Friday, December 17, 2010

T2C: 8 Servings of Fruits & Veggies - Can You Do It? (We Didn't)

Olivia recently proposed an exercise in our veggie-full life: eat 8 fruits/vegetables a day (with a heavier focus on the vegetables) for one week. The plan seemed simple enough because, in my mind, I was eating lots of them already. I signed on and got excited. Then reality kicked in.

The challenge was to start within a few days of our discussion and I was not prepared. Sometimes I have to psych myself up to make the walk to Whole Foods and walk back with the weight of my nutritious goods…only to find I have enough for two days’ worth of meals. The excitement of the challenge was, sadly, no match for my lethargy and newfound interest in being more frugal with my dineros. I had been working late nights as it was and never quite felt like going to the store thereafter…and walking home in the cold. Ok, enough moping. Wah.

I started a few days late with about 5 days to eat a fine array of the earth’s bounty. First, I ate what was left in my fridge…some fresh orange juice and corn with amaranth in the morning and a pear for a snack. Throughout the week I bought a banana for my smoothie, looked for any veggies in the cafeteria (green beans/zucchini/onion and rice for lunch), made yum-yum noises to fresh Whole Foods hummus with carrots and cucumber, and enjoyed edamame at a restaurant for dinner (I added some tator tots to the mix…the only other vegan thing there).

I had intentions to juice the heck out of my lettuce, celery, cucumber and apple, but I busted my hand and couldn’t use it for two days…and hence, didn’t use my juicer either. Note: Juicing is a GREAT way to maximize on your veggie intake. You can cover, at the very least, 4-5 servings…easy peasy.

I confessed to Olivia yesterday that I had come nowhere near my quota. Maybe it was my crazier-than-usual workweek. Whatever the reason, I decided to blog about the experience anyway…even if I came up short. I was definitely more conscious this week about eating vegetables and I snagged them at every opportunity. Carpe vegetabilis!

On weeks where the stars magically align and I’m at my healthiest, I cook several times a week and have healthy snacks on hand. This is what my week would have looked like in that case:

Pasta Fagioli and Minestrone Soups
Braised Carrot and Potato Soup
Miso soup with lots of vegetables
(=4-5 veggies in at breakfast! = “I Feel Great” days!!)
Fruit Smoothies (in moderation to avoid too much fruit sugar)
Green Juices (hello, gorgeous!)
Beans and Rice with Salsa
(plus corn, onions, and zucchini)
Marinated Veggies on Salad (to put the sexy back in salad)
Hummus and Veggies (this never gets old)*
*Add kalamata olive tapenade to this and you will have an orgasm (that is, if you like kalamata olive tapenade).

Olivia's Experience:

When Jen and I were brainstorming possible topics for this week’s T2C post, we both seemed pretty jazzed by the idea of chowing down on eight servings of fruits and vegetables each day and documenting the process. After all, we’re health nuts who love our veggies—how hard could it be?

Umm, it’s hard. In fact, we didn’t do it. There were one or two days when I hit all eight (or at least got close), but for the most part I fell short of my goal. So this isn’t a pat-ourselves-on-the-back ego-stroking post, it’s a This a What We Learned post.

On that note:

1.Planning helps, but it isn’t foolproof. I love going out to eat. Food might as well be one of my love languages, so when a friend suggests brunch or my husband wants to take me on a date, you know I’m going to say yes. During this challenge, I took extra care to review menus and make sure they had veggie-ful gluten-free options so I could have my greens and eat them too. The problem? Sometimes you don’t realize until you arrive that the shiitake mushroom rolls have soy sauce (wheat) or the that the restaurant for some frustrating reason adds what to their spinach risotto. I can’t compromise on the gluten, which meant my options suddenly shrank to those containing very few greens. In the future: Make sure to eat more greens during the day if I’m going out to dinner; have a giant salad for dinner if I meet friends for brunch. And make an extra effort to chug a smoothie on restaurant days.

2. Green smoothies are the key. Ok, ok, I knew this already, but it really hit home during this week. On the days that started with green smoothies I almost always hit my goal. It helps when you get five servings by the time you finish breakfast. The thing is, it’s winter. And I don’t really want to start every morning with a giant icy drink. In the future: Find more breakfast choices that are nice and warm while packing a nutritional punch.

