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Chia seed pudding & the scoop on omega-3 fatty acids for vegans

I recently went on a camping trip and my dedicated adventure buddy surprised me with some chia seed pudding for our two mornings spent out on the trails. First of all, that was very nice of her. Second, it reminded me to talk about plant-based omega-3 fatty acids!

You can buy pre-made chia seed pudding at the store for about $4 a carton, but it’s much cheaper to bone up and buy a bulk bag of chia seeds (I spent about $9 on 1 lb) because a little goes a long way. I used a 1:4 ratio of chia seed to liquid, which worked out perfectly.

The fun thing about chia seed pudding is that you can put whatever you want in it. I personally like berries, kiwis, bananas, cinnamon, cacao nibs, and maybe some peanut butter if I’m feeling saucy. I was thinking it would be fun to purée up some berries and coconut oil and mix that into the pudding. The world is your oyster with this stuff.

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It definitely did not take me twenty minutes to perfectly stage this pudding.

Here’s the cool thing about chia seeds: they’re one of the best plant sources of alpha-linolenic acid (“ALA”), which is an essential omega-3 fatty acid and absolutely necessary in anyone’s diet. The body can’t synthesize ALA on it’s own, which is why it’s called an “essential” fatty acid. It is extremely important for vegans to be eating enough ALA. This acid will be converted to the longer-chain eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and possibly to the even longer docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), two non-essential omega-3 fatty acids. They’re non-essential because we can make them from another source — ALA. All cell membranes, especially the ones in our brains, are dependent on DHA/EPA.

Omnivores will get their omega-3s from fatty marine life (particularly salmon) for the most part, but plant-based folks need to make sure we’re hitting our quota of ALA. Unfortunately, it’s not easy for our bodies to convert ALA to EPA/DHA, so you may want to consider a supplement. Research shows vegans and vegetarians can be very low in ALA in the blood. But you can get these fatty acids from where the fish themselves get them — algae! Just look for algae-based EPA/DHA supplements in the stores. As a bonus, lab-grown algae should be free of mercury, and you’ll avoid that nasty fish breath.

Other sources of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids include walnuts, flaxseed, algal oil, and hemp oil.

Why do we care about omega-3 fatty acids? Research suggests that the anti-inflammatory omega-3s may help to protect against cardiovascular disease, dementia, and lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and triglycerides. Chia seeds in particular are high in fiber, magnesium, calcium, iron, and have about 5 g of protein in 1 oz.

The other polyunsaturated fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids, are also essential for the human body, but Americans don’t have a problem ingesting enough omega 6s. They’re concentrated in cottonseed, soybean, and safflower oils — and these oils are typically abundant in processed foods. They’ll oxidize pretty easily in your body, which is why omega 6 fatty acids are dubbed the “inflammatory” ones. Grain-fed meat will be high in omega-6 fatty acids.

How to Make Chia Seed Pudding:

Use a 1:4 ratio of seeds to liquid.

1. Mix 1 cup chia seed with 4 cups almond/soy/hemp/rice milk.

2. Add 1 tsp vanilla, and 1 tbsp sugar or syrup if desired. Alternatively, you could use a sweetened milk.

3. Stir periodically, making sure no clumps are forming.

4. Stick it in the fridge for 1-8 hours — mine was ready to go after about an hour but had an even better consistency the next morning. Keep it in an air-proof container in the fridge.

5. Portion out as you choose and add whatever topping you like!

Sautéed Avocado & Nectarine Salsa

Sweet, savory, which to choose? With this salsa, you don’t have to. It’s got the tangy sweetness of the nectarines, coupled with a healthy dose of garlic and the incomparable mouth feel of the avocado. Throw it all together with a little salt and pepper and sauté in vegan butter, and you’ve got yourself a sweet and savory flavor bomb that goes well on a variety of dishes. I roasted a sweet potato for this salsa’s accompaniment, but it would go well on a rice pilaf or over tofu.

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If you need some spice in your life, how about adding some cayenne pepper to the mix?

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I love this salsa because sautéeing it allows for crunchy texture to form on the nectarines and avocado. Don’t be afraid to turn the heat up under the saucepan to allow that texture to form. (But don’t, you know, burn the butter.)

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Serve immediately! 🙂

 

On the anticipation of working out

Before you read this post, listen to your favorite fist-pumping workout song.

I’ll wait.

All set?

Now start reading.

 

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the psychological willpower of working out. Maybe I’ve been reading too much Runner’s World, or maybe all the people being active in sunny Portland these days have got me thinking.

My willpower and motivation have been a little — well, a lot, actually — stagnant for some time now. The hardest decision in the world for me is whether to leave my apartment to go to run club, or to yoga, or for a hike, or to just stay in. And forget doing these activities on my own. I’ve already written about the benefits of community for the active person, and I’m finding myself relying on my community more than ever these days. But day by day, I’ve been choosing being active over being sedentary, even if it’s just a neighborhood walk. Some days, for me, that is a really. big. deal. And I won’t say that every day I’m getting better, but at least every day has opportunity. And in all of my twenty four years of life, I’ve never, ever, regretted moving my body. Even if it was hard.

