8 Ways to Make Your Pantry (and diet!) More Healthy – Part 2

November 8, 2011 — 3 Comments

Extrodinary healthy desserts from Rouge Tomate

Yesterday’s part 1 post we looked at easy ways to get foodiecure with celtic sea salt, apple cider vinegar, make your own stocks and fermented foods. Part 2 ramps up your pantry with getting your sugar kicks from healthier sugar alternatives, mineralising with sea vegetables, the good fats and superfoods.

5. Healthy sugar kicks

Healthy petit desserts from Michelin starred Rouge Tomate utilises the natural flavours of fruits and other natural sweeteners

I’m not going to get all health nazi on you and tell you to ignore the big pink elephant in the room in the form of a big pink cupcake. The simple fact is, most people like a bit of sweet, and just like salt, sour, pungent and bitter, the sweet flavour is represented in the five elements theory and resonates to the all important digestive organs, Spleen and Stomach. Melbourne pastry chef, Pierre Roelofs says that “Desserts don’t have to be sickly sweet to be enjoyable” as right now I’m snacking on some slighty honeyed Halva – for Spleen’s sake of course!

In it’s pure form, cane juice is full of minerals, but again, modern production methods mean that during processing, all the good stuff has been extracted then refined, and had things added to it to increase shelf life and improve consistency rendering it nutrient-deficient. Melbourne pastry chef Pierre Roelofs who was interviewed by The Epicure recently believes some less refined sugars have their appeal. “What some people might call impurities are actually different flavour compounds, which give certain sugars a lovely unique character.” Damn straight! Which brings me to my favourite sugar of the moment, rapadura. The maple-flavoured pure sugar cane juice has simply been sun dried and packaged.

Using sugar alternatives
Cooking with sugar alternatives requires a bit more attention. Not all substitutes can be replaced on a 1 for 1 basis. Here’s a general guide to 1 cup of white or brown sugar is equivalent to:

  • ¾ c pure maple syrup, reduce total liquids by 2 Tblsp
  • ½ c honey. Reduce total liquids by ¼ c
  • 1 c molasses. Reduce total liquids by ½ c. Add 1 tsp baking soda to temper the acidy.
  • 1 ½ c sorghum. Reduce total liquids by ¼ c
  • 1 to 1 rapadura for sugar
  • Prevent overbrowning by lowering the baking temperature by 20°C

Blackstrap Molasses
Considered a ‘waste’ product from the production of refined white sugar, blackstrap molasses contains many vital minerals, in particular iron, calcium, zinc, copper and chromium.

Has been used by the people of India for thousands of years, rich in minerals, particularly silica. In baking it gives the best results to cookies and cakes.

Brown rice syrup
Almost a butterscotch flavour, brown rice syrup has a low GI index, preventing rapid fluctuations in blood sugar levels. Being a milder flavour, it is not ideal for baking, but get it drizzling.

Maple syrup
Contains calcium, phosphorous, potassium and sodium. Be sure to choose organic to ensure no chemicals such as lead and formaldehyde are present.

Thirty times the sweetness of sugar, this powder is made from a South American herb can be used by those who are sensitive to sweetners. Contains minimal calories, stevia is reputed to have beneficial effects on fat absorption, blood pressure, regulating blood sugar, hypertension and reduces mental and physical fatigue, urinary problems, rheumatic ailments, constipation and infections and tolerated by those with candida. Two drops of stevia liquid will sweeten 1 cup of liquid.

Raw honey
As a wholefood, raw honey is best used in deserts that don’t require heating to preserve it’s carbohydrate digesting enzymes and nutrients contained in plant pollens. Studies have shown that honey does not upset blood sugar levels as severely as refined sugar. Raw honey should not be given to infants who lack sufficient stomach acid to deactivate bacteria spores.

The really, really bad sugars
For god’s sake, steer clear of artificial sweetners like aspartame and new comer, neotame, made from two amino acids, aspartic acid and phenylalanine, which together are highly toxic. In the battle of obesity, these substitutes are invading food products at a phenomenal rate. A lot of controversy surrounds the issue of fake sugars, and the only people claiming this stuff is safe are the people and organisations that stand to make a lot of money from their use. Independent research has shown that these FDA (USA’s Food and Drug Administration) approved ingredients are highly neuro-toxic, addictive and positively linked to brain tumors, weight gain, depression and strokes. It is running rampant everywhere like the diseases it causes. You can’t find a chewing gum without fake sugar these days. Luckily for us most health food stores stock gum and mints containing a naturally occring crystalline carbohydrate called xylitol, which is normally consumed everyday through the many fruits and vegetables we eat. In a nutshell, xylitol is not only a preferred option, but purports to have many health and dental protective benefits.

