I’m a huge fan of health and wellbeing. During the last years, I’ve learned a lot about how to incorporate a healthy diet as a lifestyle. This includes how to make good choices when shopping, when going out for dinner or lunch, knowing what is and what is not good for your body and when to give yourself a break. Because we are what we eat. As days pass by, more and more scientists, nutritionists and dietitians are encouraging society about the importance and relation of diet and mental-physical wellbeing. What we do, what we eat, how we think, determines how we live and so how we contribute to the world.
For this Culture of Wellness project, I decided to make a change in my closest environment. This way I could make sure that the change was going to be made. I met my roommate only once before coming here, so we took advantage of our 26 hours trip from Madrid to Burlington to get to know each other. She then noticed how much I was into healthcare and how easy it was for me to follow that lifestyle.
As time has passed by, she has become more curious about how to make healthier choices. I decided to show her the most basic step, which in my opinion is the basis for incorporating health into your lifestyle. How to make good choices when shopping, what is called label reading. As easy as you can choose a bad cheese (in terms of ingredients), you can also choose the healthiest option in the market. Good for you, good for your body. Furthermore, we ended up making a healthy version of a granola, which is the most difficult product to find in supermarkets.
Food industry incorporates thousands of additives, preservatives, and chemicals into our food. Such a simple thing as cheese, which is basically made of milk, rennet, and lactic ferments, can become a product with 8 lines of ingredients. Not only they are harmful for our body (or our body does not need/want them), but they also change our perception of real flavors and therefore our taste and preferences in food. Indirectly, it leads people to eat worse in the day to day, deteriorating their health. It’s shocking when you realize how many harmful ingredients are present in our daily grocery choices. But no worries, it’s even more shocking how easy we can make better decisions. Keep reading if you want to learn about the basics of label reading! I have also incorporated tips for the dining halls here at UVM.
“Manos a la Obra” – Less is more.
To learn label reading, what better than going into a supermarket and learn directly from the products. Burlington has very nice organic and local markets such as City Market and Healthy Leaving Market and Cafe. With our little budget as exchange students, we decided to go to Target. For every product, I let her choose the product she thought was or looked like the healthiest. Then, we checked if that was true, explaining her why and what to look for.
We started checking peanut butter. Three lines of ingredients (including inflammatory oils and all types of sugars) in comparison with just 1 ingredient, PEANUTS!
Then we went for the yogurts. She picked the Greek Yogurt, which is perfect, but honey type. Food companies try to catch our attention with the packing. We read “Honey” and it seems natural, it would not be the worst choice. But then we checked the ingredients and, oh boy!
In the same section, cheese. “Yes, Cheddar cheese is not orange Lucia”. Three basic ingredients vs 4 lines.
We couldn’t find a cleaner non-dairy milk in Target, but just choosing Unsweetened instead of Original, makes a huge difference. Most of the ingredients are gums to make the product thicker (not harmful but not necessary).
And the hardest product to find in a healthy version, granola. An infinite list of different types of sugars, inflammatory oils… let’s make one ourselves!
Granola Recipe with UVM ingredients.
I have taken a course this Fall called “Cooking for Health”, in which the final assessment was a Scavenger Hunt. The goal was to create a meal using only ingredients found in retail outlets on UVM campus. We took advantage of it, picked the ingredients, and started cooking.
GRANOLA ON CAMPUS
List of Ingredients and Where to Find Them Around Campus.
– 2 cups* whole grain oats
– 1⁄4 cup pumpkin seeds
– 1⁄4 cup raw almonds
– 1⁄4 cup raw pistachios
– 1⁄4 cup raw cashews
– 1⁄2 cup extra virgin olive oil (AOVE)
– 1⁄2 cup orange juice
– Half chocolate 72% Lake Champlain
– 1 plain Greek yogurt
Redstone/Simpson dining: whole grain oats (gluten free zone), AOVE and pumpkin seeds (salad bar), oranges (entry), plain yogurt (at breakfast).