One day in yoga class, my instructor was leading us through a flow. Instead of being present in the moment, I was anticipating the next move, the logical progression of the flow to the opposite side of the body. So when I — and about half of my classmates — moved into a forward lunge on the opposite leg instead of listening to what our instructor had asked of us, even if it didn’t seem to make logical sense in the flow, she simply said, “stop anticipating.

That phrase has popped up a couple of times in the past weeks for me. The anticipation of a work out can be so stressful that it prompts even the best-intentioned of us to quit before we start. “What if it hurts? What if I don’t run as fast as my normal time? What if I pass out in class? What if I can’t do it?

And then I realized: I’ve never not been able to get through a yoga class. For all the times after work when my brain tricks me into skipping class because “I need a rest day” or “it’s too hard right now,” I haven’t been thinking clearly, and remembering all the classes I have made it through. And if I ever — and I have — have to move to child’s pose for a rest, so what? My work out is for me. It’s not for anyone else.

The same goes for running, for hiking, for climbing, for lifting, for paddle boarding, for rowing, for cycling, for _______. You fill it in. If you have to stop and walk, do it. If you have to stop and sit, do it. You’ll still put in the miles, and you’ll still be doing something worthwhile.

Some of us hold on so tightly to our perfectionism, our competitiveness, and our need to please, that we beat ourselves up for the few backslides we may have in our workouts. But we don’t reward ourselves for the big picture. I hiked 6.8 miles this weekend up to Dog Mountain with some friends, the first four of those miles at a pretty steep incline. I wasn’t first in line; in fact, I was hundreds of feet behind my friends, taking pictures and adopting more of an amble than a fast-paced hiker’s clip. But did I have fun? Did I get to pet a lot of dogs and exchange a friendly “happy hiking” to everyone on the trail? Did I release some of my stress into the abyss instead of holding it in my muscles and joints, all without having to go at a breakneck speed to the top? Did I smile, while out in nature, in the beautiful region of the country in which I live, and realize for one second how lucky I am? Yes, to all of the above.

So don’t be afraid to call yourself an athlete. Don’t be afraid to say you are a yogi, not a once-weekly attempter of airplane pose.  A runner, not a jogger. A hiker or a climber, not an “I like being outside and taking pictures while simultaneously crawling on alternate terrain” sorta person.

Because I have a confession to make: I am the latter of all these labels. But I choose to call myself a yogi, a runner, a climber, a hiker, and whatever else I want to be.

For all of us who have been inspired to incorporate more adventures into our days off, or add more activity into your life, or to find the sport that gets your adrenaline going like nothing else, just take a second and recognize how great that is. That idea blossomed in your mind and you held on to it, instead of letting it go.

Happy hiking.

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Portland’s the (vegan) caterer, and how YOU can give back this holiday season

The holidays are here, and I couldn’t be happier. Bring on the overambitious Pinterest recipes, the non-denominational greeting cards, the friends-givings and family gatherings!

The holidays give us an excuse to throw parties, give back to our community, and make memories with our neighbors…sometimes, all at once! Last Friday, I had the privilege of helping out the (vegan) caterer, a Portland-based catering company, throw a benefit banquet for the Pigs Peace Sanctuary.

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“Volunteering fills my heart when it gets empty.” That’s what one of my college mentors told me, and it’s stuck with me to this day. Volunteering gives you a chance to forget yourself, and start focusing on others. Even if it’s for a day, a morning, or an hour, I’ve always this sentiment to be true. And as a vegan dietitian, I don’t think it gets much better than serving and enjoying some delicious, cruelty-free food with my own community.

As happy as the holidays can be for humans, the same does not go for animals. Thanksgiving in particular permits us to stuff ourselves all day long, with a menu traditionally centered on meat and dairy. But if you’ve tasted the magic of Field Roast or some dairy-free ‘nog, you know that compassionate alternatives can more than satisfy a crowd. Verbatim quote from my omnivore friend who tagged along: “This is the best roast I have ever eaten. Period.”

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The good folks over at the (vegan) caterer make it possible for the community to enjoy holiday banquetwith a healthy side of compassion. Here’s some shots from the banquet!

(The following pictures were taken by Mark Rainha and edited by myself.)

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From left to right, we have marinated green beans and carrots; field roast slices with a mushroom and sage gravy; and cranberry-glazed tofu. Not pictured is the mashed sweet potato with torched dandies (vegan marshmallows). That night, I learned that it is incredibly difficult to remain calm and collected when the aroma of freshly torched dandies is wafting around!

Here’s Josh, the owner of the (vegan) caterer, torching those dandies.

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Dinner was served to over 100 guests at the Village Ballroom, a cozy venue in Northeast Portland.

