Education

Watermelon Agua Fresca

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As a dietitian, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I sometimes have a hard time staying hydrated. In fact, some days I drink more coffee than water! I know I’m not the only one, and that’s why I’m excited about this ridiculously easy way to boost your hydration status during the hot summer months.

An agua fresca is a refreshing drink made by blending a fruit or any edible flower or seed with fresh water, sugar, and ice to make a thirst-quenching summer beverage. I didn’t think the watermelon needed any added sugar, so I simply blended one mini seedless watermelon with about 12 ice cubes, and served it immediately. I also added about a tablespoon of lime juice for some extra kick.  It’s so easy, I can barely call it a recipe.

You can do this with almost any fruit — melons and strawberries would  be easily blended. But I was excited to use watermelon: in addition to being 90% water and rich in potassium and vitamins A and C, it has some surprising benefits. It is rich in lycopene, which is a potent antioxidant. Watermelon is also a fantastic source of L-citrulline, an amino acid that aids in improving circulation and reducing muscle soreness. I drank some of this juice before working out yesterday, and I can (anecdotally) agree with that research today! I felt more energized during my work out, and today have minimal muscle soreness. L-citrulline supplements are sold over the counter, but research indicates that cells absorb it better from its natural source.

So there you have it — in addition to being a tasty way to hydrate and a fantastic source of nutrition, watermelon is of particular benefit to athletes. Give it a try!

Mighty Vegan Salad

Long time, no post! I hope you all didn’t miss me too much. I’ve been having a fantastic summer traveling the US and enjoying all the fun Portland activities. Seriously, I can’t keep up with all the events going on in town! We do make the most of our sunny summers here.

Tonight, I’ve got something that everyone can enjoy — a Mighty Vegan Salad! I’m not posting a “recipe” for it since this is more of an intuitive nightly ritual for me. I hope this gives you a little inspiration to make a mighty salad of your own!

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Tonight, I had:

Spinach (2 cups)

Chives, chopped (2 tbsp)

A handful of raw, whole almonds

A handful of cilantro

Some fresh mango chunks

1/3 cup cooked wheat berries

1/4 cup of lemon hummus (store-bought)

1 small avocado

About 8 cherry tomatoes

Marinated and sautéed tempeh strips (olive oil, soy sauce, pepper, coriander, chipotle)

…all drizzled with a dash of balsamic and some grape seed oil.

 

 

You can see the ingredients a little better here:

 

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I was curious myself, so I calculated the nutrition information for this salad (just the protein, fiber, and vitamin/mineral content, as I’m not concerned about calories or natural fats).

You might be surprised what this lil ol’ vegan salad brings to the table!

 

  • 28 grams of plant-based protein!
  • 1237 mg of potassium! (if you are trying to decrease high blood pressure, try for more potassium and LESS sodium)
  • 8 grams of fiber!
  • 38% daily value for iron! (with plenty of vitamin C — 83% daily value — to help it to be absorbed)
  • 23 % daily value for calcium!
  • 54% daily value for magnesium!

And who says vegans are undernourished?

That’s it for tonight, folks. Hope everyone is enjoying their summer. Make a mighty salad for me!

 

 

Cashew Cream: Never miss a parfait again

I enjoyed a truly delectable vegan parfait the other morning, and I went home to replicate it right afterwards so I could  share it here! The life of a dietitian, folks. Now, there’s an ever-growing number of vegan yogurts on the market, including Nancy’s, So Delicious, Almond Dream, and the Trader Joe’s brand (ps, check out their list of vegan foods from the link!). I’ve tried a few, liked a few, and found some that have left a pretty icky taste in my mouth. So if you’re looking for a simple creamy yogurt substitute that you can make in minutes to go with granola or fruit (or both!) look no further than a simple cashew cream.

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Nuts are finally getting their due recognition for protecting heart health, brain health, and staving off weight gain and even cancer. Yes, nuts are largely composed of fats, but the kind of fats found in nuts like walnuts, cashews, pistachios, almonds, etc. are not something I would ever counsel someone to avoid. Nuts are high in fiber, which promotes gut health and lowers cholesterol and triglycerides. Choose nuts that are unsalted, though, to avoid excess sodium consumption.

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Nuts are a super filling snack, which makes a cashew cream parfait likely to stick with you up until lunch (or even past it). When I get hungry at work, I always reach for almonds or mixed nuts, because I know just a handful will do the trick.

