Tag Archives: healthy

Pop Star

I am reclaiming popcorn as a healthy and natural snack– not some over-salted, mushy-with-butter, expensive mess in a bucket or bag. Let’s look at the facts on this. That little trifold of leading name brand microwave popcorn in the “movie theater” flavor has 42.5 calories per cup and over sixty percent of those calories are from fat (27.5). “Oh, that’s not too, bad,” you say? Well, nobody eats one cup. In fact, the serving size is 4 cups and they estimate that a bag has about 2.5 servings. But, if you eat the whole bag–and who hasn’t–you are consuming 425 calories, with 275 from fat, 30 total grams of fat, and 750 mg of sodium.

On the other hand, good old kernels yield about 20 calories, a quarter of one gram of fat, and zero sodium per cup. Eating the equivelent of a bag full of popcorn would result in the not-so-shameful results of 200 calories and 2.5 grams of fat. Can you believe that? Ten cups of popcorn for 200 calories!

So, if popcorn kernels naturally have no sodium and very little fat, where does it all come from? Probably things like partially hydrogenated soybean oil, and artificial colorings and flavors… and maybe some real butter. Let’s leave the analysis at this example and not terrify each other with the facts surrounding actual movie theater popcorn, but if you’re curious, go to this article.

Okay, so now we are all on the bandwagon. But in case I haven’t sold this idea enough, making popcorn the right way is not only healthy, but cheap! Just don’t buy it in your snack section of the grocery store. That’s where they put all the junk food and over-priced jar of Orville Whathisname kernels. That is not where you buy popcorn kernels. My grocery stores carry popcorn kernels in the Mexican/Latino food aisle, where a pound of kernels runs about $1.00. The jar of kernels in the snack aisle is about $5-$6 a pound. In other grocery stores, I might find it with the whole rice and beans. I also find that farmers markets in Illinois carry popcorn kernels cheaply–and usually some neat varieties.

Armed with knowledge and your bag of popcorn kernels, there are three easy methods to get them to fun and fluffy and full of health, not fat.

1) Pull out your good, ol’ air popper. If you don’t have one, your mom probably has one that has been stuck in a cabinet for twenty years. This is not really new technology here. It is just heat added to a spinning metal tray. This method of popping corn adds no oils or butters and is pretty much fool proof. At least, it shouldn’t add butter or oils. My little cheap-o one will burn if you try to add butter or oils, but I’ve seen the ones that have a little tray on top for melted butter. Don’t use it. Not only will it defeat the health benefits, but you will probably make your popcorn soggy and your machine greasy. Then you’ll never want to pop the kernels.

2) You can also make popcorn kernels in the microwave. And I am not talking about the little trifold pouches you can buy at the grocery store. I am talking about taking your thrifty bag of loose kernels, sticking some kernels in a paper bag lunch bag and hitting a button. All microwaves are different so I am not going to give you a fail-safe amount of time to pop your kernels. Start with a couple of minutes BUT keep an ear out for the slowing down of the popping. Now, until you get pretty good at this, err on the side of caution and stop the time when there is consistently about one second between pops. But take heart. Even if you stop the clock too early and end up with a handful of kernels on the bottom, you can stick the bag back in the microwave and pop them again.

3) Finally, if you don’t have an air popper or microwave, you can resort to a classic low-tech method: a pot. Making stove top popcorn is not as difficult as it seems. And despite using a little bit of oil to start off with, it’s not unhealthy and the oil provides a nice smoky quality to the popcorn. Most recipes on-line that I saw recommended at least a tablespoon of oil, but I think this is way more than you need. I like to use just enough to give the single layer of kernels on the bottom of the pan a sheen. Cook over medium heat, and allow a little space for condensation to escape so that the popped kernels do not get mushy and remove the lid as soon as the popping has stopped.

Okay, so now you have a great, low calorie snack–though, unfortunately, many people haven’t learned to appreciate the taste of naked popped corn. I have a solution for this, too and it is not a batch of unnaturally yellow powdered cheese to sprinkle over the popped corn. My solution involves dried herbs and/or spices and a dash of either salt or sugar. I say this a lot, but I truly believe it– the variations and recipes are only limited by your imagination. But just in case your imagination needs a little jump start, below are a few ideas. The only trick is that you need to grind the mixtures really, really finely– preferably in a mortar and pestle. The measurement of each ingredient is about a pinch. We’re not creating a huge amount of mixture here. It will be just enough to put inside a small paper lunch bag and lightly cover the kernels.



Mustard Powder-Garlic-Salt

smoky paprika-salt-chili powder (a teeny amount of chili powder until you get accustomed to this.)

lemon zest-fennel-salt

Just start thinking of things that sound delicious together and try your hand at making a coating. Remember, the trick is that all ingredients have to be dried and ground very finely. Place in a brown paper bag and shake, shake, shake.

I like popcorn just the way it is… though now that I am re-reading this last part… I kind of can’t wait to go home and try a bag with brown sugar and a teeny pinch of salt. Go out there and experiment! But please share your results with me.

