health

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!

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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And how many courses are we having tonight?

Buzzfeed recently posted an article aboutwhat big-name companies notice about millennials (Generation Y), or people born from the 80’s onward. In addition to the commentary about how much we love our wine culture and how social-media savvy we are, I found one statement to be particularly telling:

 

“Millennials, along with baby boomers, have a high demand for convenience when it comes to making dinner.

Today, consumers devote less than 30 minutes to prepare and cook the evening meal. So convenience is very important, right after taste, in deciding what to make for dinner.‘”

The American people like their daily life activities to be fast, easy, and fun. Preparing and enjoying food is no exception. It’s not surprising, then, that encouraging clients to prepare wholesome meals à la Sunday Italian family get-together is simply not effective counseling. This doesn’t mean that Americans are hopeless in the culinary department — spending a couple hours preparing a mouthwatering menu with some friends can be some great food therapy. But in the day-to-day slog, after getting home from work or the gym, spending more than thirty minutes preparing a meal is just not on the menu.

But here’s the good news: eating on the fly doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice taste, quality, or nutrition. Here are some tips for your day-to-day grind with mealtime.

1. Join a CSA or a local fruit and veggie delivery service and batch cook the spoils. Throughout my internship, my commute home took anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour, and some of my internship sites didn’t have lunch options for me. Having my produce box delivered every other week allowed me to batch cook all those delicious veggies, and scoop them into my lunch container (or dinner plate) every day, with the fruits to snack on at work.

Sample recipe idea:

  • boil two cups of dry lentils (making well over four cups total)
  • chop veggies, drizzle with walnut oil, salt & pepper, and whatever spice you fancy at the moment
  • bake veggies in the oven until crispy on the outside and tender on the inside
  • store all the cooked food in the fridge until you need it
  • scoop meal-sized portions into a travel container and drizzle with a fun vinaigrette or soy sauce
  • enjoy your delicious meal that you so cleverly assembled

2. Save your leftovers. If only we could go out to eat all the time, am I right? Unfortunately, eating out tends to get fairly pricey, especially in the lovely city of Portland. I’ve found that if I’ve chosen a well-balanced meal at my restaurant du jour, saving it not only saves me money, but provides me with a no-brainer meal for the next day.

3. Keep your staples on hand, and write down dishes you thought were tasty and easy to make. It can be overwhelming to choose what to make for dinner. Salad? Pasta? Sandwiches? If you have a backlog of things that worked for you, and the staples for them — think rice, canned beans and chickpeas, nuts, bread — it can be less intimidating to make some food once you get back home. Pro tip: if you’re absolutely starving and just want to scarf everything in the kitchen, start out with some almonds, or some peanut butter on toast. This should satisfy your hunger long enough to make some dinner and actually enjoy it.

I’ll leave you with yet another Buzzfeed article (I’m obsessed with this site), called “Thirty Delicious Vegan Meals You Can Make in Under 30 Minutes.” I might have to try some of these myself! Just remember: making lunch and dinner easy, fun, and tasty doesn’t mean that you have to resort to packaged frozen meals, or fast food and take-out. Try the batch cooking idea, save your leftovers, and keep staples on hand to save yourself time and stress when it comes to mealtime.

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