Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana “Ice Cream”

Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana “Ice Cream” – another one of my favorite healthy alternatives! This stuff may or may not be one of my favorite things ever. I love ice cream. Way too much. Unfortunately, there’s REALLY nothing about it that makes it remotely healthy. I could practice portion control and moderation, but just like any other decadent sweet treat, once I start, I can’t stop.

I discovered this pseudo-ice cream recipe on Pinterest, tried it out, and fell in love. Chocolate, peanut butter and bananas are one of my favorite combinations.

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All you need for one serving:
1 cup frozen banana slices (approximately 1 large banana)
1 tablespoon peanut butter
1/2 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

(You might want to let your bananas thaw slightly for 20-30 minutes prior to making.) Combine everything in a food processor and pulse until well blended. Either serve right away for soft-serve consistency or freeze. You can make multiple servings ahead of time and keep in the freezer to enjoy at a later date. (My bananas weren’t frozen enough, so it wasn’t as thick, but it still tastes amazing.)

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So good! And it has healthy fats, protein and carbs. It’s a well balanced dessert. Win-win!

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“Is Sugar Toxic?”

Last April, 60 Minutes aired a segment about sugar consumption. Here’s the link to the segment. It’s about 14 minutes long.

http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7403942n

If you don’t feel like watching it (although I recommend you should because it’s interesting), let me sum it up for you. Dr. Robert Lustig has been crusading against sugar for years. He believes sugar is a toxic substance – both table sugar and High Fructose Corn Syrup – and has come to the conclusion, after numerous studies, that sugar consumption is linked to a number of health issues, from heart disease to cancer. In the 70s, it was dietary fat that had the bad rap, and doctors urged the general public to reduce fat consumption for their health. When you take the fat out a food, it isn’t going to taste good. So food manufacturers replaced fat with sugar or High Fructose Corn Syrup. While sugar consumption has decreased since the 70s, HFCS consumption has made up the difference. And guess what? Heart Disease is still the leading cause of death in the United States. More studies have found that sugar can be just as addictive as drugs or alcohol. I’m sure 30 years down the road, scientists will come up with something else that can be blamed for obesity, heart disease, cancer; but for now, watch the segment, and just think about it.

I haven’t eliminated much from my diet with the exception of sugar and processed food. Sugar and HFCS are empty calories. They provide no nutritional value. On top of that, if I have something with sugar, like cookies or cake, I can’t stop at one serving. This past Christmas, I ate about 4 or 5 dozen cookies in 4 days. I know I’m addicted to sugar, and I avoid it when I can. I already don’t drink soda or juice so I never had to worry about that. I’ve eliminated most added and all artificial sweeteners from my diet, but if I have a plate of cookies in front of me, I know I’ll go crazy. I made peanut butter chocolate chunk cookies last week, and I averaged about 4 per day. It doesn’t sound THAT BAD but I’m all about portion control and moderation, and I have a hard time sticking to my own rules. It’s something that I’m working on.

By the way, my posts have been lacking this week, and I apologize. Between the concert on Tuesday (WHICH WAS MIND-BLOWINGLY AMAZING AND I STILL CAN’T GET OVER HOW WONDERFUL IT WAS) and getting sick and job interviews (I finally found a job, yay!), I’ve been a little distracted this week. But I’ve been writing up drafts and editing when I can, so I hope to have more posts coming soon!

A little excited for today

In a few hours, my sister and I will be off to Poughkeepsie to see the beautiful Andrew McMahon play at The Chance tonight. Yes, we’re waiting in line all day. It’s warmer than usual (45 degrees) and…it’s Andrew McMahon. Waiting in line all day is necessary.

No real post today, just sharing my excitement.

 

Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese

A few months ago, I found a recipe that would be the perfect alternative to traditional homemade mac and cheese, which is one of my all-time favorite meals. Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese! I found the recipe on SparkRecipes.com and fell in love. I love butternut squash, so if you don’t, you may not like this recipe, but it’s worth a try. This is the original recipe, but I made a few changes here and there. Mmm, doesn’t it look good?

