Living Lite

Healthy Strawberry Cheesecake Parfait - No Cooking Necessary!

June 18, 2018

This is an outrageously delicious dessert, especially because the main ingredient is sweet, tender, locally grown strawberries.

I tried this parfait with my Salvation Army Addiction Recovery class, where I teach how preparing and eating more fruits and vegetables can be deliciously fun. The recipes we make must be healthy, simple, inexpensive, quick, and with no cooking necessary. This was a HUGE hit!

For 10 Servings or More


Use 3 medium bowls, one for each layer:

1 bowl:
Crush in Large Chunks: 9 Graham Crackers or 1-1/2 Cups Granola or Vanilla Wafers
Add Chopped Nuts, if desired

In 1 bowl, toss:
3 Cups Strawberries, sliced with hulls removed, with
1 Tablespoon Granulated Sugar

In 1 bowl, Blend, then refrigerate until set, if desired:
8 Ounces Low Fat Cream Cheese
1 Cup Nonfat Greek Yogurt
2 Tablespoons Heavy Cream
1/2 Cup Powdered Sugar
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Garnish with extra strawberries, granola, and/or chopped nuts on top
Optional: Place a Sprig of Mint on Top

In a wine glass, martini glass, or clear glass cup, place a layer of the crushed graham crackers, a layer of the cheesecake mixture, then a layer of the strawberries. Repeat.

This recipe is adapted from "Life Made Sweeter."

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Richly Intense Strawberry Sherbet in Five Minutes

June 11, 2018

Five minutes? Yes, you heard right. Through the Salvation Army, I teach people recovering from drug and alcohol addiction - and often from the criminal justice system - the importance of including fruits and vegetables in their diets. Sound boring? It certainly could be. But not when we make recipes like this 5-Minute Strawberry Sherbet, adapted from a recipe by Kelly Senyei. It's a sure-fire way to make anyone actually crave fruits for dessert in place of less healthy choices.

This sherbet (sherbets often contain dairy, while sorbets don't) is luscious, creamy, and intensely flavorful. I bought the strawberries at the local Farmers Market for maximum succulence. The class hulled the berries and placed them evenly on a baking sheet. Then they (the strawberries, that is) went into the blisteringly cold Salvation Army walk-in freezer. While waiting for the berries to freeze, we reviewed a little lesson about the health benefits of strawberries. The class was especially excited hearing about strawberries' potential for reducing inflammation, the risk for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, cognitive decline, for stimulating the immune system, and more. They learned about oxidation's role in increasing disease, and how the more than 100 nutrients in strawberries serve as antioxidants, reducing the risk for those diseases.

I love teaching people who really need help and who benefit so much from my counseling and classes, from people with low literacy and low income - to sophisticated folks - in my classes and private practice. It is amazing how delicious food naturally attracts anyone to a healthy way of eating and living.

Here goes:

Place about 1 cup of Greek yogurt (plain or another flavor, like peach or vanilla) in a food processor. Add 8 cups of frozen strawberries, 2 Tablespoons of freshly squeezed Lemon or Orange Juice, and its zest if you like. Next, add honey or sugar to taste, about 4 to 6 Tablespoons.

Cut the recipe in half for a smaller party.

Blend for 5 minutes straight - no peeking! And, voila... you have a rich dessert everyone will love. If you'd like to be extra fancy, serve it in a stemmed crystal glass.

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My Latest Ice Cream Obsessions: But What About the New Artificial Sweeteners Used?

June 3, 2018

My latest obsession is mint chocolate chip ice cream. It's a flavor I settled on after first trying several of the 7-Eleven brand ice creams at my corner store and got excited by their high quality - with a favorable price to boot. I started with chocolate truffle caramel. It tasted amazing! I had to try others. Next was pecan caramel. It was just as amazing! Cookie dough, not so much. But when I sampled Mint Cookies 'N Cream, my taste buds danced the jig when they encountered the cool, natural minty flavor (it's not colored green!) melded with swirls and bits of intense dark chocolate, and the smooth, rich mouth-feel.

While I and many of my Georgetown neighbors experimented with various flavors, we were surprised by the superior "7-Select" ice creams. So excellent that I believe they would compare favorably with any top of the line ice creams like Haagen Dazs or Ben & Jerry's. But as I was eating carton after carton, the calorie and saturated fat content was getting under my skin, especially given how often I indulged (Oops!).

So, when I saw "Halo Top" Mint Chip with only 310 calories in the whole pint, compared with 7-Select's 1,000, I decided - reluctantly and after months of avoiding it - to give it a try based on many of my clients' recommendations: I found it delicious and rich, light and airy too. I loved it! Of course, it's not Mint Cookies 'N Cream, but is a very welcome and satisfying substitute.

As is my habit, when I perused the ingredient list, though, I noticed a new sweetener I hadn't heard of before called erythritol. I was alarmed. Several artificial sweeteners, such as saccharine, sucralose and aspartame increased insulin resistance, a precurser to diabetes, and even increased abdominal fat, the unhealthiest - and most unsightly, as I watch mine expanding - type of body fat, according to many recent studies. Since people rely on my advice for their health, I had to research the additive to make sure it was safe.

The explanation for this surprising news about the negative affect of non-caloric artificial sweeteners (NAS) is the disturbance the artificial sweeteners seem to cause in your microbiome, the 100 million bacterial organisms in your digestive tract, collectively called the microbiome and are akin to a fully functioning organ. The studies, described in the journal Cell Metabolism, have been consistent and repeatable. In one study, healthy volunteers who were not consumers of NAS were fed saccharine daily for one week. A majority of the subjects experienced poorer glycemic response (a precurse to diabetes, and a cause of excess body fat) within one week and had altered intestinal microbiota. Other studies one published in Nature, found similiar results.

Bad news for people with or without diabetes.

But what about erythritol in so many of my new favorite treats for those of us who are sweet junkies? Is it okay? It is healthy? Unhealthy? Does it increase body fat, too?

Halo Mint Chip Nutrition Facts and Ingredients Labels (Photo by: Katherine Tallmadge) Halo Mint Chip Nutrition Facts and Ingredients Labels

Erythritol seems unique among NAS, even compared to other sugar alcohol sweeteners such as sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol, and maltitol. That's because it has a slightly different, but significant, chemical make-up. Erythritol has many advantages over any NAS. It naturally occurs in nature so does not contribute to environmental damage as does sucralose. It's not as sweet - 60 to 80 percent of sugar, and easily mixes with other sweeteners (Halo Top Mint Chip adds Stevia, a natural sweetener known for its healthy qualities, but not as palatable as erythritol). Erythritol has no aftertaste. It improves mouth feel. Most of it is not metabolized by the body - 90 percent of it travels through the GI tract unchanged, so it doesn't lead to the diarrhea caused by other sugar alcohol sweeteners. On top of all of those benefits, erythitol is a free-radical scanvenger, that is, an anti-oxidant - with potential health improving qualities. It even prevents dental carries. Crazy, huh? 

Erythritol has been approved as an artificial food sweetener in 60 countries. It's used as a sweetener, but also has other sensory qualities, such as texture, flavor and color. But it's expensive to produce, which explains why these new delicious low calorie products using erythritol tend to be much more expensive than other "diet" foods.

All of that said - I'm putting my readers and clients on notice. I'll be really pissed off if Halo Top's Mint Chip starts disappearing from grocery store shelves - especially those at my local 7-11 (and don't pretend you don't know which one that is). Be warned!

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