Bye Bye Food Guide Pyramid, Hello My Plate!

The USDA's Latest Dietary Guidelines

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) finally kicked the Food Guide Pyramid to the curb and unveiled My Plate this week.  The major differences between the plate and pyramid are the following…

  • “Meat and Legumes” has been re-labeled “Protein” – Yay!
  • “Sugars and fats” has been eliminated.
  • The amount of grains has been decreased.  I would have preferred this to be labeled as “whole grains”, but I’m patient.  Give it time.
  • Dairy is still there, but at least it is off the plate and on the side.
  •  Americans are asked to fill AT LEAST half of their plates with fruits and vegetables
  • Encourages us to enjoy our food, but eat less.  Chances are, if half of their plate is loaded with fruits and veggies, the caloric intake will decrease as well.
  • With regard to whole grains, the USDA does ask that at least half of our grain intake is from whole grains.  FYI: Remember, something that claims it is “made with whole grain” does not make the whole product whole grain.”  Watch those tricky labels!
  • Switch to low-fat dairy (Y’all know my opinion on this one!)
  • Watch your sodium intake.  But they do not give the reader any guidelines as to how much is too much.
  • Encourages people to drink water in place of sugary drinks.
  • Did you notice that physical activity is not mentioned a single time?!

I encourage you to check out the site yourself and see what it has to offer (http://  There is a variety of resources there including:  diet analysis, tips for weight loss, and a “personalized” plan.  You can even look up a food and see where it would land on the plate, and how many calories it has. I must warn you though that the food database is quite limited right now.  Hopefully it will get better with time.

Look Familiar?

AICR's New American Plate (circ. 2004)

I find this new “My Plate” concept eerily similar to the American Institute for Cancer Research’s (AICR) “New American Plate” which I was referring people to seven years.  I have to say that at least My Plate leaves the “animal protein” out.  Although AICR’s version does specify “whole grains”.

If I could have any plate, my choice would be The Power Plate created by Physicians of Responsible Medicine (PCRM).  It  looks an awful lot like the one the USDA approved. Pretty much the only thing missing is the dairy.  For more information on the Power Plate, click on the image or visit

So there’s the latest and greatest.  Now at least you are informed.  Please keep in mind that the main purpose of the USDA is to look out for the interests of America’s Agriculture, not necessarily the health of Americans.  That being said, it is amazing to see how these guidelines are in direct contrast to who receives the most agricultural subsidies from the tax payers (namely the meat and dairy industries).  Here is a very interesting article on this very topic

There are a lot of alternative plates out there.  Dig a little and check them out to determine which one is best for you.

The many uses for leftover brown rice!

Around here there are two things we almost always make in large batches so that we have leftovers in our fridge…beans and brown rice (sometimes quinoa or barley, but usually rice).  It is such a great staple to keep on hand for quick, healthy meals.

We all need to make sure we are eating more whole grains and fewer refined foods, and this is a great way to help you on your way.  One cup of cooked brown rice is very low on the glycemic index and has 4 grams of fiber, 5 grams of protein,  B vitamins, calcium, and iron.

Brown rice takes a little longer than white rice to cook (40 min. vs. 20 min.) but if you make a few cups and save the rest to use throughout the week, you save yourself a bunch of time.   It also requires more water (2 cups water : 1 cup of rice).  And remember, it’s gluten free!

Here are a few suggestions on the many ways we use cooked rice round here…

  • Add to a salad to make it a heartier lunch
  • Add to roasted veggies and eat as-is or wrap in a tortilla or collard leaf
  • Rice and beans with salsa and avocado slices
  • Water saute whatever veggies you have and add cooked rice.  Stir to combine and cook until heated through.  Add some tofu and you’ve got a little “fried” rice thing going on.
  • My latest favorite: quick morning brown rice pudding! (recipe to follow shortly!)