As always, I love to hear your ideas! Let me know what you think or tell all your friends how wonderful you think lifeimproved.org is.


The Actual Juice Experiment–Part 2

By Wednesday, my husband was ready to tap out. This is where we reveal a secret. He has Crohn’s. He had done a lot of research on whether this was healthy for him. Normally he is not supposed to eat a lot of fiber, but with the juicer, the roughage is left out, so he was excited that this could be a way to get all those nutrients he felt he was missing. But but by Wednesday he was feeling light headed, nauseated, and with an upset stomach. Basically all the signs of a Crohn’s flare-up. Or…the third day of a juice fast. I thought that, perhaps, he was consuming too much citrus because many recipes call for lemons and oranges. He had a bad experience with Mai Tais on our last trip to Maui and the acid content was a big factor.

We discussed options and he decided not to risk it. Even the small amount of protein he had been supplementing with was not enough for him. He stated that he would be eating real food, but nothing doctored or processed. No oils or salt or added sugar. He immediately took out two beautiful, plump, perfect chicken breasts to defrost. I put some lemon zest, fresh rosemary and mustard powder and left them to marinade. When I cooked them later that night, my mouth watered a bit. The constant refrain that has gone through my head throughout this whole thing is “maybe just one bite…” And seriously, if my husband had offered, I would have taken him up on it. He didn’t offer.

I had an apple, a couple of stalks of celery and a banana through out Wednesday as snacks. Believe me, if it weren’t for the possibility of eating real fruit–crunching on something–I don’t know that I would have gotten through the first part of the week.

On Thursday morning, I felt good. Tired, maybe. Excited that this was almost my last day of juicing. Oh–did I forget to mention? This was now officially a 5 (and 1/3) day “reboot.” Life was about to get in the way on Saturday and it would have been impractical to do on Saturday. I received great news that an event I was going to attend Thursday evening was cancelled due to heavy rains and flooding. I mean, it wasn’t great that there was flooding, but that I wasn’t going to be tempted by pizza and whatever else they had planned for dinner.

My husband decided that he didn’t need breakfast juice and the thought of going through all that clean up for just one little glass of juice was annoying. I seriously considered just eating an apple. In the end, I decided to go ahead and make juice, since I was blogging about it. This forum is like truth serum and helps keep a person honest. Damn you people. Since it was just me on Thursday morning, I made up my own juice sans recipe, and it was totally delicious. See…my husband should trust me more. I had my breakfast and felt satisfied and fairly alert afterwards.

As I was getting ready on Thursday morning, I thought my body looked slimmer. The scale showed that I lost about four pounds. I was still waiting desperately for that skin “glow” people talk about. I don’t know if I will get there in just five days, or maybe I just don’t have glowy skin.

For lunch, I had an extra serving because my husband couldn’t get away…so I had his juice. It was nice and filling, and used my last beet. I really liked the beet-based juices. Not only do beets provide beautiful color, but they provide wonderful sweetness. I bet my husband was not sad to have missed it.

After lunch, I didn’t feel tired, but I also did not feel energetic. And I still felt very unsatisfied. I munched on an apple, which helped the littlest bit. I had run out of bananas by then which was really sad. Bananas are filling and sweet.

I set out a nice piece of salmon for my husband’s dinner. The juice recipe I was using for myself for dinner called for ginger, lemon, and parsley, among other things. So I juiced those first and poured a little over the fish. I sure would have liked to have tried it. I stuck it in the oven and made the rest of my juice, which had a giant green apple, celery, red leaf lettuce and cucumber in addition to the above. I also threw in the rest of my fennel since it was green, too. The green juices are my least favorite. They make me feel like I am drinking pesto. Usually the green recipes go all green, with cumbersome or celery and kale and spinach and stuff. Unfortunately, when you throw greens in most juices to try and cover them up, it make it a really unattractive puce color.

My husband decided not to drink any juice because he felt Crohn-sy. By this point he was pretty much done and finally admitted it. So, instead he ate that luscious piece of salmon on a bed of whole wheat pasta, topped with fresh parsley. I just kept telling myself I only had one more day. One. More. Day. How do people do this for longer ( beach Veg*n I am thinking of you!) ? It’s so boring.

Since my husband was not participating in this any more, I decided not to go to the store and stock up on additional fruits and veggies. I felt I had plenty of fruits and veggies I could cobble together to stick it through one more day: two oranges, five red delicious apples, romaine lettuce, a dozen carrots, several stalks of celery, a thumb of ginger, and a lime. Totally do-able.


On Friday morning I separated my remaining fruit and veggies into three piles: Breakfast was two apples, one orange, one lime, and four carrots, Lunch was one apple, four carrots, one orange, and Dinner was two apples, one thumb ginger, four carrots, four stalks of celery. My romaine had gone bad so I could not use it. Darn. It was going to be an orange kind of day since the carrots were going to be the base of each of my meals that day…but it sure was pretty. And pretty delicious. The carrot-orange combos are pretty good.


