breakfast

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!

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Salad Rolls for the World

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Everyone who knows me knows I can’t go to a Asian establishment and not order salad rolls. They’re one of my absolute favorite foods — crispy, fresh, colorful, and fun to eat, all at once. I’ve tried hundreds and hundreds of salad rolls in my life (okay, probably not quite that many). But not until yesterday did I concoct a plan to make them myself. I don’t know what took me so long — I guess I just thought the labor and art of salad-roll making was out of my league. Newsflash: it is. They may look pretty in the picture, but I’m not going to judge anyone for making some jacked up salad rolls because this is hard!

As a dietitian (and a human being) I really identify with the the principles of flexibility and whimsy. Salad rolls are totally in line with these ideas because you can fill them with whatever strikes your fancy at the moment. There are so many flavors in the world, and ALL of them have the potential to fit into salad rolls! Ah, life is magical.

IMG_1637So there I was — I had all my ingredients prepped and in the assembly line (read: sitting in multiple bowl sizes haphazardly on my stove top), the big bowl of water ready to rehydrate my rice paper, and a supremely determined mindset. When I pulled the first paper out of the water and it immediately ripped and folded over on itself, I just laughed. Okay, take two!

The trick is to take the paper out of the water at about 15 seconds (not twenty) when it’s still got some stiffness in it and you can actually work with it. It’s like taking a cake out of the oven right before it’s actually cooked all the way through, because it’ll keep cooking (and the rice paper will keep absorbing the water as you’re filling it).

saladrolls2After you’ve readied your roll, simply tuck the sides in and roll it up like a tiny Asian burrito.

Yoga, Level: Cats -- "Now, take both legs and simply toss them around your neck . . . like a scarf."
No, I’m just kidding…it takes a little more finesse than that. But each roll I made was better-looking than the one before, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Just try to have fun with it! And remember — no matter what they look like, they’re going to taste insanely phenomenal. I could live off this stuff.

As for the sauce, experiment. We’re all different and I don’t expect you to like the same amount of spice or sweetness that I do. Much like every restaurant will serve their own version of a peanut sauce, all of ours will probably be tailored to our taste.

I really hope you do try to make these bad boys. Some recipes require a lot of repetition and help me to zone out in the kitchen, and this is one of them. It was a treat to spend my morning making these. And it was an even bigger treat to eat them.

And that, my friends….is a wrap. (ba dun dun.)

Peanut Sauce
* 1 tbsp peanut butter (I use natural crunchy)
* 1 tsp soy or tamari sauce (tamari for gluten-free folks)
* 1 tbsp thai chili paste (it’s not that spicy, but taste-check as needed)

Marinated Tofu
* 2 tbsp brown sugar
* 1 tbsp tamari/soy sauce
* 1 tbsp curry powder
* juice of a lime
* 1 tbsp minced garlic
* 1 tsp sesame oil

1. Mix all the ingredients together, and then throw in a package of tofu (16 oz).

2. Saute over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until most of the water has left the tofu. Take off the burner & set aside.

Pad Thai Noodles
1. Boil water. Insert noodles (a good handful). Boil for 8-10 minutes. Take out of water and set aside.

Salad Roll Recipe
* Pad thai noodles (or vermicelli, or thin rice noodles) – 1.5 cups
* Marinated tofu — 1.5 cups
* Raw red onion, sliced thinly (1/2 of one)
* Raw red pepper, sliced thinly (1/2 of one)
* Baby spinach (bunch)
* Raw avocado, sliced thinly (1/2 of one)
* Optional — cilantro or thai basil to taste (or both!)

Remember that this is YOUR food — sub in and sub out ingredients as you wish!

1. Insert rice paper into a bowl of water. Take it out (carefully) after about 15 seconds (it will be really thin and hard to work with). Lay it on a tea towel or a thick paper towel.
2. Arrange your filling as you want — I found it helpful to lay down the spinach/lettuce first, and then try to put the other ingredients on top of it.
3. Fold the sides over, and then either the bottom or top. Finagle. Roll into a tiny burrito.
4. Eat the delicious salad rolls.

Sweet Potato & Apple Pancakes

Fall has arrived once again in the Pacific Northwest. Due to our unusually hot and long summer (RIP), the fall colors are in full force. I almost feel like I’m back east. This means that, in addition to cooking up some delectable fall-inspired recipes, I don’t feel too embarrassed about getting my foo-foo lattes every once in a while (I’m usually a plain Americano type-person, for all of you who may want to bring me coffee in the future).

We have an abundance of pumpkins, squash, apples, and sweet potatoes at the local markets, and I was remembering my good friend and former roommate who used to cook some potato latkes to die for. And with that, I give you these pancakes.

 

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Make sure you don’t skimp on the (vegan) butter when you’re frying up these guys — you’ll need the savory notes to balance out the sweetness of the apple. If you don’t have a huge sweet tooth, I’d recommend going for a 2:1 ratio of potato to apple. I didn’t even put any syrup on these because they were flavorful enough on their own.

