A Simple Way of Eating

A burrito I made filled with brown rice, lentils, tofu, spicy avocado hummus, and hot sauce. Delicious but my stomach was less appreciative.

A burrito I made filled with brown rice, lentils, tofu, spicy avocado hummus, and hot sauce. Delicious but my stomach was less appreciative.

Lately I’ve been cooking and creating so many new dishes and even though I’m having a ton of fun in the kitchen, my stomach is starting to complain (I tend to use a lot of spices while cooking and I eat a lot of difficult-to-digest beans and grains). I also find that trying to constantly come up with new meals can take a toll, especially when my main focus should be on school (I’m currently pursuing two degrees, both in nutrition!). So, I’ve decided to simplify my diet and eat pretty basic, nutrient-packed meals for the time being. Besides my stomach pains and limited time and energy due to my classes, another reason why I’ve decided to get back to basics when it comes to eating is an inner feeling that my body just craves real simple food right now, instead of the complicated yet tasty meals I’ve been making. As I’ve mentioned many times throughout my blog, I’m a big fan of (trying) to listen to one’s body. Not only am I an advocate of intuitive eating, I’m also on my own journey to eat more intuitively and be less dependent on external factors (like counting calories and eating at certain pre-determined times during the day).

A blood orange up close and personal!

Luckily, the food stores I shop at have a great variety of fresh produce. Here’s a blood orange, up-close and personal.

I don’t really have a plan of what I’m going to eat, because that would be counter-productive to the goals of intuitive eating. However, I know that for the past few weeks I’ve been eating a ton of oatmeal (see my previous post—all those photos are from my own breakfasts!), tofu, wraps and sandwiches with spicy hummus galore, and a lot of other bean and veggie dishes. Obviously, I eat quite healthy, but my stomachaches indicate I should switch up my diet. I keep craving really simple meals (like fruit, salads, soup, nuts) so I’ve purposely stocked my pantry and fridge with the above. I also had a wild thought of trying to wean myself off of coffee (I’m heavily dependent on the magical bean elixir) but I will get back to you on that in the A.M. hours! (Update: Still drinking coffee, and even wrote a new blog post on coffee!)

This was a meal (I ate this for lunch) composed of dark purple grapes, a banana, strawberries, and turkish figs. I craved fruit, I ate fruit, and got my fair share of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients!

This was a meal (I ate this for lunch) composed of dark purple grapes, a banana, strawberries, and turkish apricots. I craved fruit, I ate fruit, and got my fair share of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients!

Salads are never boring with the right dressing. Here, I used cilantro dressing. Yum!

Salads are never boring with the right dressing. Here, I used cilantro dressing. Yum!

How do you know when it’s time to make a change in your diet? Is your weight the first thing you check, or are you more aware of your energy levels, digestion, and overall wellbeing? Feel free to share your input!

-Jess

Oat-rageous Oatmeal Ideas

Left: Oats with apples and almond butter. Right: Oats with Heritage Flakes (dry cereal) and a peach

Left: Oats with apples and almond butter. Right: Oats with Heritage Flakes (dry cereal) and a peach

Have you grown tired of eating your oatmeal with brown sugar? Well, prepare to be amazed with some delicious oatmeal ideas.

Before I get to that, let’s discuss how healthy oats actually are! Oatmeal has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), decrease overall inflammation in the body, decrease blood pressure, and keep you full for a long time. When choosing an oatmeal variety, stick to the old-fashioned kind and not the instant one-minute kind and try to stay away from any with added sugars or fake dried fruit in the ingredients.

Here are some delicious, nutritious oatmeal ideas for your eating pleasure:

  • Cook oatmeal according to the directions on the box. Then chop an apple and add to the bowl. Top with 1-2 tbsp. of peanut butter and sprinkle with cinnamon. You can also slice a banana in addition or in place of an apple.

    mmm Oatmeal, Apples, & Peanut butter!

    mmm Oatmeal, Apples, & Peanut butter!

  • Prepare the oats, and blend berries in a blender. Mix the berries in with the oats and not only do you get a huge amount of nutrients in that bowl, you also get a beautifully colored masterpiece. Top with other fruit, such as an orange and coconut flakes for a nice finish. To add some healthy fats, you can also add almond butter or mixed nuts.photo-13
  • Cook oats, and add in canned pumpkin and top with raisins and cinnamon.
  • Use oats in a savory dish by replacing them in any recipe that calls for rice, quinoa, barley, or any other grain. Oats have a mild flavor, and when seasoned correctly can be done right in savory dishes.
  • Add a fiber-full  dry cereal to your oats, if you want some extra fiber!
  • Add oats to your favorite cookie or muffin recipe for some fiber. You may have to increase the amount of oil or liquid ingredients, but unlike flour, oats will not immediately soak up the liquid ingredients so play around with the recipe you’re using.

    Oats in a muffin makes this a healthy fibrous breakfast

    Oats in a muffin makes this a healthy fibrous breakfast

  • Eat oats for dessert! Cook oats, and then add 1 tbsp. of cocoa powder (I like 100% cacao, unsweetened). Add a tbsp. of honey, some cinnamon, almond or peanut butter, and your favorite fruit.photo 5

 

Those are my favorite ways to use oats. What are some of your favorites? Feel free to post a comment if you’d like to share, and don’t forget to visit and like my new Facebook page for Vitamin Valentine for additional daily nutrition, motivation, and health news and updates.