Redstone Market: plain yogurt (fridge).
Central dining: pumpkin seeds (salad bar).
Cat Pause market (Davis Center): chocolate 80% Lake Champlain, pistachios, cashews, almonds.
1. Preheat the oven at 350 oF. Measure every ingredient and line the baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Chop the nuts in non-uniform sizes. * Add the oats, seeds and chopped nuts to the big bowl, and mix. You can use your hands.
3. Chop the chocolate in tiny pieces, almost as if you were grating. Based on your preference, add the chocolate to the mix now, so it will melt in the oven, or once the granola is cooled down (having pieces of fresh chocolate).
4. Incorporate the liquid ingredients (orange juice and AOVE) to the mixing bowl while making envolvent movements. Make sure you get a homogeneous mixture. Everything needs to be coated.
5. Place the mix onto your prepared baking sheet. Use the spatula to spread it. If looking for extra-clumpy, press it down to get a more even layer. Ready to get into the oven!
6. Bake until golden for about 20-25 min. Keep an eye on it.
7. To get the fancy chunks of granola, let it cool completely before breaking it up with your hands. It crisps up as it cools.
8. Plate your granola with a handful spoon of plain yogurt and enjoy!
*This way the texture will be wild. I like to find big pieces in my granola but if you prefer smaller sizes, cut almonds and cashews in 3 pieces (as shown in the picture, not in sliced) and pistachios in half.
What About Nutrition? How are The Ingredients Emphasized?
Mix of raw nuts will get roasted, intensifying their flavor and adding crispiness to the granola. The orange juice acts as a sweetener, it will crystalize thanks to the heat transfer coming from the oven (convection, radiation, and conduction of the oven plate). As a result, it will integrate the oats with the rest of ingredients to form little clusters of granola. The extra virgin olive oil, which is the main fat of the recipe, will contribute to the golden appearance. The raw mixed nuts incorporate a high content of omega-3 and unsaturated fatty acids. Good fats are known to help reducing the harmful fats and increase, among other aspects, heart health. An important nutritional improvement is to hydrate the nuts and pumpkin seeds before cooking, so we increase their bioavailability (same example as cumin and pepper). It’s important to look for a plain (unsweetened) and non “non-fat”. Those fats are the ones in charge of absorbing the rest of nutrients and provide satiety. Oats are a source of complex carbohydrates which, among many benefits, help maintaining the intestinal transit and have a high satiating effect.
We finally went to Central dining and try it with plain yogurt.
– Reflections and Knowledge gained.
Lucia’s testimony: “I’ve never understood food labels because there were always a lot of things that I did not understand what they meant. I guess the names were too scientific. Going with Blanca to the supermarket made me realized that less is more and that if I don’t understand something, it’s probably not good for me. I’ve also realized that I should learn more about what I introduce into my body”.
Mine: “I think that Lucia learned a lot today in Target. She actually left some cookies she had taken before starting the lecture. I feel grateful for spreading a bit of wellness in my closest environment, although I’m also kind of sad because my first idea couldn’t be made. However, I have promised myself to make it happened. I will work on it for Spring 22. The idea was to try to change what Redstone market offers. They have a healthier section, but some of the products are not actually healthy”.
– Dining Hall Hacks.
Philadelphia VS other cream cheese brand
Jif peanut butter VS any other 100% peanut butter (in CatPause)
100% whole grain Cheerios, Corn flakes (Redstone), oats (in the Gluten free section) VS any other cereal
Dressing sauces for salads VS Extra virgin olive oil (Redstone) or Olive oil (Central)
Pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds VS Croutons
Unsweetened almond milk (Central) VS Almond milk (Redstone)
– A Source of Daily Inspiration.
I would also love to include my Instagram account as a source of inspiration to make healthier choices (I usually post restaurant/product recommendations and what I eat in terms of what I choose, no quantity). Instagram: @naturalfoodie.bgg