Natural Sweeteners

20 12 2012

I don’t know about you, but all the sweetener choices are confusing me. Which ones are the healthiest choices?


Agave (pronounced ah-GAH-vay) comes from a cactus-like plant found in Mexico, which is also used to make tequila. The Aztecs used the liquid from the agave plant to flavor foods, considering it a gift from the gods. Now, it is considered a healthier choice as a sweetener with many beneficial properties. Agave is low on the glycemic index, making it a better choice for diabetics. But, as with any sweetener, agave should be consumed in moderation.

Agave is said to be similar in taste to honey and does not have the aftertaste found with artificial sweeteners. It is 1.5 times sweeter than sugar, so less is needed to achieve the same sweetness. Agave is about 60 calories per tablespoon.


The chicory plant is a hardy perennial common in North American and in Europe. It has purplish-blue flowers that open and closes at the exact same time each day. Chicory leaves are also known as endive, frisee, escarole or radicchio and the roots are used to make “chicory”.  Studies have shown that chicory may prevent constipation and has been reported to help maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in the colon.  Like Agave, Chicory is very low on the glycemic index, making it less likely to raise blood sugar levels. Products sweetened with Chicory may contain other sweeteners as well. So, check the labels. This will affect the sweetness. Product calories vary also, depending on the amount of chicory. One chicory root has 43 calories, but some products may be calorie-free.


Stevia is a South American herb that has been used as a sweetener for hundreds of years. The leaf of the plant contains the compounds that give its sweetness. It is 25-30 times sweeter than sugar with 0 calories per tablespoon and 0 carbohydrates. Stevia is zero on the glycemic index indicating it has not impact on blood sugar.

Monk fruit
Monk fruit is a type of small melon, cultivated for its sweet fruit and as an extracted sweetener. It is found in the tropical and subtropical regions of South East Asia and has been used as in traditional Chinese medicine. Its sweetness comes from antioxidants called mogrosides, found only in the monk fruit. Monk fruit is calorie-free, is 150-200 times sweeter than sugar, and has a zero glycemic index.
I’ve read that the more sweet foods I eat, the more I will crave them. From personal experience, I know this to be true. So, although, these sweeteners may be healthier options, eating as little as possible or none, is still my goal.  But, when I do sweeten my iced tea, I will choose one of these natural sweeteners and use as little as possible.

Tammy’s Challenges

Mind: Listen to your body after eating. How do you feel? Does this food agree with you?

Body: Add 10 minutes to your cardio workout during the holiday season.

Soul: Smile at yourself everytime you look in the mirror. It will seem odd at first, but keep it up and learn to like what you see.

I would love to hear from you.  Contact me through email at and Facebook at TammYoga and Twitter @TammYoga.




Cranberry Juice

6 12 2012

Cranberries, the small deep red, sweet fruit has some big health benefits. Some areas of the US list it as a superfruit, or a fruit with numerous health benefits.

You may have seen the cranberry juice commercial with the two guys standing in a cranberry bog. Many cranberries are water-harvested, floating in bogs, which makes it easier to harvest. But, this way of harvesting also promotes phytonutrients in the berry and gives it the beautiful red color, by exposing it to the natural sunlight. Increasing the sunlight also increases the amounts of anthocyanins, which provide the greater health benefits.

What are some of the benefits of this little berry?

Traditionally, cranberry juice has been used as a natural way to reduce or eliminate bladder infections. The berries have been found to inhibit bacteria from accumulating on the walls of the urinary tract, preventing infection.  Drinking the juice daily, may prevent the infections all together.

Reducing dental plaque is another benefit of cranberry juice. The juice inhibits the growth of bacteria that causes plaque in the mouth. Eliminating plaque will keep your teeth and gums healthy, fresh, and clean.

Medical research is ongoing to see if cranberry juice may help to prevent kidney stones. Cranberries naturally rid the body of bacteria and waste, which makes sense they may even prevent kidney stones to form. We shall see…

Watch the sugar content of the cranberry juice. Juice with no added sugar will contain higher concentrations of antioxidants, making it a better choice than sweetened versions. Unsweetened, the juice may seem tart to taste. But, the concentration of phytochemicals providing all these benefits make it more beneficial. Try adding it to smoothies, water, or other no sugar added juices to offset the tartness. Or course, the greatest concentration of health benefits will be found in the raw cranberry. The juice is more readily available year round and may be easier to consume on a regular basis.

