Healthy eating should be intuitive. Mind you, I said should. Nowadays, we’re bombarded with competing health information. Carbs are good. Then carbs are bad. Fat is good. Then fat is bad. Miracle weight loss diets come and go. So, while healthy eating should be intuitive, that’s much easier to say than it is in practice.
I, too, fall victim to the confusion that is “health” these days. But unfortunately, when you pay attention to what you put in your body, you inevitably end up hearing some pretty weird and oftentimes conflicting information. For example, while I’ve regularly praised the wisdom of nutritionist Kimberly Snyder — whose books have influenced me for the better in many ways — I somehow can’t fully get behind the idea of “food combining”, which she heavily endorses. Under this principle, even beans — beans! — are an “imperfect” food in that they contain both protein and carbs. Yet beans and legumes have long been consumed by some of our longest-living and healthiest populations, so intuitively, it’s difficult for me to wrap my mind around beans being an unhealthy food — and to the larger point, around the notion of food combining in general. Other diets point to fruit as the “enemy”. I don’t know much about these theories except that they are somehow based on the natural sugar content in fruit. But again, when I think about how many vitamins, antioxidants and enzymes are packed into whole fruits, it’s hard for me to imagine that fruits are in some way bad for us — unless, of course, someone is suffering from a particular allergy or condition that is helped by reduced overall sugar intake.
So what is the answer, then, when we’re bombarded with so much conflicting, confusing and overwhelming information? Well, I don’t claim to know, and I don’t necessarily think there is one answer. But I do think Michael Pollan was onto something when he wrote “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”. Simple, right? Well, the complexity, I think, comes from the fact that what we now think of as food is so far removed from what food should be. Food is not something that was chemically manufactured in a lab, made to taste so good that we become chemically addicted. This is how most of our processed foods are made these days. And sadly, the typical American diet consists of many processed foods (and is also heavy on unhealthy animal products such as meat and dairy).
This recipe was designed to be as stripped down and unprocessed as possible. The crust is sweetened naturally from dates, and is just made from a few simple ingredients: dates, nuts, cinnamon, oats and just a little bit of coconut oil. The filling was created with a similar mindset. I tried to keep everything as simple as possible, so the filling is just fruit, a little lemon juice, a touch (just a touch!) of sweetener and some spices. I also tried to keep this recipe from becoming too fussy — which is why the apples are sort of just piled into the crusts without too much thought toward arrangement. It’s “rustic”, if you will — evoking the feeling that you’re eating real food and not something that looks too manufactured or perfect.
I gave these tarts to a few taste testers and even though they’re healthy, unprocessed, vegan and gluten free, I was told that they’re still delicious…as whole, plant foods so often are! If only more people knew that little secret, we’d all be a bit better off overall…
Healthy Apple Tarts:
Yield: 4 mini tarts
1 cup whole oats
1/2 cup raw walnuts
6 medjool dates, pitted
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon raw coconut oil
3 apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons natural sweetener (such as coconut crystals, coconut nectar or agave)*
a dash or two of nutmeg
a dash or two of cinnamon
* Note: overall sweetness may vary depending on sweetener used. Liquid sweeteners will cause the apples to break down quicker than the coconut crystals. If using stevia or a more concentrated sweetener, be sure to adjust proportions to account for this.
1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Add walnuts and oats to a food processor fitted with a sharp steel blade. Process until medium to fine crumbles form, with some oat pieces still visible. Add remaining ingredients and process until larger clumps begin to form.
3. Divide crust mixture into quarters and evenly distribute to 4 mini tart tins, as shown in photo. Non-stick tins are preferable here. Press down using fingers into crust shell, making sure crust is evenly distributed.
4. Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes and remove immediately.
5. Meanwhile, toss filling ingredients in a bowl. After crusts have been removed, transfer filling in equal parts to the 4 tart shells. You do not have to arrange apples in any particular way.
6. Reduce oven heat to 325 and return tarts to oven. Heat for 15 minutes. Remove again and cover tart tray tightly with foil (I like to line my foil with parchment paper to create a buffer so as not to inadvertently contaminate my food with aluminum). Return to oven and bake for a final 15 minutes, or until apples are softened but retain their shape. Let cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes before removing tarts and serving.