How I Removed Added Sugar From My Diet and Lived to Tell About it…

Ok, the title of this post is dramatic, but so is removing added sugar from your diet, right? Let me back up… Towards the end of last year as M turned 18 months I was feeling blah and blubby and lost as to how I could lose the rest of the weight and the pot “mom” belly I gained when I was pregnant with him. My workout routine was strong, exercising 3 to 4 times/week, so it was clearly my diet that was an issue. In January some mom friends of mine signed up to do the 21 Day Fix with Beachbody so I decided to join them. Honestly, it’s such a scam but the program does work. I (barely) completed my 21 days and it was the jump-start I needed for changing my diet.

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We always eat relatively healthy – with meals full of veggies and protein, light in carbs, low in sodium, etc…  So at the end of the 21 Day fix it was easy to figure out what my biggest issues were: eating too much, not having healthy choices prepared and easy to find, and mindless (afternoon, always in the afternoon!) snacking. I ended my relationship with Beachbody (which was hard! They were so quick to charge my credit card endlessly!!) and switched to drinking Vega One shakes (I love the mocha flavor) in place of their Shakeology. The shake replaces breakfast 4x/week and I eat toast the other 3 days.

The rest of the edits to my diet included snacking on fruit alllll day and eating mostly veggies and lean protein for lunch and dinner. I’d also have one more substantial snack per day like hummus and pretzels, avocado toast, or almonds. But I think the true reason why I was able to ultimately lose 19 pounds and keep it off (9 months later!!!) is because I (for the most part, more on this later) removed all added sugar from my food. How does one do that? I decided to write a post about it because when I was losing the weight and it was becoming noticeable (pants were literally falling off my bum) so many people asked how I did it and I started talking about it all the time. And now, 9 months later I’ve learned even more, found even more products that are helpful and delicious, and I feel like this is just the new way I eat and I was ready to share. I started removing added sugar cold turkey with the 21 day fix. The 21 days were so hard for me in general (you eat SO little) that when it was over I was so relieved to be eating more that it wasn’t hard to continue with the sugar free diet. I was very strict with myself January through April/May and then over the summer I eased up a little, had a few treats, etc… and realized that I was able to balance better and still maintain the weight loss. And honestly, more than the weight loss my body just feels better. What does that mean? No bloating, no blubby tummy, and I’m very regular (yes, I went there).

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When you remove added sugar from your diet you’re not left with almost anything processed so you’re eating a mostly whole foods diet (and why I always eat tons of fruit, veggies, and protein). But for the love of God, you need a crunchy, salty snack once in a while, right? And I love toast SO MUCH! And I sort of loathe making my own salad dressing. And having peanut butter every so often is sort of a must. So with research, recommendations and trial and error I thought I’d share my favorite sugar free processed foods with you, photos of which are sprinkled throughout this (very wordy) post (a few of the items are considered gluten free so that’s an easy way to find processed foods without added sugar)…

Ezekiel Bread (considered gluten free) for toast and the occasional sandwich.
Sugar Free Peanut Butter sold at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, really anywhere. It’s a little shocking at first that it tastes like creamed peanuts but it’s good.
Annie’s Salad Dressings – my sister and mother were talking about the Goddess dressing and I checked the label and was thrilled to find it has no added sugar! There are tons of sugar free dressing options at Whole Foods, too but they’re pretty pricey.
Trader Joe’s Gluten Free Pretzels, my kids and I can’t get enough of these.
RX bars, these are a recent find and have changed my life. We’re always on the go and I used to carry a protein bar with me in case I got hungry and I missed that when I first started this whole thing. Well these RX bars (sold on Amazon, Trader Joe’s, on their website) have no added sugar and are EXCELLENT! I love that coconut chocolate flavor.
Riced Cauliflower, I found this while I was doing the 21 Day fix. It’s a great substitute for rice or pasta and is just another serving of veggies. You can make it yourself by just food processing the cauliflower but you can buy it everywhere pre-made these days (Target, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods) just watch the ingredients. I get it frozen from Trader Joe’s and organic cauliflower and rosemary are the only ingredients.
Cold Brew Coffee – we’ve been making our own for over a year now and it’s so good! I use part skim, part 2% milk in mine, it’s a smoother brew of coffee and less acidic so sugar isn’t even necessary.

Are you sugar free? Any tips to add? Products you love?