3. Check your hunger level. Part of my difficulty was that this past week, I had an uncharacteristically small appetite. I feel like most days I’m eating non-stop, and yet, during this challenge, I rarely even wanted a snack. What gives? For starters, when my snack options were carrot sticks, clementines, and apples—all of which I love, by the way—I was (surprise, surprise) less inclined to chow down. While I didn’t eat as many plant-based snacks as I’d expected, I did get a better sense of how much I would eat for boredom or to satisfy a craving rather than because I was really hungry. In the future: Try to stay tuned in to my true hunger level.

Given our less than stellar report card after this attempt, we’re going to give it another go in January. Want to join us? What are your favorite ways to make sure your day is chock full of fruits and veggies?

Friday, December 10, 2010

T2C ~ The Incredibles

T2C Returns! Except this time Olivia and I are both blogging from the US. She came back in the fall to get hitched to a wonderful fella and I’m thrilled to have her stateside where I’m more likely to run into her and have quality face time. Having swapped countless tales of our health and food ventures, we knew we had to share with our readers a few of our favorite food products. We call them the incredibles.

Jen’s Faves

Daiya Cheese
– I had been sending sad vibes to the Universe that my favorite pizzeria (ok, any pizzeria) wasn’t making vegan pizza. I was ready to write a request when I learned they had recently discovered a great-tasting faux mozzarella. It was love at first bite. Within a day’s time I found that Whole Foods carried it as well in both mozzarella and cheddar. Best news yet: it was free of soy and casein. Score! I use Daiya on homemade pizzas, in pastas and on my killer grilled cheesus sandwich. While I don’t miss cheese anymore (a “food” I ate with every meal of every day), a little substitute every now and then is heavenly.

Brown Rice Pasta – I was introduced to this tasty treat while doing an elimination diet with Olivia. Among the culprits that trigger food sensitivities, we eliminated all foods with gluten. I had no idea there was a pasta so yummy and easy on the digestive system…and gluten-free! My only caveat with this product is it’s best to eat fresh…leftovers are a little tough (literally) unless you have it as a pasta salad with some sort of dressing for it to soak in.

Yogi Tea – When you’re a holistic health junkie cutting back or removing caffeine entirely from your diet, you’ll likely fair better to replace it with a new liquid love. Herbal tea is a great way to go. Thai Delight and Chai Rooibos are new favorites. Another little perk? Yogi teas come with quotes to contemplate while you sip and unwind. Om so good.

Chia Seeds – These little wonders certainly found ways to entertain (remember those chia pets?) but who knew they could be good for your health? They can hold 10 times their weight in water (hello hydration!) and provide you with fiber, protein, calcium and omega-3. They are a staple of the Tarahumara tribe, who take a chia fresca before their 100-mile runs. They work great before and after workouts. You can also use them in baking and puddings!

Don’t Mock This Mayo! – While I don’t use this often (the vegan label does not equal healthy/eat it on a regular basis), it’s mighty handy (and delicious) with potato and pasta salads and my grilled cheesus.

No Need to Fake It – I was never a huge fan of animal flesh to begin with and never really understood the appeal of fake meats. I get that they can help with the transition to a vegetarian or vegan diet but why would anyone want something that reminded them of cow tush or chicken breast? I love that there are burgers on the market that don’t taste like cow. Sunshine Burgers makes a kick-ass medley of veggies (without loads of mushrooms – a common “replacement” to beef and a fungus I’m just not fond of) and mom turned me on to Trader Joe’s Masala burgers. You won’t need any condiments…comes perfectly flavored and seasoned.

Remember the Lentils – Last but not least, I make sure to have a couple of Amy’s soups in my pantry…for days when I’m lagging with home-cooked meals. Her lentil soup is my favorite for taste and for the nutritional punch I get from the lentils (protein and iron, baby!).

While my diet consists of veggies, fruits, nut butters and milks, brown rice, and lentils/beans and many of the products listed are “sometimes” foods (with exception to the chia and tea) they are worth the shout out for giving the vegan life that much more pizazz.

Olivia's Finds

When I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease five-and-a-half years ago, I didn’t spend too much time finding gluten-free versions of many of the foods I’d relied on until then. Rather than hunting down the perfect gluten-free cereal or bagel or bread, I just moved beyond those things, a decision that I believe made me much healthier overall. [That said, I now indulge in gluten-free pizza and pancakes on a semi-regular basis.]

Now that I’m trying to eat a high-vegan (though still pescatarian) diet, I find myself in a similar situation. Fake meat weirds me out, and soy cheese just can’t be nearly as creamy as the real thing. Nevertheless, there have been a few substitutions from vegan pantries that have made my taste buds very happy while keeping my eats (largely) cruelty-free. Here are some of my favorites.