You can use a couple dollops of this delicious treat, or mix it with a non-dairy milk for a thinner consistency to make it more of a “yogurt.” I made a simple parfait consisting of low-fat/low-sugar granola found at Whole Paycheck (the berry kind in the bulk section), cashew cream, frozen pineapple and raspberries, cinnamon, and some chia seeds, and then poured unsweetened soy milk over it all. What a light and refreshing way to start the day.

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What’s your favorite parfait combination?

The Facts about Worldwide Hunger, and How YOU Can Help

Let’s talk about hunger.

No, I’m not talking about what you might feel when you wake up in the morning and can’t make a bowl of oatmeal fast enough. I’m talking about hunger that kills. As a dietitian, worldwide hunger and nutritional deficiency hit close to home. And as a dietitian, I know that there is more than enough food to feed every single person in the world, and feed them well.

While on a trip back home to Virginia, I had the pleasure of lending my help to an an anti-hunger campaign called Stop Hunger Now, which was hosting a meal-packaging event in my town. I hopped onto the assembly line and made sure meal packets were the right weight and consistency to be shipped off to over 65 countries worldwide. Within two hours we had packaged 25,000 meals. That’s right — 25,000 meals! Each of those packets will feed six children and boasts rice, soy, dehydrated vegetables, and 21 vitamins and minerals.

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Children are hit hard by malnutrition and the diseases that arise from (or are amplified by) not having enough food. Measles, malaria, diarrhea, and pneumonia are some of the leading causes of childhood death. And malnutrition can start before kids are even born, if their moms aren’t taking in enough nutrition. Read more about the effects of malnutrition here.

The meals that we packaged were exclusively vegan. Now, depending on what country they are sent to, various meats may or may not be added per the local culture. But the meals cost just 25 cents because they are plant-based.

“Stop Hunger Now created its meal packaging program, in 2005. The program perfected the assembly process that combines rice, soy, dehydrated vegetables and a flavoring mix including 21 essential vitamins and minerals into small meal packets. Each meal costs only 25 cents. The food stores easily, has a shelf-life of two years and transports quickly. Stop Hunger Now works with international partners that ship and distribute the meals in-country.”

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(c) Stop Hunger Now

So if we have enough food to feed everyone in the world, why does one person every three seconds die of hunger or hunger-related illness? I’ll briefly summarize some of the key reasons. I don’t pretend to be an expert in this matter, but I have learned quite a lot through my studies and my travels to food-insecure countries such as Tanzania and the Dominican Republic.

1. Poverty and a Reliance on Meat as a Protein Source

Farmers and families living on $1 or less a day simply cannot afford to buy or trade their food. And farmers trying to make a living off of their own land are often not supported by their governments. As the renowned Marion Nestle writes,

“Governments must support food systems that provide farmers and workers with a reasonable standard of living, replenish soil nutrients, conserve natural resources, and minimize pollution and greenhouse gases—and promote health.” Part of minimizing pollution and greenhouse gases naturally involves growing more plants, and less meat. When the focus is on growing crops to feed animals, an opportunity arises to feed more people instead of fueling a meat-driven system that just isn’t working. 

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2. Climate Change (read the 2009 World Food Programme’s climate report here)

You don’t have to believe in human-accelerated climate change — it’s happening, and it’s been happening, for a long time. Due in part to increased heat and decreased water availability, farmers all over the world will suffer a decrease in agricultural production (mostly wheat, rice, and maize). This will cause an increase in food prices worldwide, but mostly in Africa, South Asia, and Central America. Extreme natural disasters as a result of climate change will  continue to wreak havoc. By 2050, we expect an increase of 10-20% of people at risk of hunger worldwide.

3. Lack of nutrition education.

During my time in Tanzania, I sampled probably twenty kinds of root vegetables, dark leafy greens, and native fruits. Unfortunately, many of them were underutilized by the local population and sometimes even treated as throwaway foods. But these foods were rich in vitamins and minerals, protein, and valuable starch. It takes dedicated professionals to provide nutrition and cooking education to teach people how to rely on the food that their own soil can produce.

