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Saturday, May 30, 2015

Recipe: Hazelnut Chocolate Date Bars //I've Cut Out Added Sugar But I Want A Candy Bar

I'm not gonna sugar coat it for you: Cutting out added sugar is hard. (See what I did there?) 

Sugar cravings are real and though living with less inflammation is worth it,  it can sometimes feel as though you're depriving yourself of something that you really love and that genuinely lifts your spirit. With autoimmune arthritis some days are rough, and just like with all rough days, our favorite foods can be comforting. 

I don't know about you, but my favorite comfort food is CHOCOLATE. When I am having a hard day, chocolate always makes it better. In cutting out most added sugars, I've cut out most corner store chocolates and candy bars. I've been sticking mostly with 85% cocoa chocolates or higher. 

There are some days though, when I don't want a single plain square of super dark chocolate. Some days I want a candy bar. I want something that has chocolate and caramel or chocolate and nuts. Today I'm going to share with you my recipe for Hazelnut Chocolate Date Bars. If you've ever seen a LĂ„RABAR, that is where I got the idea. I looked up recipes and found this one (from the blog Use Real Butter) which I adapted to make in to a Nutella-esq Hazelnut Chocolate Date Bar. The bar from the recipe I adapted was mainly nut and fruit based, mine is nut and chocolate based. 

1.5 Cup toasted hazelnuts
2.5 Cups pitted medjool dates
3 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 oz. 100% Unsweetened bakers chocolate, broken up

These amazing bars, despite having unsweetened (and really very bitter) chocolate, are deliciously sweet because of the dates. They require no baking and are extremely simple to make if you have a food processor, a pan, and some cling wrap. 

1. To begin, you start by pitting your medjool dates. After pitting them, you should have 2.5 cups of dates. 

2. Measure out 1.5 cups toasted hazelnuts. 

3. Measure out 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder.

4. Break up 1 oz of 100% Unsweetened Bakers Chocolate.

5. Place all four ingredients in your food processor.  

6. Pulse until ingredients start to begin to clump together. (You can leave it as this thick choppy texture or...) Scrape sides of food processor and then pulse until the hazelnuts, dates, and chocolate become a fine paste. 

7. Spread the date, chocolate, hazelnut paste into a oiled pan. The paste should be about a centimeter to a half inch thick. 

8. Place the tray in the freezer and let cool for 30 minutes. 

9. Once they've cooled and solidified, cut them in to bars. You should be able to make 9-12 Hazelnut Chocolate Date Bars. It might be hard to get the bars out of the pan as the dates make the bars stick to the pan. It is best to use a thin spatula to remove the bars from the pan.

10. After cutting them up, wrap them individually and keep in the freezer until you are in need of a super delicious treat with no added sugars! (The bars do not have to stay in the freezer. They can be kept at room temperature. However, they taste particularly yummy when cooled. I've both kept them in my freezer and dropped one in my bag to bring with me to work.) 

I hope that you enjoy this recipe and that it helps you when it feels hard to live without added sugars. I don't want you to feel like you're depriving yourself. Living your best anti-inflammatory life doesn't have to be horrible. It can be delicious. 

***Warning: Just because these are made out of all healthy whole foods and natural sugars, does not mean you should eat a crazy ton of them. Just like with candy bars, you should eat them in moderation. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Delicious Arthritis Step #1: Cut Out Added Sugars

Let me break it down for you. There are basically two types of sugars:
  1. Natural sugars - These are foods that naturally contain sugar, along with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. These are foods like dairy products (which I personally can’t eat), vegetables, and fruits. These are fructose, glucose/dextrose, and galactose. The white table sugar we are all used to is sucrose; a combination of fructose and glucose.
  2. Added sugars - These are foods that have sugar added in, on top of their natural sugars. These are included in many processed foods, such as soft drinks and candies. These foods are high in sugar but have very low levels of vitamins, minerals, or fiber. Unfortunately, added sugars seem to be in almost everything.

Though some people worry about ALL sugars, I know that cutting out sugars entirely would be impossible for me, so I’m just trying to minimize how much added sugars I intake.