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What  you’ll need:

3 cups cubed butternut squash (about a pound or so)
1 cup vegetable broth
1.5 cups milk (I use 2%)
1 12-ounce box whole wheat pasta
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1/2 cup part-skim mozzarella cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375. Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add pasta and cook when the water is ready.* Meanwhile, combine squash, milk, broth, salt and pepper in a medium saucepan. Bring to boil and let it simmer until squash is tender and turn off heat. Mash contents of saucepan, and add the cheddar, Parmesan and ricotta cheeses. Drain pasta and transfer to 9×9 casserole or baking dish. Stir in squash/cheese mixture and mix around so it’s evenly distributed. Top with mozzarella cheese. Cover with lid or foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove lid and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Serves 8.

*I under-cook my pasta by a minute or two. It will continue cooking once it’s in the oven. If you don’t want mushy pasta, under-cook it a little!

Calories: 378
Fat: 17 grams
Carbs: 40 grams
Protein: 20 grams

Traditional Mac and Cheese can have upwards of 600 calories and 30 grams of fat for one serving. I love my healthier alternative!

If you want a challenge…

If you want to challenge yourself, try Jillian Michaels’ Killer Buns & Thighs. (BUT!!! I don’t think this is a good workout for beginners or anyone with joint issues. It’s intense, and incorporates a lot of Plyometrics, lunges, squats, and it can be hard on your knees.) Anyway, I bought it last summer, attempted level one, and I could not believe how sore I was the following 2 or 3 days. I set it aside for whatever reason and did something else for the summer. A few months ago, I dusted it off and gave it another shot. Still difficult but definitely doable. Yesterday I completed level three, and I managed to get through it without feeling like I was going to die. I already have pretty solid hammies and quads, and my legs were shaking after I finished level three. This entire DVD is, without a doubt, my favorite workout series I’ve tried thus far. Like I said, it incorporates a lot of Plyometrics, squats, lunges, all that fun stuff that I both love and hate at the same time.

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Before and after attempting level three of KB&T. Don’t I look scared?

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Tonight I made one of my favorite meals: Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese. Recipe is coming tomorrow!

A Few Things to Know About Strength Training

This is sort of in response to pins on Pinterest, claims I hear in Jillian Michaels’ workout DVDs (don’t get me wrong, I love her workouts, but the things she says are not always true) and exercise moves featured in Cosmo and other magazines.

YOU CANNOT SPOT REDUCE FAT.
There are no specific exercises to target areas of fat.

Crunches WILL NOT reduce your belly fat.

Bridges, lunges and squats WILL NOT melt the fat off your butt and thighs.

Tricep exercises WILL NOT reduce your arm flab.

You get the picture. There’s a quote I like: get fit in the gym, lose weight in the kitchen.

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Once again, weight loss is 80% nutrition, 20% fitness. A calorie deficit with a HEALTHY diet and cardio with regular strength training WILL reduce OVERALL body fat. Your body decides where the fat comes off. (Damn you, genetics.) You may do a ton of crunches and planks and have a strong core, but if you still have a flabby belly, you won’t see the muscles.

So does that mean you should skip the strength training? Of course not! By building muscle, you’ll burn more calories overall, even at rest. According to this article from SparkPeople, “It takes more energy (calories) for your body to use and maintain muscle cells than it does fat cells. So by simply lifting weights to add more muscle mass, you’re boosting your metabolism and turning your body into a more efficient calorie-burning machine.” For best results, lift heavy with fewer reps. (And no, ladies, you will not bulk up.) Lifting heavy weights with fewer repetitions will build muscle, which gives you that lean, defined and fit physique (once your overall body fat continues to reduce).

Continue doing your cardio,  but if you’ve been putting off the strength training, what are you waiting for? There are a ton of workout generators out there to help you get started. Don’t be intimidated! Just don’t overdo it, and give your muscles at least 48 hours until your next strength training session to recover. (When you’re starting a new routine or increase your intensity of your workout, you might feel sore the day after your strength training session, which is normal. This is known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS, which is caused by microscopic tears in the muscle fibers. This will happen less often overtime. Just because you’re not sore the next day doesn’t mean you haven’t had a good workout. Still give your muscles plenty of time to recover!)