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In America, 48 million people are hungry and rely on government initiatives like SNAP. I encourage you to read about the $1 a day challenge — this is something I was tasked to try for one day in college, and it was hard. But over a billion people worldwide have to do for their whole lives. And remember:

“It’s not due to laziness that someone is poor. It’s not due to a lack of ambition or lack of intelligence. It’s because they lack the things that we take advantage of every day.” — Living on One Dollar

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So how can YOU get involved? I’ve compiled a list of Portland-specific organizations that need help. Oregon is the fifth-hungriest state in America.

1. Have a garden, or participate in a community garden? The “Plant a Row” program with the Oregon Food Bank allows you to donate home-grown food to the needy.

2. Want to get involved long-term? Growing Gardens offers programs to help schools start gardens and provide cooking classes. In the summer, weekly garden parties will involve a local Portland chef who can teach people how to cook what they grow. They even have an internship, which will focus on fundraising, building gardens, and hosting garden summer camps.

3. Reduce your own food waste. With so many hungry in the world, it’s a damn shame to throw so much food away. And Americans waste 40% of the food they buy. The Kitchn has a great article on ways to get the most out of the food you buy. And remember to compost your food scraps if you can, as decomposing food in landfills contributes methane to the environment.

4. If you like gardening a whole lot, get involved with the Produce for People Program. Last year they grew and donated 20,3337 lbs of produce to needy families.

5. More of a day-to-day volunteer? The Oregon Food Bank (and any food bank, no matter where you live) needs help. Here’s an easy way to get involved.

6. Host a meal-packaging event with Stop Hunger Now. This would a fantastic event for an organization or club to host. With 40 people, you could package 10,000 meals in two hours, at just 25 cents a meal.

7. Make your dollar count. Support local farmers, and local produce. Alleviate your carbon footprint by reducing your meat intake.

There’s so much more to be said about hunger, and so many experts out there who can say it better than I can. I hope this post left you with the knowledge that hunger and the disease that occur with it can be stopped. What do you know about hunger?

 

Make Your Own at Home: Ultra Hydrating Face Exfoliant and Mask

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I don’t know about you, but I have unruly skin. It’s started to settle down as I get older, but  I still battle with uneven texture and tone, and a combination of dry and oily patches. Ugh! As you can imagine, I’m a sucker for trying different facial cleansers, moisturizers, and masks. But not one product I’ve ever tried has delivered on its promise of smooth, dewy skin. On top of that, each product usually puts me back $7 – $20 a pop!

I decided to see if I could make my own exfoliant and face mask with simple home ingredients, and I was shocked at how cheap, easy and effective this at-home treatment  has been for keeping my skin hydrated in the dry wintertime.

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Let’s start with the exfoliant. It could not be easier to throw this together. Grab some used coffee grounds and blend with 2 tbsp. of olive oil and 1 tsp. of coconut oil. (If you need the benefits of fresh caffeine — reduction of swelling and puffy eyes — toss a bit of unused coffee grounds into the mix. Better yet, grind fresh from whole beans.) Try to make the blended mixture as fine as possible — after all, you don’t want to assault your skin! The end result is naturally exfoliated skin and deeply hydrated skin.

If your face needs an extra boost — and whose doesn’t, really — supplement this treatment with an avocado-based citrus mask. I tossed 1 whole avocado fruit (minus skin and pit), a kiwi (with skin), the juice of half a lemon, and some more coconut oil into the blender. Voilà, a naturally enzymatic and antioxidant-rich mask!

This mask is full of vitamin C, an antioxidant that can promote collagen production when applied topically. Make sure you have exfoliated first with the coffee ground exfoliant so that the vitamin C has the best chance of being absorbed. Keep out of the sunlight when you’re wearing this mask as the UV rays will destroy the vitamin C compound. Vitamin E, found in the avocado, lends its antioxidant properties to skin when applied topically as well.  Again, stay out of the sun while you’re wearing this mask, since UV rays can destroy vitamin E. The coconut oil contains lauric acid, which may have anti-acne properties. The lemon juice tightens skin and reduces pore size, but make sure to moisturize properly afterwards to avoid too-tight skin.

Leave the mask on for 10-20 minutes and then gently wipe off with warm water. Pat skin dry and moisturize as needed, and enjoy your beautiful skin!

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to replenish your gut flora after taking antibiotics

Well, it’s been a couple weeks since I updated, mainly due to a nasty bout with a kidney infection. Luckily for all of you, my experience made me realize that I should talk about how to replenish your healthy gut flora after it’s been decimated by antibiotics!

