Thursday, August 30, 2012

Starting a plant-based lifestyle

Coincidentally, two of my friends approached me this week about healthy eating, so this blog post is for them and for anyone else wanting to lead a healthier life style by adopting a plant-based diet. I changed my diet drastically to vegan overnight as a New Years resolution in 2010. This worked for me but most people prefer gradual changes to a healthier diet. I've outlined some steps to becoming a nutritarian, on which the premise is that you use food for fuel for your body. Crappy food = crappy body (both inside and out).

First of all, being healthy isn't about just losing weight. Your outside appearance, like fat around your midsection, is just an indicator of how bad things are going on the inside. Your main goal for changing your diet should be to get healthier and prevent diseases like diabetes and heart disease, not just to lose weight.

Second of all, I'm not a doctor nor a dietician/nutritionist so these steps are just my own opinion from my own experiences and from my research. I strongly believe that we don't actually know what the ideal diet is for humans. However, I do believe that we should strive to eat like we evolved to eat. Our early ancestors were omnivores with more plants than meat, read my post on this topic.

So, here are the steps! The timeline to get through them is up to you :)

1. Eliminate fast food and limit eating out. I bring my own lunch to work and if I don't, then I try to eat from the salad/soup bar in our cafeteria. I only go out to eat once or twice on the weekend. You never know exactly what's in a meal at a restaurant so the best way to be healthy is to make your own food from scratch. It takes more time and effort (although you can easily spend and hour at a restaurant) but it will save you money!

2. Eliminate sugar and refined carbs. Read my post on why sugar is toxic for your body. Unfortunately, added sugar is everywhere, from cereal, to ketchup, to drinks. I don't by anything that has added sugar or high fructose corn syrup in it. Also beware of sugar substitutes, like diet soda. These substances trick your body into thinking that you're getting sugar and therefore calories, but you don't get the calories so your body actually ends up craving more. Refined carbs are basically anything that's white: white bread, white flour, white rice, white pasta, etc. These foods have been stripped of their nutrients and affect your body in the same way as sugar (empty calories). Instead, eat whole grain bread and pasta and brown rice. The next step of limiting processed foods will make avoiding sugar and refined carbs.

3. Limit processed foods. Your goal should be to cook everything from scratch. No boxed or frozen meals. Yes, this is going to take more time, but you'll know exactly what's going into your food. Some things I do buy in a box/bag/can, like beans and rice. ALWAYS read the label of anything you buy. The labels on the front of a box are not regulated, "natural," "low-fat," "low calorie," don't mean anything. A good rule of thumb is that if you don't understand an ingredient on the list, then its bad. The ingredients are also listed in order of the largest quantity. For example, many times, bread labeled "whole grain" actually has "bleached flour" as the first or second ingredient.

4. Cut out dairy. I think that cutting out dairy from your diet is even more important than cutting out meat. Animals (including humans) are not meant to eat the milk of another species! The purpose of milk is also to turn a baby mammal into an adult mammal. The milk, yogurt, and cheese that you're eating is meant to turn a baby calf into a huge cow. Whether you think you're lactose intolerant or not, you are as a human. The theory is that some cultures (like Americans) have developed a better resistance to cow's milk because of consuming it over past generations. Unlike Asians who do not traditionally consume much milk and tend to be more lactose intolerant. Therefore, milk is an unnatural thing to put in your body and you'll be amazed at how good you feel once you cut out dairy. P.S. The "fact" that you need to drink milk to get calcium is propaganda from the American Dairy Association. Vegetables, and especially leafy greens like spinach and kale, have more than enough calcium.

5. Limit eating animals. Along with cutting out diary, not eating meat is going to be the hardest part of this process because you've been eating it your entire life. You parents and our society told you that you have to eat meat and dairy to be healthy and "get all of your nutrients." The truth is, you can get all of these nutrients from plants. Usually you think of a meal as the protein or meat the main event of the meal with sides of vegetables and starches. You have to rethink the way you look at meals and put much more emphasis on the plants. Preparing plant-based meals is going to be new to you so you should look up recipes online or buy cookbooks (I listed some websites and cookbooks below). A good way to start is to eat one vegan meal a day (like lunch) or a couple vegan meals a week, and gradually increase the number of vegan meals until you're only eating meat once a week or less. To make your meals more filling, use things like beans, brown rice, quinoa, and sweet potatoes. And, contrary to popular belief, plants have protein! Remember how Popeye ate spinach to gain strength? Gorillas, chimps, and our other monkey ancestors are mainly vegetarian and they have plenty of muscle. I'm able to get stronger and faster in my training on a plant-based diet. Plus, animal protein will increase your bad cholesterol and your risk factor for certain diseases like heart disease and cancer.

