vegan 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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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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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!

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.