Tag Archives: Food

The Truth About High Fructose Corn Syrup

I was really excited to have my first article What’s The Deal With High Fructose Corn Syrup? published on Blogcritics recently! After talking to a few friends, it seemed like it would be helpful to post it here as well. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) has been slammed in the news a lot recently – with studies tying HFCS to obesity, diabetes, among other chronic health conditions. The media and other health organizations are urging consumers to stay away from HFCS, and are asking food manufacturers to remove it from their products. And SNL recently did an awesome skit highlighting HFCS.

As a response, the Corn Refiners Association launched a campaign comparing HFCS to table sugar, disputing the claims that HFCS is unhealthy, and advocating for a change in the sugar’s name to “corn sugar.” The Corn Refiners Association has made statements that claim HFCS is “made from corn,” “is natural,” “has the same calories as sugar or honey,” “is nutritionally the same as sugar,” and “is fine in moderation.”

So, what exactly is HFCS? How is it made? And contrary to what the Corn Refiners Association claims, is it really bad for you?

To start, HFCS is basically corn syrup (glucose) that is treated with enzymes to convert it to fructose. Its then blended with pure corn syrup to produce a substance that’s 55% fructose and 45% glucose. Table sugar has a 50-50 fructose-glucose ratio, but the difference is that in HFCS – the fructose-glucose bonds are artificially generated, making them more chemically unstable. So while it is made from corn, I don’t think you could make the claim that it’s “all natural” – since it is a chemically treated, processed, man-made product.

Does HFCS have the same calories as sugar or honey? Yes (both have 4 calories per gram). Is it fine in moderation? Maybe. There have been studies that show that the while glucose is metabolized in every cell in the body, fructose is broken down only in the liver – lowering the levels of “good” (HDL) cholesterol and raising the levels of “bad” (LDL) cholesterol. And yet, the Corn Refiners Association has studies that show that HFCS is broken down in the body the same way regular sugar is.

Additionally, because the price of corn is kept low through government subsidies, HFCS is a much cheaper sweetener than regular cane sugar. HFCS also acts as a shelf stabilizer – extending the life of packaged goods. Because of these two factors, HFCS can be found in everything – it is in: yogurt, bread, crackers, canned fruit, ketchup, spaghetti sauce, most packaged desserts, cereal, soda, juices, fast food, ice cream, oatmeal, waffles, chocolate, granola bars, salad dressings – the list goes on and on.

The problem here is that this added sweetness from HFCS is found in products one wouldn’t even expect to be sweet (bread and crackers, for example). This ends up making the “consumption in moderation” guideline nearly impossible – because there is hidden HFCS everywhere.

Just take a look at a few standard products in the pictures below: soda, yogurt, ketchup, bread, and pancake syrup. It’s actually shocking that there is HFCS in some of these products — like bread!

So that brings us back to the original question: is HFCS bad for you? My short answer would be – yes. For two reasons: 1) It is a processed, chemically modified ingredient and 2) It is hidden in so many foods that even if you try to avoid eating desserts, you could still be getting a ton of sugar from the HFCS in bread, granola bars, etc. While it may be the same as sugar in terms of calories, you’d never consciously add a couple of teaspoons of sugar on top of a turkey sandwich would you? Eating packaged foods that contain HFCS is akin to doing so.

The good news is, many companies are moving away from using HFCS in their products, so you can find good packaged food options that don’t have any added sugars in them. Just remember to read the label and look at the nutritional information – for example, bread with 10g of sugar likely has either added sugar or HFCS, which you should stay away from. Despite the Corn Refiners’ Association’s claims that HFCS is fine, I would much rather eat regular sugar in desserts in moderation vs. a chemically created sugar that’s in every product under the sun. I hope this is helpful – staying away from HFCS is really easy to do can only help your efforts to lead a healthier, less processed lifestyle.

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New Giveaway – Delicious Healthy Chips & Oatmeal Bars from Corazonas!