Don’t get me wrong–I’m happy that I live in a time where I have quick and easy access to antibiotics when I really, really need them. After all, penicillin was one of the most important discoveries in the history of humankind, and became a modern-day miracle elixir. (Although penicillin is now much less effective than it was in 1928.)

Penicillin

A kidney infection isn’t something to mess with, and refusing to take antibiotics quickly can cause permanent kidney damage. And hey, I like my kidneys. They do lots of important things for me, like control my blood pressure, make red blood cells and keep my bones strong, and remove waste and fluid that I don’t need. So yeah, I’d like to keep them.

But after two weeks of antibiotics, I was feeling the effects. For whatever reason — regular physical activity, daily coffee, a vegan diet high in fiber — I am fairly, ahem, regular. But all that went right down the proverbial toilet.

Antibiotics are just what they sound like: prescribed killers of the biological agents known as bacteria. And while I had to get rid of the bad bacteria in my kidneys, taking them meant that I killed the good gut flora in my digestive tract, too.

There’s some fascinating work being done on why a healthy gut flora balance is so crucial to health. It’s said that beneficial bacteria make up three pounds of our total body weight, so you know they’ve got to be important! A healthy microbiome:

  • Ferments (breaks down) undigested carbohydrates, forming short chain fatty acids that can be used as an energy source
  • Protects against leaky gut syndrome, a widely misunderstood condition in modern-day medicine
  • Synthesizes vitamins B and K
  • Protects the body from disease-causing bacteria such as Salmonella
  • Strengthens the immune system

But how and why gut flora is important still largely remains a mystery to researchers. Some scientists have speculated that being born without a healthy gut flora store, or not maintaining a balanced microbiome throughout life, might cause autism spectrum disorders, obesity, allergies and asthma, and even Parkinson’s disease. The research is so important that Michael Pollan himself wrote an op-ed detailing the his voluntary biomapping of his own gut flora, a piece that went viral via the NY Times this year.

Few of the scientists I interviewed had much doubt that the Western diet was altering our gut microbiome in troubling ways. Some…are concerned about the antimicrobials we’re ingesting with our meals; others with the sterility of processed food. Most agreed that the lack of fiber in the Western diet was deleterious to the microbiome, and still others voiced concerns about the additives in processed foods, few of which have ever been studied for their specific effects on the microbiota.

— “Some of My Best Friends Are Germs”

Some hospitals have started to jump on board the beneficial bacteria bandwagon. During my internship at OHSU, I learned that dietitians at OHSU and several other hospitals in the area will automatically order kefir or Nancy’s Yogurt for a patient who is taking antibiotics, as a way to replenish their healthy bacteria. As a dietitian, that’s pretty fascinating to me!

But what about replenishing gut flora by way of vegan foods? Don’t worry, kefir isn’t the only solution for a bare digestive tract. In fact, there are lots of ways to help your gut grow back some of its little helpers.

1. Eat fiber. Any kind. All kinds. Soluble fiber (fresh fruits and veggies, legumes, seeds, oatmeal, psyllium, flax, etc.) will be fermented by bacteria in the colon and synthesized into vitamin K and some B vitamins, and short chain fatty acids. The SCFA will nourish the walls of the colon and may prevent colon cancer, ulcerative colitis, and diverticular disease. Fiber can also decrease triglycerides and cholesterol.

Soluble fiber is what’s known as a prebiotic — the stuff that nourishes the probiotics, or the healthy bacteria. Some prebiotic foods include onions, garlic, tomatoes, asparagus, whole wheat, and bananas.

2. Enjoy fermented foods. Tempeh, sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, miso soup, and kombucha and Kevita are fantastic alternatives to dairy probiotics. Even wine and beer have some probiotics in them (but I would recommend a hearty tempeh stir-fry in addition!). Try namu shoyu, a Japanese soy sauce, drizzled over tempeh and broccoli.

Watch out for fermented foods with vinegar: oftentimes, the vinegar ends up killing the good bacteria. Lacto-fermented products are a better choice.

3. If you’re really worried, try a supplement. GoodBelly, Garden of Life, and RawGreen Organics are just a few of the vegan options I found. However, these supplements tend to be pricey, as most supplements are. A balanced diet with the aforementioned foods should do the trick.

Be aware: the strain of bacteria known as lactobacillus is vegan in and of itself, but is often grown using a dairy food source. Knowing this, I would choose a supplement that does not list lactobacillus in its probiotic arsenal.