6. Add plants! All of the above steps say "limit" or "cut out" so you may be thinking, what am I supposed to eat? You have to add more vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, and (healthy) grains to your diet. Have you every walked through the veggie section? There are tons of fruits and vegetables to choose from! Don't be afraid to try new things and revisit some vegetables that you thought you hated.

The process to drastically changing your diet is going to be hard. Your body is going to feel weird through the changes, you will feel hungry, and you will get push back from your family and friends and maybe even your doctor. You will have to fight urges when your friends eat pizza and you will cave in sometimes. I still struggle with all of this which is why I allow myself to eat a cheat meal with fish or eggs or sugar once every 1-2 weeks or so. Here are some more tips:

  • Keep a journal of what you eat. This helps you look back and see that you're not actually eating as healthy as you thought you were.
  • Think of this as a healthy lifestyle and not a diet where you're limiting yourself. Say things like "I don't eat that" instead of "I can't eat that." You can eat whatever you want, but you choose to eat healthier.
  • You're going to come across a lot of ingredients that you haven't heard of before. They are available at natural food stores, the natural section of your grocery store, and online. Here's my post on some of the healthy food staples that I keep in my kitchen.
  • Buy cookbooks and look up healthy vegan recipes online because you're going to want to make meals by replacing real meat with fake meat found in the frozen isle. I only eat "mock meats" (like frozen veggie burgers) occasionally. They should not be the cornerstone of your diet. The recipe list on my blog is growing and I also post recipes on Pinterest
  • Be active! Run, walk, lift weights, play sports, I don't care what you do just don't sit all day. Signing up for races is what helps me stay in shape. It give me a fitness goal to work towards. CrossFit class is also a social thing for me. Find out what motivates you to stay active.
  • A food processor and mini-blender make it easier to make a lot of vegan recipes. I use the blender and take it to-go for my morning smoothie and the food processor to make my own veggie burgers, for example. 
  • Your initial investment for changing your diet is going to cost some money with buying utensils or things you don't have in your pantry. Over time, a plant-based diet is cheaper than one with meat and dairy. It becomes more expensive if you buy things like vegan cheese or meat substitutes. However, you can look at it as saving a lot of money over time if you consider the medical costs you could have from preventable diseases like diabetes and heart disease.
  • Get a physical (with blood work) after you've been eating plant-based for a while and see how much things like your cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure have changed since your last physical.

The best way to solidify your goals to be more healthy is to do the research yourself. Here are some things that I've watched and read that have really helped me:
  •  Forks over Knives is an excellent documentary on why you should eat a plant-based diet (its available instantly on Netflix). The book The China Study is quoted in the documentary and has much more technical detail.
  • If you're going to buy just one book, you need to read The Engine 2 Diet. It's also quoted in Forks over Knives but formulates the information into a diet. The website also has a lot of information, including recipes and a 28-day program.
  • Not all vegan recipes online are healthy. Happy Herbivore is a great cookbook with easy recipes. The website also has recipes and meal plans. 
  • If you're a recreational athlete like me, then I highly suggest reading Thrive and checking out the Vega website for great products (that I use) and another 30-day program.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Is "paleo" actually vegetarian?

A couple of years ago, I started thinking about food as fuel for my body rather than just something I ate to feel full. Since then, I've read several books and hundreds of online articles and blogs about nutrition from all kinds of "experts" ranging from doctors to dieticians to athletes. My first conclusion was to eat a completely vegan diet. I later started CrossFit, which advocates the Paleo Diet. This means eating as our ancestors did, mostly vegetables and meat (lots of it). So, I started eating small amounts of fish and eggs again, but still no meat, and still mostly plant-based. Paleo and a healthy vegan diet are actually somewhat similar in that they eliminate dairy and processed foods...things that humans are not meant to eat. Therefore, I've made the absolute conclusion that to fuel our bodies most efficiently, we have to eat foods at their most natural states. However, I'm still torn on exactly how much animal protein is best for our bodies.

Imagine catching one of these for every meal...
I came across this very interesting and well thought-out article: Was ancient man a vegetarian? One thing that I've never believed about the popular Paleo diet is the assumption that early humans were able to obtain meat for every single meal every day. It seem unlikely that they were able to catch prey every day. Even the primitive tribes still ongoing today do not catch prey every day. They go on trips for days at a time to catch something and then bring it home for a feast. This article makes a similar point that early humans did eat animals, but only occasionally, and they mostly ate gathered vegetables, fruits, and nuts.

While many parts of humans are different from our primate ancestors, our digestive systems are essentially the same and remarkably similar to those of chimpanzees and orangutans. Our digestive system is designed to be able to digest vegetables, fruits, and meat. However, our current diet is much different from that of chimps. Most monkeys (including chimps) eat fruits, nuts, leaves, insects, and sometimes birds or lizards. Therefore, it is unbelievable to me that early man changed their diets so drastically to eat mostly meat. As humans got more and more advanced, it was easier to catch or cultivate animals, so we started eating more of them, but our digestive systems have not evolved for us to be full-on carnivores.

