registered dietitian

Zucchini Tian with Vegan Parmesan Cheese

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I recently acquired a humongous zucchini. This zucchini could not be controlled.

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(Side note: apparently huge zucchinis aren’t all that uncommon, at least according to my gardening friends. But this east coast girl still hasn’t got a handle on how most foods grow, so bear with me.)

I made it into tian, at the advice of my regular chef of a mom. Tian is French dish made by chopping various vegetables and cooking them au gratin in an oven. By using breadcrumbs, butter, cheese, or eggs (nearly all of which can be plant-based!), you can achieve a nicely browned effect when all is said and done.

Behold.

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This dish is fun because you can arrange the vegetables in any way you choose. I like the spiral look, so that’s what I did. It took a lot time because I’m not very creative. But here’s what it looked like before I popped it in the oven.

 

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Remember to be creative and make this dish your own — if you don’t love zucchini, how about summer squash or sweet potato?

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I didn’t make a recipe card for the vegan parmesan because it’s so easy: simply take about a cup of raw cashews and mix in with 1/4 cup of nutritional yeast. Put this in a food proccesser/blender and give it a few pulses. It won’t take long at all to blend up. You can sprinkle this on nearly everything, because cheese.

 

And in case you were wondering…I still have about half of that zucchini left.

 

 

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!

“Summer is Coming” Salad Medley

Don’t be discouraged by Game of Thrones. Summer is coming, folks. And I have a feeling it’s going to be a good one.

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What’s better for a summer lunch than a hearty and protein-packed salad full of fruits, veggies, and the most underestimated nutritional powerhouse combo, rice and beans? The citrus in this dish keeps it light and fresh, and the rainbow of colors means you’re reaping the benefits of vitamins and minerals across the board. Baking the asparagus and beets beforehand means you’ll get a nice crunch in there, too.

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This is great dish to prepare ahead of time if you like to pack your lunch, or if you plan to delight your friends at a potluck. It’s also completely flexible. Don’t like kidney beans? That’s fine, you’re dead to me. I mean, *cough* throw in chickpeas or fava beans! And for the citrus addicts here, you can add some pineapple or strawberry to boost that flavor profile. Mmm, vitamin C!

Fair warning, though: your hands will look like Carrie when you’re done with the beets.

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Rice and beans are one of nature’s best combination foods, and serve as a complete protein source — that is, the two of them together provide all the essential amino acids your body needs to survive. And because it’s rice and beans, your stomach won’t be growling for afternoon munchies.

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Garnish with your choice: cilantro was a no-brainer for me. And summer…come quickly!

Cashew Cream: Never miss a parfait again

I enjoyed a truly delectable vegan parfait the other morning, and I went home to replicate it right afterwards so I could  share it here! The life of a dietitian, folks. Now, there’s an ever-growing number of vegan yogurts on the market, including Nancy’s, So Delicious, Almond Dream, and the Trader Joe’s brand (ps, check out their list of vegan foods from the link!). I’ve tried a few, liked a few, and found some that have left a pretty icky taste in my mouth. So if you’re looking for a simple creamy yogurt substitute that you can make in minutes to go with granola or fruit (or both!) look no further than a simple cashew cream.

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Nuts are finally getting their due recognition for protecting heart health, brain health, and staving off weight gain and even cancer. Yes, nuts are largely composed of fats, but the kind of fats found in nuts like walnuts, cashews, pistachios, almonds, etc. are not something I would ever counsel someone to avoid. Nuts are high in fiber, which promotes gut health and lowers cholesterol and triglycerides. Choose nuts that are unsalted, though, to avoid excess sodium consumption.

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Nuts are a super filling snack, which makes a cashew cream parfait likely to stick with you up until lunch (or even past it). When I get hungry at work, I always reach for almonds or mixed nuts, because I know just a handful will do the trick.