Low-Fat Cherry Almond Scones

My original recipe for “Scones, Perfected!” was posted last year at  It has been a favorite around here for a long time.  This week I made a batch to say thanks to my husband and kids for making my Mother’s Day so special.  After I got them into the oven, I realized that the Earth Balance (butter substitute) was still in the refrigerator!  Doh!  When they came out I was half expecting them to be more like biscotti, but to our delight and surprise, then turned out great!  They were lighter and still retained a great texture.  We all liked them better than the original!   If you prefer a more flakey and rich scone, then stick with the old recipe.  If you want to save yourself about 150 calories per scone, then omit the Earth Balance, and cut them a little smaller so that you end up with 12 instead of 8.

NOTE: There is still some fat due to the cashew cream, which is used instead of heavy cream.  Not only is cashew cream void of  the saturated fat and cholesterol in dairy cream, it is full of fiber, minerals and phytonutrients you cannot find in dairy products.  Cashew cream is a cinch to make.  Just take 1 cup of raw cashews and cover with fresh water.  You can let them soak overnight or, if you don’t have time, just for a few minutes while you prep other ingredients.  Drain the soaking water off the cashews and place in a blender along with enough fresh water to just cover the nuts.  Blend on high until the mixture is smooth and creamy, like a thick cream.  Add more or less water depending upon the consistency you are looking for.  For this recipe we are looking for it to resemble a thick cream.   Measure out 1 cup to use for the scones.  Save the rest for another use.  You can use it anywhere you would normally use cream.  It’s great over berries, just add a little vanilla extract. YUM-MY!

Here is the updated, lighter scone recipe.  Hope you like it!  Oh, and don’t forget the vanilla glaze.  It gives the scones just the right amount of sweetness.

Ingredients: (yields 12 scones)


2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

2 tablespoons raw sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup cashew cream (see note above)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1 handful chopped dried cherries

1 handful chopped slivered almonds


1 cup powdered sugar

2 tablespoons soymilk

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 tablespoons melted Earth Balance margarine



  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.  A wire whisk does a great job at mixing dry ingredients.
  3. Add cherries and almonds.  Stir to combine and create a well in the center of the mixture.
  4. Combine extracts and cashew cream and pour the wet mixture into the well of the dry ingredients.
  5. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine well, but do not over stir.
  6. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and form into a slab that is about 3-4 inches wide and 16-18 inches long.
  7. Cut in half, crosswise, then cut each half into 3 equal pieces.  Now cut each piece (roughly a square shape) diagonally, leaving you with 12 triangles.  Place your scones on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.


Tip #1: Whip this up while the scones are in the oven to save yourself some time.  This glaze is SO easy-peasy and really makes the scones the perfect level of sweetness.  

Tip #2: If you are making a variation like cranberry orange or blueberry lemon, you can citru-fy your glaze by just adding some zest and juice (enough to substitute for the soymilk), of either an orange, lemon or lime.  

Tip #3: Save yourself on the cleanup by placing a piece of wax or parchment paper underneath the wire rack that your scones will be cooling on.  Now you can drizzle your glaze right onto the cooling scones, without making a mess of your kitchen counter!

  1. In a small bowl, dissolve the sugar in soymilk (or juice and zest) and vanilla with a wire whisk.
  2. Add the melted Earth Balance and continue to whisk out the lumps.  Now drizzle on the scones.
  3. What did I tell you, easy peasy!

Strawberry Rhubarb Upside-down Cobbler

Our kids and I had a great time strawberry picking with friends yesterday.  Before we left the farm stand, I spotted a box of beautiful, ruby-red rhubarb.  My mind went immediately to “rhubarb…strawberries…COBBLER!”  Not to mention the fact that rhubarb is so nutrient rich (and becomes more so, once it’s cooked)!  Low on the glycemic index, 14% protein, and high in fiber, vitamin C,  vitamin K, calcium and potassium, rhubarb is super-star.  Not to mention the fact that 1 cup is only 25 Calories!

The kids and I out in the field, picking our strawberries.

Strawberries are no nutritional slouch either.  These sweet red beauties are high in folate (nature’s form of folic acid), fiber, vitamin C and manganese.  And when the sweetness of strawberries collides with the tartness of rhubarb, you have a winning result!

In this cobbler, I used no eggs, oil, butter or margarine, so there are no added calories from fat.  We love our oats around here, so there are a lot of them in the cobbler.

