Archive for the ‘fruits’ Tag

Not Using What’s Provided, Part 2   Leave a comment

A few months ago I wrote a post about reducing waste by not mindlessly using all the “free” “convenience” products that we are often surrounded with. Recent occurances at work have made me aware of a related topic: providing your own stuff instead of using the “free” stuff that is provided.

The first example is tissue products. My office keeps a cabinet stocked with boxes of tissues for employees to take as needed for their individual offices. I buy my own tissues instead. Why spend my own money when my company is already providing the same thing? Because it is really important to me to use paper products that are not chlorine bleached. (I don’t care as much about whether they’re made of recycled content, but I’ve yet to find tissue products that aren’t labeled as both or neither). It is worthwhile to me to buy my own tissues and reduce by even a tiny fraction the pollution caused by chorine bleaching. Taking it a step further, I have a small terry cloth hand towel that I hang near the entrance to my cubicle so that it is convenient to take with me into the restroom to use to dry my hands instead of using the paper towels.

The second example is tea and hot chocolate. Like many offices, there’s always a pot or two of coffee brewing in the break room at my office and a tray of sugar, creamer, teabags, and hot chocolate mix packets. While I drink hot tea throughout the day, and occasionally enjoy a hot cocoa pick-me-up, until recently I almost never partook of those offerings. Instead I keep quite the selection of teas at my desk (peak was 19 different kinds, including medicinal), and a tin of cocoa mix. It is very important to me that tea and chocolate be fair trade certified, or fairly traded for herbs when there’s no certification available. Currently, I’m out of tea as I switch from tea bags to loose teas and in the intervening time since I’m out of tea I’m taking the lazy(?) way out and instead of doing without I’m using the macha tea provided in the break room. I hope that since it is a Japanese tea, it might be actually grown in Japan where fair trade certification does not apply.

My third example is junk food snacks. One of my strategies for reducing junk food consumption and trash is to bring my own snacks to the office. A square of high quality fair-trade dark chocolate and/or a piece of fresh fruit at my desk helps me ward off the siren call of a Reese’s cup or cookie left over from someone’s meeting. The sugary snacks in the break room usually offer me zero satisfaction, contribute to long term increased sugar cravings, and create relatively high volume of waste. My sweet snacks provide me with as much satisfaction as I want, and create little to no non-biodegradable waste. A container of carrots, tomatoes, or other vegetables helps me keep away from the bags of chips in the break room, and was instrumental in overcoming my cracker addiction.

Pre-pregnancy Challenge to Increase Nutrient Density   2 comments

One my current goals is to increase the nutrient density of my diet in anticipation of gaining a parasite (aka getting pregnant), and I’ve been focusing on doing that by increasing my consumption of fruits and vegetables. A while back I switched from crackers for mid-day snacks to fruit and vegetable snacks, but I felt I was ready to take this a step further. So since March I have worked on making sure that I eat at least one serving of fruit or vegetable with every meal or snack. Well, sometimes it’s just a token with snack, but it’s all relative since a snack can be less than a serving size worth anyway. For this past month I’ve been keeping track of the total number of servings each day and comparing that to the old standard of 5 servings of vegetables, and 3 servings of fruit each day. At first it really depressed me that after all my effort I was barely making it most days, handily passing it some days, and occasionally missing the target. And that’s even if I count french fries and vegetable hot dog toppings as vegetables!

I confess to being a bit schizophrenic when I describe my diet. I don’t really consider my diet to be very healthy, but at the same time I recognize that by most standards it’s pretty good (decent amount of fruits and vegetables, lots of whole grains and whole grain products, frequent legumes, light on meat and dairy, well under 5 tsp/day of sugar). When I realized that even with the attention that I’ve been paying to increasing my fruit and vegetable consumption I’m still barely meeting the recommended target, I started looking at other categories, namely grains. If I remember the old pyramid correctly the recommendation was something like 9 to 11 servings of grains per day. By my accounting, on the days that I missed the fruit/vegetable targets I was also not eating that many grain products. At that point I figured that I need to start looking at this as more of a percentage/proportion thing, instead of a target number of servings. That lead me to the USDA website to check out the new “My Plate” thingy that’s replacing the complicated “My Pyramid” thingy that replaced the simple and clear food pyramid of yore (which replaced the really outdated quartered circle). I’m not impressed. For one thing, I suspect that there’s some politics being played. The personalized recommendation that I received included 3 cups (!) of dairy per day to maintain my weight, and 2.5 cups per day to lose weight. There’s no way I could possibly consume that much dairy in one day. The website recommends 3 cups/day of vegetables and 2 cups/day of fruit for me. Note that it takes two cups of lettuce to make one cup of vegetables, and a half a cup of cheese to make 1 cup of dairy. I’m not sure that “cup” defined in such a complicated way that it requires a chart is more helpful than “serving”. As far as using the plate graphic for reference goes, half of the diet is fruit/vegetable. I suppose on average over a week that’s almost true since some days are well over 75% and others more like 33%.

