Relaxing and Running

Greetings readers!  It’s been a little while since I last wrote a blog post.  May was a pretty busy month for me because I graduated with two degrees!  I officially have a second bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in nutrition!  Graduating was such a huge accomplishment and a proud moment.  School has been a big part of my life for the past several years, so it feels a little weird to not be in class right now.  In September, I start the dietetic internship in order to become a Registered Dietitian, and I’ll have to take classes as a component of the program, so I should feel like my normal “academic” self in the fall.

Lately I’ve been relaxing as well getting back to some of my favorite activities that I didn’t have as much time to do this past year.  One of these activities is running.  I started running for fun and fitness in high school and it became a major stress reliever, until I got injured when I was 17.  I took a break from running and then started up again in my early 20’s, but this past year, doing cardio wasn’t my first priority.  Now that I have more free time, I’ve been running outside a bunch and going for trail runs, which I love because trail runs are challenging and I get to be surrounded by the beauty of nature.

A few weekends ago I even did a 5k race in a nature preserve with some friends, but it was definitely not my best race time!  The weather that day was 90+ heat and the humidity was high but it was fun, and that’s all that counts.

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Before the race started 

In addition to relaxing and running, I’ve also been cooking a ton and taking advantage of the farmers market season by using locally grown fruits and veggies in as many meals and snacks as possible.  If you want to see more details on my running hobby or my food creations, follow my instagram account @vitaminvalentine or keep checking my blog, as I intend to share a delicious recipe or two in the coming weeks.  Thanks for stopping by and reading my update!

-Jess

Such great heights

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The title of this blog post captures the natural high I’m currently experiencing due to so many amazing things that have happened over the past month.  I’ll start by saying that I’m officially an RD-to-be!  After years of hard work, I was matched to a super-competitive dietetic internship and I couldn’t be more elated.  In case you have no clue what I’m talking about, in order to become a Registered Dietitian in the US, you have to be accepted and complete a dietetic internship.  All applicants rank their choices of internships (similar to how med students rank their residency choices) but not all applicants get accepted.  The acceptance rate for all internships across the US is something like ~49%, so the competition is fierce and the stress during the waiting period is intense.  I’m so excited for the internship and the learning opportunities I’ll be exposed to.

The period of time leading up to “match day” (April 2nd-the day all applicants find out whether they matched or not) was quite an emotional roller-coaster.  In addition to applying to internships, I was also in the midst of writing my master’s thesis.  I was feeling really overwhelmed, but luckily I have really supportive friends and family.  One of my family friends noticed that I could use a vacation and suggested we go to Sedona, Arizona and my response was a loud “YESSSS!”.  I had been to Sedona once when I was 15 and although it was only for a few days, it left a lasting impression on me.  We booked the trip for the end of March-early April, so that I could be in full-on relaxation mode on match day.

The trip itself was in a word, magical.  No written description of Sedona can do it justice, it’s the kind of place that you actually have to go to in order to experience the beauty.  We spent roughly 75% of our waking hours outside exploring nature by hiking and meditating outside.  I found out that I got into the dietetic internship on our second-to-last day in Sedona, so that night we celebrated and it was the perfect ending to an amazing trip.

I can’t wait to share more exciting updates about the internship when it starts, and hopefully I’ll be doing more traveling in the future when my schedule allows.

-Jess

Island Inspiration

A few weeks ago I was spending some time scrolling through Instagram and I stumbled upon a Caribbean chef’s delicious food creations.  The flavors seemed to permeate through my phone screen, as I could almost taste the delicious dishes pictured in his photos.  I was also reminded of my childhood trips to Jamaica and how much I loved trying new things and exploring with my tastebuds.  I felt inspired to recreate some plant-based versions of what I saw on my screen and remembered from my past travels.  I headed to the closest ethnic market and picked up a bunch of exotic fruit and vegetables.  It was time to get cooking!