How I began cutting out added sugar: 
  1. I began reading nutrition labels. 
    • 4 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon
    • The daily recommended amount of sugar for women = 20 grams (5 teaspoons)
    • The daily recommended amount of sugar for men = 36 grams (9 teaspoons)
    • The daily recommended amount of sugar for children = 12 grams (3 teaspoons)
  2. I cut out any sweetened drinks.
  3. I cut out added “healthy sugars” too. All sugars are sugars, just because one is processes more than another doesn't take way from the fact that you're still adding in extra sugar that was not pre-existing, in to your meal. The added "healthy sugars" that I'm referring to are:
    • Agave nectar
    • Raw honey
    • Raw sugar
    • Molasses
    • Maple syrup
    • Coconut palm sugar
  4. Because sugar seems to be added to EVERYTHING I am making most of my foods and sticking with a primarily paleo & clean eating diet. I eat a lot of vegetables, eggs, lean meats, and olive oil. I use loads of spices and I promise you that I do not eat boring food! If I am going to restrict my eating so much, it better as hell taste good!
  5. I cut out most desserts. Even though I initially felt like this was a fate worse than death, I have found a way to still have some desserts that are VERY LOW in added sugars and I have some general rules about the desserts I do eat:
    • I will not eat chocolate that is below 80% cocoa. In addition to there being less sugar added in the more cocoa there is, I find that I am more satisfied with smaller amounts of chocolate because the small amounts that I get are so intensely chocolatey.
    • I am beginning to learn how to make sugar free desserts. (I’ll be sharing some awesome recipes soon!)

Lets not lie to ourselves: we love sugar. For most of us, a treat means a freshly baked batch of cookies, a rarely indulged in candy bar, or even a fancy cocktail drink. This doesn’t have to be the absolute end of those treats, but it does need to be a re-framing of how we think of treating ourselves. The worst part about added sugar is that it seems to be in EVERYTHING. Cutting out added sugar can seem really intimidating. The thing that has gotten me through it though is to know that on the rare occasions that I do have sugar, I can definitely feel the difference. My arthritis flares up and that is certainly not a treat. Treating myself now means doing things that make me feel good, not just in the moment, but in the future as well.

***Confession: Because I'm not perfect and I am still working towards being my best inflammation fighting self, I still allow myself sugar one day a week. I call it Celebration Saturday and on that day I can have some - though still not an excessive amount of - sugar. Full disclosure though, I almost always regret it because the flare ups that follow are never fun.

Additional Resources on SUGAR:

Monday, May 25, 2015

10 Essential Items for Your Delicious Arthritis Pantry

In my Delicious Arthritis journey, I've settled on 10 Essential Items I need in my anti-inflammatory pantry. Having these around really helps me to make sure I keep my inflammation in check and my food delicious. 

1. Nuts!
Walnuts, Cashews, Almonds, Pistachios, Hazelnuts, and Brazil nuts are so delicious and have the added benefit of fighting inflammation through healthy fats. Nuts are loaded with antioxidants which help your body repair the damage caused by inflammation. Almonds in particular are rich in vitamin E, calcium, and fiber. Walnuts have high amounts of alpha-linolenic acid, a type of omega-3 fat.

2. Seeds!
Hemp seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, etc have been shown to be immune balancers that help bring your immune back to a steady place. Seeds are also high in vitamins B1, B3, E, magnesium, zinc, calcium, and iron.

This awesome yellow spice has been shown to help the body turn off NF-kappa B, which is a protein that causes a trigger in our bodies that causes inflammation. This delicious spice can be found in most yellow curries, though you can add it to anything really. You can also take it as a supplement in pill form (which is what I do).

This delicious spice has been shown to reduce inflammation. Add it into your food for delicious flavor, or drink it as a tea!

5. Black pepper!
Even though peppercorns share the name pepper with bell peppers and chili peppers, they are not nightshade plants. So, don't worry! Continue to keep black pepper as a table spice! Black pepper is considered anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic because of the piperine that causes the pungent flavor of black pepper.

6. Organic Raw Unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar!
This sweet vinegar is a natural anti-inflammatory agent. It is best to consume 1 to 2 tablespoons each morning. I highly suggest mixing it in with something. I tend to mix it with something a little sweeter like 4-6 oz of fruit juice and about 4-6 oz of water. This usually makes the process of getting the vinegar down, a lot easier.