Humans are indeed omnivores, we have evolved to eat both plants and animals. However, I think that the true Paleo diet is to eat much more plant-based than animal-based. And our obsession with eating meat for every meal (among other things) may have led us to the detrimental state of our health (see The China Study or Forks Over Knives). Therefore, I'm sticking with my mostly plant-based diet with the occasional animal treat.

What do you think? Start a discussion in the comments below!

Cheezy Kale Chips

Kale chips are the new potato chips, right? Well, they're not exactly the same and I still can't my boyfriend to even try one, but they make for a great healthy snack. Kale by itself is pretty hard to eat unless you marinate or cook it. Kale cooked in the over on low heat makes this "chip" that is light and crispy. The recipe for plain kale chips is pretty easy...just pop in the oven on low heat until they brown. My grocery store now sells huge bags of raw kale that is already chopped and washed. This makes it super easy for me to make some kale chips when I want a snack.

I usually put salt and nutritional yeast on my kale but I want to try some more recipes. Here's a recipe for "cheezy" kale chips from Pride and Vegudice.


1 bunch curly kale
1 cup raw cashews (soaked for a couple hours)
1 red bell pepper, deseeded and chopped
Juice of half a lemon (~2 tablespoons)
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon sea salt (or to taste)

First, soak the raw cashews for a couple of hours or overnight. Then, pre-heat your oven to 250F. Wash the kale and then rip it up into bite-size pieces, discarding the stem. Take the rest of the ingredients (not the kale) and process in a food processor until smooth. I had to add about a tablespoon of water to get a more smooth consistency. You can also add some cayenne pepper or curry for some spice. Place the chopped kale in a large bowl and pour the mixture over the kale. Massage the mixture into the kale somewhat evenly. 

Place the marinated kale on a non-stick cookie sheet and place in the oven. Cook the kale for about an hour. Be sure to check on the kale to make sure it is not burning. The kale chips are done when look dry, but not a burnt brown.  I actually turned off the oven and let the kale chips dry out overnight in the oven (turned off).

Because the chips are dried out, you don't have to store them in the fridge and they can probably last a couple of weeks without getting stale. But good luck trying not to eat them immediately :)

What do you put on your kale chips?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Weekend Cheat Meals

I don't eat perfectly healthy and vegan all the time, I'd never be able to go out to eat! (This would be easier if I lived on the West Coast where there are tons of vegan restaurants.) I usually go out to eat at least once on the weekends and typically try to have something at least somewhat healthy. However, my friends wanted to get crepes for breakfast on Sunday and I just couldn't resist. We went to Crepes a Latte in northern Chicago and I had a Nutella-banana crepe that was pretty amazing! It's ironic that I ate a very sugary crepe after posting about how toxic sugar is, but I haven't had any sweets since a party in early July, so I justified this cheat meal.

I went out to eat again later on Sunday for brunch with different friends. I tried to have something a little healthier because of my splurge in the morning. We went to Old Oak Tap in west Chicago and I got eggs benedict with soy patties. It tasted great but I decided to save half of it for dinner to not overload on calories. (Saving half of your meal for later is always a great way not to eat the huge portions served at restaurants, plus you get more meals for your money.)


I think that splurging and having "cheat" meals once in while is ok, as long as you're not doing a Thanksgiving-sized feast. 

What's you're favorite "cheat" meal?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Recipe: Tuna(Chickpea) Salad

Last week I tried the Egg(Less) Salad from Happy Herbivore and it was great! So I decided to try a similar "Tuna" salad from her website and it came out great as well! Therefore I decided to buy her cookbook, Everyday Happy Herbivore, and I'm really excited to try some more recipes. The cookbook contains over 175 low fat vegan recipes that can be made in 30 minutes or less. I'm all about simple recipes with minimal ingredients because a) I'm not really a good cook and b) I only cook for myself, so spending hours on a meal just seems unnecessary. 

I actually do eat real tuna salad sometimes, like in a sandwich at Potbelly. So in making this recipe I wasn't really trying to replace tuna salad but it sounded really good (I love chickpeas) and I already had most of the ingredients from making the Egg(Less) Salad. It came out really tasty and quite similar to a real tuna salad.

15 oz. can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 tbsp relish (dill pickle)
1/2 tsp. onion flakes or powder
1 tsp tamari or soy sauce
2 tbsp vegan mayo
1/2 tsp kelp granules


Mash chickpeas using a fork in a large bowl or process in a food processor, being careful not to puree the chickpeas, you don't want humus! It's ok if some chickpeas are left whole. You can also either finely chop the celery or put it in the food processor.  In a large mixing bowl, mix all of the ingredients together. You can serve the salad anyway you want, I put it on some romaine leaves (above). A sandwich would be good too. I stored the salad for about a week and it tasted great!

