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Wow! It’s been awhile since I’ve updated this blog with an actual food-related post.
My favorite season (Fall) is almost here…and you know what that means…
Fall (Julia’s favorite season) = Julia baking a lot = more pictures = more blog posts. It will come! I promise!!! But for now, I thought I would share some things that I’ve been loving lately.

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One of my favorite breakfast foods is oatmeal. I know that sounds weird to hear, since most people dislike oatmeal due to the “yucky” texture, but personally, I love oatmeal! With that being said, I always love a good oatmeal raisin cookie. Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the classic chocolate chip cookie… but when given the option between the two, I will more often than not opt for the oatmeal raisin cookie. There’s just something about oatmeal and dried fruits that complement each other so well.

Earlier this week, I made a trip back home to Dallas and got to shop at one of my favorite grocery stores again (Sprout’s). I saw that their bulk supply of cranberries were on sale, so I thought to myself – why not? Cranberries are well-known for being a superfood and is the second leading antioxidant source, ranking higher than other fruits and vegetables such as strawberries, spinach, oranges, carrots, and broccoli. Research has proven cranberries to be especially effective in preventing urinary tract infections, cancer, and inflammation, as well as promoting cardiovascular and digestive tract benefits. 

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Today was my day off from work, so I decided to do some experimentation with my baking again. Since I love oatmeal and I had cranberries on hand, I decided to go for an oatmeal cranberry cookie while using whole wheat flour (keep in mind that you can substitute the wheat flour for all-purpose flour; I’m just weird like that and so… yeah). The oatmeal I used is the Mom’s Choice natural old-fashioned oats (my favorite brand), and I used King Arthur flour.

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Keep reading for the recipe:
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One of the conflicts that I face as a nutrition major as well as someone who loves to bake is exactly that….I LOVE TO BAKE!! Although there are definitely “healthier” versions and modifications of your favorite baked goods (which I always opt for), the combination of flour + sugar + fats (oil, butter, etc) is never exactly “ideal”. After taking my food science course last year and learning all of the components of different ingredients, such as oil and sugar, and how they contribute to your resulting product, it’s becoming harder for me to seek out “sugar substitutes” and “fat substitutes” as replacements, because they don’t possess the same characteristics and qualities as that of straight up sugar and fat. And as a perfectionist in the kitchen, I want my products to be as perfect as possible in structure and mouthfeel. (Btw, if you would like a separate post of me talking about the characteristics of sugars and fats and how they are unique in baking and hard to mimic, then let me know). However, there are other options that can be considered to yield a “healthier” product. Three easy examples are to…

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1) USE WHOLE WHEAT FLOUR WHEN YOU CAN.
When I make my banana muffins or banana bread, or really anything that uses a significantly sweet fruit, I will usually choose to opt for the whole wheat flour instead of your standard all-purpose flour. Personally, I am accustomed to the taste of wheat because any kind of bagels or bread that I buy in the market are almost always whole-wheat or whole-grain, but I can understand if the taste of wheat isn’t as desirable by some people. If you are one of those people, try making banana muffins with whole wheat flour! Or try mixing the wheat flour with all-purpose flour. I can almost guarantee that you won’t be able to taste the difference, because the texture and sweetness of the ripe bananas almost masks and enhances the wheat flour, in a way. In fact, last year in one of my food classes, a partner and I performed an experiment where we made two versions of banana bread – one made with whole wheat flour and one made with all-purpose flour. The participants almost unanimously voted for the wheat bread! There’s just something about bananas and wheat flour that really compliment each other.
Now, why is whole-wheat flour a healthier alternative to white flour? Well, for starters, the “brown” version of any food is almost always healthier than the “white” version – pasta, rice, grains, bread, etc. In general, whole-wheat flour is higher in nutrients because it is made with the whole kernel of the grain, rather than just the interior endosperm portion (this is also why the color is darker – because it hasn’t been stripped of its outer nutrients). However, the protein content in wheat flours are higher than white flours, so this may cause a problem for those who are gluten-free. But the most notable difference between the two flours is the fiber content – “brown” flours contain almost 4x as much fiber as “white” flours! And on average, women (and most men) don’t receive enough fiber in their diets to begin with, so this is definitely an easy way to implement some fiber into your diet if you’re like me and love to bake 🙂

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#2) USE GREEK YOGURT INSTEAD OF SOUR CREAM
Greek yogurt and sour cream are pretty similar in both texture and flavor (if you get the plain, tart flavor of yogurt). However, they are drastically different in nutrient content! To give you an idea, here is a comparison of the content in:
1 C of greek yogurt (nonfat): 130 calories per cup, no fat, 9 g carbohydrates, 9 g sugar and 23 g protein
1 C of sour cream: 445 calories and 45 g of fat but just 5 g protein, 6.5 g carbohydrates and 8 g sugar

As you can see, greek yogurt contains almost 4x as much protein as sour cream, at about 1/4 of the calories! It is also lower in fat and cholesterol, which is always a good thing.
Sour cream is usually used in baking because it yields a dense and very, very moist product. This is typically desirable in certain cakes and cake-breads. But an easy healthier alternative would be to switch out your cup of sour cream for a cup of greek yogurt! It yields a product that is just as moist, at a far better nutrition standard.

