Based on the commitment to healthy eating demonstrated on this blog, and the fact that I masterminded what will surely become a diet/lifestyle phenomenon, one would assume that I’ve always had a firm grasp on nutrition. Perhaps you picture me as a Gwyneth-like pre-teen, eating quinoa salads, drinking green juice, and insisting that my mother use coconut oil in her stir-fries. (Thank you! What a nice image!) Sadly, that was not the case.
Growing up in California, I did consume a lot of fresh produce, smoothies, and grilled meats and fish, but I also happened to be a picky eater that favored pizza, grilled cheese, and Costco blueberry muffins (you know those things are bomb) over pretty much everything else. Reflecting on my cringe-worthy adolescent eating habits makes me uncomfortable, but at the time, I really didn’t give too much thought to what I was putting in my body. Despite a weird high-cholesterol scare back in kindergarten, I was healthy, happy, and surprisingly comfortable with myself.
Then I hit puberty, and shit got real. I woke up one terrible morning in the fall of 2000 and didn’t recognize myself in the mirror. Who was this slightly pudgy girl with the awkward pixie cut and mild unibrow wearing my Juicy jumpsuit? I was not a fan of her look. Apparently, crushing three oversize muffins a day had finally caught up to me, and just like that, I entered the ranks of insecure teenage girls. Cue TLC’s “Unpretty.”
By the spring of 9th grade, I’d pulled it together on the hair and unibrow fronts, but my tankini body was still a source of serious concern. So, when my older sister asked if I wanted to join Weight Watchers with her for “moral support,” I enthusiastically accepted the challenge. I had no idea what WW entailed, but I didn’t care. Together, we would lose weight, and I would look like (still hot) Britney Spears by summer! Hallelujah.
The next week, my babysitter drove my sister and I to the nearest Weight Watchers location. (Yes, I appreciate the ridiculousness of that sentence.) Not gonna lie, the WW coordinator was a little hesitant to let a 14-year-old register, but the company had no legal age restrictions, and I was a pushy little thing, so they begrudgingly let me sign up.
Once I had filled out the paperwork, a friendly WW lady explained the point system (which was brand new) in painstaking detail. For those of you who aren’t familiar with WW, their diet plan is based on counting “points.” Every food has a certain point value based on its calorie, fat, and fiber content, and each day you’re allowed to consume a certain number of points given your height/weight. (It’s essentially fancy calorie-counting.) After the initial briefing, I was given my very own Filofax-like WW journal and points calculator and then weighed in. My “coach” asked me how many pounds I wanted to lose, to which I responded, “I don’t know. How much does Katie Holmes weigh?” (I had a Dawson’s Creek fetish at the time.) She did not find this amusing.
Curiosity drove me to stay for the post weigh-in meeting, which was meant to be a support group for the WW community. The room was packed with women, mostly between the ages of 35 and 50, who were all talking and laughing with each other like old friends, leaving my sister and I to lurk in the back like the awkward teens that we were. When the meeting was finally called to order, a scary looking WW leader began her spiel by asking, “Why are we all here?” To which one particularly sassy lady replied, “TO GET A BETTER MAN!!!” Apparently, that was not the correct response, but I liked it. At that point I had only made out with one “man,” but I certainly wanted to try again with a better one. WW was totally for me.
Over the next few months, I diligently calculated the points of my food, wrote down everything I ate in my handy Filofax, and made sure not to go over my daily limit. My sister quit after approximately 10 days, but I stuck with it because I have an obsessive personality excellent willpower, I was losing weight, and I felt like my chances of dating Joshua Jackson were improving exponentially. By June, I had miraculously lost over ten pounds, and I was ready to slay in my summer Juicy jumpsuit (which was the pink terrycloth bootyshort/sweatshirt combo that JLo wore in the “I’m Real” video). WW ruled.
Despite my weight-loss success, my love affair with WW came to an end before the start of my sophomore year. There were many reasons for this, the strongest of which being that I was severely malnourished. You see, the problem with WW was that they didn’t actually give me any nutritional guidance. I could eat anything that I wanted as long as I didn’t exceed my points, and what I wanted was Skinny Cow Low-Fat Ice Cream Sandwiches.
If I remember correctly, I was allotted 22 daily points, and each ice cream sandwich was 3 points. So, I would eat teeny tiny low-point meals (such as two bites of chicken and some steamed broccoli) supplemented with 4-6 ice cream sandwiches a day. I was losing weight, but I was also a hot mess, and my mom finally insisted that I stop the madness. Could I have simply ditched the ice cream sandwiches and continued with a more nutritious version of the program? Sure, but that seemed like a lot of work, and I was over it. Teenagers are fickle.
Since my WW days, I’ve watched many people try the program with great success (and not blow all their points on low-fat ice cream sandwiches). However, now that I’m much older and nutritionally wiser, I’m very much against the point counting system, which demonizes certain “high fat/point” foods like avocados, nuts, and olive oil, which (in moderation) are actually fabulous for you. Even 13 years later, I’ll still occasionally catch myself calculating points in my head, like for these Chipotle Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Pomegranate-Pistachio Guacamole, and thinking, “DO NOT EAT THAT. TOO MANY POINTS.”
