Spring Cleaning: The Body Edition

Hey, internet. *waves* I’m back.

It’s been a long time coming (and I’ve been brainstorming for a while), but it’s time we do the full overhaul and admit the inevitable–this thing has become a full-fledged food blog, and I just can’t help it. Everything on my Google Reader is food, I’m taking a university program in Food Security, hell I’m staying in on a Friday night so I can write about and make and ogle food. The healthy kind, usually.

A lot of people do spring cleanses on their house. I like to think I do that too, if re-organizing your sock drawer and putting all of your stripey shirts closer together counts. But what I’m more attracted to is a spring cleanse of the body. Though I think I maintained a pretty health diet throughout my last year of full-time school and volleyball, and part-time work, my addiction to sugar and caffeine really became clear in the most clutch of times. Plus, summertime foods are much lighter than their winter counterparts, so I want to prepare myself. And now, it’s time to clean this bitch.

If you’re like me, and spent a large portion of your childhood on antibiotics, or tend to lean towards sugar, or have taken the birth control pill for an extended period of time, you’re more at risk for candida overgrowth. It’s kind of complicated to fully diagnose the whole deal, but you can take a quiz online that basically spells out the symptoms for you. I’m not trying to be a hippie hypochondriac or anything, but after getting headaches from the majority of my sugar intake for the last few weeks, I think it’s time I swept out the dust bunnies and gave my body a break. Plus the naturopath says so, and she is pretty damn well always right. And the best part? It’s lent, so I don’t have to try and explain it to everyone and make them think I’ve got some nasty yeast overgrowth that’ll soon turn me into pizza. The full diet is listed online, but basically it’s no sugar (including fruit, and sugars found in some veggies, and those natural, low-glycemic sugars that are sneaky, too), mostly no dairy, no caffeine, no booze, no gluten, and of course, no yeast.

So what does that leave me to eat? Nothing you might think. But I like the challenge of experimenting with a limited array of items—a Top Chef-esque challenge, if you will (though my wallet doesn’t). So drool with me, as I present you the mixes, meanderings, and mishaps in my kitchen this spring!

And of course, we will begin with a Recipe in Honour of St Patty’s Day: Zucchini Muffins. And I’ll try not to finish them all before my sober St. Patty’s day comes to an end…

Zucchini Muffins (adapted from WholeApproach.com forums)

Gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, vegetarian

Ingredients

1 cup brown rice flour

1/4 cup melted coconut butter (or regular butter, or earth balance would work I’m sure)

1/4 cup water

2 eggs

1/2 cup grated zucchini (add more if you wanna get extra vegetable-y!)

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp. vanilla

1 tsp. zest of lemon

pinch of sea salt

stevia (optional, if you want a sweeter muffin—or you can use cane sugar or agave syrup if you’re not worried sugar!)

Directions

Bake at 350 for 18 minutes. Makes ~ 6 muffins…. and I’d double-batch this one if I were you.

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the “controversy” series #1: agave nectar

Hiking up in the hills of Sedona last weekend, we came across many agave plants—finally, something in this damn desert I recognized, since their nectar has recently emerged as a wholesome sweetener, a healthy alternative to high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and granulated sugars. And it, too, has recently become a part of my diet, a much better substitute for sweetener in drinks and recipes… or so I thought.

An agave plant in full bloom on the climb up Sugarloaf Mountain, Sedona, Arizona.

I expressed my fascination with the plant to our trail guide (a certified nautropath!), but she didn’t share my enthusiasm, muttering something about how it was just as bad, or worse yet than any of the other liquidy sugars out there. Uh-oh.

Though I didn’t get a chance to pick her brain, I did want to check it out when I got home (admittedly, mum and I have been DUMPING the stuff into homemade iced tea to replenish electrolytes and stay buzzed.. er, awake for afternoon lectures at yoga teacher training). I’d envisioned myself maybe doing a posting on the controversy of the stuff (and continuing to sip it!), but unfortunately what I’ve found proves otherwise.

It appears there’s no argument.. this shit ain’t better for you, in fact, it’s worse! So who told everyone this stuff was healthy in the first place??

Well, for one, lots of bakeries have begun to substitute this “healthy alternative” to sweeten up little morsels of deliciousness. Further, nice-r coffee and tea shops are starting to include it next to the brown sugar and honey. But worst of all, a lot of the health-food recipes I’ve come across fully support and encourage the use of this nectar—and with reason—it is stereotypical vegan alternative to honey. So it’s understandable for me to think I’ve found my savior of sweetners. But now, all of this information makes me wonder—is it really better than just plain ol’, natural sugar?

While I can’t claim to have done any of the scientific research myself, a little internet perusing leads me to believe it just ain’t. Foodrenegade seems to make the best argument against it (though if you do a little searching yourself you’ll find some pretty similar answer):

Agave “nectar” is not made from the sap of the yucca or agave plant but from the starch of the giant pineapple-like, root bulb. The principal constituent of the agave root is starch, similar to the starch in corn or rice, and a complex carbohydrate called inulin, which is made up of chains of fructose molecules.Technically a highly indigestible fiber, inulin, which does not taste sweet, comprises about half of the carbohydrate content of agave.

The process by which agave glucose and inulin are converted into “nectar” is similar to the process by which corn starch is converted into HFCS. The agave starch is subject to an enzymatic and chemical process that converts the starch into a fructose-rich syrup—anywhere from 70 percent fructose and higher according to the agave nectar chemical profiles posted on agave nectar websites.

Agave nectar is not traditional, is highly refined, and actually has more concentrated fructose than high-fructose corn syrup. It is not a “natural” sweetener. Thus far, the evidence definitely points toward the conclusion: Agave Nectar = Bad.

There it goes down the rabbit-food hole, another health nut’s dream of finding some guilt-free substance that we can load on our toast and pancakes without shame or limitation. Sigh—isn’t that the point anyway? Moderation? Taking sugars down a notch or two in general? Maybe I won’t throw out the nectar just yet… I’ll just have to avoid drizzlling (is that a word?) that sweet, sweet nectar like it came from the gods.

The best alternative, then? Stay tuned….