Banana Hazelnut Granola, and the Athlete’s Guide to Sugar

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Just about every week I read a new article about the latest thing we should be eating, buying or doing for our health. Translated into actually eating food, one thing I’ve noticed is that for many people who tend to eat healthfully and particularly those that choose foods for athletes, there tends to be a lot of snacking throughout the day on products that aren’t terribly different than eating dessert…like granola.

Granola in and of itself is not necessarily an unhealthy food. In fact, we could do far worse than add it into our daily and weekly routines. If you’ve been around this blog long you’ll see I love granola and would choose it as dessert over many other options. But–depending on the type of granola you buy or make, there tends to be a lot of inflammation-promoting added sugar and refined oils. These are foods that aren’t doing us any good no matter how active we are, especially if they’re being eaten daily and make up as much as a quarter of our intake, as snacks or breakfast often do.

And if you have an autoimmune condition like celiac disease, hashimoto’s thyroiditis, ulcerative colitis or others, added sugar and refined oils can do extra damage.

Today I’ll focus on sugar specifically. (Read more here for my take on healthful oils.) As most of us know, sugar is a type of carbohydrate that our bodies need as energy, though there are substantial differences in quality depending on the type. Sugars are naturally present in many whole foods including fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy products. In whole foods, the sugars are balanced by the other nutrients. Refined sugars like plain old white or brown sugar, corn syrup, or organic cane sugar, have been processed so they are free of most nutrients and without their naturally containing minerals, they pass quickly into the bloodstream and create an imbalance in the body. They then weaken the digestive system and force the body to use minerals contained in our bones, blood, and other tissues to attempt to rebalance itself (1).

 

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What about sugar cravings?

If you crave sweet foods, take a look at your entire diet and compare the quantity of sweet foods versus meat, salt, and dairy products that are being eaten. Sugar cravings might occur because the diet and body is out of balance by eating too many meat, salt, and dairy-containing foods. Thus, the body is subsequently craving expansive foods like sugar and ice cream to balance itself (2). Alternatively, you can also crave sugar because there is not enough protein compared to the amount of sugar consumed (1), or because you have a larger population of so-called “bad” gut microbes, and less of the good species, causing dysbiosis and cravings for the sugars that the bad microbes love to eat. Lastly, high stress or fatigue can lead to us grabbing for sugary feel-good foods for a quick dopamine rush, which is followed by a sugar crash a short while later.

Ultimately, no matter what your lifestyle or activity level, it’s usually more health-promoting to consume less sugars of all types and more whole foods that are naturally sweet. Look to use the types of sugar that are the least sweet and most whole-food based as possible. These include dates, honey, pure maple syrup, brown rice syrup, blackstrap molasses (actually a by-product of sugar refining but it contains lots of minerals), and fruit–like bananas or apples.

For some people with excessive sugar cravings, it’s best to cut it out completely and repopulate the gut with beneficial species for a while, but for most of us, a gradual reduction of sugar is more sustainable. This might mean switching both the type and quantity of sugar in baking and cooking over time, like starting with using 75% of what’s called for in a recipe.

Over time, you will desire sugar less and in smaller amounts. And things that you once thought were deliciously sweet are now just–sickly sweet.

 

Now, how about a granola recipe that tastes like banana bread and is heavy on the whole-food sugars? This is my current favorite when I’m really feeling like I need some delicious granola to snack on or have as an after-dinner treat.

 

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Banana Hazelnut Granola
The addition of chickpea flour might seem a touch odd, but it makes this granola extra chunky. If you don’t care for clusters, go ahead and leave it out. Additionally, any flour will do but the choice of chickpea provides just a bit of extra protein to the mix. Likewise, using three cups of oats instead of half oats and half cereal is a great idea too.

1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 1/2 cups puffed or crispy rice cereal
1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
3 Tbs. chickpea flour
2 medium bananas, mashed
3 Tbs. hazelnut butter
3 Tbs. pure maple syrup
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

  • Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  • Combine the oats, cereal, hazelnuts, seeds, salt, spices and chickpea flour in a large bowl, and then set aside.
  • In a smaller bowl, mash the bananas and stir in the hazelnut butter, maple syrup and vanilla extract. Then pour the wet mix into the dry mix and stir until thoroughly combined.
  • Spread the granola out onto a large baking sheet and pat down firmly so the granola will be extra chunky. Bake for 35-40 minutes rotating the sheet approximately halfway through.
  • Remove from the oven and allow the granola to cool completely on the baking sheet before removing to a storage container or to eat.