You can use a couple dollops of this delicious treat, or mix it with a non-dairy milk for a thinner consistency to make it more of a “yogurt.” I made a simple parfait consisting of low-fat/low-sugar granola found at Whole Paycheck (the berry kind in the bulk section), cashew cream, frozen pineapple and raspberries, cinnamon, and some chia seeds, and then poured unsweetened soy milk over it all. What a light and refreshing way to start the day.

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What’s your favorite parfait combination?

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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Do it Yourself: Turmeric & Raspberry “Detox” Iced Tea

I’ve been hearing a lot about the health benefits of turmeric (aka curcumin), and wanted to experiment with it in the kitchen. Since it’s summertime and I really love an ice-cold, fresh beverage after a walk outside or sweating in the sun, a hot meal wasn’t going to work! So instead, I present to you…my original turmeric & raspberry detox iced tea!

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As a Registered Dietitian, I’m obligated to say that your liver, kidneys, and intestines do a stellar job of clearing out the waste that comes from your food and environment. So any kind of “detox” program that you might want to try probably won’t be worth your money, and you might just end up spending lots of quality time on the porcelain throne.

Ahem.

However….it’s definitely true that consuming certain foods will keep you regular and help you to avoid bloat, gas, and water retention. There’s no need to take supplements or choke down any nasty concoctions. Fiber-rich, whole foods (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains), combined with spices that have a functional benefit, can have a big impact on your intestinal, er, movement.

So what’s the deal with turmeric? It’s been a hot topic in natural health news, and has been credited with preventing cancer, detoxifying the liver, aiding in digestion, and relieving arthritic pain. The literature doesn’t show any concrete connection between turmeric and these sorts of health claims, but there haven’t been many studies conducted. Preliminary research has shown that turmeric might act as an anti-inflammatory agent. In other words, it might have some fantastic benefits, but we don’t have scientific proof yet. In any case, most people have nothing to worry about from adding turmeric to their cooking! (Check with your doctor if you have a health condition like gallbladder disease.)

You can make this refreshing summer drink as long as you have a blender! With just five natural and whole ingredients, this delicious drink is just waiting to get in your belly and start hydratin’ you from the inside out.

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Turmeric & Raspberry “Detox” Iced Tea

1. Assemble your ingredients: 1/2 cucumber, 2 cups red raspberries, 1-2 tsp. turmeric powder, and 2-3 tea bags of your choice.

I’m obsessed with the Pukka “Love” right now, since it’s delicious but mild. You can choose a caffeinated or non-caffeinated tea, based on your preference. Caffeine is a mild diuretic and can help to promote digestion.

2. Brew the tea and let it steep for 3-5 minutes. Remove the tea bags and add turmeric. Blend.

All that yellow is from 1 tsp. of turmeric!

All that yellow is from 1 tsp. of turmeric!

*Pro tip: TASTE TEST this recipe as you go. I don’t find the turmeric to be overpowering, but you might. Add 1/2 teaspoons at a time to make sure you don’t overpower your drink!

3. Add the raspberries and cucumber. Blend. (Your choice to peel the cucumber or not — if you have a high-powered blender, leaving the skin on shouldn’t make a difference in taste or texture, and it adds lots of vitamins.)

Refreshing and hydrating beverage? or tequila sunrise? You tell me.

Refreshing & hydrating beverage, or tequila sunrise? You tell me.

4. Pour the mixture into a carafe and stick it in the fridge to cool it down.

5. Serve with a straw over ice. Add agave and a tiny squeeze of lemon for added flavor. Lemon is also a mild diuretic and can help with getting rid of water weight if you’re feeling bloated, but it can easily overpower the fruit and zest in this drink.

The raspberries serve as a great source of fiber (8 g per cup!), and the cucumber is a fabulously hydrating vegetable with B vegetables to start your morning off with some zing, or act as an afternoon pick-me-up! I hope to see more research about turmeric in the future and will definitely be incorporating it into my diet more often.

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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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