dietitian

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.

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!

The easiest pumpkin pie you’ll ever make. Period.

Who else is loving fall?!

I think that I’ve finally figured out, after almost 24 years, that fall is my very favorite season. It just calls for oversize sweaters, colorful scarves, piping hot coffee to go, and of course…

Pumpkin pie!

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But how do you make pie vegan? Don’t you need eggs and butter?

My friends, “veganizing” your food is so easy to do. I know the holidays are all about gathering and sharing food with your friends and family. But vegan food doesn’t have to be a burden to make or a step-down for your taste buds. I tested this recipe last weekend and now that I’ve perfected it, I’m confident you could serve this at Thanksgiving dinner!

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-007Wait a minute…tofu in my pie?

Don’t be nervous. Embrace the wonders of tofu! In this recipe, it simply serves as a binder for the pie and gives it that distinctive ‘soft-yet-solid’ pumpkin pie mouth-feel. You will not taste any tofu in your pie.

*As an added bonus, all the protein you’re getting from the tofu will keep your body from metabolizing the sugar too fast, and help you to avoid a spike in your blood sugar, which will keep your insulin response in check. Aaaand end dietitian-talk!*

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To make this recipe even easier, I used frozen pie crust. And if you don’t own a rolling pin, a cold bottle of wine works just as well!

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So whether you have a fall potluck on your calendar, or you’re just craving a night alone with a delicious pumpkin pie, you can whip this up in about 20 minutes. It’ll stay in the oven for around 50 minutes, or until the middle is somewhat firm. Let it cool, then serve with some Coconut Bliss Salted Caramel ice cream (I’m dying over their new flavors!) or in its own solo pumpkin-y goodness 🙂

There’s just nothing better.

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VegFest 2013 and the Plant-Based Nutrition Conference

I had the pleasure of attending my first ever health conference as an actual health professional yesterday! The “Enhancing Health with Plant-Based Nutrition” conference was organized by Adventist Medical Center and Northwest VEG and was a great learning experience. Registered dietitians are required to earn 75 continuing education credits every five years to make sure we are continuing to learn in our field, and I had a lot of fun earning my first six! And as a vegan RD, I was so grateful that the Academy approved this lifestyle medicine conference for credit.

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Huge props to whoever organized the food for this event. I was fed a hearty breakfast of oatmeal with PB. Lunch was a delicious buffet of all gluten-free and vegan items, ranging from cashew cheese spread over millet and tempeh, to tacos with delicious guacamole and salsa. But dessert really took the cake –we were treated to raw raspberry cheesecake. Drool!

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Overheard: “But seriously, how much kale is too much?”

I really enjoyed the speakers at this conference. They spoke on a wide range of topics, from enhancing your brain health and preventing Alzheimer’s dementia with a plant-based diet, to one dietitian’s research in the Marshall Islands working with a population stricken with a diabetes epidemic. After hearing her tales of diabetes reversal and the new life and vigor these people have for plant-based nutrition, I was even more inspired to live my life as a joyful, vegan RD.

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I wrote down a few key points that stood out to me, so I’ll go over them briefly if you’re interested in evidence-based nutrition information:

1. 51% of American calories come from processed foods. It’s hard to remember that outside of the Portland bubble, where everyone seems to care about locally-grown, whole foods, there’s an entire nation of people who are still surviving off of factory-produced or imported food.

2. The average American consumes 12 cows, 25 hogs, and 2400 chickens in their lifetime.

3. Blue Zones, or geographic areas that have been identified as spots where people live significantly longer than the average human and have a better quality of life in their golden years, have specific lifestyle factors in common: strong family ties, non-smoking, plant-based diets, a habit of constant moderate activity, and healthy social engagement. Read more about Blue Zones here. Here are some research articles about how people following a plant-based diet have been shown to live longer and have less incidence of chronic disease (including cancer and heart disease): Adventist Health Study, AHS-2 Fraser, Crowe, & Huang et al.

Some of the specific patterns that have been isolated as promoting significantly higher risk of disease included red and processed meat consumption, refined grain consumption, and consuming foods rich in saturated fats such as sweets, desserts and french fries ( this was from the well-known Nurses’ Health Study, with fourteen years of data from over 69,000 nurses).

I was particularly shocked to read about heart disease reversal and diabetes reversal in the Marshall Islands. Type 2 DM is the number one cause of death on these islands, and 50% of the population who are over 35 years old have it. I can’t even wrap my head around that, but I fear that our country may see these numbers someday (right now about 8% of our population has diabetes). Brenda Davis, RD, of the Diabetes Wellness Project traveled to these islands and helped to integrate a lifestyle change of exercise, stress management, and a fully plant-based, low-glycemic load diet. The results? Within two weeks patients who couldn’t walk without pain were starting to walk to the end of the block and back. Blood tests became normal — in fact, one woman’s HbA1C went from 8.7 to 5.7 (if you’re a health professional, you know this is unheard of without medication!!). I was so impacted by this project and the word Brenda Davis has done with plant-based nutrition.

“Diabetes Wellness Program participants have overcome seemingly insurmountable mountains of Spam, donuts, ramen noodles and cola. They have managed to put together low-cost, healthful meals despite the high cost and poor quality of their produce. They have managed to do it with little education and marginal English skills. They have managed to do it with few gyms, no hiking trails and limited access to fitness facilities. These pioneers are providing a powerful example of health and healing for other Marshall Islanders. They are providing hope amid a deep sense of hopelessness.”

4. Curcumin (the extract from turmeric) really is one of the most powerful anti-inflammatory agents. Check out my post on the turmeric-raspberry iced tea! Combining curcumin with pineapple for its bromelain, an enzyme, increases its absorption. This seems like a great excuse for some  Indian pineapple curry 🙂

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6. Areas of the world that have the highest incidence of multiple sclerosis are also the areas of the world that eat the most meat and dairy (aka, have a higher saturated fat intake). Read more about this here. Dr. McDougall is currently conducting a study through my alma mater, OHSU, support his and the late Dr. Swank’s theory that MS can be halted with a low saturated-fat and plant food based diet.

Phew!

After all the brain-power that went into this all-day conference, I couldn’t wait to attend Portland’s annual VegFest today! I love this event for so many reasons — the people are friendly and informative, the vegan foods and products (books, clothes, kitchen-ware, makeup and toiletries, etc.) are delightful, and…perhaps most importantly…the free samples are EVERYWHERE! I purposefully skipped my breakfast because I knew I would be heartily nourished 🙂 I think my favorite had to be the cashew crème fraîche with fig. I mean.

Of course, I couldn’t walk away without some treats. Apart from tasting about 9058723 samples of soups, kale chips, chocolates, vegan artisan cheeses, kombucha, power bars, popcorn mixtures, teas and coffees, I ended up with organic deodorant and an awesome zip up hoodie from Herbivore Clothing Company, a local and sustainable clothing and accessories shop in Portland. I can’t wait to check out their real location! Oh, and check out all those coupons and recipes!

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That’s all for today! Look for my upcoming post on how to replenish healthy gut flora after a bout with antibiotics (long story) in the next couple of weeks. And remember…

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Scenes from the Portland Farmer’s Market

The smell of coffee and flowers, the bustle of buyers and sellers. Raspberries, the first thing I eat.

Just some of my favorite things.