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#3) USE DIFFERENT MILKS

I have never personally been a fan of cow milk. Before, I would try to drink enough 1% or 2% milk to fulfill my calcium requirements, but since I’m not fond of cow milk, it was pretty difficult to meet adequate calcium intake levels. But a couple of years ago, I discovered one of the greatest substitues – almond milk!! Almond milk is so great… (check out my post for a more in-depth description of why almond milk is better), and it can easily be used as a substitute for milk in baking products! There is no noticeable change in flavor, and you are receiving a much more nutrient-dense product 🙂

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Something that I’ve been doing for almost a year now is mass-cooking my meals for the week at the same time. What is mass-cooking? Basically, it’s making extra meals that you can package into tupperware or containers to store in the fridge or freezer and heat up throughout the week. When I’m mass-cooking my meals, I generally like to keep them as simple as possible while providing adequate nutrient value at the same time. Here are some examples of meals that I’ve mass-cooked so that you can see just exactly what I mean by “simple”

Tofu with stir-fried bell peppers, onion, & broccoli, on top of brown rice and kale.
Chicken breast (3oz) with brown rice, broccoli, & green beans
Tofu scramble with mixed veggies & quinoa
Salmon fillet (4oz) with brown rice & a simple spinach and tomato salad
Chicken & vegetable soup made in crock pot
Tilapia fillet with brown rice, kale, and broccoli
Salmon (3oz) with mashed potatoes and asparagus.
As you can see, these meals really aren’t fancy or complex at all. I mean it when I say that I keep it as simple as possible. But at the same time, I try to incorporate all of the nutrient groups together to make it a well-balanced meal. By cooking all of your meals at once and portioning the nutrients out adequately, you have your serving size of protein, grains, and veggies.
Now, why do I do this?

For many reasons, really.

 
 
First of all, it helps you control your diet and prevents over-eating when you’re hungry. If you think about it, a lot of the times when you’re feeling really really hungry, you’ll tend to just reach for whatever is in site or easy to prepare. Most of the time, these convenience items are junk foods or highly-processed foods. By preparing all of your meals in advance, you can easily heat one up to eat, rather than choose the convenience foods. Also, when you’re feeling extremely hungry, you will tend to “binge-eat”, or eat more than your body needs. When you have a prepared meal like this, you can enjoy it slowly, and you will realize that it will actually fill you up, and you do not need all of the excess food!
Secondly, like I said, everything is already portioned out for you! This encourages you to meet your daily intake in all your nutrient groups (minus dairy, which I get from almond milk, and fruits, which I always, ALWAYS make sure to eat everyday after each meal). If you were to separately cook your meals every time you got hungry, chances are, you wouldn’t even think about receiving your proper serving of grains or vegetables. But here, since you already have a nice portion of everything, it really balances out your diet. And going off of the portion control – by preparing your meals like this, you really prevent yourself from over-consumption of nutrients as well. Did you know that for someone my age and size, a serving portion of protein is actually 3 to 4 oz? As you can see from the pictures, that is a lot smaller than what you’re probably used to! And, being an Asian who naturally loves rice, I will admit to having eaten more rice than I should have on occasions. But when you properly portion everything out (3 oz of meat, half a cup of rice), you prevent yourself from eating too much of what you don’t need.
 
Third, it saves time and energy. You may think that by cooking 6x as much as you need, that you would be spending hours more in the kitchen…but the reality is actually the exact opposite! Having done this for awhile, trust me when I say that it really doesn’t take that much longer! I probably spend a maximum of 2 hours a week preparing my meals, including the preparation and cleaning time (in contrast with the approximate hour it would take each day to cook and clean). If you were to cook separate meals every time you got hungry, I can almost guarantee that it would take you a much longer time. In addition, doing this really does save you energy! Rather than having to turn on the stove or oven every day to cook, you can conserve energy by doing it all at once! It really does make a big difference.
 