Here in Portland, lots of people try their hand at fermenting their own kombucha and pickling vegetables. It’s really not that hard, and making your own food is quite empowering! There are lots of references out there for trying your hand at fermenting foods and beverages safely and effectively. Try this guide!

If you already enjoy a balanced microbiome but are considering having a baby, listen up: as it pertains to healthy gut flora, researchers have found that breastfeeding will promote a more diverse bacterial landscape compared to formula-fed babies. These bacteria work to protect your baby against toxins and other intruders that might cause illness such as colic. These bacteria can influence your baby’s immune system for life, and might mean the difference between allergies, asthma, and other auto-immune conditions.

I hope this brief overview was helpful. I know I’ll be trying my hand at fermenting more of my own foods, especially now that fall is rolling in. I mean, who doesn’t love miso soup on a rainy day? Feel free to comment on this post with questions or comments! And remember to keep growing that garden of gut flora 🙂

Controversy: to break the fast or not?

There’s some big news out in the land of nutrition today, folks. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN), one of the staple academic journals used in my profession, has released a definitive article stating that there has never been concrete evidence to say that eating breakfast promotes weight loss. As you might imagine, the commentary from the public has been fiery, and reflects confusion, anger, bad science, and a downright “told-ya-so” attitude.

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For my entire life, I’ve been taught that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I myself am a breakfast eater and am liable to faint if I don’t get something in my stomach first thing in the morning. In fact, I eat the exact same thing for breakfast every day: oatmeal with crunchy peanut butter and some coconut sugar. Bam, done, on to the rest of my day.

When I counseled patients during my rotations at hospitals and community clinics, though, I found that many of them couldn’t stand the thought of eating something in the morning. Even though it was hard for me to put myself in their shoes, I always respected what their body was telling them and simply encouraged them to try something small, or to eat within a couple hours of waking up.

What bothers me about this article is that it is framed by the goal of weight loss. Once again, the American people are spoon-fed the “ultimate goal” — to lose weight, look great, and forget about what’s going on inside your body. Because this article “proves” that eating breakfast isn’t necessary to drop pounds, it gives the public justification to skip breakfast, even though eating breakfast carries benefits that have nothing to do with your weight. For example, a cohort study of over 29,000 men followed for 16 years showed that those who skipped breakfast had a 21% greater risk than breakfast eaters of developing Type 2 Diabetes. Breakfast is also a great opportunity to help reach your daily fiber goal and keep your “bad” cholesterol in check, which is just another way of being nicer to your heart.

Again — I am an intuitive eater, and I respect others’ choices about what they want to eat, when they want to eat it. For me personally, eating breakfast means that my blood sugar remains stable throughout the day. It means that I have enough glucose in my body to start my day and focus on my tasks at hand. It means that I have enough fuel in my body to bike to work. I will still recommend a balanced breakfast to my patients, as they can tolerate it.

I think what would be more helpful to the public is not whether breakfast will help you to lose weight, but further studies on how it helps to regulate blood sugar and stave off chronic disease. I also wonder how Big Breakfast will respond to this news: will we see a major PR initiative promoting the protein content of bacon and eggs à la Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwiches? Readers, you already know my opinion on that, and I would encourage you to choose a breakfast that doesn’t come frozen out of a box.

I welcome your comments about this topic!

The Vegan Lifestyle Series: Cosmetics

Welcome to the second installment of the Vegan Lifestyle Series! This one is about…drum roll please…cosmetics! I’m not just talking about the neon shade of yellow you have to wear for the Halloween party. I’m talking about basic, every day staples that make you feel fresh and clean in the morning and ready to wear a smile all day long.

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Me? I’m pretty simple when it comes to makeup. Give me some moisturizer/foundation, eyeliner, and mascara, and I’m good to go. That doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally spend hours on YouTube looking at smoky eye makeup tutorials, but that is neither here nor there.

More and more companies are starting to wear their “cruelty free” label as a badge of honor, as well they should! But for the ones who don’t have that listed? It’s pretty safe to say that these products have been cruelly tested on animals and/or contain animal derivatives.

I’ve gone ahead and listed some common ingredients in cosmetics that are animal-derived. If you want to be surprised, grab your favorite foundation or eyeshadow and see if any of these ingredients match up. I took at look at some of my own products and was (unpleasantly) surprised.  For a complete list of animal ingredients you might find in your cosmetics, visit here.