High fructose corn syrup is not so much the issue here in Australia as it is in the United States, thanks to our thriving sugar industry. But it is another one to avoid, not only because of it’s reported contribution to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and fatty liver disease, but also due to it most certainly being derived from genetically modified corn.

Health and Lifestyle guru, Sarah Wilson has released a Quit Sugar e-book. You can purchase it here for $15. Even if you don’t plan on quitting sugar all together, being more mindful of your sugar intake, and using alternative sweetners is a brilliant start.

6. Sea Vegetables
Overlooked in our Western society, the health powers of sea vegetables have been known for centuries, particularly by Asian cultures. Sea vegetables contain 10 – 20 times the minerals of land plants, and are a high source of calcium, amino acids (the building blocks of protein), iron, zinc, iodine and vitamins A, B and C. The salty properties help remove phlegm and their detoxifying properties remove radioactive and toxic metal wastes and help to clean the lymphatic system.

The benefits to you are healthy thyroid function,  healthy hair, nails, bones and teeth, ensures proper metabolism and is useful for weight loss, stimulates reproductive organs, antiseptic, detoxifing and blood alkalising (counteracting our acidic diets and lifestyles).

Needless to say, make sure you include sea veg in your diet regularly.

Some common sea vegetables are:
Agar Agar
Vegetable based geletin suitable for vegans and vegetarians that doesn’t require refrigeration to set. Agar agar aslo promotes digestion.
To use: add 1 dessert spoon to a cup of hot liquid, stir and simmer until dissolved

Hijiki and Arame
Contains viatmin B2, niacin and others vitamins to support hormone function.
Soak for 30 minutes in warm water and chop. Add to any grain, soup, bread, salad, or vegetable dish.

Kombu & Kelp
Greatly increase nutritional profile of any food it is prepared with. Good to add to dried beans during soaking and cooking. The minerals help balance protein and oils and increase digestibility of beans by breaking down tough fibers. Kombu contains glutamate which gives it a flavour enhancing qualities (umami) when cooked with beans and vegetables. I like to add a strip to my home made stocks.
Add to soups and stocks. If adding to salad, cook for 1 hr first to soften. Reserve the cooking liquid for soups, risotto, stews etc, which can be frozen for later use.

Has the most tender fibers, highest protein content, and most easily digested. A good food for goitre and high blood pressure. Commonly used in sushi, or toasted and crumbled over any food, hot or cold in sandwiches, in dressings and combined with sesame seed and sprinkled.

Like nori, dulse is highly versatile. Sprinkle leaf or flakes in soups, stocks, stews, miso, stirfrys or savoury dishes. Alternatively, dulse can be used to ‘salt’ pasta or potato boiling water. Check out this gorgeous noodle recipe from Power Super Foods.

Use in green leaf salads, soups, stews and casseroles.

7. Oils
Not all oils are created equal and it is now known that rancid oils can dramatically contribute to declining health, even responsible for the big C. In contrast oils can be used as a powerful health tool if used appropriately. Oils contain a myriad of nutrients and are important in cell and neural function. Certain vitamins are only soluble in fat, so diets low in fat are usually also low in Vitamins A, D, E and K. Most importantly, certain oils such as flax seed oil are a source of essential fatty acids, omegas- 3 and 6. These are important in our cell biology and hormone production and even more important to obtain from our diet because our bodies can’t synthesize them.

Fat phobic or not, oils are necessary in cooking for flavour and texture. Stocking up on a couple of different (good quality) oils is necessary for any healthy pantry, and use oils appropriately. Generally you can break oils up into 2 categories; those you heat and those you don’t.

High heat
Coconut oil and rice bran oil  are excellent healthy choices of oil if you are going to cook at high temperatures since they both can tolerate extreme heat and are not derived from genetically modified crops. Additionally coconut oil is a wonder oil, which you can read about here. If you don’t have either on hand, to a lesser extent it’s preferable to use peanut and vegetable oils for frying rather than using a volitile oil that will turn rancid with the application of heat.

Low heat
Olive oil (and I’ll include butter here) are best for low temperature cooking and sauteing only. With a low smoking point you’ll soon discover the tipping point. Bin it if it smokes!

No heat
Nut and seed oils are considered the most volitile and should only be used for drizzling and dressings. Experiment with different oils as they each have their own flavour profiles to add some creative zing to your dishes. A combination used at Rouge Tomate with their a crispy duck salad with sweet pickled rhubarb, farrow and dressed with pistachio oil. Go nuts!