Happy Saturday everyone! I’m very excited to announce my latest giveaway courtesy of Corazonas – a great company that makes delicious snacks infused with cholesterol-lowering plant sterols (read more about the benefits of plant sterols here). But first – I have to announce the winners of my HSN giveaway – congratulations to…

Our Grand Prize Winner – Amy!

Our runners up -Debbie, Carol and The Soul Searching Vegan!

Amy – you’ll win $40 in gift cards for HSN, and Debbie, Carol and The Soul Searching Vegan – you’ll receive $20 in gift cards for HSN. Please send me your mailing addresses (email to pickyeats@gmail.com) and you should receive your gift cards in a couple weeks. Congrats again on winning! Thanks again to everyone who entered – we had a new record of over 60 entries this time. And now, you all have a chance to win in my new giveaway: 3 varieties of healthy chips and 3 oatmeal bars from Corazonas (all the products in the pictures below!)

The great thing about Corazonas‘ products is that they have all natural ingredients, have amazing taste and texture, and are packed with nutritional benefits. The oatmeal bars are absolutely delicious: they are a great snack or dessert and have ~180 calories, 13-16 grams of whole grain, 5 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein for a huge portion. The tortilla chips have ~140 calories for 14 chips, 3g fiber and 18g whole grain; and the potato chips have ~140 calories per serving, only 6g fat and 2g fiber.

Only a couple days after I received the products from Corazonas to try, I had already finished the oatmeal squares (they were that good). I also used the Lime Tortilla chips with my guilt-free, 7 layer bean dip which tasted great!

Now the important part:

To Enter: You can enter in one of three ways –

  1. Subscribe to The Picky Eater via RSS or via email
  2. Follow me on Twitter (@pickyeaterblog)
  3. Like The Picky Eater on Facebook

Leave a comment letting me know which option above you chose! Note – if you already are a subscriber, follower, or like The Picky Eater on Facebook, just leave a comment indicating that – it will count as one entry :)

This giveaway will be open until Thursday, April 21st at 11:59pm PST. I will be selecting the winners at random (via random.org) and will contact them via email. I’ll be announcing the winners on Friday, April 22nd. Be sure to enter today–these fun and delicious snacks are totally worth it!

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Two Quick & Healthy Snacks Under 200 Calories

I often get asked questions about what I eat day-to-day, and what kinds of things I like to snack on. Snacking is totally essential to my life – I’m the type of person who gets hungry more than 3 times a day, and if I don’t snack in-between meals I become – what the husband calls – “hangry.” Basically hungry + angry, the side effects of which are usually taken out on him. I don’t like snacking on packaged foods – because most packaged foods will just cause a spike in your blood sugar, which eventually results in a blood sugar crash (and then you’re back to being hangry).

My criteria for putting together healthy snacks include:

  • The snack should have a good combination of fiber and protein, so it’s both filling and nutritious – and of course – tastes delicious. A great example of this is carrot sticks and hummus, or high fiber crackers and laughing cow cheese (or low fat string cheese).
  • The snack shouldn’t have more than 200 calories, because then it’s encroaching on meal territory which you don’t want
  • Avoid pre-packaged snacks if possible (e.g. chips, granola bars, protein bars, etc.) Although – there are healthy packaged options of all these things which work well if you’re on the go.

Today – I thought I’d share two of my favorite healthy snacks. Each snack has only 2 ingredients, is less than 200 calories, and only takes 2 minutes to make! Don’t you love the running theme here? 🙂

Snack #1: Fresh blueberries and Low Fat Cottage Cheese

I love how filling this snack is – and the creaminess of the cottage cheese goes great with the sweet/tart flavor of the blueberries. I go for low fat (vs. non fat) cottage cheese because it still retains the great creamy texture but is only ~100 calories per 1/2 cup serving and has about 15g protein. The blueberries add a good amount of fiber (3-4g per 3/4 cup) and are about 60 calories for 3/4 cup.

