The Sweet Life Done Right

I love this photo of @JessArnaudin‘s friend’s homemade jam and fig bars!

One shouldn’t overdo the sweets, but what’s life without an occasional treat? As I repeat to my children so often they robotically complete the sentence:

Me: Life is what?
Offspring: Balance, mama, balance.

I’m of the school of thought that complete deprivation promotes obsession, so sweets in our house are allowed, but a) in moderation, and b) we try to keep the processed foods out and prioritize home-made whenever we can. Instead of store-bought granola, jams or snack bars, we make our own. We even make our own peanut butter now (ingredient: peanuts). It’s surprisingly simple and you’re spoiled with a choice of healthy recipes (for kids, for snacks, for desserts, etc.) online. Switch out white sugar for coconut sugar, white flour for coconut flour, cream for coconut milk, even butter for avocado and you’ve already upped the good and decreased the bad (and the guilt!)

Almonds, walnuts, shredded coconut, plums, apricots, raisins, bananas: it’s amazing how delicious healthier options can be once you stop eating processed foods. Sweet potato chips? Loads healthier. Coconut water? Puts sport drinks to shame. A chunky fruit smoothie with Greek yogurt and peanut butter (fruits, healthy bacteria AND protein!) is filling and is much more nutritious than a bagel and cream cheese (speaking of cream cheese, we’ve crossed over 100% to boursin or roule).

And here’s the kicker: healthy eating creates a virtuous cycle as much as junk foods create a debilitating cycle. Many junk foods and even processed foods like white sugar, rice and flour are highly addictive. The more you eat them, the more you crave them…like a bad drug. Our bodies don’t know how to process many of these foods and end up storing them as fat or buildup in the body and the brain. They do your skin no good either. Many of these foods and drinks are pro-inflammatory and inflammation is linked to everything from eczema to acne, psoriasis and even aging. At the urging of my mother (VMV Hypoallergenics’ founding dermatologist-dermatopathologist who does a lot of work on nutrition and skin — she never sees a psoriasis, eczema or acne patient without delving into their food and exercise) the entire family got serious about getting healthier. We expected a bit of a learning curve…

…but what we didn’t expect was that our taste buds would need to
relearn what healthy tasted like!

Processed foods make you crave them, but they also alter what your palate prefers or thinks of as delicious or normal. As you shift back to less processed options, don’t be surprised if your taste buds need a little time to adjust back to how food should taste. When my kids and I went back to pure maple syrup instead of vaguely named “pancake syrup,” we thought that the real stuff tasted weird — almost sour or fermented. When we started eating wheat pasta we thought, should it taste “rough” like this? Wild rice totally threw us for a loop — it had a “taste” or (proving the point) it wasn’t “sweet.” We rediscovered sardines (better oils, less toxins) and had to get over a bit of an “ick” factor because they seemed too, well, “fishy.” Our first attempts at homemade peanut butter were greeted with, “but it doesn’t taste like peanut butter!” And my husband thought that coconut sugar tasted too coconuty to use as a sweetener for his coffee.

After a short adjustment period, we noticed that our taste buds and bodies recognized these more complex textures and tastes as real food. Our cravings for white rice, colas and nachos stopped. We began to (really, vividly) taste the difference between homemade muffins versus store-bought. The kids and I decided to have a cheat day and used the old maple syrup…and immediately reached for the organic stuff after one bite. It tasted chemical. We discovered that roasting organic, raw peanuts first before putting them in the food processor was peanut butter perfection. My husband now knows when white or even brown sugar is in his espresso and prefers the coconut sugar. The more water we drink, the less we look for flavored drinks — and if we do want some flavor, we’ve noticed that even a little lemon makes a huge difference! It’s like our taste buds have “come back home.” And I consider it a major achievement that our kids don’t have a taste for colas or white rice.

My son still longs for donut or cookies but, hey, so do I. Again, balance. We’re only allowed such sweets on weekends. Dessert during the week is limited to fruit. We can add up to a tablespoon of peanut butter or dulce de leche on the fruit, but that’s it (still far less than all the stuff in a cookie or slice of cake). Even here, a few weeks of this, the kids forgot about these “toppings” and only occasionally ask for them. Because we don’t keep “sometimes foods” in the house, we don’t look for them. But we do look out for each other: there have been moments of weakness — when I’ve had an awful day, for example, and have proposed a cheat day mid week — and it’s the kids who have held me off, saying we’ll get something really yummy for the weekend.

Among the few legacies I want to try to leave my children are education, empathy (bullying is never ok), a strong work ethic, and health. Here’s wishing you and yours the same!


Laura is the CEO of VMV Hypoallergenics and eldest daughter of our founding dermatologist-dermatopathologist. She has two children, Madison and Gavin, and works at VMV with her sister and husband (Madison and Gavin frequently volunteer their “usage testing” services). In addition to saving the world’s skin, Laura is passionate about learning, literature, art, health, science, inclusion, cultural theory, human rights, happiness and goodness.



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