Plyometrics, barbells and groceries

This won’t be a very informative post; my energy and excitement is minimal today. A few months ago, we found out that my 14-year-old kitty has oral cancer, and he was doing okay for awhile but it seems like he’s starting to go downhill more and more each day. Just looking at him makes me want to cry because I know what we’ll have to do eventually.

I distracted/tortured myself with a 20-minute Plyometric (jump training) workout. I love (and hate) Plyometrics. I compiled a list of 20 Plyo moves, and I did each one for 20 seconds and rested for 10, and did that sequence twice (after a brief 3 minute break between sets). I felt like my legs were going to fall off…but in a good way. I might post the workout tomorrow, so stay tuned. AND THEN, after that torturous 20-ish minutes, I ventured down to the basement to dust off and use the old bench down there. But first I had to move all of the booze and soda. How ridiculous is this? It didn’t go as well as I had hoped; there’s simply too much junk down there so I have to relocate it or relocate the junk.

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And what makes me happier than Plyometrics? Grocery shopping for good food. (Chocolate is a vegetable, okay?)

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I found a recipe for Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk cookies from How Crazy Cooks, which is what the chocolate was for. And I loved them! I had to pop them in the freezer or else the entire batch would’ve been gone by tonight. Sigh, hopefully tomorrow I’ll have a better blog post.

Vegetarian Meatballs & Creamy Avocado Sauce

I used to LOVE a good, creamy Alfredo sauce from my favorite Italian restaurants. I miss it sometimes, and then I remember that almost any Alfredo dish from a restaurant is upwards of 1,000 calories and 60 grams of fat. I found a good alternative that is plentiful in flavor and heart-healthy fats (unlike traditional Alfredo sauce that is full of heavy cream and butter – saturated fat). Main ingredient? Avocados! Avocados ARE high in fat, but they contain heart-healthy unsaturated fats, as well as potassium, fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Vitamin B6 and folate. My dearest friend, Emily, and I made this sauce last week and I loved it. So I made it again today and paired it with my Vegetarian Meatballs! Florida Avocados were used both times for the sauce, but you could definitely use a California Avocado.

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What you need for the Avocado sauce:

1 Avocado
2 teaspoons of olive oil
1 garlic clove
Juice from half a lemon
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
Dash of salt and pepper

Throw everything in a food processor and blend until everything is smooth and combined. Cut up and/or mash the avocado first, which makes blending it a little easier. This makes 2 servings, so you might want to share this with someone, eat the entire batch yourself or wrap it snugly with plastic wrap touching the sauce so that it doesn’t brown. Since there’s lemon juice in the sauce, it will also help it from browning. Mix with hot whole wheat pasta (the sauce can’t really be heated up – avocados don’t do well with heat.)

(Sauce only, nutrition info for pasta not factored in)
Calories: 314
Fat: 27 grams (like I said, heart-healthy fats!)
Carbs: 14 grams
Protein: 9 grams

Now for the Vegetarian Meatballs. It’s weird that I made these because I’ve never had real meatballs, not even when I ate meat. But the idea came to me and I just went with it. They turned out yummy!

1 15.5 ounce can of white beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 of a medium sized onion, cut into wedges
1-2 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1-2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
3 handfuls of fresh Kale
1 teaspoon olive oil plus more for blending
Salt and pepper to taste
One egg
1/2 cup breadcrumbs or old-fashioned oats

Heat 1 teaspoon of oil and saute kale in frying pan. Cover with a lid to allow it to wilt slightly. You might need to add a little water in the pan to keep it from getting too crunchy. Meanwhile, in a medium sized bowl, mash the beans with a fork or potato masher. Add the beans, onion, garlic, Parmesan cheese, wilted kale, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper and a little sprinkle of olive oil in a food processor; blend until smooth. Put this mixture in the bowl you used to mash the beans. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg then add to bean mixture. Finally, add the breadcrumbs or oats and stir well to combine. Form into 8 balls. You can either make them right away or freeze them. I made these yesterday afternoon and froze them, then popped them in the oven for 15-20 mins at 350 degrees, flipping halfway through. This afternoon, I fried them in some olive oil (not calculated in nutrition information), which makes them taste even more awesome, but it increases the calories and grams of fat. Keep that in mind!