Mixing the two together gives you a great snack for only about 160 calories! And trust me, this will keep you full for a good amount of time – it’s one of my “go-tos” between lunch and dinner. And it helps that the blue and white looks so pretty and fresh together in the bowl – I always eat with my eyes before I eat with my mouth.

Snack #2: Brown Rice Cakes and Almond Butter

I love all nut butters. Peanut, Almond, Cashew, Sunflower Seed, etc – the list goes on and on. I especially love this Almond Butter with roasted flaxseeds from Trader Joe’s – it gives you a nice serving of omega 3s and increases the fiber/protein in this nutty spread. 1 Tbsp of Almond Butter has only 100 calories, and has about 4g protein and 2g fiber. The brown rice cakes give you a ton of volume (one cake is huge!) for only 60 calories and 1g fiber.

I love how creamy this nut butter is – it’s definitely one of my favorites. Putting the two together gives you about a 160 calorie, filling, deliciously creamy snack. For some extra fun, you can add a drizzle of honey (1 tsp has about 20 calories), or a few raisins on top.

Try out these perfect pairings and let me know what you think. Both should keep you feeling full (but not heavy) and energetic (but not on a sugar high) for the time in between meals. And they definitely keep me from becoming hangry.

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Delicious, Decadent, Chocolate Fudge Brownies

The theme of this weekend was absolute and total indulgence. Which, yes, isn’t healthy if you do it all the time – but once in a while (in moderation) is 100% ok. The husband and I went out to dinner on Saturday night and Sunday night – for two amazing meals with my dad and my brother. When we got home on Sunday, we were both craving something sweet – so we decided to make brownies. This was a team effort – the husband helped me in the kitchen so the brownies would get done faster!

Now generally, I’m not a fan of boxed brownies – they never compare to what you’d get at a bakery or what you can make from scratch. And sometimes they end up tasting really dry and processed. But trust me when I say that these brownies (made from a box mix) are the real deal. You would never guess that they are “boxed brownies”! And it’s all thanks to The Fat Witch Bakery at Chelsea Market in New York.

These are seriously the best boxed brownies I’ve ever had. My husband and I love this mix – the brownies turn out super moist, dense, and just melt in your mouth. You can add fun mix-ins too – like nuts or extra chocolate chips – pretty much anything you want! The other great thing is none of the ingredients are weird or sound like chemicals in this mix – everything in the mix is something you’d probably find in your own kitchen.

To make the brownies, you need: 1 box of mix, 1 stick of butter (7 Tbsp), 3 eggs, walnuts (or other mix-ins), cooking spray to grease the pan.

Step 1: Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease baking pan (8×8 is what we used). Empty bag of chocolate chips (this comes with the mix) into a sauce pan and add butter. Melt over low heat over the stove top (or microwave), stirring constantly.

Step 2: Once the chocolate has melted, set aside to cool

Step 3: Pour contents of dry ingredients (from mix) into a medium sized bowl. Add 3 eggs and mix until smooth. It kind of reminded the husband of vanilla pudding when it was done.

I tended to agree with him, don’t you?

Step 4: Combine the chocolate with the eggs/dry mix. If you want to add in any other fun ingredients – do it now!

I decided to add in chopped walnuts

Step 5: Pour the batter into your greased 8×8 pan and bake 30-35 min until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Let cool and cut into squares. Enjoy!

Here is the batter, ready to bake…

And the brownies are done! They looked so good, it was so hard to wait for them to cool.

Like a land of chocolate… Once we cut the brownies, I couldn’t stop taking pictures of them. I plated two for my husband

And then made him wait while I took another picture…

Then he finally got to eat. He was happy 🙂 This is seriously the best brownie mix in the world – and while you can’t beat making brownies from scratch, these come in at a close second! I’d love to hear what more experienced bakers think about this mix – try it and let me know. In the meantime, I think I’ll enjoy the brownies today as a pre-dinner snack. They’re just too good to leave on the counter!