1. Lanolin, an oil from sheep’s wool. Also goes by aliphatic alcohol, cholesterol, wool isopropylmyristate laneth lanogene, lanolin alcohol, lanosterols, sterols, and triterpene alcohols.

2. Keratin: a protein that is derived from hooves, feathers, quills, and hair of animals. It’s used as an additive in many hair products to promote strength and shine.

3. Arachidonic Acid: a fatty acid found in the liver, brain, and fat of animals and humans. It’s used in lotions, specifically to soothe rashes. Try aloe vera or tea tree oil instead.

4. Chitosan: it’s derived from crustacean shells and is an ingredient in diet pills used to bind to fats that you eat, which makes for a really pleasant bathroom experience.

5. Collagen: lauded for its anti-wrinkle properties, collagen is found in anti-aging lotions and creams. Try keeping your skin hydrated and toned with almond oil and orange extract instead.

6. Unnatural (as in, not from something that grows from the earth) dyes or colorants: FD&C and D&C colors are continually tested on animals to establish “safe” human use levels. These dyes are made from coal tar, which is listed in the American Cancer Society’s most recent list of Known Human Carcinogens.

7. Gelatin: used to thicken shampoos and face masks, it’s made from boiling skin, tendons, ligaments, and bones.

8. Guanine: fish scales, commonly found in shiny nail polish, and shampoos.

9. Retinol: this is a hot cosmetic ingredient right now, as its claim to fame is reducing wrinkles and restoring youthful vigor. It’s part of the vitamin A group that is found in animal tissue, most often from fish or shark liver, egg yolks, and butter. Look for an anti-wrinkle cream with carotene instead.

10. Vitamin D3: ALWAYS from an animal source. It comes from fish livers, milk, and egg yolks. It’s used mainly in creams and lotions. Vitamin D2, on the other hand, is usually vegan.

11. Hair wax/straightening spray: make sure the wax you’re using is from a vegetable.

I highly recommend PETA’s very comprehensive lists of cosmetic companies that DO and DON’T test on animals. You can download each list in PDF format and use it as a reference when you’re at Rite Aid searching for the perfect hair spray.

Once again, developed countries across the pond are leagues ahead of the US.  Most recently, the EU banned the import and sale of animal-tested cosmetics.

If it seems like animal-free cosmetics are hard to find, look no further than this list I’ve compiled of some of my favorite vegan cosmetic producers. When looking, remember that cruelty free products have a bunny on them, and certified vegan products are noted accordingly.

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Urban Decay (!!!) vegan makeup section

Tarte Naturals — gorgeous natural makeup that’s easy on your wallet.

Motives

Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics

Vegan LUSH hair care products (the Veganese shampoo and conditioner boast rave reviews)

Desert Essence (some products do have beeswax and honey)

Jason Tea Tree Deodorant — I haven’t had much luck with natural deodorants, but I’m willing to try as many as possible!

If you’ve got bucks to spare and are looking to treat yourself, Ethical Ocean offers a “True Beauty Box” chock full of the latest vegan cosmetics delivered to your door monthly for $30.

That’s all, folks! I hope you have fun visiting those sites and exploring the many cruelty-free options that are available to us 🙂

The Vegan Lifestyle Series: Vegan Fashion

Happy Tuesday, readers!

I decided it would be fun to do a series on living animal-free that isn’t just about, well, food! Although I’ll be the first to admit that I have room to grow and flourish, I am so passionate about living vegan in all aspects of my life. This means that I have to think about things like where my clothes and makeup come from, how to travel “green,” and how to generally leave a positive trail behind me as I live my life. I know, it’s a lot!

This series will cover some of these topics in more detail and will be a springboard for you if you’re interested in living ethically. Let’s get started! Our first installment? Fashion!

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What makes clothing not vegan? I’ll be honest — I didn’t even start thinking about this until I read Main Street Vegan, a tremendous book for those of us new to veganism. Written by Victoria Moran, I highly recommend reading this if you think it might float your joyful vegan boat!

Obviously, leather, suede and fur are not vegan. Many people think that leather is a byproduct of the slaughterhouse that we use for our clothes, bags, car seats, cell phone cases, wallets…you get it. But the leather industry is booming and very much in demand by consumers all around the world. Same goes for the fur industry, for which China is a major producer. Watch our for products made of cashmere, pashmina, angora, shearling, camel hair, and mohair: every single one comes from an animal.