(One meatball)
Calories: 135
Fat: 3 grams
Carbs: 19 grams
Protein: 8 grams

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YUM.

The Munchies

A few hours after every meal, the munchies hit me. It’s not that I’m necessarily hungry, I just like to eat. I’m a grazer. This is a problem I’ve struggled with my whole life. I like to eat even if I’m not hungry. I could have a huge meal and be stuffed, but I’ll still search for something to eat a few hours later. The other night, after I tracked my entire dinner, I had consumed about 1,850 calories for the day, which is the tippy top of my range. After dinner, I was still searching for food even though I wasn’t hungry. I ended up making kale chips. I went over my calories by 100 or so, no big deal. However, the problem is that I wasn’t hungry! I was considerably full after having leftover lasagna and 3 mozzarella sticks. Behavior like this is what kept me on the heavy side my entire life, so I don’t recommend snacking just because you feel like it. The only time I think it’s appropriate to eat when you’re not hungry is if you’re way below your minimum by the end of the day. Remember – habitually under-eating can slow your weight loss efforts. This is another reason why tracking your calories is so important! You could be hundred of calories under your minimum everyday and not know it.

So, when the munchies hit you, what should you do? Before making a beeline to your pantry, stop and think. When and what did you eat last? Many times, the munchies hit us when our last meal was not so balanced and not so healthy. Are you actually hungry? If you’re not hungry but you still want something, brew some herbal tea. (I’m in love with Celestial Seasonings Herbal Tea.) Are you bored? Go find something else to do! Clean, read, do something crafty; better yet, exercise! If you feel you MUST munch on something, go for some fresh veggies or fruit. Keep them handy and in plain sight. If they’re hidden in your produce drawer, you’re less likely to go for them. Slice up some carrots, bell peppers, celery, whatever you have on hand ahead of time and put them in a bowl front and center in the fridge. When the munchies hit, oh look! There’s a big bowl of fresh veggies with my name on it! Remember what I said about veggies yesterday, especially those with a high water content? They fill you up so you’re less likely to overeat during meal time. So not only have you solved your munchies problem, but you also won’t overdo it at dinnertime.

Moral of the story: SET YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS. You know the munchies will hit you at some point in time. If unhealthy snacks are more readily available than healthy options, chances are, you’ll go for what is more convenient. Make healthy food available for yourself!

Look what’s in my fridge right now: a big bowl of beautiful fresh veggies. I’ll be munching on these all day.

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Healthy Snack Ideas

Most days I have a mid-morning snack, afternoon snack and something after dinner. I (try to, at least) stay away from things like crackers and pretzels because once I start, I can’t stop. Even if I get one serving on a plate, put the box away and sit at the table, I go back for more. I’m addicted. I like to have mini-meals that fill me up so that I’m not tempted to graze until the next meal. Other times, it’s just raw fruits or vegetables, which is a great option. Fruits and vegetables with a high water content have been shown to curb hunger, which means you’re likely to eat less during your mealtimes. Despite what you may have been told, drinking water does not have the same effect of satiety that eating high water content freggies does. Lettuce, tomatoes, spinach, carrots, celery, cucumbers, radishes, mushrooms, broccoli and cauliflower are some examples of vegetables with a high water content. Some fruits with a high-water content are strawberries, watermelon, cantaloupe, blueberries, apples and grapefruit. So basically, snack on fruits and veggies!

When I want my mini-meals, I have to be careful. A mini-meal can turn into a big meal if you don’t pay attention to your portion sizes. Just like any other meal, I try to have a fruit or veggie and combine healthy fats, protein and carbs. Some good snack options that won’t leave you hungry an hour later:

Banana or apple with a tablespoon of peanut butter
Plain greek yogurt topped with 1/2 cup fresh or frozen fruit and 1/2 ounce nuts
Veggies with 2 tablespoons of hummus
Cottage cheese prepared in a number of ways – with fruit, vegetables, all sorts of things
Veggie egg white omelet
Grilled cheese sandwich (I always make mine with no butter and part-skim mozzarella)

Happy snacking!