At the ethnic market, I bought up some yuca (a starchy root vegetable), plantains (similar to bananas but higher in starch and not as sweet), some brown rice, pinto beans, canned peas, green tomatillos (similar to tomatoes), and pre-seasoned barbecued jackfruit (jackfruit is a delicious, bubblegum-tasting fruit).

To cook the yuca, I first peeled it, cut it in half, and then boiled it for about 15 minutes-20 minutes.  Then I let it sauté with some onions and tomatillos in a skillet.  In a separate skillet, I sautéed the plantain with a tiny bit of vegetable oil.  The rice and beans were super easy to make (I cooked the rice according to the package but used vegetable broth instead of water for extra flavor, and then added canned pinto beans and canned peas).  The jackfruit came already seasoned so I just heated it up for a minute or two.

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Although this meal is very high in carbohydrates, it’s also high in fiber.  This meal was so tasty and it was so fun to work with new flavors.  I’m looking forward to my next cooking inspiration, so if you have a delicious, unique meal or cuisine you’d like to share, leave a comment of connect with me via Facebook or Instagram @vitaminvalentine 🙂

-Jess

A perfect plant based pizza

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Is there any food more perfect than pizza?  Pizza is without a doubt my favorite food.  Growing up, I think I ate pizza for at least 60% of my meals.  Nowadays, I still love pizza, but my diet has changed for the better.  I follow a vegan diet for many personal reasons, so when I do eat pizza, it’s without cheese, but I make sure it’s just as delicious as the slices I grew up on.

Although I’ve tried vegan pizzas at restaurants, I prefer to make my own at home.  I like making my own pizza because I can determine the size of the pie and it’s so much healthier than restaurant and frozen versions.  Pizza is surprisingly easy to make.  You can buy the dough at most supermarkets (I usually buy mine at Trader Joe’s).  I like using Trader Joe’s pizza dough because it comes in a whole wheat variety which is tasty and full of fiber.  If fresh pizza dough is not available at your closest supermarket, you can try buying dough at your local pizzeria.  If you’re feeling extra adventurous and want your pizza to be authentically Italian, you can try making your own dough (but this can take some time and skill to master).

For sauce, I once again take the easy route and use jarred tomato sauce.  My favorite tomato sauce to use for pizza is also from Trader Joe’s (see the picture below).  The sauce really matters to me because that’s where the bulk of the flavor comes from.  You can use sauces labeled “pasta sauce” or “pizza sauce”, but I’ve found pasta sauces to be a bit more flavorful and complex.  Try different sauces based on what you like, and don’t be afraid to make your own sauce (I use jarred sauce because it’s just easier for me).  If you’re following a low-sodium diet and want to cut down on sodium, you may want to make your own sauce because canned/jarred/prepackaged food tends to have more sodium than homemade.

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My favorite quick and easy tomato sauce

The second most important part of my vegan pizza are the veggies.  I’ve found that bell peppers, onions, and artichokes taste amazing on pizza, but use whatever veggies you like.  Some other veggies that taste great as toppings are spinach, arugala, olives, mushrooms, and eggplant.  Adding veggies to your pizza increases the nutrient content without adding a ton of calories.

The recipe I’m sharing serves two, so feel free to share with a fellow pizza-enthusiast or save the leftovers for a quick and easy meal.

A perfect plant-based pizza

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 of a package of Trader Joe’s whole wheat pizza dough (this is about 5-6 oz. worth of dough)
  • 1/4-1/2 cup tomato sauce of your choice
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • a tiny bit of flour (for rolling out the dough)
  • oregano
  • basil (fresh or dried)
  • black and/or red pepper
  • garlic and/or garlic powder
  • veggies of your choice

Directions:

  • Remove the pizza dough from the fridge and leave out for 20-30 minutes (or up to an hour).  This will help the dough stretch
  • Preheat the oven to 370°F
  • Once the time has passed, stretch out the dough with your hands and use a rolling pin (or a sturdy, smooth cup) and a little flour to flatten the dough
  • Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled pizza stone or nonstick surface
  • Brush the pizza with a small layer of olive oil
  • Add the sauce and some herbs and seasonings (oregano, garlic powder, etc.)- you can also repeat this step after adding the veggies
  • Add the veggies
  • Bake for 25-27 minutes at 370°F
  • Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes
  • Cut into small slices using a pizza knife or a regular knife
  • Enjoy!