Training Log: Week 14/16

The Chicago Half Marathon is in two weeks! AH!

Monday - Rest Day
Rest up from Sunday's run

Tuesday - CrossFit WOD
7 rounds:
150 m row
20 wall balls (10#)
10 burpees
3-minute rest
Total Time: ~25 minutes

Wednesday - CrossFit WOD
PRE-WOD:  Back Squat 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 (max: 3 x 113#)
800 meter Run 
30 – 20 – 10 of:
Pull – Ups (band assisted)
Box Jumps (20")
Then, 800 meter Run Time: 16:20
I haven't done a lot of pull ups in a while so this workout made my shoulders/back/arms sore. Plus I made a PR in the 3-rep max back squat!

Thursday - CrossFit WOD
PRE-WOD: 3×3 Turkish Get Ups
WOD: 5 Rounds
10 Handstand Push Ups
400 meter Run Time: 13:43
Post-WOD: practice rope climbs
I had a lot of trouble with turkish get-ups. I'm not good with things that involve a lot of choreography. I actually did pretty well on practicing the rope climbs.

Friday - Rest Day
resting for tomorrow's run!

Saturday - 10-Mile Run
Time: 1:30, Pace: 9:00/mile
This run went pretty well, although is was much hotter than I expected. It turned out to be 86 degrees instead of the forecasted lower 70s, even at 7-9 am. MapMyRun seems to be down so I don't have a map to share with you. But, I basically went from my apartment in River West through downtown to Buckingham fountain and then north along the Lakefront Trail to North Beach, which was exactly 5 miles, and then re-traced my steps to make it 10 miles. My pace was pretty good at 9-min miles. If I can keep that pace for the half, then I'll reach my goal of breaking 1:50!

I love running along the Lakefront Trail on weekend mornings, it's like running in a race! There are tons of people training for races running alongside you and Feet Fleet (a shoe/running store) has free water/gatorade stations. You also get some beautiful views of the city and the lake. The whole trail is 18 miles and I wish I had a bike so I could ride all of it! (I guess I could also train for a marathon and run all of it.)

What are some of your favorite places to run in your city?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Is sugar toxic?

I've written about the dangers of sugar before, and the possibility of instituting a sugar tax in this country. You probably know that sugar is bad for you in terms of the high caloric intake. But do you know that it could be toxic? Watch the video from 60 Minutes below.

The basic premise is that the consumption of processed sugars leads to preventable diseases such as obesity, hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes. Sugar includes just regular sugar, honey, maple syrup, and high fructose corn syrup. These added sugars are found in many processed foods, and even foods such as peanut butter and ketchup. Sugar has fructose. Evolutionarily, we seek out fructose because there is no food on the planet that has fructose that is poisonous, so we know it's safe to eat. However, in the past, we would only consume small amounts of fructose with fruit, and fruit has fiber that slows the absorption and consumption of it.Today, the average American eats an average of 130 pounds of sugar per year, that's a third of a pound a day!

Traditionally, we've thought of all calories being equal. However, you can obviously determine that 100 calories of a doughnut versus 100 calories of fruit doesn't have equal health benefit. When sugar is consumed, the liver gets overloaded with fructose and generates excess fat. Some of this fat ends up in the bloodstream, which can lead to heart disease. In the 1970's, a government commission mandated that we limit fat in foods to battle heart disease. But, heart disease and diabetes have skyrocketed since then. This is because we replaced fat with sugar to make food still taste good.

Limiting sugar in your diet can also decrease your chances of certain types of cancer. Sugar causes spikes in insulin and insulin can fuel certain types of cancer. Breast and colon cancer, for example, have insulin receptors on the tumor that trigger it to consume glucose and grow.

Sugar is also much more addictive than we realize. The brain responds favorably to consuming sugar by releasing dopamine, this is similar to how drugs like cocaine affect your brain. You may also be building up a tolerance to sugar and therefore needing to eat more and more to feel the favorable effects.

The sugar industry says the science is not completely clear and that we must approach a balanced diet by reducing calories and exercising. This is true, except that the consumption of sugar should be drastically reduced. Males should eat 150 calories and women 100 calories of added sugar per day, which is less than the amount in one soda.

Do you think the government should step in to regulate sugar consumption?

I'm torn on this issue. On one hand, I believe in a limited government and think that people should be free to eat and use whatever they want. On the other hand, my taxes and health insurance premiums are paying to treat all of these preventable diseases that people are choosing to have because of poor diet and lifestyle choices. These preventable diseases amount to a third of medical spending in the U.S. Ultimately, I would like to pay a much lower insurance premium than people that eat toxic foods (like sugar) and don't exercise. However, I'm not sure what is going to happen with healthcare reform in the future. So maybe, a sugar tax is appropriate? Other countries are already doing it and it would be similar to what we already have with taxes for alcohol and tobacco. Of course, there would be a huge push back from industries that produce sugar or use it (like the soda industry). I think that this is going to become a hot topic in the near future.