*Before I forget; my “for the most part” sugar removal means since I started this 9 months ago I still eat cake on my kids birthdays, had a couple ice cream cones this summer, a donut, a cookie or 2, and I will always and forever put ketchup on a hamburger. It’s tricky to be sugar free when you’re dining out – but personally, once I was over the hurdle of a very strict sugar free diet in the winter into spring, I let overall smart choices at restaurants win and if they use sugar in a marinade of the salmon I’m eating, so be it. I also bake again but find recipes using honey, not white sugar (and my kids still gobble them up!). Oh, and I still drink wine and beer. By now you’re thinking I’m a nut and not sugar free at all, but daily consistency with occasional splurges just works!

 

I am not a nutritionist or medical professional in any way, these are just ideas and products that have worked for me to lose weight and keep it off for 9 months. Consult your doctor before changing your diet at all!

Peach Cherry Salsa

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The plan was to have a pork roast for dinner last week (technically grilled, but the same concept). I think of roast pork as a fall/winter meal and I was totally dreading this for a summertime dinner, plus it was just. sounded. boring. I went about my way of seasoning the pork and tossing it on the grill all the while lamenting our dinner choice, why hadn’t we thought ahead and made our grilled peach salsa? When I came back inside to the kitchen with peaches on the brain a trifecta of ingredients were staring me down: peaches, cherries, cilantro. Hmmm, I think I’ll make a peach cherry salsa and rescue my boring pork! Let me tell you it was delicious, the pork was rescued and turned into a meal we actually enjoyed! Here’s what I did…

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1 small peach, chopped
10 cherries, pitted and chopped
small handful of cilantro chopped
1/4 of an onion finely chopped (red onion would work well here or a shallot)
small douse of olive oil
juice from 1/4 of a lemon or lime
s&p to taste

Mix together and serve.

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You have to try this one – would be great on any grilled meat for a refreshing summertime salsa! Enjoy!

Make Your Own Lobster Roll

Have you ever made your own lobster roll or wanted to try? Yes? Keep reading. Are you not sure what recipe to use and don’t want to waste your precious lobster on a not perfect recipe? Yes? Keep reading. Are you not sure if you want a mayonnaise-based lobster roll OR a butter-based lobster roll? Yes? Keep reading…

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It all started Saturday when we visited my Uncle Paul on his new boat and he generously shared some fresh caught lobster – that’s heaven on Earth right there! We feasted on them Sunday evening and actually had some left over. So, tonight, we made lobster rolls for dinner. We’d made them at home before but weren’t impressed with any recipe we’d followed in the past. We could never decide: butter OR mayo: an all butter lobster roll is too much and an all mayonnaise lobster roll takes away too much of the flavor of the lobster. So, why not both?

I came across this recipe from Food Network and it was a WINNER! I thought I’d snap some photos and share the link and our recipe edits. We mixed the meat from 2, 1 1/4 pound lobsters with just over a Tbs of mayo, 1 Tbs melted butter, dash of salt, dash of celery salt, and 1 Tbs finely chopped onion greens (we didn’t have celery greens on hand and this worked well. Note, we omitted the lemon). Incorporate thoroughly and stuff inside a buttered and grilled basic hot dog roll. We served with our homemade cole slaw on the side. YUM – ENJOY!

Fourth of July Watermelon

Maybe you do this already, but I had a fun brainstorm for patriotic Fourth of July watermelon today! Let me back up… this afternoon we were making some sugar cookies shaped as stars decorated with red, white, and blue sprinkles for a fairly simple afternoon activity in preparation for the Fourth of July weekend coming up. As we were setting the dough to chill in the fridge I saw our giant untouched watermelon waiting to be cut up for a play date tomorrow. Bing! Use the star cookie cutter to make a super festive fruit dessert! It almost doesn’t even warrant a dedicated blog post because there is so little effort involved here. But I decided to pull out the camera anyway, take a few shots, and share my simple idea with you. I mean, what easier way to bring something festive-looking to any Fourth of July soiree you’re attending this weekend, right?

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Cut watermelon in slices, at least an inch thick. Use star shaped cookie cutter to cut out shapes.

4th-of-July-Watermelon-1Place on a white tray/plate/serving platter and sprinkle with blueberries for a pop of blue and voila – bringing this Fourth of July watermelon will make you star of the party (see what I did there?).

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Ps. You’ll have lots of random pieces leftover, perfect for snacking. Enjoy!