Since I only had to make juice for me, I was able to pull about a pint glass of juice from each grouping. I had a a few celery stalks that I saved as a snack since I knew that it would be tough to make it the whole day without having something crunchy. They were total life savers and helped get me through that late afternoon snack attack phase. My husband asked during lunch on Friday afternoon if I was finally feeling that burst of energy I was supposed to feel after the 4th day. I had to think about this. I did not feel tired, but I did not feel full of energy either. I would have to say that I, perhaps, felt more alert than normal, especially in the afternoons.

Friday evening was fairly anticlimactic. I had no special juice recipe to celebrate with, and probably the least tasty juice combo of the day. 20130419-215142.jpg
Also, my dinner plans for Saturday were cancelled due to some freak weather issues, so I had no giant bowl of pasta to look forward to. I suppose I could have committed to another two days since my original conflict was gone… but I don’t think a person should be so wishy-washy.

Anyhow, the whole thing just kind of fizzled to an end rather unenthusiastically. But my husband was proud of me…and he kept saying so as he ate his normal, delicious curries shrimp dinner. 20130419-215503.jpg

By late evening these are all I had left of that massive pile of produce I had at the beginning.

But I was already thinking of all the delicious, firm things I could eat. Midnight counts as Saturday, right?

The Actual Juice Experiment- Part 1

It was a slow start to the experiment.  By the time we got done with some errands, including grocery shopping for the impressive array of produce, it was basically Sunday evening. We excitedly got home and picked our “meal”, which I decided should have beets in it. My husband hates beets. Now, I didn’t pick beets because I was being cruel, but because my husband kept saying that he was hopeful that this was a way he could finally consume those veggies that are really good for you, but that he can’t stomach–even delicately steamed and deliciously prepared by his talented wife. So I chose something with beets.

The recipe called for one beet, four carrots, two cups kale, one cup spinach, two apples and a thumb of ginger. It was interesting. The color was beautiful but the smell was very green. Surprisingly, the flavor was nice. The ginger was key here and I don’t know if we would have had as positive of a start without it. Unlike a fine wine, you don’t want to inhale too much.

We “ate” early, like around 5:00 pm, which meant we had aaaaaalllllll night to think about how unsatisfied we were. I ended up eating two bananas. Hey, Joe from Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead ate fruit, too, so it’s okay. I also drank several cups of tea. My husband had some crackers with peanut butter and a banana. I noticed I burped a lot. By 11:00 pm I was starving and more than ready to go to bed. I was thinking about food, a lot.

Monday was the first full day of juicing. I was nervous. Just look at how much I bitched about measly six hours the night before. But I did not wake up particularly hungry, which I thought was a good sign.

I persevered and stuck with my juice… and fruit. I had a banana after breakfast and an apple after dinner. I also had a “snack” juice and a “dessert” juice, which is recommended from the rebooting program. I was proud of myself.  Food stared me in the face all day. Particularly this one can of soup. I just imagined it being all nice and warm and chunky. I really liked looking at it, almost so I could have a goal to work towards, thinking, “I get to eat this when this is all over,” Which was nuts because I wouldn’t normally eat canned soup, and it certainly wouldn’t be the thing I would want to eat above all else.  But for whatever reason it called to me.

Below are a couple of samples of our “meals, ” which were then reduced to less than two pint glasses each time.



By 10:00 pm on Monday I was starving! My stomach was rumbling and had been all day. Hunger or digestion? I dunno. I was also a little nauseated. My husband ate various sources of protein throughout the day: eggs, chicken, tuna. I  resented him a little. But he was worked out that night, so I gave him some slack.

I drank a lot of water but still felt sluggish throughout the day and I was sooo thirsty. I also had a bit of a head ache. Any physical was activity was draining. Basically, all the text book side effects, except the body odor, of course.

Tuesday, dawned earlier than anticipated once I realized that I needed to attend a fundraiser breakfast. It was torture. I still made a juice in the morning and counted on eating just fruit at the breakfast. And I figured orange juice was okay.

The breakfast went swimmingly. Well…except for the scrambled eggs I ate. But I could only take a little bit of fruit because I was one of the first to pass it around. And eggs are mushy any way. But so good. So good. I still count this a win because I did not eat the Danish, donuts, bacon, and hash browns. I also attended another meeting that afternoon where skittles, milk duds and cookies were passed around. I easily passed those up…but I did grab a diet coke. For some reason this really annoyed my husband who considered the diet coke more egregious that the eggs. Really?

My husband and I constantly asked each other how we were feeling. It was like couples therapy. And should I talk about the gross stuff? Well, let me put it this way, don’t be surprised when because you drink a lot of deep, intense color, a lot of deep, intense color comes out.  The beets are particularly shocking.

On Tuesday evening we went on three mile walk, something we always try and do if the weather is nice. My husband was wiped out after the walk. I felt okay. I think the calorie difference was really starting to affect him. While he was supplementing somewhat with sources of protein, he was still consuming substantially fewer calories.

The first part of the week was challenging but exciting.  All these experiences were fairly new to us, with new tastes and colors and veggies we don’t normally consume.  Check back in a couple of days from now to see how the rest of the week went.  I’ll eventually set up another page with the recipes we used, too.  But adding them here might have made this post too long!