Fourth, it saves you money and improves your health because it prevents you from eating out as much. I only allow myself to eat out once a week, which is usually on Sundays, after church. And when you think about it, a lot of the times when you’re feeling really hungry, you would probably rather go out and get some fast food, instead of cook your own food at home. And I don’t think I even need to go into detail about how bad fast food is and how much damage it does to your body… but regardless, it definitely does a lot more “bad” than it does “good” to your health. However, if you already have your meals prepared, you will find that you do not have nearly as big of an urge to eat out and instead, you can have your own balanced and healthy meal in your home instead 🙂
Anyways, I’m just going to end it here because this post is getting to be really, really long and I don’t want to bore my readers to death. But seriously, you should give this method a shot! You may be surprised 🙂
I LOVE GREEK YOGURT. Maybe even obsessed with it. I have gone through tubs and tubs of this Fage 2%, and I must say, Fage really is my favorite brand when it comes to Greek yogurt. I find that the consistency is so much better than Chobani, and the taste is more welcoming as well. I like to put this in my smoothies, stir it in my oatmeal, use it as a dip for fruits, or as a substitute for sour cream when I’m baking.
Greek yogurt is great because it contains about half the sugar of normal yogurts, and is PACKED with calcium and probiotics. What differentiates Greek yogurt from regular yogurt is that Greek yogurt is strained to remove the whey, lactose and sugar, which contributes to its thick consistency. It is significantly thicker than normal yogurt, and it takes some time getting use to the flavor (taste a bit like sour cream.) Perhaps the most well-known fact about Greek yogurt is its protein content – a single serving size doubles the protein content of regular yogurts! In just one serving, you are receiving roughly 15-20 grams of protein – that is equivalent to about 3 ounces of lean meat (which is actually a serving size of meat). This should be extremely appealing to vegetarians, and women as well, who often do not receive the recommended protein intake.

Another thing that I love is peanut butter, but it’s no secret that peanut butter can be extremely fattening. This PB2 is one of my favorite food items ever. It has 85% LESS FAT AND CALORIES than regular peanut butter!!!!! Insane. This is actually a peanut butter powder, so you have to mix it with water to achieve the actual peanut butter, but the extra work is SO WORTH IT! Typically, regular peanut butter is about 210 calories and ~3g of saturated fat, and low-fat peanut butter is around 180 calories per serving size (2 tablespoons). BUT… this amazing pb2 is only….45 CALORIES PER SERVING SIZE!!!!!!  With 0g of saturated fat! Isn’t that crazy?! And you can even adjust the consistency to make the peanut butter as thick or creamy as you would like. I absolutely love, love, LOVE this product. The only downside is that it can be relatively difficult to find, and when you do, it is significantly more expensive than your traditional supermarket peanut butter. But…I love it and will continue to repurchase when I run out.

Bragg is one of the more well-known brands to health fanatics with their AMAZING apple cider vinegar and all the health benefits that it has (which I also keep in my pantry at all times). But another product of theirs that I love even more is their liquid aminos. It is used exactly like soy sauce; in fact, it is known to be a natural soy sauce alternative. It contains no added sodium or table salts, and has only naturally occurring sodium from soybeans. It contains 16 different amino acids, which are essentially the building blocks of organs, tissues, and protein. It’s also gluten-free, to those who are concerned about celiac disease. A downside to this product, however, is that it is pretttttty expensive for a seasoning…but a bottle should last you a good while.

Luna bars are great! I stock up on these pretty much every week. I’ve tried other energy and nutrition bars, but I just keep going back to Luna. Luna bars are known as “nutrition bars for women” because they focus mainly on four core nutrients – folic acid, iron, vitamin D, and calcium (which most women lack in). They are relatively low in calories for an energy bar, and offers additional nutrients, such as protein and fiber. Some days, I have class from 8am until 5:30pm, with very little time to eat lunch in between. So I’ll usually throw a Luna bar and an apple or some other fruit in my backpack for some healthy mid-day snacking. My favorite flavors are the Nutz Over Chocolate and Peanut Honey Pretzel.

Alright, honestly, I hate drinking milk. The only time I ever drink milk is when I’m eating cereal, or in my coffee. But, it’s no secret that women usually don’t receive enough calcium in their diets, and did you know that we only have until the age of 30 to store up calcium in our bodies? After that, we no longer have the ability to store up calcium, which is why many women suffer from weaker bones and osteoporosis as they get older. If you’re like me and you hate drinking milk, but you need to find a way to increase on your calcium intake, then give almond milk a shot. It contains half the calories as 2% milk, yet has twice the amount of calcium! And if you opt for the unsweetened vanilla flavor, it contains even less calories! (Roughly 30-40 calories a cup vs ~120 calories/cup in 2% milk). And, since it is dairy-free, it is a great alternative to those who are lactose intolerant or suffer from other dairy allergies. Another great thing about almond milk is how versatile it is, and how it functions much like regular milk in everything. I can’t even remember the last time I bought regular milk. I use almond milk for everything that I would use milk in – baking, cooking, coffee, etc. I usually switch between the original and the unsweetened vanilla varieties.