Luckily, I’m now able to ignore that ridiculous thought because I know the truth. These sweet potatoes are nutritional powerhouses, peeps, and they’re absolutely bursting with healthy goodness. (Points be damned!) The sweet and spicy chipotle mash is packed with beta-carotene, potassium, fiber, vitamins A and C, and it has plenty of anti-inflammatory properties.
And this superfood guacamole! Dear God. The creamy avocados provide plenty of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids that also improve your skin and hair, tart pomegranates arils are full of antioxidants, and crunchy pistachios add protein and a solid dose of B vitamins. The flavor of the sweet potatoes and guac together will blow your mind, and you’ll feel smarter, prettier, and more energized instantaneously. I promise.
These sweet potatoes make an excellent light vegan lunch or dinner, but feel free to bulk them up a little bit for a heartier meal. Try mixing some lightly browned chicken sausage into the sweet potato mash and sprinkling everything with a little goat cheese or feta. Or keep it vegetarian by adding some beans or grilled vegetables into the mix. You could also serve these alongside your favorite meat, fish, or a big green salad. The possibilities are endless, friends. Get involved.
Blogger’s Note: If you’re a die-hard WW fan or considering becoming one, I respect that (and Jessica Simpson). You do you. But please keep in mind that you need healthy fats in your diet, and points are not the be-all and end-all when it comes to nutrition. Please don’t be mad.
Chipotle Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Pomegranate-Pistachio Guacamole: (Serves 4)
4 medium sweet potatoes
1-1½ chipotle peppers canned in adobo (depending on your heat preference), finely chopped
1 teaspoon adobo sauce from the chipotle can
1 teaspoon honey or agave
For the Pomegranate-Pistachio Guacamole:
1½ ripe avocados, diced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons pomegranate arils
¼ cup coarsely chopped pistachios
3 tablespoons minced red onion
2 tablespoons freshly chopped cilantro
Fresh ground pepper
Preparing your Chipotle Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Pomegranate-Pistachio Guacamole:
-Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and set aside.
-Wash your sweet potatoes and dry them well. (You want them very clean so you can eat the skins if you feel like it, okay?) Use a fork to carefully poke holes all over the sweet potatoes (about 2 fork pokes per side should do it), and place the sweet potatoes on the baking sheet.
-Mix in the lemon juice, pomegranate arils, pistachios, red onion and cilantro. Season with salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Press a piece of plastic wrap onto the surface of the guacamole to keep it from browning while you finish the potatoes.
-Slice the top of each sweet potato to reveal the inside. Use a spoon to scoop out the insides of each sweet potato and transfer them to a medium bowl, leaving a ¼-inch layer of potato inside the skins. —
-Mash the potatoes with a fork and then mix in the chopped chipotle peppers, adobo, and honey/agave. Season with salt to taste. (If you don’t feel like removing the potatoes from their skins, just mash the insides of each potato with a fork and divide the chipotle pepper, adobo and honey among each potato.)
- 4 medium sweet potatoes
- 1-1½ chipotle peppers canned in adobo (depending on your heat preference), finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon adobo sauce from the chipotle can
- 1 teaspoon honey or agave
- 1½ ripe avocados, diced
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons pomegranate arils
- ¼ cup coarsely chopped pistachios
- 3 tablespoons minced red onion
- 2 tablespoons freshly chopped cilantro
- Fresh ground pepper
- Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and set aside.
- Wash your sweet potatoes and dry them well. Use a fork to carefully poke holes all over the sweet potatoes (about 2 fork pokes per side should do it), and place the sweet potatoes on the baking sheet. Transfer the potatoes to the oven and bake for 60-70 minutes until they’re very tender.
- While the potatoes are baking, prepare the guacamole. In a medium bowl mash the avocados with a fork until almost smooth (a few chunks are okay, people). Mix in the lemon juice, pomegranate arils, pistachios and cilantro. Season with salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Press a piece of plastic wrap onto the surface of the guacamole to keep it from browning while you finish the potatoes.
- Slice the top of each sweet potato to reveal the inside. Use a spoon to scoop out the insides of each sweet potato and transfer them to a medium bowl, leaving a ¼-inch layer of potato inside the skins. Mash the potatoes with a fork and then mix in the chopped chipotle peppers, adobo, and honey/agave. Season with salt to taste. (If you don’t feel like removing the potatoes from their skins, just mash the insides of each potato with a fork and divide the chipotle pepper, adobo and honey among each potato.)
- Carefully spoon the mashed potatoes back into the skins.
- Top each potato with plenty of pomegranate-pistachio guacamole and serve immediately.
I’m thrilled to be a part of Food Network’s Sensational Sides event this week. For more awesome recipes featuring “something mashed,” check out the blogs below.
Napa Farmhouse 1885: Broccoli, Leek and Sweet Potato Mash
Red or Green: Spicy Fava Bean Mash
Jeanette’s Healthy Living: Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes with Truffle Oil
Weelicious: Vegan Whipped Coconut Sweet Potatoes
Cooking With Elise: Brown Sugar and Spice Banana Bread
Devour: 5 Fresh Takes on Hummus
Virtually Homemade: Smashed Cauliflower Gratin with Goat Cheese
Bacon and Souffle: The Best and Smoothest Hummus
The Sensitive Epicure: Trinxat (Pan-Fried Mashed Potato Cake with Swiss Chard)
FN Dish: More to Mash (Side Dish Recipes)