Bones, tusks, teeth (really?), hooves…don’t even bother. It’s fairly common knowledge that the poaching remains a serious threat to endangered species who provide these “exotic” accessories.

Wool is made available to consumers by shearing sheep, which is a brutal process. I won’t go into the details but that’s definitely something you can look up if you are interested. Reading about it made me remember the days when Uggs were the thing to have. I’ll admit that I’ve kept a couple pairs from a few years ago. I just wish I had known back then what went in to making those fuzzy, yet hideous, boots.

Down feathers are used as insulation for comforters, sleeping bags, jackets, gloves, etc. Again, the manner of collecting the hundreds of thousands of feathers that are needed for just one comforter is horrendous. Let’s be honest: down feathers are for the birds.

So what are your alternatives? Well, there are a whole lot of them! The “compassionate clothing”  industry is taking off right now and you can get all up in that! I guarantee you, anything animal-derived that catches your eye, you can have vegan. Seriously.

Here’s a quick breakdown of a few alternative fashion houses with my stamp of approval:

Alternative Outfitters

Matt & Nat vegan bags

Ecolissa — I recommend the sales page.

Michael Antonio — the shoes!!! Drool! And I’m pretty sure you can find them at DSW.

Fabric Horse — this one’s a delight for cyclists, as they have U-Lock holders and stunning bike bags.

Strange Vixens — the space odyssey leggings? I die.

Toms — I’m loving the push for vegan shoes from Toms. These prints are fantastic!

Looking for something more specific? Whether it’s guitar straps, weight-lifting gloves, laptop bags, or dog collars — cause what’s more gross than putting leather on your pet — there is an alternative. Check out this list for a complete breakdown of what is available to consumers.

I won’t lie to you and say that you’re safe if you just avoid the clothing “ingredients” I listed above. Cotton production, in addition to dyeing clothing, can translate to harsh pesticide and colorant usage, which takes a toll on the earth and on the people who work to produce these textiles. It’s almost impossible to know how your item was made, but I can offer these tips: buy as local as possible, and if it says eco-friendly, go for it! Don’t be afraid to poke your head around town. Apart from being able to try things on in person, local shop owners want to hear what’s in demand! Just the other day I stumbled across a shoe store that dedicated half of its inventory to vegan shoes.

As for household wares and outdoor activities, here’s what I recommend: look for synthetic down, such as PrimaLoft, Thinsulate, or Polarguard. While this synthetic down does break down over time, I have it on good authority from REI that it will take at least ten years until you’ll need a new sleeping bag or comforter. With today’s advancements in warmth technology, you can stay toasty in the outdoors (or simply on a cold winter’s day in the house!) with synthetic down, Gore-Tex, and the like. One of the major benefits is that synthetic down it costs just a fraction of the real stuff, so you and your dollars can stay warm together!

You can freshen up your home by checking to see if pillows are filled with feathers, if any paintbrushes are made of boar/horse hair, and if your rugs contain wool. In researching this information, I also found that some house paints have egg in them, and some toothpastes are made with milk derivatives. Another bummer? Unless it states that it’s vegan, shoes are typically made with glues that are made from animals.

If you’re inspecting your home and find some of these items, please don’t feel bad. I’m very much a work in progress and still have non-vegan items that I purchased over a year ago. It’s my thought that it is better to wear them out than instantly toss or donate them. Bottom line? Every future decision we have is an opportunity to make a positive impact.

If I’ve missed something you simply must have, please post it in the comment section.

DolllarCow

You can make a difference. The dollar speaks, and the more people who refuse to spend their money on industries and companies that promote cruelty, the more of a voice we will have. Live joyfully and compassionately! And if someone compliments your vegan fall riding boots, be sure to tell them how they can be a part of this compassionate clothing movement 🙂

If you have any questions or thoughts, please comment on this post and I will happily get back to you!

I’m an RD! (Can I have a pony now?)

This past week I decided I wanted to take my board exam a little earlier than my original goal of August 2. In fact…I wanted to take it three weeks earlier.

So I did. It looked like this:

23432Controlled chaos. I especially like my nutrients in the gut absorption sheet on the left.

image-45I live by making cheat sheets for everything.

imageVegan pizza, ice cream, and high ball….that’s just normal study fuel, right?