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Quick & Healthy: Black Bean and Pumpkin Veggie Burgers

It’s no secret that I adore veggie burgers. I just love all of the different flavors and ingredients you can pack into one delicious burger – it’s the perfect combination of health and comfort food. Yes – health and comfort food can go together! I’m always on the lookout for new veggie burger recipes, even though I’ve already made quite a few: my five ways with a Gardenburger patty, my southwest pinto bean burgers, and my budget-friendly black bean burgers. But recently I came across a recipe from Fannetastic Food for Black Bean & Pumpkin Burgers. I was intrigued by the idea of adding pumpkin into the burger mixture, and loved how simple the recipe was.

Btw – it’s also no secret that I’m a “fan” of Fannetastic Food – she always comes up with great recipes that are easy to make and healthy. The recipe with my notes are below, and you can see Anne’s original recipe and pictures here. Thanks Anne for a great recipe that was ridiculously easy to make (took less than 30 min), tasted great, and was full of nutritional goodness!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup black beans (rinsed and drained) – I basically just used 1 15oz can of black beans – once you drain out the liquid/etc. it ends up being just a little over 1 cup
  • 1/3 cup canned pumpkin – make sure you get just pure, canned pumpkin (the only ingredient should be pumpkin!) make sure there are no sugars, etc. added and definitely don’t get “pumpkin pie filling” or anything to that effect
  • 1 Tbsp whole wheat pastry flour (I just used regular whole wheat flour and it turned out fine)
  • 1/2 tsp cumin (I might have added a bit more!)
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder
  • If you like your burgers with a bit of a kick, add a *small* pinch of cayenne pepper too
  • Olive oil cooking spray
  • Veggie burger fixings: ketchup, sliced red onions, sliced roma tomatoes, pepper jack cheese, whole wheat bun, spinach leaves (optional)

Directions

Step 1: Combine all ingredients (black beans through chili powder or cayenne if you’re using it) in a food processor and mix until mostly pureed – with a few chunks of black beans left. Note – you can also mash all the ingredients in a bowl, I used the food processor because it was faster and easier (for me).

Step 2: Once the bean mixture is at a desired consistency, form into 2 patties. Spray a large skillet with olive oil cooking spray, and cook on medium heat for 5-10 min on each side until lightly browned.

This what they looked like when they started cooking…

And what they looked like when they were almost done

One thing to note about this recipe is that the veggie burgers aren’t as “hearty” or “dense” as your normal Gardenburger or Boca burger patty. They tend to fall apart a bit more easily and are a bit softer. I really enjoyed the different consistency of the burgers – felt a little “falafel-esque” which was fun to eat. The husband thought they were a little too soft for him, and would have liked them to be more dense/thick like a traditional veggie burger patty. But he did say that regardless of the texture of the patties, the burgers had amazing flavor (and you couldn’t taste the pumpkin which was pretty cool) and were a great weeknight dinner. I pared the patties with a simple combination of pepper jack cheese, sliced onions, sliced tomatoes and ketchup, on a whole wheat bun of course. So satisfying and healthy!

 

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A.C. LaRocco Winners & A New Giveaway courtesy of HSN!

Hi Everyone! First – before I announce my latest giveaway, I’d just like to congratulate Marthalynn and Kristen for winning the A.C. LaRocco Giveaway.

Congrats to both of you! Just send me your contact information and you should be receiving your coupons for free A.C. LaRocco pizza soon. Thanks also to everyone who entered!  You all have a chance to win again in my brand new giveaway – which I’m very excited to announce. I’m partnering with HSN to help raise awareness for their HSN Cooks Spring Weekend Event (Presented by Bon Appetit).

The HSN Cooks Event will feature products from awesome chefs like Wolfgang Puck, Emeril Lagasse, Padma Lakshmi, and Jacques Torres. As part of this event, the folks at HSN have sent me TEN $10 gift cards good for anything on HSN through the end of April. I’ve decided to turn their generous gift into an awesome giveaway for FOUR lucky readers: The grand prize winner will win 4 gift cards (a $40 value!) and the 3 runners up will receive 2 gift cards each (a $20 value!) This is an amazing prize – especially since the list of products available on HSN are so extensive and are great for foodies…

And these are just a few of the products available to buy with the gift cards!