Batman Cupcake Decorations

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Our little M just turned 2! And since he’s been obsessed with Batman since my sister gave him a Batman board book for his first birthday, the party theme was sort of a no brainer. Per usual I did a mix of store (and etsy) bought and handmade decorations for the little backyard birthday party we had for him (one of the perks of being born in June is being able to have your birthday party outside!). I know doing all this crafting makes some people just roll their eyes “why???” so I decided to document just one, easy, fun thing that ANYONE can do to help customize a party to your theme!

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To make even the most simple cupcakes or cake on-theme for your party, all you have to do is create a little chocolate topper! First, find an image that fits with your party theme, for this it was, of course, the batman symbol. Print out the image numerous times, place your print-out on a cookie sheet, and cover with wax paper.

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Melt your chocolate (I used chocolate chips because I needed brown but you could also use those colorful chocolate melts from a craft store).  Transfer the chocolate into a piping bag, squeeze bottle, or heavy duty Ziploc with the tip snipped and trace and fill in each shape with the melted chocolate. Let harden in the fridge for an hour or better yet, overnight.

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Decorate your cupcakes putting the flat side showing (the side you pipe won’t be as smooth) and voila!

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PS. Other cute handmade batman decor! Fun party, here’s a quick glimpse of how the backyard was decorated…

PPS. I did this trick for Z’s first and third birthday parties too but felt it was time to post again!

Healthier Banana Dark Chocolate Chip Muffins

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As I wrote about last week, I’ve eliminated all added sugar (for the most part) from what I eat but occasionally you just need a muffin, right? And if I want something sweet like a muffin, I might as well bake them using an all natural sweetener like honey instead of white sugar so at least I’m on the healthy side of a treat…plus there’s only 1/4C honey in this entire recipe making 12 regular size and 4 mini muffins.

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I headed out of town with a couple friends over the weekend for a little girls bachelorette party weekend. I decided to make some muffins for not only us to eat while we were away but as a little leave-behind treat for my kiddos. After some recipe research, I came across this great recipe for Skinny Banana Chocolate Muffins on Ambitious Kitchen and decided to try it. I liked the use of honey in place of white sugar, the use of Greek yogurt for added protein, and of course using whole wheat flour instead of white flour – all much smarter options to make these a healthier muffin choice in place of your standard banana muffin.

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I followed the recipe for the most part but did have a few edits:
– I only had regular whole wheat flour so I used that in place of the whole wheat pastry flour or white whole wheat flour the recipe calls for.
– The recipe calls for almond milk but I didn’t have that on hand so I used regular cow’s whole milk.
– I thought dark chocolate would be better in the muffins and used large dark chocolate chips.
– Also, just make sure to use ripened or even better over-ripe bananas to add to the natural sweetness.
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My kids gobbled them up (and so did my friends, actually). These were so good there was only one left by the time I wanted to take another photo for the blog.

Black Bean, Corn, and Pepper Dip

Quite a few years ago a friend of mine made this Black Bean, Corn, and Pepper dip for a party and I found it was one of those dips that once I tasted it, I had to use every once of will power to walk away so I wouldn’t devour the entire bowl. I of course got the recipe from her and have since shared it with friends, cousins, and a number of party guests because once you try this dip you want to make it over and over. We had some friends over to watch the Patriots game yesterday and we served 2 versions of mac & cheese for dinner. When we thought of a couple appetizers to serve first this dip came to mind – it’s full of veggies and black beans and even though it’s pulled together with a creamy sauce, it tastes light and fresh – a perfect starter for our heavy, cheesy dinner. And then I realized I had never shared the recipe here – blasphemy! And I am pulled out of my (always) unintentional blogging hiatus with a fabulous dip recipe to share with you for the current football Sunday season and upcoming holiday party season.

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Prep  your veggies, all the chopping is the only time sync of this recipe.

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Prep your sauce and pour over all the veggies.

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Get your sous chef to stir…

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…and enjoy with your favorite tortilla chip!

 

Black Bean, Corn, and Pepper Dip Recipe (source unknown)
1 15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 C frozen corn, thawed
1C finely chopped red pepper
3/4C finely chopped green pepper
1/2C diced red onion

1 Tbs parsley
1/2C sour cream (we use light)
1/4C mayonnaise (we use light)
2 Tbs red wine vinegar
1 Tsp ground cumin
1 Tsp chili powder
s&p

Follow directions above!

