It’s Fat Tuesday — the last day of the Carnival Season.
Hmmm, it hasn’t really felt like “carnival season” to me lately. You? It has really just felt like plain-old February, meaning cold, dark, and a good excuse to eat candy. Which, I have to admit, we’ve been doing a little too much around here.
So, seeing as how it’s Mardi Gras and tomorrow is the beginning of Lent, we did a candy purge last night. Out of innocent-looking desk drawers and shabby-looking bags from under their bed, the kids hauled the remnants of holidays going back to Halloween. Rock-hard Tootsie Rolls, boxes of Nerds, candy canes, conversation hearts, and even one pristine Reeses Peanut Butter Cup (which I almost snatched and ate, but didn’t) were collected into a good-sized pile. It was fairly disturbing. I’ve also collected the other not-so-healthy goodies that have been accumulating around here lately (I’m talking to you, Thin Mints) on the kitchen counter in anticipation of a Mardi Gras feast tonight. After which it all goes bye-bye.
For me, New Year’s resolutions are really hard, especially when they have to do with chocolate. January is a tough month to take as it is, with its after-holiday blahs and extremely short days. So, while I’ve (mostly) stuck to my resolutions (hit the gym, keep office hours, turn off email while working), I have also taken solace in a few too many Lindt chocolate Santas and mugs of peppermint cocoa during the cold winter months.
But now it’s Lent and (almost) spring. I find it so much easier to keep a “resolution” this time of year — partially because it’s getting warmer and we are busier, and of course partially because it’s Lent, which after all, is not really about self-improvement resolutions but about preparation for Easter — spiritual discipline and reflection as well as self-denial and fasting. You just don’t break Lent. Which is why I’m choosing my nemesis — sugar — to give up. It’s a solemn religious practice that comes with a side benefit of (hopefully) curing my slight (okay, more than slight) sugar problem.
I’m not completely convinced that sugar is poison (maybe because I’m in denial), however more and more scientists now are. Sugar is clearly something we should not consume very much of, if any. For the next 40 days, my goal is to consume none — no hot chocolate, no Werther’s Originals, alas, no honey in my coffee. If you’d like to reduce the amount of sugar in your diet, the best way is to NOT do what I’m doing. Almost all experts suggest gradually cutting back (so much for that.) That being said, I DO have some good advice for (relatively painlessly) reducing sugar intake. In case going cold turkey doesn’t work for you, consider at the very least doing the following:
1. Cut down on processed and packaged foods. Salad dressings, spaghetti sauces, and soups and contain crazy amounts of sugar. Do you add sugar to your soup? Well, Campbell’s does. Just one in about 50,000 reasons to stop eating this crap, btw.
2. Eat only high-quality sweets that you really, really love. This great advice in theory — savor a square of expensive dark chocolate instead of a stack of Chips Ahoy — although it might not really work for true choc-aholics (Ahem, me. Unfortunately, I like it all).
3. Get to know your sugars. Fructose, glucose, lactose, maltodextrin, dextrose — and of course high fructose corn syrup — are all basically names for sugar. Read ingredients lists.
4. Don’t drink soda. Soda is liquid candy. Diet soda is full of dubious chemicals that make your brain want more sugar. So, both are bad for you.
5. Mind your breakfast. Store-bought cereal, granola, sweetened yogurt, and bottled smoothies will start your morning off with a sugar overload.
6. Go for a naturally sweet treat. My new favorite is this banana “pudding,” which contains no added sugar. We made this in my recent “Gluten-Free & Paleo Family Foods” cooking class, and it was a huge hit.
2 tbs. coconut oil
2-4 bananas (approx. 1 per person), sliced
¼- ½ cup full-fat coconut milk (depending on how many bananas you use)
A few drops fresh lime juice
Chopped nuts, raisins, dried fruit, cinnamon, etc, for topping
Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the bananas and cook until they start to caramelize. Add the coconut milk to the skillet and mix together until hot and bubbly. Serve in individual dishes sprinkled with toppings of your choice. Eat immediately.