Now the important part:

To Enter: You can enter in one of three ways –

  1. Subscribe to The Picky Eater via RSS or via email
  2. Follow me on Twitter (@pickyeaterblog)
  3. Like The Picky Eater on Facebook

Leave a comment letting me know which option above you chose! Note – if you already are a subscriber, follower, or like The Picky Eater on Facebook, just leave a comment indicating that – it will count as one entry :)

This giveaway will be open until Thursday, March 31st at 11:59pm PST. I will be selecting the winners at random (via random.org) and will contact them via email. I’ll be announcing the winners on Friday, April 8th. Be sure to enter today–the high value of these gift cards is totally worth it!

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Eating Our Way Through Palo Alto

Last week was just one of those insane weeks – where you’re so busy that you barely see your significant other (even if you’re married and living together). I remember there were like 3 days in a row where the hubby and I would wake up at different times to leave for work/school – so we wouldn’t see each other in the morning – and then we’d get home super late and have maybe one hour to hang out at home – max. So, on Friday of that week – I suggested that we disregard our responsibilities for the weekend (household chores, groceries, running errands, etc.) and spend the day eating around in Palo Alto. I think we both really needed a break – sort of a day vacation in our own neighborhood. Neither of us was in the mood to drive very far (e.g. go to SF or Berkeley), so Palo Alto was the perfect choice: no traffic, easy parking, short drive away, and tons of great restaurants to choose from.

We didn’t really plan out our day (other than buying tickets to see The Adjustment Bureau in the late afternoon), and so of course – on Saturday morning I woke up an HOUR later than I had planned, and we were already running late for our first stop – brunch at Saint Michael’s Alley. Luckily – somehow I pulled it together and we managed to arrive 15 minutes before brunch service was ending! Woohoo!

The cool thing about Saint Michael’s Alley – is that they serve brunch on the weekend in a totally separate location from their actual restaurant – so you could actually eat brunch at one of their restaurants and dinner at the other in the same day, and it feels like you visited two separate restaurants. Which is exactly what we did – but more on that later. I was so relieved that we made it on time. By that point, we were both starving so of course – we ordered with our stomachs and not our brains.

I started with hot tea – English Breakfast – served in this cool glass

I also ordered the Market fresh fruit plate – which had strawberries, sliced bananas, melon, cantaloupe, and pineapple.

The fruit tasted so fresh and juicy – it was the perfect side to my entree – which might be the best egg scramble I’ve ever had. I ordered an Egg White Curried Vegetable Scramble. It was served with cauliflower, caramelized onions, tomatoes, peas, sauteed tomatoes – all tossed with yellow curry spices.

It was SO delicious. The addition of the yellow curry spices and peas gave such a wonderful flavor to the eggs, and was a really unique take on a  scramble. If you ever visit Saint Michael’s Alley for brunch – you have to order this dish! The potatoes on the side weren’t bad too – they were seasoned with rosemary, salt and pepper – and roasted to perfection. The husband decided to order some of his own for good measure.

Don’t they look amazing? They were the perfect accompaniment to his French Toast made with Rich Challah / Egg Bread, topped with fresh strawberries and dusted with powdered sugar.

Yes, we ordered a lot of food. But it was such an awesome brunch that we polished off everything – even the extra potatoes! It was the perfect start to our day – we left Saint Michael’s Alley completely stuffed, happy and content, and ready for our next stop – Sprinkles Cupcakes.

For those of you who haven’t been to Sprinkles – you HAVE to try their cupcakes. These might be the best cupcakes I’ve ever had, and I’ve eaten a lot of cupcakes. Their shop in Palo Alto has a nice whimsical feel to it and there’s always a line out the door on weekends, but the wait is totally worth it. When we got inside, I managed to snap this quick picture before we had to make room for other people eager to get in.