Oh, I should mention that the direct and labor-intensive method of actually keeping track of some key nutrients is not really an option. It’s labor intensive, ripe for frustration trying to analyze within the seasonal variations (since we get all of our produce from the farmer’s market we eat a seasonal diet: no tomatoes in winter, no asparagus in summer, etc.), and misses the point of whole foods that contain more than just the basic vitamins but also contain other phytonutrients.

What was my conclusion after all this? I’m figuratively throwing my hands in the air and declaring that it is not worthwhile to try use any metric to judge whether I’ve improved the nutrient density of my diet. Instead I’m relying on the more subjective (and unfortunately also subject to denial) sense that I have done so. And that sense that I don’t know how I could possibly increase the nutrient density of my regular diet anyway, except to never eat cereal for breakfast and bake bread weekly so that I don’t ever snack on the delicious white flour Pugliese bread that we get from Raleys.

Posted June 22, 2011 by mayakey in food, goals, health, pre-pregnancy

Tagged with , ,

A Banana Dilemma   Leave a comment

So I’ve been experimenting with alternative bananas lately in an attempt to figure out what is the most conscientious banana to eat: fair-trade or non-GMO (genetically modified organism).

When I first heard about GMO bananas my first thought was that it was a silly joke. But unfortunately not. I guess banana plantations are being hit by all kinds of problems, as plague any extensive monoculture crops (especially given that cultivated bananas are sterile – no seeds – and propagated by cuttings, which doesn’t really help maintain genetic diversity). I hadn’t thought about it before, but now it seems like an inevitable problem since bananas are an immensely popular fruit and there is only one cultivar that is generally recognized as being a “banana”. I am not a supporter of genetic modifications. As a result, even though I don’t eat very many bananas typically, I want don’t want to contribute to an inevitable problem. Since it is winter and so harder to come by local fresh fruit for smoothies, I decided it is a good time to experiment with other types of available bananas. My husband has dutifully purchased me reds and babies (which I think I knew as finger bananas), and I can say that they work just fine. The babies take a really long time to ripen, so I suspect that the textural difference between the classic yellow banana and the reds and babies may be mostly due to differences in the amount of time harvested before maturity.

While eating other banana cultivars is all well and good to not contribute to the need for genetic modification, there is the other concern about labor. Fair trade bananas are available in some stores, and they ensure that the people growing and harvesting the bananas are paid a fair wage, have decent working conditions, and that child labor is not used. These are very important and when it comes to tea, coffee, chocolate, sugar, and vanilla I will only buy certified fair trade. Where is the balance, though, between the labor and non-GMO problems? My inclination is to buy the non-fair-trade non-classic-yellow-banana varieties. I figure that if lack of genetic diversity and problems with fungus and disease are so bad, that it is better to use my tiny market power to encourage more variety because these problems may ultimately hurt the workers even worse.

At least spring is here, soon to be followed by summer peaches so I can stop eating bananas altogether for several months.

Posted April 20, 2011 by mayakey in conscious living, fair trade, food

Tagged with ,

Carrot Time   Leave a comment

As far as snack time goes, today was officially the first day of winter. Over a year ago I overcame my cracker “addiction” to switch to fruit and vegetable snacks as part of my pre-pre pregnancy prep, and since I only eat what I can get at the farmer’s market that means carrots in the winter. ( When I cracked open my container of carrots this afternoon “U Can’t Touch This” popped into my head, but I can’t write out the tune, so I put it in the title instead.)

