Eating Well

Laura Trice ’90 uses her medical degree and passion for cooking to advocate for a healthier lifestyle

by Jane Falla

One of Laura Trice ’90’s aha moments came when she was working as a set medic for the show 7th Heaven; she noticed that   people who headed for the donuts often came to her with headaches later in the day. That only reinforced what she had witnessed as a medical school student. “I saw so many illnesses that were hurting people that were preventable,” says Trice. Armed with her Smith major in chemistry, a medical degree, and a family history of healthful home cooking, Trice became determined to find a way to educate people about nutrition and demonstrate the connection between food and health.

As a first step, she started experimenting at home with cookie recipes that used dates as the primary sweetener. She brought samples to the set of 7th Heaven and soon noticed that people began choosing the cookies over the donuts. They had no idea they were free of white sugar or vegan; they just enjoyed the cookies because they tasted good, Trice says.

The success with those cookies led to Laura’s Wholesome Junk Food, which Trice established in 2001. The Wholesome Junk Food Cookbook followed in 2010, published by Running Press. The book incorporates Trice’s medical knowledge and her passion for food and home-based cooking. It includes 100 recipes for everyday snacking, from granola and cereals to cookies and ice cream, along with a selection of savory snacks such as English muffin pizzas and grilled cheese squares. The recipes take into account medical restrictions and diet needs such as gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian.

Her goal, she says, is to dispel the myth that wholesome food inherently tastes like cardboard, and her cookbook tackles some of the prevailing misconceptions about what, and how, we should be eating. The information in the media is often contradictory, confusing, and complicated. “If I didn’t have a medical degree and know the science, and if I didn’t have a mom that helped me cook, I would be completely baffled,” says Trice.

Here she shares more of her food philosophy.

On good vs. bad ingredients

Much of the information out there is motivated by commercial interests. Look at sweeteners and carbs, for example. You have people eliminating fruit, which drives me nuts! A few simple cardinal rules: Skip the white flour, white sugar, and table salt.

On decoding ingredient lists

Avoid anything that says partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated; instead, look for anything derived naturally, such as coconut oil, olive oil, or avocado oil. Also look for words that indicate sugar, such as dextrose, or anything that ends with “ose” and avoid high fructose corn syrup.

On using substitutions

Think of everything as wet ingredients and dry ingredients. For example, if you substitute white flour with whole grain, which has bigger flakes, you usually have to extend the cooking time and use a lower temperature. If you are making a pudding, you can try using a liquid sweetener. Or if your mother always made chocolate pudding that you love, keep the recipe, but consider cutting the sugar and using a little bit of sea salt or unrefined salt to further bring out the sweetness. The minerals you get from using sea or unrefined salt, combined with the fiber of whole grains, actually add a richness. It’s a whole new experience. Have fun experimenting, but I don’t encourage experimentation when you’re cooking for guests.

On deprivation

I’m a huge advocate of enjoying food, rejoicing in food, and taking pleasure in food. I watch the ingredients when I’m at home, and then I’m more relaxed when I’m out and about.

On snacking

In my family, we never had food issues. We are what we call grazers. I’ll have a handful of almonds, some celery. When people complain that there’s nothing to eat, what they typically mean is that there’s nothing naughty to eat. I have lots of things on hand, like cherry tomatoes, lots of fruit. . . I keep things in my house that it’s OK to binge on.

On cravings

There are two versions of women—the well-rested version and the not-well-rested version. When you’re not rested is when you make your worst food choices. Making sure you have protein and fat, and not just sweets and carbs, will ensure that you won’t crave more sweets and carbs. There are salty cravings, sweet and gooey, hot and cold . . . If I’m craving a sweet, I may have a spoonful of honey or maple sugar. I carry emergency chocolate in my purse. I have ice cream in my freezer sweetened with agave, and as for my salty cravings, I have sauerkraut and dill pickles. Trust in listening to yourself and be aware. Our emotional cravings are less severe when we’re taking good care of ourselves with sleep, exercise, hydration, and in our personal lives.

On global perspectives of food

I was fortunate enough to do my junior year abroad in France. The French are known for portion control, and they don’t fall into any of our trends in trying to replace real fat with fake fat. They pay attention to what’s natural, delicious, flavorful, and beautifully presented. At dinner with my French family, they would say, “Here, have some green beans, they’re good for your skin.” Every food came with a blessing or a suggestion for moderation. I spent a lot of time in Europe seeing that attention to quality of ingredients, and real attention to what people put in their bodies. During my time in Bali, we didn’t always have access to refined foods, so we made desserts with palm sugar or fruit as a sweetener. This confirmed for me that you can make the most amazing foods naturally, and they taste delicious.

On how we eat

I was told by an old family friend who was in her 80s that it was important to never sit down to dinner without a flower and a lit candle. In Europe, for example, a meal can be two to three hours. When there is time to connect with people, things are savored. We can learn from traditions about dining versus eating.

On cost and family approval

There’s a school of thought that it is more expensive to eat well. It’s actually more efficient and less expensive, especially if you’re making some things yourself. One person e-mailed me and said that she stopped buying junk food for her kids. She told her three kids they could pick one recipe each from my cookbook, she would buy the ingredients, and on Sundays they would make the desserts for the week. At first, the kids’ faces dropped. Her youngest, who is not a big vegetable eater, ended up picking the recipe for lemon kale chips because he liked potato chips, and proceeded to eat the whole batch. I really like the emphasis of getting some of the bad stuff out of the pantry. If you get rid of the junk food, kids will get hungry and they’ll eat what’s there, and it will only take one to two weeks for their palates to adjust.

One of her favorite recipes

Try the one-pan eggless chocolate cake. Everything is mixed together in the pan; it’s easy and delicious.

The “Fantastic 14”

Trice says there are fourteen items everyone should have in their kitchen to make healthy and tasty meals. The good news: These items are easily accessible and found in mainstream grocery stores.

  • Raw agave syrup
  • Honey
  • Maple syrup
    • Maple syrup and honey are valid sweeteners, but be aware that liquid sweetener substitutions can cause problems with texture when baking cakes.
  • Molasses
    • This contains all of the nutrients and vitamins that are removed in the process of making refined white sugar.
  • Evaporated cane sugar
    • This is ideal for replacing white sugar in cakes or cookies.
  • Dates
    • Dates have an amazing quality of adding a creamy factor.
  • Fruit
    • Any fruit can work as a sweetener and works well for the budget conscious. You can use things like bananas that are turning brown, or freeze them to have on hand for smoothies.
  • Nonaluminum baking powder
    • There are some studies that link aluminum to Alzheimer’s.
  • Expeller-pressed or organic oils
    • Fat has become a false enemy. Choose quality fats, such as those that are expeller pressed and don’t use chemical solvents to extract the oil. We’ve had a fat-free trend, but whole natural fats give you a sense of satisfaction, which turns off your hunger.
  • Milk and eggs
    • Use hormone- and antibiotic-free products if organic products are not in your budget.
  • Sea Salt
    • Table salt is highly processed, which removes trace minerals. Salt has become vilified, but salt is important. We need it. Rock and sea salt are unprocessed and maintain important minerals.
  • Whole grains
    • Instead of white flour, try spelt flour or whole-wheat flour, rolled oats, or aim for a blend of half whole-grain flour and half white.
  • Chocolate
    • I’m a big fan of chocolates with at least 70 percent cocoa.
  • Water
    • Tap or filtered water works fine; bottled water is expensive.
  • Jane Falla is assistant editor, alumnae communications