How can you limit your sugar intake?

I buy mostly fresh fruits and vegetables, but also buy healthy processed foods such as almond milk, whole grain bread, etc. I've learned to meticulously read food labels. You can't trust anything on the front of the box. Unfortunately, so many processed foods contain added sugar. It's extremely difficult to avoid. Whole Foods has a lot more options in terms of unsweetened ketchup and peanut butter sweetened with agave nectar. You can replace sugar in baking with things like stevia. However, beware of artificial sweeteners, such as in diet soda, because they can also have very harmful effects, which is a whole other post in itself. I used to eat a lot of sweets but I've found that my cravings have gone away since I've stopped eating them. I like to keep fruits like strawberries, grapes, and blueberries around to eat whenever I have a craving for sugar. I also don't drink any soda or juice, just water and tea. I do eat honey sometimes but maybe I shouldn't since its included in the "processed sugar" category in the video, I'm going to have to research that more.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this post, please comment below!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Mason jar reorganization

I live in a small 1-bedroom apartment with my boyfriend, so sharing a small kitchen is always a challenge. Plus, we eat completely different diets (unfortunately, I can't convince him that meat and sugar are bad and veggies are good), so there is even more stuff since we hardly share anything but spices. I buy a lot of things in bulk at Whole Foods which means they come home in bags. As you can see in the picture below, bags are not a good way to organize.


After trying to get some ideas from Pinterest, I decided to reorganize my dry goods using mason jars. They were only $12 for a 12-pack on Amazon. My cabinet now looks way better and is much more organized! I can now see if I'm running low on something or not. I can probably make some cutesy labels for the jars too, but the contents are kind of obvious with the clear jars.

How do you keep your kitchen organized?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Leftover Quinoa Salad

I love quinoa! I don't know how I ever lived without it. Quinoa is a seed and a complete protein, meaning it contains all 9 essential amino acids. It's super easy to cook and has a versatile nutty rice-like flavor. I often make quinoa salad for lunch, check out my other recipe here. I had some leftovers this week from other recipes so I made this yummy quinoa salad for lunch to take to work.

Quinoa salad is super easy to make and there's really no one recipe for it. You can buy it in bulk at your health food store or in a box in the natural section of your grocery store or online. To cook quinoa, simply take 1 part quinoa and 2 parts water and boil until the water is soaked up (about 10-15 minutes). Then, just chop up your favorite veggies and add to the bowl! For the recipe in the picture above, I used celery, cucumber, carrot, red pepper, and kalamata olives. Then, add something "wet" to serve as a dressing. I added about 1/2 tbs. of olive oil, a tablespoon of hummus, and a squirt of lemon juice. Finally, add your spices like salt, pepper, red pepper, italian spice, etc. You're sure to have a tasty and easy to go salad!

Have you tried quinoa?

What recipes have you use quinoa in?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Training Log: Week 13/16

Just 3 weeks until the Chicago Half Marathon! I think I'm going to be prepared, but unfortunately I god a bad sinus infection and didn't workout for about 2 weeks. I hate when these things happen because I was doing so well with my training. This past week was hard and full of sore muscles trying to get back into shape.

Saturday (Aug. 11) - 7-mile run
This was my first workout after being sick and I was actually proud of myself for even running 7 miles. It took me about an hour which is a good pace too. Of course, my legs were really sore after this so I took a couple days break.

Tuesday - CrossFit
1 Mile Run
100 Double Unders
90 Lunges
80 Box Jump (24/20)
70 Burpee
60 GHD Sit Up
50 Squat
40 Kettlebell Swings (53/35)
30 Pull Up
20 Wall Ball
10 Toes to Bar
1 Mile Run
Time: over 45 minutes
This was a hard and long workout, and my first crossfit workout after being sick for 2 weeks. I timed myself on the miles and got 8:30 on the first one but around 10:00 on the last one, I just couldn't breathe and my legs hurt! Again, I was sore for about 3 days after this. What is it about lunges that just kills my thighs? Maybe I need to do lunges more often...

Wednesday - CrossFit
1-rep max shoulder press: 55#
3-rep max push press: 65#
WOD: 21-15-9 of:
Push Press (45#)
Sumo Deadlift High Pull (45#)
Time: 7:03
I'm glad I didn't have to use my legs too much on this one because they were killing me from Tuesday's WOD.