We’re lucky here in the Sacramento area to have several year-round farmer’s markets so that we can always eat seasonally locally. Not everything at the market is organic, but much is at least pesticide-free (the difference is that they haven’t gone through expense of certification or that they don’t follow other organic practices). I generally figure that even if they do use pesticides, smaller farmers probably use less than big monoculture farms. As a result, I focus more on eating local, rather than organic. In California the vendors at the farmer’s markets have to be from within the state, but stuff from southern CA is not exactly local to Sacramento. (That doesn’t stop us from buying the avocados, though). Most of the vendors at our market really are local and come from our county or a neighboring county. From the Delta to the Sierras that means multiple climate zones and growing seasons. So after tomatoes are done in the Delta, farmers in the Sierras still have several weeks of production. Thankfully that is true, because otherwise carrot snack season would have begun in early fall.

So I’ll have a few carrots (thin ones cut shorter, not “baby” carrots; scrubbed but not peeled to save time and maximize nutrients) every weekday from now until late spring. Then I will avoid carrots for a few months while feasting on snow peas, cucumbers, tomatoes, and bell peppers. As part of my afternoon snack I also make myself eat fruit, which varies similarly. It’ll really be winter for my stomach when there are no more apples. Then I’ll have oranges/mandarins/etc and kiwis. Long after the time that I am thoroughly sick of anything orange-y or kiwi-esque, spring will bring cherries. That’s the light at the end of the orange tunnel. Cherries, and then apricots, plums, and nectarines. Heaven must have year round stone fruits. 🙂

Mastering The Art of The Smoothie   Leave a comment

Since July I’ve been drinking smoothies for breakfast most mornings. They are prescribed by my naturopathic doctor, although I had long been interested in the practice of making smoothies for breakfast. She has a few reasons for prescribing smoothies: 1) They can be a very healthy start to the day, 2) It’s easy to add supplements to a smoothie (except fish oil, that didn’t work so well), 3) If/when I get morning sickness the smoothie will be something I can work on getting/keeping down all morning while getting my vitamins and protein. Making a smoothie every morning has taken some getting used to, and it is not as time-consuming as I had been afraid. Actually, the most challenging part has been cleaning the blender every night.

My doctor’s original recipe was:

1 banana
1 cup frozen fruit
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 Tbsp peanut butter
1 to 1-1/2 cups rice milk
1 scoop whey protein powder
1/2 cup granola (optional, for texture)
1 tsp fish oil

I quickly learned that I am not one of those people who can consume fish oil mixed with food (or straight for that matter). I also found that to me peanut butter does not taste good in a smoothie. Because of my focus on eating local seasonal produce, the banana is problematic as well. My husband eats a banana every day at work, so I can occasionally steal one from him when he skips a day, but a banana every day is not going to happen.

This was a forced experiment at first, but I’m getting the hang of it and now have my own recommendations for smoothie ingredients:

Fresh fruit. I hit on this during the summer when it dawned on my how silly it is to buy frozen peaches when fresh peaches are available at the farmer’s market. The bonus for me is that it gives me a way to eat fruit that I like (or don’t) that is just too big. I can’t eat an entire large peach or apple in one sitting, but I can drink it in a smoothie! So for me all summer my smoothies had a fresh peach base. This fall they have a fresh apple base. I figure that during the winter I’ll experiment with a fresh citrus base. And I’ll worry about spring later. We do have strawberries at the farmer’s market, but I’m concerned about pesticides and none of the vendors mark their strawberries as “pesticide free”. I tried mango once when we missed the farmer’s market, and it was interesting.

Frozen fruit. In addition to the fresh fruit base, I usually add some frozen fruit as well. Mostly berries like blackberries, strawberries, or cranberries, but pretty much anything could work. I’m thinking of trying frozen mango, since I think the “fresh” mango wasn’t really ripe. Sometimes for variety I do a frozen mixed berry smoothie with no fresh fruit at all.

Nuts. This substitutes for both the peanut butter and the granola in the original recipe. My favorites are almonds and walnuts. While I love snacking on pecans I have found them less than stellar in smoothies. The nuts provide protein and flavor; and since I put walnut pieces or slivered almonds in the blender instead of nut butter they also provide some chewy texture to the smoothie. Some people probably prefer a purely liquid smoothie, and in that case nut butters would work.

Liquid. Milk, juice, whatever. The primary purpose is to help the blender, flavor is the secondary purpose. My doctor is one of those people who thinks that adult humans should avoid milk, so she put milk alternatives in the original recipe. I personally like milk, but since I can’t really taste it in the smoothie and it is a common allergen I figure that I might as well use a substitute. Being allergic to soy, and already having almonds in many of my smoothies, I settled for plain unsweetened rice milk. When I make a peaches and cream smoothie, however, I use milk. Juice also works. This morning I used orange juice since I’m in cold-ward-off-mode. Cranberry juice also works really well.