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For 1/2 of the pizza pictured above, there are 238 calories, 4.6 grams of fat, 49 grams of carbs, 10 grams of fiber, and 9.1 grams of protein.  It has 890 mg of sodium, which is high, but comparable to most slices of pizza (also see my tips above to cut down on sodium).  It contains 75% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A, and 248% of the RDI for vitamin C.  Skip the takeout and enjoy a lower calorie pizza with this recipe.

-Jess

Busy yet balanced

February has been a busy month for me, but one of my goals is to write more on Vitamin Valentine.  This month has been filled with school assignments (I’m working on my master’s thesis) and some very exciting (yet nerve-racking) professional developments.  I submitted my dietetic internship applications this month and I’m hoping to get accepted into an internship.  If you’re new to my blog, I’ve been working on a B.S./M.S. in Nutrition for the past four years in order to become a Registered Dietitian (RD).  It’s extremely competitive to get into a dietetic internship (DI) and completing the DI is a requirement of the education and training to become an RD, so I’m hoping I match.  Nutrition is my passion and I hope to get into an internship in order to gain the knowledge necessary to help people.  Registered Dietitians are truly the experts in the nutrition field because of the training and education they receive.  I’ve dreamt of becoming an RD for so long, so wish me luck!

Because I’ve been so busy lately, I’ve been finding ways to save time when it comes to preparing healthy food.  Sometimes I make a big batch of food and eat the same thing for lunch for a few days during the week, and other times I try to mix it up.  Either way, I try to stick with the same formula for making my meals as balanced and colorful as possible.  I try to include at least two veggies, a source of protein, and a healthy fat.  Sometimes I’ll also add some whole grains, but today I skipped that component.  For a “side dish” or snack, I usually stick to fruit or a protein bar.  Lunch today was so colorful and delicious.  It consisted of a purple potato on top of collard greens, 1/2 a medium avocado, some cherry tomatoes, and a serving of hummus.  For my snacks, I had a fruit salad (sliced papaya, kiwi, and pineapple) and a gomacro bar (a vegan protein bar).  I also took an apple with me but I decided to save it for another time.

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Delicious, colorful, and easy!

It took me about 10 minutes in total to prepare this.  Instead of baking the potato, I put it in the microwave, which saves a lot of time.  I love preparing my meals ahead of time like this, especially because when I’m hungry at work it’s so tempting to go out and buy something.  Do you have any ways to save time or money while staying healthy?  Feel free to share below, or connect with me via facebook or instagram @vitaminvalentine

-Jess

Creamy Tofu and Veggie Soup

A few weeks ago, I made a delicious creamy soup using whatever vegetables I had in my kitchen.  What I love about this soup is that although it tastes creamy, it has less fat than a cream-based soup and contains plant-based protein, fiber, vitamin C, and vitamin A.  I’ve been perfecting the recipe, and I think I’ve finally found the perfect combination of ingredients.  Feel free to try this out on a cold day, and feel free to add or omit any veggies depending on what’s available to you.

Creamy Tofu and Veggie Soup

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Ingredients (serves 3-4):

  • 2 cups vegetable broth (I use store-bought broth. Check ingredients if you’re following a vegan diet because some can contain animal products).
  • 1.5 cups unsweetened, plain soymilk, or unsweetened plain ricemilk
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp. safflower or almond oil
  • 1/2 a standard block of firm tofu, cut into small cube shapes
  • 1.5 cups of fresh or frozen broccoli
  • 1 cup fresh, canned, or frozen corn
  • 1 cup fresh, canned, or frozen carrots
  • 1 medium potato, cut into smaller pieces (purple-skinned potatoes and yukon potatoes work great in this recipe)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a pinch of garlic powder
  • a pinch of dried rosemary (omit if you don’t care for this herb)