Technically this is more of an “upside down” cobbler because of the fact that the fruit is poured over the cobbler, versus plopping mounds of the topping over the fruit, which makes for a “cobblestone” appearance – thus the name.

The perfect addition for this was a little dollop of cashew cream that has been sweetened with dates.  I had my taste testers (ages 2 and 5) try out a spoonful, and they kept coming back for more.  That’s always a good sign.

Enjoy the fleeting days of spring and pick up some fresh (or frozen would work too) strawberries and rhubarb and see what you come up with!

Strawberry Rhubarb Upside-down Cobbler


  • 4 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced
  • 4 stalks rhubarb, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup evaporated cane juice (more or less, depending on how sweet your berries are)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons potato starch (could substitute cornstarch)
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 to 1 1/4 cups old fashioned oats
  • 1 Tablespoon Baking Soda
  • 2 Tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 cups non-dairy milk
  • 6 Tablespoons maple syrup or agave


  1. Combine berries, rhubarb, evaporated cane juice and starch in a large bowl.  Toss to combine and set aside (at room temp) for about 30 min, or while you preheat the oven and prep your cobbler.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Time to prep your cobbler!  In a large mixing bowl, dump in your dry ingredients (flour, oats, cinnamon and baking soda).  Stir to combine, then add remaining ingredients to the party. (milk substitute, sweetener and vanilla).  Mix until everything is well incorporated.
  3. Pour cobbler mixture into a 9×13 pan that is either non-stick or lightly sprayed with cooking spray.  Use the back of a wooden spoon  to make sure the batter covers the bottom of the pan evenly.  Add  the berries and rhubarb and spread out evenly.  Don’t be afraid to smoosh the fruit down a little into the batter.  
  4. Bake for about 45 minutes or until golden and bubbly (center shouldn’t look too wet).
Sweet Cashew Cream
This stuff is a great little treat, and makes a dessert just a little more special.  It even dresses up plain ol’ fruit to make it more of a special treat.  The unsweetened version of this is a great substitute for dairy cream in anything from scones, to creamy soups or even ice cream, just leave out the vanilla and dates.
  • 1 cup raw cashews
  • water
  • 8-10 deglet noor dates (the smaller ones)
  • capful of vanilla extract
  1. If you have time, cover the cashews with water and let them soak a while (1 hour up to overnight).  Then drain and rinse before making the cream.  If you don’t have time for this step, don’t worry about it.  
  2. Place cashews and enough fresh water to almost cover the nuts in a blender pitcher, then add the dates and vanilla.  Blend until completely smooth.  High powered blenders like a VitaMix are GREAT at this, but any regular blender should be able to handle the job.
  3. Place a dollop on top of your serving  of cobbler and voila!  Dig in! 

Cheese – the truth is starting to come out! AND Vegan Power Execs!

I’m ready to do a little dance this morning!  It seems as though the common sense benefits of eating like an herbivore are becoming more accepted and people are starting to pull back the curtain and see the truth about nutrition and our current “healthy eating guidelines”.  We, the American public, have been so decieved and mislead.  Its no wonder why so many people don’t have any idea what is “healthy” and what isn’t.  We believe what we’ve been told by the USDA is a healthy diet and it becomes generally accepted as truth.  Then someone else tells us that it isn’t.  It rocks the foundation of what we’ve always been taught to eat!   Many dismiss it as a fad, or deny that it could possibly be true.  Others are curious, but cautious.

Plant-based nutrition and veganism are becoming more mainstream everyday.  And as more high profile personalities follow it and get the word out about the benefits of eating a plant-based diet, and more TRUE information about what REALLY is healthy becomes unvailed, it will only become more mainstream.  Kudos to both the New York Times and Bloomberg Businessweek for recently publishing the articles cited below, which only bring the benefits of plant based eating closer to the consciousness of the American public!