Friday - CrossFit
3 rounds:
500 m row
12 deadlifts (75#)
21 box jumps (20")
Time: 15:44
Again, my legs were still sore from Tuesday! I talked to Coach Meg after the workout and she is the same height/weight as me and can do a 220# max deadlift. She said that I can do a lot more weight than I think I can and I just need to work on my form. I guess I need to actually start doing workouts closer to Rx (the prescribed weight).

Sunday - 8 mile run
Total Time: 1:12
Pace: 9:00/mile
This was a little slower that I would have liked to run. The reason may have been that there were a million (literally) people at the lakeshore for the air and water show. I didn't realize there would be that many people but at least I got to watch some planes do some cool things. Next weekend is a 10-mile run!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Recipe: Egg(less) Salad

I'm trying some new healthy vegan recipes from Happy Herbivore and will probably buy her new recipe book. I was browsing the recipe section of the website and the Eggless Salad caught my eye because it looked tasty. I also already had most of the ingredients (like leftover tofu) so I decided to make. It came out awesome! This salad really does taste like egg salad. I made it into lettuce wraps and put it on toast for lunch this week. It's lighter than regular egg salad but has the same rich taste. The recipe looks like it has a lot of ingredients but they're mostly spices and you just have to mix it all together (no cooking and minimal chopping). Each serving is under 100 calories and has minimal fat, depending on the mayo you use.

Ingredients (about 4 servings)
12 oz. extra-firm tofu
1 tbsp. tamari or soy sauce
1 celery stalk, minced
1.25 tbsp. nutritional yeast
1.5 tbsp. dijon mustard
2 tbsp. vegan mayo
1/2 tsp. tumeric
1/4 tsp. mild curry powder
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. black pepper

Take the tofu out of the package and squeeze it over the sink to get the water out. (This will keep the salad from getting soggy). Crumble the tofu into a large mixing bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well, trying not to squish the tofu. You should let the flavors set for a little while before serving. I made mine at night and left in the refrigerator overnight. I had it for lunch the next day and it was perfect! It can probably be kept in the fridge for up to a week.

I made lettuce wraps (above) by putting a little eggless salad on a lettuce leaf and then wrapping it like a burrito and keeping it together with a toothpick. You can also serve the salad on toast (below).

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

DIY Protein Powder and Smoothie Recipe

I workout in the mornings and typically drink a vegan protein shake immediately after for breakfast. Consuming protein and natural sugar (fruit) after a workout is essential for your body to recover. Protein shakes are easy to make and take on the go. I've traditionally used Vega One but have been looking for some alternative and less expensive ways to make protein powder.

My friend (who is also vegan) gave me this great recipe that she uses for her daily meal-replacement smoothies. I reduced her recipe so that it could fit into my single-serve blender. I also did a quick calculation to see how much cheaper this DIY protein powder is than Vega One. Using Amazon prices, the protein powder mix below is $0.38/oz while Vega One is $1.53/oz. In other terms, a tub of Vega One costs $47.29 (on Amazon, retail price is actually $69.99), and tub of the same size of the homemade powder would cost only $11.74, so it is significantly less expensive. However, with Vega you get many more nutrients in the powder and is substantial enough to just mix with almond milk or water.

The basic idea with this DIY protein smoothie recipe is to pre-make the protein powder to last about two weeks. The mixture below makes about 12 1/2-cup servings, it must be refrigerated! Whole flax seeds can last in your pantry for months, but ground flax seeds can only be refrigerated for about 2 weeks. The flax has to be ground so that your body can absorb it (your intestine can't break down the outer seed shell). The blender won't grind them so its easy just to use a cheap coffee grinder. The Hemp protein powder also need to be refrigerated after opening.

Protein Powder (12 1/2-cup servings):
1 cup Carob Powder
1 cup  Cocoa Powder
2 cups Hemp Protein Powder
2 cups Flax Seeds (ground)
Remember to refrigerate!

Now, below is the actual smoothie recipe you can make daily and substitute for a meal, like breakfast!

Smoothie Recipe

1/4 of a large carrot
1/4 cup greens (frozen)
1 banana (chopped and frozen)
3-4 strawberries (frozen)
1/2 cup Protein Powder
1-1/2 cup Almond Milk (unsweetened chocolate)

Again, its easier to prepare these things in bulk and have them ready during the week. The carrot will blend better if it is cut into smaller pieces, but it made my smoothie quite gritty so I'm not sure that I'll use it in the future. Buy very ripe bananas and peel and chop before freezing. Strawberries can be bought frozen or not, and then frozen at home. The greens can be any dark leafy green like spinach. Go easy on these until you're used to the taste of greens in your drink. Freezing these items eliminates the need to add ice to your smoothie, so it's not as watered down.

All in all, this ultimate smoothies recipe is little bit more work than just using a pre-made protein powder. But, it is much less expensive and you can be sure you're getting good nutrients with actual fruits and vegetables in your smoothie.

How do you recover from a workout?

