminate the stimulant and its effects. And although often believed to be a sedative, alcohol actually disrupts sleep.
* Exercise regularly. Regular physical activity, especially aerobic exercise, can help you fall asleep faster and make your sleep more restful. However, for some people, exercising right before bed may make getting to sleep more difficult.
* Make your bedroom cool, dark, quiet and comfortable. Create a room that's ideal for sleeping. Adjust the lighting, temperature, humidity and noise level to your preferences. Use blackout curtains, eye covers, earplugs, extra blankets, a fan or white-noise generator, a humidifier or other devices to create an environment that suits your needs.
* Sleep primarily at night. Daytime naps may steal hours from nighttime slumber. Limit daytime sleep to about a half-hour and make it during midafternoon. If you work nights, keep your window coverings closed so that sunlight, which adjusts the body's internal clock, doesn't interrupt your sleep. If you have a day job and sleep at night, but still have trouble waking up, leave the window coverings open and let the sunlight help awaken you.
* Choose a comfortable mattress and pillow. Features of a good bed are subjective and differ for each person. But make sure you have a bed that's comfortable. If you share your bed, make sure there's enough room for two. Children and pets are often disruptive, so you may need to set limits on how often they sleep in bed with you.
* Start a relaxing bedtime routine. Do the same things each night to tell your body it's time to wind down. This may include taking a warm bath or shower, reading a book, or listening to soothing music. Relaxing activities done with lowered lights can help ease the transition between wakefulness and sleepiness.
* Go to bed when you're tired and turn out the lights. If you don't fall asleep within 15 to 20 minutes, get up and do something else. Go back to bed when you're tired. Don't agonize over falling asleep. The stress will only prevent sleep.
* Use sleeping pills only as a last resort. Check with your doctor before taking any sleep medications. He or she can make sure the pills won't interact with your other medications or with an existing medical condition. Your doctor can also help you determine the best dosage. If you do take a sleep medication, reduce the dosage gradually when you want to quit, and never mix alcohol and sleeping pills. If you feel sleepy or dizzy during the day, talk to your doctor about changing the dosage or discontinuing the pills.

Nearly everyone has occasional sleepless nights. But if you have trouble sleeping on a regular or frequent basis, see your doctor. You could have a sleep disorder, such as obstructive sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome. Identifying and treating the cause of your sleep disturbance can help get you back on the road to a good night's sleep.

Good luck getting that shut-eye and here's to sweet dreams tonight!

Friday, April 09, 2010

Job interview advice? Eat well...

This entry goes out to all of my many friends currently interviewing for jobs...I recently came across a fascinating Atlanta Journal-Constitution article that discusses the best pre-interview meals and beverages. As the author says, "what you eat and drink before the important interchange can make a difference." How so, you might ask? If you're a morning person who scored a late afternoon appointment with career destiny, you can structure your meals and snacks to help keep you alert later in the day. The same goes for heeding advice on what you should avoid eating before a face-to-face interview, such as garlic and onions. For example, eggs are high in protein and choline, which can help boost mental alertness. And opt for tea instead of coffee before an interview. It will still keep you alert, but without the jitters.
A Massachusetts Institute of Technology study compared two groups who ate either a high-protein or high-carbohydrate breakfast. Two hours later the carb group had levels of the sleep inducing amino acid tryptophan that were four times higher than the protein group. So make sure to add an egg to that breakfast biscuit, drink a glass of nonfat milk or add some peanut butter to a bagel to boost the protein power of your morning meal. Lean protein foods such as eggs, chicken, turkey, fish and beans help your brain stay alert by supporting the production of neurotransmitters needed for smart thinking.
Here are some other tips, courtesy of the AJC.
* B vitamins, such as folate or folic acid, also play a key role in forming the brain’s memory cells and have been shown to improve alertness in adults. It's found in orange juice, green vegetables, cantaloupe and whole grain foods including those enriched with folic acid such as breads, cereals, pasta and rice.
* A new study highlights the benefits of drinking tea. Researchers found that theanine, an amino acid present in the tea plant increases alpha brain-wave activity, which induces a calmer, yet more alert, state of mind. Theanine is found in green, black and oolong teas.
* Dehydration can make you feel listless, lethargic and contribute to concentration problems. Make sure to drink water or other thirst-quenching drinks to keep your brain hydrated.
* While gum chewing during an interview is not advised, research shows that it can help you stay focused and alert. Researchers at Baylor University found that chewing gum improved students’ scores on math tests. And in a lab setting participants who chewed gum showed reduced stress and improved mental alertness. So chomp on a stick before the interview starts.

Read the entire article for more interview/food-related goodies. And because it's Friday, here's some serious cute overload for you!

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Bummer...

My apologies for failing to leave you all with some sugar-free Easter tips last week. I experienced some blog-related technical difficulties, which made it hard to post anything. That's my excuse, for whatever it's worth.
On a different note, this news makes me a very sad tomato...Remember the government's advice to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day to lower your risk of cancer? A huge nine-year study of diet and cancer, involving nearly a half-million Europeans in 10 countries, finds only a very weak association between intake of fruits and vegetables and cancer incidence. The study is in the current issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Turns out, those who get an extra two servings of fruits and veggies a day lower their cancer risk by only four percent - which is a far cry from the 50 to 70 percent cancer risk reduction many leading experts touted a decade ago. Still, health specialists say there are plenty of other good reasons to continue stocking up on the fruits and veggies. For example, a 2004 study found that eating five servings of fruits and vegetables a day is associated with a 28 percent lower risk of heart disease and stroke, compared to people who eat fewer than 1.5 servings a day. Either way, I say keep eating the produce to maintain a healthier lifestyle. Just don't expect it to be the silver bullet to all your health woes.

Finally, in honor of today being National Coffee Cake Day, here are two sucralose-sweetened recipes. Enjoy!

Mocha Coffee Cake

Cinnamon Swirl Coffee Cake

Thursday, April 01, 2010

How much should we exercise?

Well, this is confusing and annoying. In recent weeks, two somewhat contradictory studies have been published regarding the ideal amount of exercise. In one study, researchers suggest that 20 minutes of interval exercise can provide the same benefits as many hours of conventional working out. But shortly after, another study came out that claims women should work out an hour each day just to maintain their weight. So who's a gal to believe?

Exercise experts say the most important message is to be active and follow a good diet and nutrition plan. The amount of time a person should exercise depends on his or her fitness goals, whether it's for weight loss, health maintenance or performance training. Existing public health guidelines, by the way, recommend that children and teenagers exercise one hour every day and adults get a weekly minimum of two hours and 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity (such as brisk walking, dancing, gardening) or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous activity (jogging, aerobic dancing and jumping rope).

So here are my thoughts, for what it's worth...don't ever forgo physical activity. But if you're trying to lose weight, focus those efforts on food rather than exercise. All the exercise in the world won't matter if you're daily calorie count is through the roof. Remember, a sugar-free diet can help shrink the waistline over time. According to this calorie savings calculator, switching from a regular 8-ounce cola to a sucralose-sweetened variation could save 100 calories each day - and result in a loss of up to 15 pounds throughout the year. And a blueberry muffin baked with sucralose can shave 80 calories from your daily intake. Not bad, ey? Either way, you will find that making small changes and turning to low-calorie foods and beverages sweetened with sucralose can have a huge impact on weight over the course of the year.

I'll be back tomorrow with some tips for a sugar-free Easter!