fiber

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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Breakfast Muffins for Mornings on the Go

I’m pretty sure that waking up before the sun rises should be illegal. When you’re morally obligated to stay up late watching Homeland, it becomes a bit of a struggle to wake up at 6 am the next day to go work in a hospital for nine hours! To stay chipper and fuel up in the morning without wasting any time, I concocted an easy breakfast muffin recipe that is packed protein and fiber to help keep me full and focused until lunch time.
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Each of these muffins has 3.5 g of protein and 3.3 g of fiber. I usually grab two in the morning because they’re not massive like the ones you see in supermarkets. You can top them with peanut butter, honey, or just eat ’em plain!
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I used flax meal, oat bran, and hemp protein powder to provide some protein and fiber. Hemp is a complete protein, meaning it contains all the essential amino acids humans needs to survive and thrive! Ground flax seed has a substantial amount of fiber, which can help to lower your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. The fiber helps to promote normal digestion and relieve constipation (aim for about 25-35 grams a day). Flax seed is also noted for its omega-3 content, and is an alternative to fatty fish. Oat bran is simply the outside of oat grains, and is a great source of fiber, protein, and selenium, an antioxidant. It also contains iron and B vitamins that will improve your energy levels.
I also added a fruit “sauce” for even more fiber and some natural sweetness. Simply toss a pear or an apple and 1 tbsp of olive oil (or any oil) in the blender and blend away. Add 1/2 a cup to your mixture.
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I personally don’t like sweet foods in the morning, but if you need a bit more sweetness try adding 1/4 cup of maple syrup to this mix or simply add some berries into the batter.
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This recipe will make about 12 muffins.
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Try this recipe out and let me know what you think!

Snack Time: Kale Chips with a Kick

I know, I know–kale chips have been done. But I got a huge bunch from my local produce service, and figured it was time to spice things up a little bit around here…can you tell by the site’s new look? 🙂

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Kale chips are super easy to make and take just about 20 minutes to crisp up in the oven. But I like them the best because they are a perfect reflection of your personality! I guess I was feeling spicy when I made these because I was pretty liberal with my chili powder and nutritional yeast. Talk about an afternoon pick-me-up!

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So go ahead and put your own spin on these! Minced garlic? Sriracha? A pinch of paprika? It’s your food, and you do what you want.

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As I noted in the recipe card, it’s best to eat these as soon as you make them. Storing them is tricky and they tend to get a bit soggy in a container if you haven’t used a dehydrator (something I haven’t invested in). Also, be sure to flip them a couple times during the baking process to ensure an even texture.

Kale is a powerhouse ingredient in my diet because it’s full of vitamins and minerals that my body needs to function. It’s a great source of that non-heme (non-animal source) iron, vitamin C (this helps the iron to be absorbed in your body), vitamin A, and calcium. Like most vegetables and fruits, kale will help keep you regular and acts as a natural detoxifying agent because it’s packed with fiber.

A lot of people ask me what nutritional yeast is all about. This delicious product is a flaky add-on to anything that needs a  boost of (vegan) cheesy goodness. In fact, it’s used often in vegan cheeses and sauces to mimic that cheese flavor. If you’re vegan, make sure you pick up a nutritional yeast that is fortified with B12! This can be a difficult nutrient for us to obtain since it comes almost exclusively from animal sources (exception: algae, yeast). I like Bragg’s. At just about $6 a bottle, it’s a real bargain.

So if you’ve got half an hour to spare and a head of kale waiting to be munched on, go ahead and try these chips! You won’t be disappointed.