What protein powder do you use?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Chipotle or Potbelly?

I don't always make my own food and bring a lunch to work. Of course, that would be ideal, but I enjoy getting something else for lunch once in a while. The cafeteria at work is severely lacking in vegetarian and healthy options (which is weird considering that many researchers employed here are international). Fast food is never a good choice but a few restaurants do provide healthy-ish options.

I'm trying to decide where to get lunch today...Potbelly or Chipotle. As my roommates from college would attest to, these are my two absolute favorite fast food restaurants. They also provide (and definitely advertise) seemingly healthy options. Both websites contain nutrition calculators so I decided to input what I normally get:

Potbelly: Tuna Salad on thin-cut wheat bread with no cheese and lots of veggies and hot peppers (I like it hot!). Total calories at 431 with 18 g of fat and 26 g of protein. Not bad at all. Except, this sandwich is not vegan and contains some mayo in the tuna salad. However, its not extremely mayonnaisy like at Subway.

Chipotle: Salad with brown rice, black beans, salsa, and guacamole. Total calories at 760!!! WTF! And all this time I thought I was eating healthy. Apparently the vinaigrette (which is pretty amazing) is 260 calories and 24.5 g of fat! So, without the vinaigrette, the total calories and fat are 500 and 19 g, which makes it comparable to Potbelly. I always ask for more black beans and less brown rice so the protein count is probably more like 20 g. I think that this meal is vegan but I could be wrong.

So Potbelly or Chipotle? Potbelly is better in terms of calories, fat, sodium, protein, and even carbs. However, Chipotle is vegan and has more veggies (and thus more vitamins). Therefore, I'm pretty much still undecided. Both options are healthy in terms of fast food, but by no means perfect.

What should I have for lunch today? (Answer in comments)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Olympic Favorite Moments

I love watching the Olympics, who doesn't? The worlds best athletes showcase their skills and sports that often aren't televised or watched come to life. The Olympics seems to be the only time that people actually watch running. And swimming, gymnastics, rowing, volleyball, etc. Since this was the first Olympics where Twitter was actually big, I felt better connected to all of the athletes. I was also sick last week and missed work so I watched a lot of Olympics. Watching all of these athletes reminds me that the human body is pretty amazing. (It also makes me feel lazy for sitting on my couch.) One other thing I love about the Olympics is that women are showcased as much as men! You never see women's sports on TV. And, this was the first Olympics where each participating country had at least one female athlete. So, here are just a few of my favorite moments from the past two weeks:

Allyson Felix wins the 200 meter dash

 Gabby Douglas earns best all-around gymnast

Missy Franklin dominates women's swimming with 4 golds and 1 bronze (I love that smile!)

15-year old Katie Ledecky kills the 800 m freestyle

Kate and William being the cutest royal couple ever

 Kerri Walsh and Misty May win gold for the third time (look at those abs!)

Ashton Eaton wins the decathlon (this would be my event if I was an Olympian!)

Team USA dominate's the women's 4x400 relay

USA 4x100 team makes a new WR (how amazing is Allyson Felix for dominating the 100, 200, and 400?!)

 And of course, all of the Ryan Lochte douchebaggery

Finally, America wins it all and lands on Mars! But, McKayla Maroney is not impressed.

What was your favorite Olympics moment?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Recipe: Chickpea-Quinoa Salad

I made up this pretty amazing lunch salad recipe the other day. It's super-easy to make and great to bring along to work. Plus, it has a great refreshing taste and is quite healthy! You can also make it raw by sprouting the chickpeas and quinoa. Since I made up this recipe, the ingredient amounts below are approximate and you can add more/less of each ingredient as you wish. This would also make a great side to a dinner dish!

Ingredients (makes about 3 servings)

1/2 cup of dried quinoa
1 cup water
2 16-oz cans of garbanzo beans (chickpeas)

1 small carton of cherry tomatoes
1/2 bunch of cilantro
3 green onions
1 red pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine the quinoa and water in a pot and bring to boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for about 10-15 minutes or until the water is absorbed. Meanwhile, chop the cilantro, onions, and red pepper to small pieces. Also, cut the cherry tomatoes in half. Finally combine all of the ingredients into a large bowl and mix with the lemon juice. Add salt and pepper to taste. You can add other spices too but the combination of vegetables already provides a great taste. The salad can be refrigerated for up to a week.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

OMG, Shoes! Minimalist and Barefoot Running

Does anyone remember this video??

I immediately thought of it when I started writing this post, haha. One of my friends recently posted about her running shoe problems on facebook and I wanted to share my thoughts. I've been running since middle school and have gone through a lot of different shoes. I always preferred shoes with less cushion but was told that I needed support in my shoes, the more the better. However, my favorite shoes were always my Nike racing flats. I had my best cross country and track times in those shoes, and they had no support.