References:
1: Pitchford, P. (2002). Healing with whole foods: Asian traditions and modern medicine. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
2: Colbin, A. (1986). Food and healing. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.

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savory pistachio granola

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I received free samples of Wonderful Pistachios mentioned in this post. By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by Wonderful Pistachios and am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time.

For the past month or so, I’ve really been craving all sorts of really green or otherwise vibrantly colored puréed soups, even more than usual. I’ve been dumping bunches of greens and herbs mixed with broth and a gently cooked base into the blender and enjoying watching it all come together in no time.

On the other hand,  I’ve been adding all sorts of texture and flavor pops over the top of the silky soup, like garbanzos or lentils, spiced seeds, and this genius savory pistachio granola, which kicks up just about anything it’s added to to the best degree.

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The granola is a base of pistachios, oats, rosemary, thyme, and fennel, but then I got the idea to make it extra clumpy by adding a little chickpea flour. It adds to the savoriness and makes for extra clump.

Other than the flavor, which has really been enhancing my winter meals, what I really like is that I’ve made a granola colorful without adding any dried fruit! It has lots of little hints of green from the herbs and pistachios. For the past few years, I’ve repeatedly heard the terms phytonutrients and antioxidants thrown out and I’ve even used them myself when teaching about nutrition. I’ve generally stuck to the basics and encouraged simply making meals colorful and diverse. One of the reasons we hear the advice to eat the rainbow is because plant foods that are really vibrant and colorful really do have more nutrients. They’re the kind that in the nutrition world we call phytonutrients, and we tend to think they’re really healthy for us. These plant nutrients are nature’s way of toughening up plants to survive harsh conditions, and it just so happens that when we eat them, those benefits are passed on to us. There are many different types of phytonutrients but many have lots of antioxidant ability, meaning they fight inflammation and free-radical damage from normal cellular processes, as well as a modern lifestyle that’s often less than ideal.

The more colorful, whole foods we fit into our everyday meals, the better for our short and long-term health. And all those lovely green pistachios? They are actually known as The Colorful Nut™.  They help you snack colorfully–because pistachios’ green and red-purple hues come from a type of phytochemical that is rich in antioxidants.

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In addition to toppings for soup, I’ve been adding this granola to basic power bowl type meals and to winter salads that need a little spark. How are you making your winter meals that extra bit colorful?

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Savory Pistachio Granola
, makes 5-6 cups
Add as much or as little as desired to top meals, or even serve a hefty handful or so with some plain coconut yogurt for a nice savory sweet snack.

1 cup Wonderful Pistachios, roughly chopped
2 cups old-fashioned oats, gluten free as necessary
1/2 cup puffed rice cereal
1/2 cup chickpea flour
2 tsp. fennel seeds
2 Tbs. fresh rosemary, minced
2 tsp. fresh thyme, minced
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup water, as needed
1 Tbs. honey

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F and line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the pistachios, oats, puffed rice, chickpea flour, fennel seeds, herbs, and salt. In a smaller bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk together the olive oil, honey, and about 2 tablespoons water until combined. Pour the wet mixture into the dry, and mix well. Add about 2 additional tablespoons of water as needed.
  3. Transfer the granola to the prepared baking sheet and use the back of a big spoon or spatula to spread it out into an even layer.
  4. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until golden and fragrant. Let the granola cool completely in the pan to keep the clumps intact.
  5. Store the granola in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

 

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RESOURCES:
Difference Between. (2015). Difference Between Antioxidants and Phytochemicals.
Higdon, J. (2005). Flavonoids.
The Institute for Functional Medicine (2015). Phytonutrient Spectrum Comprehensive Guide

Sprouted Buckwheat Granola

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I listened to a disgruntled parent on the phone yesterday. Because she was disgruntled about something completely unrelated to me, she was quite open with the details of her discontent.

 

I listened to a couple teachers rant last week. In what started as a discussion of what I could do for their students, our meeting soon became what I could do for them in that moment, to be a good ear.

 

I listen to students in my high school group share their insecurities almost every Wednesday and Friday. Their fears and self-doubts are usually thrown into the middle of sentences so subtly that if I weren’t paying close attention, I might miss them.

