vegan 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.

Compassionate Gift Ideas for Anxious Gifters

I have gift anxiety.

I’m not a natural gifter, unlike my best friend or my dear mom. More often than not I cringe when someone opens my gift to them, expecting obvious disappointment to show up on their faces once they open up whatever I’ve hastily assembled for them. (Don’t worry, it doesn’t usually turn out to be that depressing.)

That is why I absolutely love gift guides! I stumbled across the Leaping Bunny‘s interactive cornucopia of compassionate gifting ideas and had to share it with all of you. If you’re struggling to find that last person on your list’s gift, this might be the answer for you. Every ornament on the trees will display a special deal or discount the company is offering. Take a look!

Featured companies include:

  • Andalou Naturals (I’ve recently sampled their products and really enjoy the fruit peels)
  • CommonGood
  • Dr. Bronner’s
  • Mineral Fusion
  • Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day (I live by their counter spray!)
  • South of France

…and many more!

I also have to rep VeganCuts. It’s true what they say: ’tis the season for cruelty-free gifting! VeganCuts offers beauty boxes and snack boxes that can be gifted one-time, or set up for monthly doorstep deliveries. Who doesn’t love getting a box of new goodies every month?

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Feed them — with food or words. Treats and cookbooks are always a good option. But how about both of those combined into one fantastic book? That’s right: Vegan Food Gifts (Joni Marie Newman) will inspire your crafty friend to make treats all year long.

Donate in someone’s name. Most people have a favorite cause, whether it’s animal rights, community development, green initiatives, or supporting the local economy. You know your friends and family better than I do! For that person who has everything, a credited donation can be a fantastic and thoughtful gift.

Know a self-professed gourmand? Peruse foranima‘s Food & Kitchen section. From baked goods to biodegradable plateware, there’s bound to be something for a classy someone in your life.

Support a local business and set up a couple months’ worth of produce delivery for someone important to you. Believe me, they’ll appreciate the time you saved them shopping for fruits and veggies! In Portland I like to rep Organics to You, a company I’ve been using for a year. They always surprise me with something new to cook with, and it couldn’t be easier to eat my fruits and vegetables.

Spend time. When all else fails and your gifts just aren’t working out, fall back to the real point of the holidays: spending time with the people in your life.

What kinds of gifts are you giving this holiday season?