I love the little circle logo on their cupcakes – each circle color corresponds to a different flavor. We finally decided on the Banana Cupcake with Vanilla Frosting to eat in the shop itself, and took the Black & White and Chocolate Marshmallow cupcakes to go.

This was the best cupcake I’ve ever eaten. The cake itself has a rich banana flavor and a golden hue, the texture is moist and light, and the frosting – while creamy and delicious – isn’t overwhelmingly sweet. Eating inside the sprinkles store was also an experience: the walls are all glass so tons of natural light comes through, and the store is kept relatively not-crowded so you can enjoy your cupcake in peace.

The bar-like table by the window is also cool and creative, and has fun cupcake designs underneath the glass. They matched perfectly with the top of our actual banana cupcake.

After our amazing cupcake experience, we were all ready to sit for ~2 hours watching a movie. I just hoped my husband wouldn’t fall asleep in the movie from a food coma! (Which – I think he did for a few min here and there 🙂 ). Overall, I’d say the movie was ok. If you can get past the fact that much of it is incredibly unrealistic (to the point of being a little ridiculous) – and focus on the themes and the love story underlying it all – it’s a pretty interesting movie. I could get past the unrealistic stuff and thought the love story and the chemistry between Matt Damon & Emily Blunt onscreen was great. My husband couldn’t get past it – and really didn’t like the movie. So I’d say, averaging our two opinions: it was just ok. But it was still fun to go to the theater and see a movie – we are so Netflix Addicted and have a huge flat panel TV in our house – so it’s rare when we actually do see a movie in a theater these days.

After the movie, it was on to our favorite coffee shop in Palo Alto – Coupa Cafe for a quick drink before our dinner reservation at, where else, Saint Michael’s Alley (location #2).

My husband’s favorite drink here is the Elephant Vanilla Chai. It’s unbelievably rich, creamy and full of that great chai spice flavor (but if you don’t like sweet drinks you won’t like this drink). Both of us have huge sweet tooths – so we love it.

I ordered a simple Green Tea – which is served in the cutest tea bags.


We were having a great day – I couldn’t believe how fast it all went! It was finally time to walk to the second Saint Michael’s Alley location for dinner. We got lucky with great weather in the Bay Area that evening, so walking around felt really good. Both of the Saint Michael’s Alley locations have amazing ambiance – the brunch location has a cozy, homey, cafe feel; while the dinner location has an elegant-casual feel with a bit of rustic charm.

We only ordered two dishes to share between us since we were still pretty full from our indulgences earlier in the day! We ordered the Roasted Beet and Spinach Tart served with Toasted Walnuts and a Gorgonzola Cream Sauce.

The beet flavor in this tart was slightly sweet, and the combination of the gorgonzola and walnuts made for a really richly satisfying dish.

I loved all the layers in the tart too – the colors were so vibrant! We also ordered the Winter Vegetable Lasagna with Swiss Chard, Roasted Mushrooms, Fontina, Parmesan, and Ricotta Cheeses, served with Garlic Levain Bread

I really enjoyed the roasted mushrooms and the combination of cheeses in this dish. It was baked to perfection, so the cheese formed a nice crust on top of the lasagna. I wished there was a bit more chard – but overall it was very tasty and a great last meal for the day.

Throughout our dinner, I kept thinking about how lucky I was: not just because we were able to spontaneously take this day off from “regular life” with no consequences, and eat at amazing restaurants – but mainly because I realized that I had been with my husband for almost exactly seven years on that day, and the excitement from when we first met hasn’t changed. We even had a random “heated discussion” in the middle of dinner that lasted quite a while, but it ended up being one of the best conversations we’ve ever had. It just made me appreciate how much we’ve grown together as a couple and grown up together (since we met when I was in college), and I felt so lucky to be with my best friend: someone who knows me and loves me inside and out. The meals that day were a perfect complement to the time we got to spend together, free of responsibilities.

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