And don’t worry about peeling the potato or apple before you grate them. Keeping the skins on will preserve the rich fiber and you won’t even notice it once it’s all cooked.

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Combined with the flour, the pancakes formed patties well and stuck together without a problem. Easy for flipping!

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Best of all, a small potato and apple made three pancakes! Talk about an economical breakfast — invite your friends and make it into brunch! Did someone order a pumpkin spice latte?

Mini Breakfast Tofu Frittatas

“Frittata” is a very strange word to both spell and say, as I’ve learned from writing this post. Nevertheless, I give you the breakfast tofu frittata (bonus: they’re mini).

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A traditional frittata is an egg-based dish of Italian heritage, similar to a crust-less quiche. But you can enjoy this savory meal sans egg, and start your day off with a hearty dose of protein to boot. What can I say? Some of us are just savory breakfast people.

tofufrittatarecipecardYou can eat these bad boys on their own or make a breakfast sandwich. These frittatas go just right with some salsa and spinach on top an English muffin. And remember, make it yours! If you don’t like broccoli, how about some red pepper, or zucchini?

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You may have noticed that I like to cook with tofu quite a bit. Aside from being a neutral-tasting and versatile meat substitute that goes well in breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert dishes, tofu serves as a functional food in many ways.

The isoflavones found in soy products are well-known antioxidants that absorb free radicals within our bodies to prevent premature cell aging and cell death. Soy isoflavones improve blood vessel linings, and may contribute to bone health. In general, replacing meat with soy products reduces overall fat and cholesterol intake, therefore improving heart health. Some soy products are fortified with calcium and vitamin D, as well.

Unfortunately, many people believe that eating soy products increases the risk of breast cancer. While it is true that isoflavones can act like estrogens, which influence our hormone production over time and may contribute to cancer risk, soy isoflavones can also hinder the effect of actual estrogens on our tissue, thus decreasing this risk (whew, that was a mouthful!). There’s been quite a lot of research on this subject since it’s so controversial. But just recently, The American Cancer Society’s Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Survivors , released in 2012, notes that soy consumption offers “no harmful effects to breast cancer survivors.” 

If you’d like more information, peruse this comprehensive analysis of research pertaining to soy foods. Additionally, Ginny Messina (TheVeganRD) notes that soybean isoflavones “are different from estrogen” and  may reduce breast cancer risk if consumed early in life, and may reduce recurrence of breast cancer

Soy offers a host of health benefits that outweigh its reputation. Overall, “The vast majority of the evidence is that soy is either neutral or protective against breast cancer, including for women previously diagnosed with estrogen receptor positive breast cancer (tumors stimulated by estrogen contact).” So go ahead and enjoy the benefits of soy foods!

You choose: for the road, or here at home. I myself chose one for a late night snack. 😀

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Easy as Pie: Stovetop Pear Preserve

I was completely overwhelmed. By pears.

My wonderful fruit and veggie delivery service, Organics to You, has been sending me pears for weeks now. Anjous, Bartletts, Boscs — you name it. Red, green, yellow, and brown. Tangy, tart, mushy and mealy. Today I decided to face my problems head on and deal with all those pears lurking in the back of my fridge. And what better way to handle lurking fruits than to make them into a preserve?

A preserve is a fruit preparation that is sustained by sugar — i.e., a jam or a jelly. I’m not a fan of jellies, so I decreed that these pears would be made into a homemade jam. And so it was done.

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Looks delicious, huh? Read on to see just how easy this was to make.

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Lots of recipes online called for using just one type of pear. But I like variety, and what’s life without a little whimsy? I also traded a third of the white granulated sugar for coconut sugar.

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Thinking you should peel those pears? Step away from the peeler! By saving the skin, your heart will enjoy the benefits of the 6 grams of fiber that the each pear (mostly the skin) provides. This fiber can bind to fats in your digestive tract and lower cholesterol levels. This fiber may bind to cancer-causing agents and decrease the risk of colon cancer.

Pears are also very high on the ORAC scale — that’s the “Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity” scale, which is a ranking of how many antioxidants a food boasts, as researched by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Check it out here. Although there is scientific debate about the validity of testing antioxidants in a test tube versus how they actually work in the body, we do know that fruits and vegetables tend to have high amounts of antioxidants, and pears are no exception. Pears are also relatively low on the glycemic load, so they won’t spike insulin levels too high, especially if paired with a protein or fat.

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Of course, this recipe does call for added sugar, but a tablespoon or so of jam on morning toast — maybe with some peanut butter — sounds like a good deal to me.

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Note: Although I plan on it, I haven’t yet learned how to can foods. That’s why I’m storing these preserves in the refrigerator. If you are planning on storing homemade canned goods in a pantry, please use proper canning technique! Unsafe canning practices can lead to life-threatening illnesses.

 

 

 

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!