Pumpkin Muffin Recipe

My in-laws were in town over the weekend and we were busy, busy! Dinner out, the circus, my husband and I even snuck out to see the new Steve Jobs movie after we put the kids to bed Saturday night – by Sunday morning we all needed a special sweet breakfast treat. I had this pumpkin muffin recipe bookmarked to try and decided it was the perfect morning to make them. I adjusted a couple measurements in the recipe so I noted them below. The streusel topping really made these muffins extra good and since they seemed to go over well I thought I’d share here.

Baking notes:
– the recipe calls for 1 1/2C pumpkin puree, I added more for a total of 1 3/4C
– the recipe calls for 1C regular sugar and 1C brown sugar. I used the full amount of brown and halved the amount of white sugar.
– the recipe calls for 2/3C oil and 1/2C apple sauce (1 1/6C together). I used about 3/4C apple sauce and the rest in oil to lessen the amount of oil used even more.- for the streusel topping, I mixed the flower, oats, and sugar with cold butter and blended together with my fingers before sprinkling on top of the muffins.
– With all my adjustments cooking time was the same but the muffins stuck to the paper wrappers terribly – I recommend spraying your muffin tins with cooking spray or using parchment paper.

I made a few mini muffins for the kiddos, too. Enjoy!

The Perfect Fall Turkey Sandwich

I had read that Panera had a new sandwich for Fall: turkey, cheddar, and apple and thought it sounded just delicious. On our next trip there (with my little lunch dates) I ordered the fall turkey sandwich and was immediately disappointed, they didn’t use their turkey cold cut on the sandwich, rather, some cold, wet turkey that was apparently supposed to be roasted turkey breast. It was not good. So, inspired by my disappointment and when we ran out of ideas for lunch over the weekend I thought it was the perfect day to try to recreate the idea.

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I used my favorite whole wheat bread and Boar’s Head Ovengold turkey. Then , we shredded 1/4 of an apple per sandwich – make sure to squeeze the apple in a paper towel to get a lot of the water out, you don’t want a soggy sandwich! I sprinkled a few craisins on top and sliced sharp cheddar cheese. My husband added mayonnaise to his sandwich – I don’t do mayo but thought I’d mention because he loved it. You have to try this fall turkey sandwich, the flavors all together are delicious, enjoy!

The Secret to an Extra Delicious Apple Pie

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Happy October! By now you’ve probably gone apple picking, or at least popped into a farm stand for a bag of apples. Yes, we all like to trek to the apple farm for our annual family day out to apple pick, we just did it last weekend ourselves. And yes, the experience is wonderful, idyllic, tasty – a fall right-of-passage, if you will, but why REALLY do we do it every year? Three words: homemade apple pie. There is nothing better. I don’t make my own crust but still make pretty decent pies with fresh apples, except for one problem: sometimes they’re just a little too watery. Yours too? Especially the day after. You have apple for dessert on a Sunday, let’s say, and Monday morning you’re thinking it may be a good idea for a slice for breakfast. You get downstairs and your pie is liquid-y with a terribly soggy bottom crust. No good. I know apples are full of water, I always cut a steam vent hole into my pie crust, I sometimes use a pie bird, I always use the right variety of apple too, but the soggy phenomenon still happened every so often. And when you only make a couple apple pies all year, one soggy pie is a disastrous occasion.

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So when I read this article in a recent issue of Bon Appetit, I was so intrigued (my husband happened to point it out, too). The article mentioned roasting your apples pre-pie with sugar and flour and then chilling them to not only remove the moisture but also create a caramelized flavor. Wow! What a great idea and yet so simple. So Sunday afternoon after our Saturday morning apple picking adventure, we did just that. I followed Bon Appetit’s roasting recipe of 4 lbs apples, 1C sugar, and 1/4C flour. I then used my usual recipe to make our pie (store bought refrigerator crust, we use this one, a bunch of cinnamon, 1/4C brown sugar, egg wash on the crust) and just look at this piece of pie!

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And Monday morning it was still beautiful – not a soggy ounce of crust in sight (yes, Z helped me with the pie and we made our initials out of extra dough for the top of the pie). One note, the apples obviously reduce in size as they roast so definitely use a couple apples more than you think are necessary, apples are the star of this pie show after-all, right? Also, reduce (or increase if you want?) the sugar for roasting, this turned out to be a very sweet pie… Let me know if you try this method, I definitely recommend it.