Purely Decadent Soy Ice Cream - As someone with Hashimoto’s Hypothyroiditis (that’s a mouthful), I feel it’s pretty important to limit my soy intake. That said, sometimes a girl needs some ice cream, and Purely Delicious Soy Ice Cream doesn’t give me an upset stomach, so I mark it a win. (It’s also available with coconut milk instead of soy, but I haven’t tried that…yet.)

Hemp Dream Hemp Drink - I always hated milk. Hated. My parents quickly gave up on trying to make me drink milk with meals (what’s with that, anyway???) as it became clear that my stubborn streak would win every time. But when I make my smoothies or want the rare bowl of cereal, hemp milk is my liquid of choice. Rice milk seems a little thin on the nutrients, and while almond milk can be a nice change of pace, I prefer the texture, taste, and health benefits of hemp milk. When I make my own nut milk, however, I go cashew; the hubs loves it, but we haven’t found it available commercially.

Red Star Nutritional Yeast - Sometimes I joke about being a cheegan. (I know, I know—but I’m a work in progress.) I’m pretty sure I could do the vegan thing without too much trouble if I could still nosh on a good goat Camembert or sheep Gouda. I dream of the day I can cut my ties with cheese with the level of success Jen has achieved. Until then, I have found one occasion when I can swap out cheese for a vegan alternative without sacrifice: nutritional yeast on tacos. It’s creamy and has just the right tang. If you’re looking for a place to start, tacos are it.

Black Beans & Mushrooms - Speaking of tacos, try this meat replacement: sauté some diced onion, then add a can of (rinsed and drained) black beans, a diced red pepper, and a whole ton of diced mushrooms. Sprinkle in taco seasoning to taste and let it cook down. Bomb. You could also puree this combo for a creamy nacho dip.

Hummus - I don’t eat sandwiches (pesky gluten), but if I did…I’d use hummus in place of mayo. And I used to love mayo. I just love hummus more. When I’m trying to prove to family how delicious gluten-free/vegan life can be, I often whip up some hummus and smear it on some romaine leaves for an easy and tasty wrap. Or plop some in a bowl, drizzle with olive oil and paprika, and serve with carrots and celery. At our family reunion, the hummus lettuce wraps disappeared, and there were potato chips left over. I’m just sayin’.

What are your favorite vegan food products and staples?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Happy New You - Part I

We are in the midst of the holiday season and it feels grand...well mostly because I like seeing twinkly lights and the warm and fuzzy feeling that accompanies them. Although I must admit the usual stress of gift-giving is creeping up and the temptations of treats and sweets will be ever present in no time at all. Which leads me to my newest health initiative. Get healthier now. Why wait until New Year's?

After spending several years focusing on feeling well everyday I've found that a pretty stict diet, sleep, and exercise works wonders for me. And steering away from this plan on occasion has shown me how much I'd rather stick with it, even during the holidays. Moderation is a great plan for most people and I think if you can feel great with a little wine or sugar...go for it!

But I learned that even a little sugar, without supplementing with lots of healthy food (veggies, brown rice, etc) does me in. Case in point: Thanksgiving. I kept it as vegan as possible and my family was very supportive...but ended up eating all white food and sugar: mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry relish, dinner rolls, and apple pie. I had the best of intentions to bring home some healthy greens and colorful veggies but at the time I couldn't justify doing the cold walk to Whole Foods and schlepping them to the boondocks of rural Lancaster County.

When at home, I also am more succeptible to slipping into old habits. While I didn't touch a lick of dairy, I did partake in some legalized addictive stimulation (coffee) and non-dairy creamer (bad shit). While I was loving my family's company, I was loathing the swan dive my health had just taken; I retreated to my apartment in the city the following day to reboot.

The upcoming holiday parties will be the biggest hurdle...that's where my weakness for cheese and wine and desserts comes out in full swing...especially since so much of the socializing this time of year revolves around food. I'll be scouring the Internet for vegan goodies that are also veggiful, minimally processed and low-glycemic.

First source: Christina Pirello's site for healthier holiday cookies. I've made some oh-so-good biscotti (minus chocolate plus orange essance with clove and cinnamon). Next up: Linzer bars! Try the Asteroids, Coconut Macaroons, Italian Nut Cookies, and many more!

Second site: VegNews for holiday tips.

Third times the charm: Pure2Raw - tons of mouth-watering recipes. Can't wait to try some!

Any tips for a healthier ho-ho-ho at the holiday party?