To help keep your precious oils healthy, only buy oils in dark bottles and store in a cool dark cupboard. Warmth and UV will render them toxic.

8. Superfoods
I am generally not a fan of the term superfoods, I think there’s a bunch of clever marketers cashing in on the Wellness boom and charging a premium price to tout some studies and prettily package up some exotic ingredient that grows like a weed in its native environment. My view is that any good quality ingredient is a superfood. Heck, my mum’s home grown tomatoes are a superfood for all the taste and flavour and joy they deliver. But while superfoods are all the rage at the moment, I’ll jump on that bandwagon for a second since I do have a couple of favourite foods that fall into that category and are easy to use while adding a food-bling.

Flax Seeds
Are vegetarian source of Omega 3 EFA’s (see point 7 above). I have them daily in my morning oatmeal. Just make sure you cook them whole as once the shell is broken the precious oils will begin to deteriorate and most definitely once you chuck them in with hot porridge. Chew well to break the shell and get the nutrients. Also very good for proper bowel movements! Never buy pre ground LSA mix (Linseed, Sunflower, Almond). You don’t know how long it’s been since they’ve been processed, sat on the shelf and exposed to sunlight. Ugh.

Goji Berries
Known in Chinese Medicine as Gou Ji Zi, these wolfberries are listed in the TCM Materia Medica. I call them a little kidney tonic and they’re excellent for us females for building blood. I include about a tablespoon of goji’s in my morning porridge (along with linseeds). Not a hell of a lot of taste, their texture once rehydrated in the porridge is a slimy version of sultanas (not as gross as it sounds), they do offer a fantastic colour that you can have fun with.

Green Tea Raw Cheesecake from Yongs Green Foods

Coconut Water
Gosh this is such a pleasant and refreshing drink, the only chore with coconut water is getting it out of the coconut. I’ve given it few goes and frankly I suck. Don’t bother with prepackaged coconut water, if you’ve ever tried fresh vs. packaged side by side, there’s no comparison to taste and vitality. Full of digestive enzymes, I’ve been told that if you’re concerned about food poisoning while travelling in Asian countries to drink young coconut water – it is that powerful. Yet to try it out, this info would have been handy for my Thailand trip ’08. Use it in smoothies and desserts or as a drink on its own.

I feel like chocolate has been done to death, particularly after seeing media hungry Raw foodist David Wolfe speak earlier this year. In a nutshell; antioxidants. Just don’t go as crazy as the extremists tout, cacao can be quite stimulating and is strongly yang in nature.
Try cacao nibs in your morning oatmeal and always have on had organic dark chocolate to curb sugar cravings while getting your antioxidant kick. Yummmmm.


Recipes for Life, Dorothy Edgelow

Chinese Materia Medica 3rd edn., Dan Bensky, Steven Clavey, Erich Stoger

Xylitol: An Amazing Discovery for Health, Kauko Makinen, Alonzo Jones, John Peldyak

Healing with Wholefoods, Paul Pitchford

The Natural Health Cookbook, Dorothy Hall and Carol Odell

You are What you Eat, Gillian McKeith

Eating for Beauty, David Wolfe

The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, Michael Murray

Super Natural Cooking, Heidi Swanson

Gastrointestinal Health, Steven Peikin

Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon

Oz Food Trainer, Sandra Dubs


3 responses to 8 Ways to Make Your Pantry (and diet!) More Healthy – Part 2


    Another great post Becki! I only use rapadura sugar, brown rice syrup and maple syrup as my sweeteners. Medjool dates are fab in bliss balls too 🙂 As for sea vegetables, I love arame, nori and kombu. Although, Australia has now banned kombu (because considered to have to much iodine – bah!), which I’m not happy about, as I used it for cooking legumes and in my stocks, like you.

    As for oils and fats, ghee is another nourishing, pure food to add to the list. It has a high smoking point as all the milk solids and moisture have been removed. (I wrote about it here: http://themindfulfoodie.com/2011/08/21/cooking-basics-how-to-make-ghee-from-butter/ )

    Thanks for posting this valuable info!


      What’s that about Kombu? Nooooo! I better make my current stocks last. Those bastards, they ruin everything good…Bonsoy was first casualty of the Kombu conspiracy. I just don’t get it, because some people are iodine deficient so they sell them iodine supplements! Nutrients from food are far more powerful (as you and I know!!). Thanks for the tip with Ghee – I saw that post (and thanks for that too!).

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