 

When I was teaching, I regularly had students come into my classroom to sit and talk at me before or after school, to share their tough lives beyond the school walls, to ask me personal questions that I wanted to feel comfortable enough to answer sincerely because I knew they needed an adult to look up to and have their back.

 

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These are not isolated incidents. From day to day, I listen to people share feelings of frustration, of isolation, of shame. Certainly, not everything I listen to is negative. I hear plenty of good experiences and fun stories too. But I hear the tough ones more loudly. Sometimes in those circumstances, I offer my input. More often, I prefer to listen or ask a question or two to keep from having the conversation come back on me, to swirl back around to how I am doing.

 

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I remember growing up that it was often stated to me, no one likes a complainer. No one wants to hear the negativity. And I think that is true. But we also need someone to hear us, especially on the days that don’t go so well. In my own home, I’m often told that I’m not a good listener. I cringe each time I hear that statement and I immediatly wonder how, if I’m so terrible at listening to the one that loves and knows me best, can anyone else feel like I’m good enough to confide in?

 

We so often want to shut out the negativity, to cut off the complainers mid-vent because we know just how to fix their crazy, mental, nutty lives. I am a complete victim of this in my own home. I flap my wings all over William’s sharing like a distraught mother bird and I manage to cut him off mid-sentence repeatedly with unhelpful questions because if I’m busy focusing on fixing him there is less room in my crazy brain to focus on what is wrong with me.

 

When I take a step back and give myself a break, just as I so often give everyone else one, I realize we are all just trying to figure out how to live and be and manage ourselves in this experience we’re given. And many of us are struggling daily through life’s heap to peel back enough layers—in a conversation, in a relationship, in ourselves—to find the voice that is ours.

 

Each one of us has one. Each voice is distinct and has something to say. Each voice deserves to be heard. But it requires the act of listening. 

– Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds

 

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Sprouted Buckwheat Granola

Chalk it up to roots that run real deep to the British Isles, but I’m in the habit of enjoying teatime around 4pm as often as possible, complete with a hot cuppa and snacks, and all the better if there is good company and conversation to be had. Growing up, I always ate a bowl of cereal as a snack on days I came home right after school. To this day, I favor crunchy cereals and fruit rather than the traditional mid-afternoon sweets. Today just happens to be National Nut Day. I’m not acutally sure if the day is meant to celebrate all the nutters like me, or if its more of a day to enjoy eating nuts, but the Recipe Redux is celebrating with a nutty theme this month. So it was timely that my garden-neighbor handed me a big box of fresh-off-his-tree walnuts last week. I contemplated making all sorts of elaborate walnut concoctions. But then it was teatime and I was out of crunchy cereal. So I made granola.

This sprouted buckwheat granola is inspired by a completely raw, sprouted one that I purchase in tiny amounts at my local co-op as a treat. Sprouting seeds, nuts, and grains helps them to release enzyme inhibitors which make them more difficult to digest their beneficial nutrients and makes them more nutritious to eat. Making sprouted granola in a food dehydrator is the best way to make sure those released nutrients are still around in the final product. I do not have a food dehydrator though so I baked my batch in the oven at the lowest possible setting overnight. If you want to add a little honey or maple syrup in the mixing process to sweeten this up a touch more, go ahead. I find the applesauce and raisins to be lightly sweet enough.

2 cups raw buckwheat groats

2 cups puffed millet

1 cup raw walnuts

1 cup raw pumpkin seeds

3/4 cup applesauce

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup raisins

  • Soak the buckwheat in a large dish for 6-8 hours or overnight. Drain and rinse well until the water runs clear and all the slime is gone. Drain thoroughly. Return the buckwheat to a large jar and cover with cheesecloth, a thin towel, or paper towel, and set upside down. Rinse at least twice per day until it just starts sprouting, about 1-2 days. Meanwhile, soak the nuts and the seeds in a jar for 4-6 hours. Rinse and drain them thoroughly.
  • On a large baking pan, pour out and mix the slightly sprouted buckwheat, soaked and rinsed walnuts and pumpkin seeds along with the remaining ingredients, except for the raisins.
  • Set the pan in the oven at the lowest possible temperature setting and allow to dry overnight for 6-8 hours. Remove from the oven, cool to room temperature, and then stir in the raisins.