I PASSED!! I am officially a board-certified Registered Dietitian! I can’t help but look back to my senior year in high school (2007) when I decided I wanted to be an RD. If I had known that this road would have left me in tears of frustration over failing my first college chemistry course, or with a total dependence on caffeine in any and all forms to get through studying for exams, or would have tested my ability to push my own boundaries in every internship rotation I had…I might have reconsidered my decision. But one of my mottos in life, and one of my tricks to living joyfully, is to take things one baby step at a time. So bit by bit and piece by piece, I chipped away at this degree and this registration. Walking out of that exam room, knowing that I was officially an RD, was the sweetest reward after years of specialized study.

Yeah, I’m gonna enjoy this feeling for a long time.

One of the immediate perks about being a baby RD is that I get to write my very own post about how to study for the exam! This is always a hot topic item for pre-RDs, so I hope my point of view is helpful.

Thoughts going in:

“I’m prepared. I’ve studied Inman’s back to back. I’ve reviewed the RD in the Flash note cards, and made 100+ of my own. I’ve reviewed carb exchanges, drug-nutrient reactions, researched countless odds and ends that I wasn’t sure about, and have memorized all the food service equations (sort of).”

Thoughts coming out:

“What in the…?”

My friends, it was rough, and weird test. Why? The RD exam questions your ability to think critically, creatively, and to reason with yourself. Oftentimes your first instinct will be right, but only if you’ve trained your brain to search for the most right answer, and for the answer that would make sense in the time frame of the question.

I was a little miffed at Inman‘s, if we’re being honest. I learned a lot of solid, useful nutrition information when studying it, but I felt that <20% of it applied to the exam. There were multiple questions that had terms that I had never heard of, or managerial situations that I’d never experienced, in which I simply had to take my best guess. In fact, I was unsure about my answers for at least 70% of the test.

I also took a CDR practice test, which was similar to Inman’s but only provided rationales for about 10 questions out of 125. Not very helpful unless you’re already feeling comfortable with the subject matter and just need some reinforcement.

The RD in a Flash was useful and covered a wide range of topics. I actually wouldn’t have known the answers to several questions on the exam without those flash cards.

I’m going to sum up what I want you all to know about this test:

1. Review basic nutritional parameters. The test will ask mostly quite general questions about nutrition care, and you need to be familiar with what an RD would do when caring for a patient with any number of conditions. I remember a lot of content on malnutrition, HIV/AIDS, pregnancy, diabetes, and sports nutrition.

2. You will have plenty of time. I had a 2.5 hour limit and finished the whole thing in just under 1.5 hours, and I’m a slow and steady test taker. So take your time! If you feel like you’re losing control of the situation, just take a few minutes to gather your head. I found it helpful to write out my reasoning on the scrap paper provided.

3. Be prepared for surprise questions, and don’t be scared of them. There are some questions that you will have absolutely no clue what any part of it means. Again, sit back, approach it from a different angle, and try to deduce the answer. Most of the managerial and food service portions are just basic common sense, and even if you don’t remember an equation you can probably figure out the answer using basic math. Trust in your fundamental education–we went to high school for a reason! Also, some of the questions on this test are dummy questions that are being tested out, and aren’t going to count for your final score. It’s possible that the surprise questions fall into that category.

4. Don’t skimp on studying community nutrition principles, especially related to governmental assistance programs and the scope of practice for different programs like WIC, Elderly Nutrition, SNAP, etc. It’s helpful to know who runs which programs, and whom they serve (example: the home-bound elderly, prison inmates, school children, etc.).

5. Trust your education and your internship. Bottom line? It’s in the Academy’s best interest to churn out more and more dietitians each year. The test will be challenging, but not too challenging that you won’t be able to pass it if you have paid attention in college and done well in your internship.

After taking the test, I actually think that everyone coming out of an internship could take it right off the bat. Don’t spend weeks and weeks studying for this. You will do better just to review the basic principles of each domain of dietetics, and then trust in your gut intuition and basic reasoning skills to get you through the rest. I’m so glad I didn’t waste time studying more than I needed to!

I’m confident that if you’ve had a solid internship experience, like I did at Oregon Health and Science University, you’ll be fine. You’ll end up with a shiny new RD credential, and maybe even a delectable vegan chocolate cake. Please comment if you have anything to add, or any questions about the test. Cheers and good luck studying!

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iamge2