There’s a great article in the NY Times that you MUST read.  It basically calls out the USDA and the hypocrisy that lies within the organization; declaring an anti-obesity campaign while departments within the USDA are, simultaneously, doing all they can to increase American cheese consumption. 

click here to read the article:

Another great article that was brought to my attention was one in Bloomberg Businessweek that features Vegan Moguls.   Some of the biggest power players in the U.S. are embracing a vegan diet as a way to exert control and power over their own health.  You can find it here:

If you are looking for some good recipes to help you reduce your cheese consumption, there are some great ones on my first blog “Your Nutrtionista’s Tips for Healthy Eating”.  There you’ll find things like  Hummus “Quesadillas” and an incredible grilled Panini Verde that use hummus instead of cheese to create a delicious, healthy, high fiber meal, without the artery clogging saturated fat, or disease promoting casein found in cheese.

Coming soon…recipe for the perfect finger food for your next holiday party…Raw collard “sushi” rolls.  They are refreshing, delicious and so pretty!

Sweeteners Part 2 – High Fructose Corn Syrup and other Sweeteners: Sorting out what is what

Sucanat, Stevia, High Fructose Corn syrup…What the heck is this stuff and should you be using it?  Welcome to part 2 of our sweeteners series!  In this post I’ll attempt to bring a little more clarity to what is really in some of the more talked about sweeteners and provide info on some of the many theories that are out there about sugar and other sweeteners.  Please remember that I am not a physician or registered dietitian, so please use this blog as a tool to get some direction on where to go with your own search, and not as a prescription for better health.  The information provided on how sweeteners affect health is also based on the healthy individual.  Diabetics and others need to be careful about what they consume and should work together with their doctors and nutrition advisors on what is best for them.  But remember it’s okay to ASK QUESTIONS!

My intention with this post is not to scare anyone, but try to provide the information that I have learned; the good, the bad and the ugly.  There are many theories that some believe, many of which need further study.  Hopefully you will be able to use this information to dig a little further on your own and make the decision that is best for you and your family.   The very last part on pH is REALLY important so PLEASE read it.  I know it’s easy to just skim over stuff, or not finish the article, but if you get anything from this, please read it.  I learned a lot about pH researching this part.  I hope you do too.


High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) has been a topic of much debate for many years.  Recently, there have even been commercials on TV assuring consumers that HFCS is safe and no more dangerous than regular white table sugar.   After looking up a wide variety of published research studies, reviews and meta-analysis, it was pretty clear to me that there isn’t a whole lot of information that could conclusively say that HFCS was any more fattening or dangerous than sugar.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that HFCS is out of the woods yet.  More impartial and complete research is needed at this point.   Many people say that HFCS makes people more fat and that the evidence supports the fact that those who drink more soft drinks have a higher risk of obesity.  Afterall, HFCS  is the sweetener most commonly used in soft drinks.  They don’t take into account that whether it’s sweetened with HFCS or sugar, it is still an alarming number of unnecessary, non-nutritive, calories that leave you no more full and satiated than water.  Another claim is that HFCS is more readily stored in the body as fat, than table sugar is, but again this is due to confusion.   There is some evidence that fructose MAY be more readily stored in the body as fat than sucrose or glucose (the other 2 forms of sugar), raise triglycerides (form of fat found in the blood) more than glucose, and may increase the risk of gout .  However, HFCS  is composed of approximately 50% fructose and 50% glucose.  That’s just about the same percentage of  fructose as is found in honey, molasses, and juice concentrates.  So, based on the fructose theory, this wouldn’t make HFCS any worse than the other sweeteners listed above.

The bottom line is sugar, HFCS, corn syrup, etc.  are all refined sweeteners filled with non-nutritive, non-filling calories that often trigger the desire to eat more sugar and thus many more unnecessary calories which sets us up for weight gain among other problems.  We need to limit our consumption of ALL added sugars. 


Sucanat is the least processed form of sugar, other than gnawing on the sugar cane itself.  Of all the major sweeteners derived from sugar cane, Sucanat retains the most nutrients.  Thus, it has the highest nutritional value of all forms of sugar cane.  Though that still isn’t saying much.  Since it does retain the molasses, B6 and trace minerals, it is a good substitute for brown sugar, which is refined white sugar with processed molasses added back in.