Yogurt. The yogurt is for both health and texture. At first I planned on using Greek yogurt. Yes, sometimes I am trendy. But then I discovered that my regular Whole Foods carries a “French-style” (whatever that means) yogurt from a dairy north of San Francisco (it’s within the 100 mile radius from my house that is typically used to define “local”) that is certified organic, and comes in returnable quart jars. Perfect! Since the yogurt has a cream top it also means that every few days I get a super creamy smoothie, too.

Whey protein powder. I think this may be the secret to why after getting my doctors recipe I was able to successfully make a smoothie, whereas before they were decidedly not yummy experiments. My understanding is that most whey protein powder contains lots of sugar and/or artificial sweeteners, so be careful. The powder carried by my doctor’s office has a little bit of fructose (2 grams per scoop) and the balance of sweetness is from stevia. The reason that I think this is the secret ingredient is because it is in powder form and blends easily, providing thickening and sweetness. My previous attempts at sweetening included nothing (fruit alone just doesn’t cut it), honey (didn’t blend so it was mostly unsweetened with the occasional super-sweet clump), and maple syrup (might have been ok if it hadn’t been slightly fermented, and maple rum is a weird smoothie flavor).

Other stuff. For variety and excitement there are so many possible extra ingredients. Cocoa is good. So are raw rolled oats (think peaches and cream oatmeal in a liquid form). Spices like cinnamon, nutmeg or ginger can add a little extra flair. I might try ground flax seeds. I saw a recipe for an apple spinach smoothie that I do not think I’m going to try. But if vegetable juice is your thing, why not?

Posted November 16, 2010 by mayakey in food, health, pre-pregnancy

Tagged with , ,

Conscious Kitchen Challenge, Produce   3 comments

One of the blogs that I read regularly, Ask An Organic Mom, is doing a conscious kitchen challenge to promote her new book. I’m taking the challenge and posting my results here. The first week was a self-exam, the second was about shopping, and the third is about fruits and vegetables. I haven’t read her book, so the challenge is limited to what she posted in her blog.

This challenge is about buying organic produce, and locally grown produce. To a certain degree I jumped the gun in the last post about shopping. Since we already shop weekly at a year-round farmer’s market, I challenged myself to start asking questions about the pest management practices of the venders. Some of them are organic farmers and I buy their goods, but most of them don’t say anything on their signs. It will be a little awkward, after 5 years of buying from the same people, to finally ask if they spray and with what pesticides.

The most popular guide to help knowing what to buy organically and what not to buy conventionally is pesticide ranking list by the Environmental Working Group (EWG’s Dirty Dozen and Clean 15). Many people use the list for financial reasons and only buy the dirty dozen organically. I prefer to buy everything organic if I can find it, and just not buy the worst offenders at all if I can’t find them organically grown. I heartily encourage everyone to consider buying at least a the worst offenders organically (peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce, imported grapes, carrots, and pears). Also consider that waxed cucumbers may have pesticide residue trapped under the wax so that it cannot be washed off.

I put a slightly greater weight on buying from the farmer’s market vendors than buying local produce at the grocery story. I’ve heard that pretty much all major grocery stores that buy local produce practice a kind of predatory contracting with small farmers where they put pressure on the farmer to reduce costs and sometimes at the last minute decline to renew contracts, leaving a farmer with no where to send their bounty. Hence, I try to avoid buying produce at the grocery store (I acknowledge that this is a luxury enjoyed only by those of us who live in areas where year-round farming is possible). On a regular basis the only thing I buy at the grocery store is russets because we don’t get them consistently at our farmer’s market. My husband also buys bananas and packs of baby carrots. If for some reason we were not able to go to the farmer’s market any given week, then we typically buy what produce we need at Whole Foods, making sure to get domestic organic vegetables.

As far as exotics go, as I said before my husband does buy bananas each week. I rarely enjoy a banana, mango, or pineapple since they are obviously not to be found in our farmer’s market and I have personally committed to eating seasonal/”local”. When we do have to buy our produce at Whole Foods, I actually tend to buy the exotics because I figure if I have to shop that week at the grocery store I might as well get something I can only get at the grocery store.

Posted April 24, 2010 by mayakey in food, organic

Tagged with , , ,