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Look at those happy volunteers 🙂

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Here’s Judy Woods of the Pigs Peace Sanctuary, located just north of Seattle. She does amazing, selfless work rescuing pigs from all walks of life and has been doing so since 1994. The Sanctuary now houses over fifty pigs, who live in peace on 39 acres of woodland. They are free to foster natural relationships with their rescued friends, forage for food, and explore the land. I could go on and on about Pigs Peace, but I encourage you to click that link and read Judy’s own words.

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The banquet featured a raffle with prizes donated from companies all over town. In fact, $4082.90 was raised to benefit Judy’s nonprofit.

If you’re located in the Portland area and need some help with a holiday party, give the (vegan) caterer a try! They offer a wide array of services, from private event catering to individual meal preparation delivered to your doorstep. Wedding catering services are listed on their site and are very affordable. Josh has an extensive menu, ranging from Tex-Mex to the Far East. And don’t worry, there are plenty of desserts to go around.

:: What You Can Do To Make a Difference This Holiday Season ::

Serve Compassionate Food: The holidays are a perfect opportunity to incorporate cruelty-free food and drink into your traditional festivities! The Kitchn has some winter-specific recipes that I can’t wait to serve to my favorite people. Post Punk Kitchen is always a great resource for holiday recipes, as well. By serving cruelty-free food, you’ll be making a statement for how all beings can enjoy the holidays.

Reach Out to Causes That Need Your Help: Many local organizations are looking for a helping hand this holiday season.

  • Try VolunteerMatch.org to find a cause you might enjoy serving.
  • Search around your neck of the woods for smaller nonprofits who need help, or local companies trying to make their mark in the community.
  • Many local veggie organizations throw community dinners and serve to the homeless. Put Google to work and find some upcoming events near you.
  • If you own a  business, organize a canned (or other) food drive and offer promotions to customers. For example, three canned items might give someone $5 off a haircut.
  • If you live in the Portland area, one of my favorite organizations to promote is Northwest VEG. They always have something up their sleeve and are eager for volunteers.

That’s all, folks! I’ll be updating with some of my favorite things as the holidays start. While you’re waiting, how about you comment and tell me: how do you celebrate for the holidays? and do you have any favorite organizations you like to help during the winter season?

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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It’s the Great Outdoors

Things to do in your lifetime #594: Go camping.

Boulder Lake, Oregon is one of the best places I’ve ever camped–and I say this after spending the entire night and day fending off a steady freezing rain. But look, how could you not like this?

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Rule #1 of camping is that you must have a dog. Dogs provide security, fun, and general adorableness. That’s Seven down there, lounging about!

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Rule #2 of camping is that you must have good food. Hearty and delicious food will keep you warm and fend off the low blood sugar grumps on your extreme hikes and other explorations around the campsite. Seriously, load up. Some vegan camping fodder I live by are KIND bars (almond coconut, specifically), PB&jelly sandwiches, and any of the vegan fare from Backpacker’s Pantry. I sampled the Katmandu Curry this trip, which was delectable and oh-so-easy to make. Just add boiling water, let it sit, and fuel up! This one was filled with veggies, rice, some potatoes, and mouth-watering spices.

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Rule #3 of camping is to be spontaneous and have fun. As my friend Ashley demonstrates, this might mean hopping in an inflatable raft and using a cutting board to tour the lake even though it is raining and cold. This was one of those moments in my life where I realized that keeping a smile on your face and having some fantastic friends makes life joyful.

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Rule #4 of camping is that you must always, without exception, have ‘smores and a roarin’ campfire. Be sure to get enough firewood right off the bat so you don’t have to go trekking around in the dark looking for dry branches. This, and the tarp that my friends and I ingeniously tethered to the trees above our heads, provided a pretty comfy shelter.

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I had to bite the bullet after this trip and get a seriously warm sleeping bag for myself. My criteria were for it to be cheap, synthetic (no down feathers here, please), cute, and lightweight. After some contemplation at REI, I settled on the Marmot Sunset 20. Weighing in at just 3 lbs 9 oz, rated at 23 F, and cute to boot, I can’t wait to break it in!

Until the next camping trip!

The Joyful RD-to-be

I’m so glad we’ve found each other!

I’m Gemma, a recent graduate of Oregon Health and Science University’s esteemed dietetic internship program. Now what? I’m out in the world (Portland, specifically), studying to pass my RD exam and become a full-fledged dietitian.

Hey, that's me!

Hey, that’s me!

I started this blog because I have a lot of ideas and inspiration that I want to share. This blog is for the foodies, the athletes, the couch potatoes, the academics, and everyone in between. My goal isn’t to talk about a specific diet, weight goal, or body type–my goal is to inspire you to live a mindful, happy, and curious life. If I can leave you with just one inspiring thought, towards living your best life, my job as a future health professional and nutrition expert will be done.

So what will be featured on this website? Athletics, nutrition news, camping nutrition, outdoor activities, culinary adventures in PDX, Intuitive Eating, Health at Every Size, “What I’m Eating,” and many other topics are on my mind right now.

I can’t wait. Let’s get started!

 

* Disclaimer: I am NOT a registered dietitian (yet!). Nothing on this blog is a medical prescription. Do not take any advice here as a substitute for your doctor’s advice.