These are pretty much what you would expect.  Date sugar comes from date palm sap, and coconut sugar is evaporated and crystalized form of the sap of the coconut palm blossom.  Both are touted for having a higher nutrient content than white sugar (which isn’t hard to do AT ALL).  But it’s still sugar, and the amounts are minimal.  Let’s just say it isn’t going to make any Top 10 Superfoods lists in the near future.


Have you heard of Stevia?  Chances are you probably have and wondered ‘What’s so great about it?’.  Stevia is a no-calorie herbal sweetener that has been used Japan for 30 years without any evidence, so far, of any adverse reactions.  Stevia has zero calories, and no effect on blood sugar.  Some of the claims made about Stevia include antimicrobial properties, balances blood sugar levels, decreases blood pressure, decreases cravings for sweets and aids digestion.

So why won’t the FDA approve it?  Actually, the FDA has approved it, but only as a dietary supplement, not a food additive.  The official reason the FDA is dragging its feet is that there is data out there that shows Stevia to be potentially harmful.  In rodent studies, Stevia was found to cause reproductive difficulties.  It is thought that high amounts of Stevia may lead to difficulty (primarily in children) absorbing carbohydrates and converting them into energy in the cells.   There is also data to suggest that Stevia may mutate cell DNA and thus cause cancer, but further study and testing is needed before making any conclusions.   It is unclear how unbiased and well done these studies are, and again more study and testing is needed.  I wouldn’t be surprised if, unofficially, the FDA may be getting a little pressure sugar manufacturers to not approve Stevia, in order to protect their own interest.


Sweeteners may state that they are derived from a natural source, but what has been done to it from cane to packet?  For instance, Splenda is chlorinated sugar.  It is 98% pure, 2% heavy metals, methanol and arsenic.  Just giving you the facts.


Now for the really scary stuff.  If you still use those little pink or blue packets, please consider this.  Once ingested, the methyl alcohol in these sweeteners is converted into formaldehyde (Isn’t that what they use to preserve dead bodies?).  Formaldehyde, in large doses, can be a potent neurotoxin.  Equal also contains the amino acid, phenylalanine that is naturally occurring the brain.  However, high levels of phenylalanine could increase one’s risk of seizures, depression, and schizophrenia.  There has been no evidence to show that small or moderate levels of consumption lead to any of the above effects.


Not only is sugar bad for our teeth and waistline, but it can be harmful to other body systems as well.

pH Balance

The body’s pH balance is a very delicate one.  Everything we consume has its own pH level which can potentially affect the pH of our own bodies.  If the pH level decreases, the body becomes a more acidic environment, if it increases, the body becomes more alkaline.  The human body functions optimally in a slightly alkaline state.

When the body starts to become more acidic a variety of things can start to happen such as:

  • decreased immune  function
  • headaches
  • increased yeast production
  • dental cavities
  • colds
  • allergies
  • may contribute to cancer growth (cancer cells are said to thrive in an acidic environment)

Some of the more acid forming things people consume are:

  • artificial sweeteners
  • coffee
  • excessive protein
  • meat
  • pasteurized dairy
  • refined sugars
  • fatty foods

So HOW do our bodies neutralize these acidic influences to maintain a proper pH?  Well, our body takes alkalizing minerals from reserves in the body to buffer the low pH level.  One of the more common alkalizing minerals is calcium which is leached from the bones to buffer the effects of low pH foods, then excreted in the urine.

The good news!  Nearly all fruits and vegetables are alkalizing in the body, even if they seem acidic.  This is due to the alkalizing minerals contained in fruits and vegetables like potassium and calcium, and alkalizing salts.  Other alkalizing foods include miso, soybeans, tofu and sea vegetables.   Yes, you can get calcium from dairy, but the dairy itself is very acidic and causes the body to leach calcium from the bones, then out it goes in the urine.  This  is one of the reasons that the recommended intake of calcium is so high.  We need more calcioum to buffer all of the acid forming foods we take in.  Wouldn’t a better source of calcium be one that is not taking it away from your body at the same time?

So, if you are concerned about maintaining a strong immune system this cold and flu season, or strong bones for the rest of your life, you may want to consider cutting back on some of the more acid forming foods and EAT MORE FRUITS & VEGGIES!