I recently read the book Born to Run and it gave me some good insight into what I had already thought; our bodies, including our feet, were made to run. We are long distance runners, that's how we used to catch our prey. We aren't the fastest runners, but we have the most sweat glands and can outlast any other animal because they overheat first. Whether you love to run, hate to run, or think your body isn't made for it, you were made to run.

That means that your feet were made to run, too. Since the 70's, running shoes have been made with more and more support, but injuries have not decreased. Shouldn't all of these really high-tech, super-supportive shoes gotten rid of all of our foot/knee/back problems by now? Instead, when amazing runners from Kenya are discovered and put into shoes by sponsors, they develop running injuries because they've been running barefoot or in sandals their entire lives.

The only real benefit to running shoes versus bare feet is that they protect your foot from sharp things on the ground. The problem with most of today's running shoes is the high instep. This means that the heel is so cushioned that is raises your heel about a half inch to an inch off the ground from your forefoot. This forces you to land on your heel when you run. Try to run barefoot down the sidewalk, do you land on your heel? Of course not! That would really hurt. The point is, that modern running shoes are trying to "correct" your feet, but they are already designed to run.

However, we've been wearing shoes our entire lives so our feet have been weakened. You can't just go out and start running barefoot right away. It can take months or years to transition to completely minimalist shoes. What you can do immediately is fix your running form to run more efficiently and without injury or pain. Start with ditching your high-instep shoes for some more minimalist type like my current favorite, the Brooks PureCadence. Then, practice landing on the ball of your foot when you run and only slightly touching your heel to the ground. Read this page and watch the video for more info.

Finally, you can move to completely minimalist shoes like the Vibram FiveFingers for walking, running, or training. (I have yet to do long runs in the five fingers.) I have the Jaya for everyday walking/commuting, the KSO for water sports and crossfit, and the Speed for crossfit and running. You can tell that I love the FiveFingers. I actually pretty much hate wearing other types of shoes. They feel unnatural and weird at first, but you'll learn to love being (almost) barefoot!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Vegan Buckwheat Pancakes

Pancakes on Sunday morning are the best. Usually pancake mixes include flour, sugar, and lots of other unhealthy and unnecessary ingredients. But you can make healthy pancakes using buckwheat pancake mix. Buckwheat is actually a fruit seed that is good for your cardiovascular system because it is high in flavonoids and other nutrients. Since it is not actually wheat, it is gluten free. But, many buckwheat pancake mixes still also have wheat flour. I've tried to make pancakes with just buckwheat flour and been unsuccessful. It has to be mixed with something else to make pancakes that rise and cook thoroughly.

Some of the ingredients used in this recipe may not be familiar to you so I included links to the products on Amazon. You can also find them in the natural section of your grocery store. These ingredients are actually not that obscure and I consider them staples in my pantry.

Ingredients (makes ~8 small pancakes)
2/3 cup buckwheat pancake mix
1 egg substitute
2 tsp. coconut oil
2 tsp. honey or agave nectar
3/4 cup soy or almond milk
1/4 cup carob chips
1/4 cup agave nectar or pure maple syrup
1 banana for topping (optional)

Mix all pancake mix, egg, oil, honey, and milk together in a bowl until all of the lumps are gone. Fold in the carob chips. Use a non-stick pan on low heat. Pour a small amounts of the mix on the pan to make about 4-inch rounds. Flip the pancakes once the edges start to brown and bubbles form on the surface. Cook for a couple of more minutes. Stack the pancakes on a plate and add chopped banana as a topping. Heat the agave nectar or maple syrup and pour over pancakes. (I accidentally used to much in my picture below.)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Juice Cleanse: Fail

I'm sad to report this, but I decided to quit the juice cleanse last night. I started to feel like I was coming down with a cold (really sore throat, stuffy nose). So, on top of the feeling like crap from the first day of the cleanse, I convinced myself that I needed some sauerkraut soup. I really wasn't planning on quitting, I even bought some more fruits and veggies at the store before I got home, but I decided that my immune system probably couldn't handle the sore throat and the cleanse.

After watching the USA gymnastics team dominate last night, I went to sleep and got up late, still with a sore throat :( I'm drinking lots of tea today and had more soup for lunch. Unfortunately, I can't use my sick days at work until 90 days after starting, otherwise I would have taken the day off.

So now I have a fridge FULL of fruits and veggies that I can't possibly eat in the next few days without juicing. I decided to still continue juicing so I made the green juice for breakfast and pineapple-mint juice for a snack. I put a lot of work into preparing for this cleanse so I'm still going to share my recipes with you! All of the juices that I made actually came out fantastic and I'm glad I bought the juicer because now I can make juice anytime. Fresh juice is waaay better than anything store bought.

Have you ever started a cleanse and failed?

Do you have any good juice recipes?