Directions:

  • Measure all ingredients
  • On low-medium heat, use oil to grease a non-stick large pan or pot and lightly brown garlic and tofu cubes
  • When tofu has browned slightly, add vegetable broth, soy milk, and potatoes to the pan or pot, simmer for about 5-10 minutes
  • Add other veggies (broccoli, corn, carrots) along with garlic powder and dried rosemary. Add a bit of salt and pepper if you’d like
  • Simmer on low heat until potatoes are soft. Stir frequently. Remove from heat and serve. Refrigerate the extra or share with a friend!

-Jess

Bye to 2016 and the winter blues

Happy 2017!  I hope everyone had a healthy and happy new years celebration.  I was going to write a post about making new years resolutions, but this year I decided to not make any new years resolutions. I decided not to try to make any specific goals for the next year for two reasons: 1.  I think it’s easier to work on short-term goals, without using the calendar year as motivation 2.  Northeastern winters don’t exactly scream “LET’S GET MOTIVATED!” to me.  Instead, today I’m sharing some tips about improving your mood during these cold months.  I decided to share some things that have helped me stay happy and sane during winter because I’ve noticed that every year I start to feel less like my usual upbeat self as soon as November/December rolls around.  While I don’t personally suffer from full-blown seasonal affective disorder (SAD, so aptly abbreviated), it’s always a good idea to consult a mental health professional if you feel your mood going seriously sour during any time of the year.  If you feel like you just need an extra happiness boost during the winter, here are some things that have helped me.

My Winter Mood-Improving Habits

  1. Get outside!

Unless you live close to the equator, your skin gets less exposure to sunlight during the winter (in the northern hemisphere).  Sunlight is important because it’s a major source of vitamin D.  Vitamin D has effects on the hypothalamus which regulates sleep, hunger, and other factors that influence mood.

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These ducks have the right idea, although I didn’t take a dip into the frigid water, I did take this photo on a chilly winter walk

Another reason to get outside is just to enjoy the outdoors.  Although being outside during the winter requires some extra layers, being amongst nature has so many benefits, both for the mind and body.  Try going for a walk outside a few times a week (for the most benefits, aim for mid-day, especially when it’s sunny out).  If you’re feeling more adventurous, go ice-skating, skiing, or snow-shoeing if you live in a snowy climate.

2.  Eat (healthy) carbs!

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a toasted whole-grain bagel with a healthy fat, such as melted natural peanut butter makes for a deliciously warming winter breakfast

Complex carbs can health boost serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that influences mood.  I feel best when I stick to minimally processed whole grains and avoid white flour. Examples of complex carbs include sweet potatoes, brown rice, whole grains and 100% whole grain breads.  Paying attention to portion size is important.  It’s easy to over-do pasta, bread, and rice, especially because these foods can be so comforting.

3. Exercise

I love moving all year round!  Exercise always puts me in a good mood. If you can’t exercise outside, indoors is just as good.  I try to exercise daily for 30-60 minutes, or at least most days.  New to exercise?  Try to find something that you enjoy and that you’re willing to commit to.  Walking, running, yoga, weightlifting all count.

4. Sleep, but not too much

It’s so tempting to sleep more during the winter and go into “hibernation mode”, but I’ve found that (for me) this makes me feel lazy which then affects my mood.  Instead of staying in bed all day, try to get moving and accomplish one productive thing a day.  Oversleeping can be a symptom of depression, so if you find yourself preferring to stay in bed for an excessive amount of time and you also feel symptoms of hopelessness and apathy, it’s important to talk to someone.

5.  Participate in life

Sometimes during winter, I feel like hibernating and going into my shell, but I’ve noticed that this makes me feel down and withdrawn.  Find an engaging hobby that will keep your mind active.  Social support is also vitally important, so make some time for friends and family.

These are just some simple things that have helped me.  I hope you feel amazing today and every day of this winter season 🙂