7. Coconut Oil!
This healthy fat melts at a very low heat. It is great for cooking and adding a little extra  flavor to your meals.

8. Lemons and Limes!
These tart and sour golden beauties are filled rich with vitamin C, which is super important in the synthesis of collagen, which helps repair and build blood vessels, tendons, ligaments, and bones.  It also is full of antioxidants!

9. Onions & Garlic!
These two wonderful gems make any dish taste 1,000 times better. The answer to the question “what is the secret ingredient?” is always either onions or garlic. Not only that, but onions help your body produce sulfenic acid which is an anti-inflammatory chemical. Both onions and garlic have been shown to boost your immunity and have similar effects to NSAID pain medications like Naproxen and Ibuprofen. 

This healthy fat is delicious and the amazing compound that makes it taste the way it does, oleocanthal, has been shown to have similar effects to NSAID pain medications like Naproxen and Ibuprofen. (Looks like it is time to make something with extra garlic, onions, and olive oil. Yum!)

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Nutrition Is My New Tradition

If you have an autoimmune arthritis like I do, it really helps to live in San Francisco. There are gluten free, organic, vegan, paleo options for everything. If you want artisanal gluten free bread, we have it. If you want grass fed bison, we have it. If you want organic free-range farm grown eggs, we have them. San Francisco is a restrictive eater’s paradise. But living in San Francisco is expensive.

San Francisco recently surpassed New York as the most expensive city in America. The cost of rent has gotten astronomical. Whole communities are being pushed out in a mass exodus. The city looks completely different from when I grew up here. The neighborhood where I live, the Bayview, used to be considered the Harlem of the West because it was comprised of shipyard workers, mostly African American. It wasn’t given the same resources as other more prosperous (read: white) neighborhoods in the city. This trend has continued despite the fact that the city is now home to multi-billionaires. The Bayview is a Food Desert. Some of you may never have heard the term “Food Desert” before. It refers to whole neighborhoods in urban settings that have no access to grocery stores, butchers, or fresh produce. There are usually only liquor stores and fast food joints in Food Deserts. I am fortunate to own a car, have a full time job, and have a moderate savings. I am able to get by, but as someone who works in the nonprofit field and makes a modest living, food and medical expenses add up quickly.

As a newcomer to the Bayview I’ve had the chance to see how the community is trying to rebrand itself. “Nutrition Is Our Tradition” has been posted throughout the neighborhood. Murals have gone up. Banners have been on display at bus stops. Corner stores have started to sell small batches of produce. Community gardens have popped up. Food pantries have long lines for fresh vegetables from the Food Bank. Things are changing slowly and I’ve taken my cue from my new neighborhood. I’ve begun to realize how important nutrition is to me as someone with an autoimmune arthritis.

I was diagnosed with Psoriatic Arthritis six years ago, when I was 23 years old.  Psoriatic Arthritis is an autoimmune arthritis (like Rheumatoid Arthritis) which means that it is an inflammatory illness that not only affects my joints, but also my tissues and organs. Unlike the commonly known Osteoarthritis (the type most people get when they’re much much older than I am), autoimmune arthritis is caused by cellular malfunction, aka my body is attacking itself. With Psoriatic Arthritis there are symptoms of nail pitting, skin psoriasis, fatigue, low grade fevers, myalgia, and brain fogginess in addition to joint inflammation and deterioration.

During a recent visit to my rheumatologist, I had an x-ray and a blood test taken so that my doctor and I could get an update on my joints and bones. I’d been on NSAIDs or Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for six years. But when my x-ray results got back, I found out that I needed to go on to a more aggressive treatment. My joint deterioration was now more serious and was beginning to affect the bones surrounding my joints. In other words, the deterioration was spreading. Through talks with my rheumatologist, I realized that I was not only going to have to go on even more aggressive treatment, but that I was also going to have to make some big changes in my diet. The best way to fight inflammation is to get proper nutrition. Proper nutrition, as we discussed, is hard to find in my neighborhood, on my budget. So, here begins my journey. Nutrition is my new tradition and I’m going to find a way to change my diet and my lifestyle to reduce my pain in any way I can. Fighting inflammation one bite at a time. Here begins, DELICIOUS ARTHRITIS.