Tammy’s Challenges

Mind: Eat with your non-dominant hand all day for one day. This will help you to focus on your meal and slow down between bites. This will give you time to chew between bites and let your stomach and brain connect to listen to the body’s signal of fullness.

Body: Look for cranberry juice (no sugar added) when shopping for groceries. Learn to read labels to reduce sugar in your diet.

Soul: Have your last meal at least 3 hours before bedtime. This will give your body a chance to digest the meal before lying down, which will make for a more restful sleep.

I would love to hear from you.  Contact me through email at and Facebook at TammYoga and Twitter @TammYoga.



The Scoop on Whole Grains

16 05 2012

Article printed in the Weekly Record Herald on May 13, 2012

Hi, my name is Tammy Shellhaas. I am a yoga instructor/personal trainer and I would like you to join me on a journey to challenge your mind, body, and soul. Every other week we will explore a new aspect of a healthy lifestyle. My hope is to offer new information, or a new perspective to what you already know, or reintroduce an idea that may have been forgotten. So, let’s get started…

When our children were small, I decided to make the switch to whole grain products. I admit, I was a little sneaky about it, but it was for the benefit of our family. So, I justified my underhandedness for our healthier lifestyle.

At first, I used whole grains, solely, when making out favorite dishes. That did not go over very well with the kids or John! (I have to admit, I was not a fan at first, either.) I did not give up. I decided to make small changes. I substituted a portion of the white flour in bread, cookie and pancake recipes with whole grain flour and gradually increased the amount as we became accustomed to the texture and taste.  I did the same when substituting refined grain pasta with whole grain.

I read labels to choose the best products I could find and we learned to enjoy and savor the taste of these healthier foods. The whole foods were denser and more filling, adding nutrients we were missing from our diet. By including whole grains to our diet, we increased our intake of plant-based proteins, fiber, and antioxidants. Plus, foods high in fiber and antioxidants have been linked to reducing the risk for certain health problems: obesity, stroke, and certain types of cancers.

What is a Whole Grain?

Following is the official definition of whole grains, approved and endorsed by the Whole Grains Council in May 2004:

Whole grains or foods made from them contain all the essential parts and naturally-occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed. If the grain has been processed (e.g., cracked, crushed, rolled, extruded, and/or cooked), the food product should deliver approximately the same rich balance of nutrients that are found in the original grain seed.

This definition means that 100% of the original kernel – all of the bran, germ, and endosperm – must be present to qualify as a whole grain.

I take this to mean that a food labeled whole grain is as close as possible to eating the food right from the plant. Can’t get much better for you than that! The Whole Grain Stamp is an easy way to spot products with ½ a serving (8 g.) of whole grains.

What are examples of whole grain?

What is a serving size?

  • 1/2 cup cooked brown rice or other cooked grain
  • 1/2 cup cooked 100% whole-grain pasta
  • 1/2 cup cooked hot cereal, such as oatmeal
  • 1 ounce uncooked whole grain pasta, brown rice or other grain
  • 1 slice 100% whole grain bread
  • 1 very small (1 oz.) 100% whole grain muffin
  • 1 cup 100% whole grain ready-to-eat cereal

Some foods contain whole grains, as well as, refined grains. Crackers, pancake mixes, meal replacement bars, and products that contain a larger amount of whole grains, it is necessary to eat more of those foods. The recommended serving size for these foods is 16 grams.

Tammy’s Challenges

Growth does not come from one perspective. To achieve a healthy lifestyle, you must do more than concentrate on exercise alone. Diet changes will enhance your wellbeing, but it alone is not healthy. Let’s not forget the soul or spirit. It needs nurturing as well. So, here are a few mind (diet) – body (exercise) – soul (mental) challenges for you to try.

Mind: Try substituting a portion of the refined grains in recipes with whole grains.

Body: Try a new cardio machine (treadmill, elliptical, etc.) or change your workout route.

Soul: Write down 10 things that make you smile. Keep the list and refer to it whenever you need a pick-me-up.

I would love to hear from you.           Email:

Facebook: TammYoga

Twitter: @TammYoga

Namaste  (The spirit in me respects the spirit in you.)