 

-Jess

How To Keep Warm in This Never-Ending Winter: Hot & Spicy Tofu Curry

I live in the northeast and I can’t wait for this winter to be over. Luckily, the official start of spring is now less than a month away. To keep you warm for the remainder of the winter, I’ve made a delicious curry recipe and would love to share. Did you know that the spices in curry dishes have amazing health properties? Indeed, studies have shown that a compound found in curry has anti-cancer benefits, and Turmeric (another spice involved in curry dishes) may lower blood sugar and increase insulin sensitivity overtime. Besides the health properties, curry is so delicious and versatile. Adding heat to a meal also raises your metabolism, albeit only temporarily by 8%.

Spicy Coconut Curry Tofu with Sriracha-Hummus Quinoa on the Side

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Ingredients:

  • 12 oz. can of coconut milk (not coconut water, but the actual high-fat coconut milk)
  • 1 cup diced onions
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • small amount of oil for the pan
  • cilantro
  • bay leaf
  • 1.5 tablespoons curry powder
  • red thai curry paste
  • juice of one lime
  • 1-3+ tsp. chili powder (depends on how spicy you like it)
  • 1/2 tsp. ginger
  • 12 oz. firm tofu
  • 2/3 cup chickpeas (canned saves time)
  • 1/2 cup frozen or fresh peas
  • 1/2 cup dry quinoa +2 cups water
  • hummus
  • sriracha or hot sauce

Directions:

  • Dice the onions and garlic, oil the pan, and sauté until just about lightly browned.
  • Add the tofu (drain and press the tofu to get rid of excess water prior to cooking) and cook on medium heat until the tofu is lightly browned.
  • Add the coconut milk and red thai curry paste, curry powder, bay leaf, chili powder, cilantro ginger, and lime juice.
  • Add the peas
  • Simmer on low-medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the drained, already cooked chickpeas towards the end of cooking.
  • Quinoa takes about 10 minutes to cook. Add quinoa to a pan and then add water after a minute of heating the dry quinoa. Stir and if the quinoa is undercooked but soaking up water, lower the heat and add more liquid incrementally.
  • Remove the bay leaves (or leaf), serve the curry in a bowl with quinoa on the side. To the quinoa, add hummus (garlic or plain flavored works best) on top and finish with sriracha or hot sauce.
  • Enjoy!

-Jess

A Very Happy Valentine’s Day, the Vitamin Valentine Way!

If you were wondering about the name of this blog, my last name is Valentine, so I’m obligated to love Valentine’s Day. In my experience, the best way to show someone you care is to make them something special (this is also a great way to save money). I made two delicious, easy, vegan fudge recipes that are super-rich and flavorful.

Dark Chocolate Banana Fudge

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1/2 cup coconut butter (to soften, you can heat it in the microwave for 10-15 seconds, you don’t want it melted)

1 ripe banana

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/8 tsp salt

2 tbsp. honey

3 tbsp. cacoa powder (I used 100% cacao, unsweetened)

Blend ingredients using an electric mixer until everything is homogenized and there’s no huge particles of any one ingredient. Refrigerate over night, or freeze for 15-30 minutes and cut into the desired shape. Feel free to cut into heart-shapes for this holiday.

Peanut Butter Coconut Fudge

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1/2 cup coconut oil

1 cup peanut butter (I used creamy, but if you like chunky or natural style, or whatever else, feel free to substitute. Almond butter might also work in this recipe)

1/3 cup maple syrup

1 ripe banana

1 tsp. cinnamon

dash of salt

1 and 1/2 cups coconut flakes

In a glass dish/bowl, spread a thin layer of coconut flakes so that the bottom of the dish is covered. Don’t use the entire 1.5 cups. Set aside.

Combine all the other ingredients (minus the coconut flakes in the dish and the remaining coconut flakes set aside) and blend well until everything is mixed. Spread the mixture on top of the layer of coconut flakes. Then, use the remaining coconut and top the mixture creating a layer of coconut on top of the fudge. Refrigerate overnight or freeze for 15-30 minutes. Cut into desired shape & enjoy.

Have a Happy Valentine’s Day!

xo,

-Jess

Part Two of Staying Committed to a Diet: Realistic Behavior Change

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photo via Instagram

In my last post, I wrote about the basics of healthy eating. Now that you know it’s not necessarily a good thing to try every single fad diet out there, there are a few key things to remember in order to stay committed to a healthier way of eating and exercise.  Here are some guidelines that I’ve learned for myself and that I’ve observed through other people’s lifestyle changes

  • Although many people will claim that commitment to eating well and exercise is all about “willpower”, it’s more about being dedicated to something you can live with for the rest of your life. If you struggle to stay on a diet, it’s probably not because you’re weak-willed, but more likely you tried to implement too many changes, or tried to implement changes that are not conducive to your lifestyle (for instance, promising yourself to attend every new workout class at your gym, but you work long hours and the classes are scheduled during your workday).  Before embarking on any new lifestyle changes, assess what your current lifestyle is and what you’re willing to give up (certain foods, going out drinking more than a few nights a week, free time in order to workout) and then go from there.
  • Sometimes the members of your social circle will get in the way of your health goals. If your friends are a hard-partying bunch who either consume most of their calories after the midnight hour, or choose to forgo food calories in favor of a more alcohol-based diet, then you really have some big choices to make. As I’ve written before, a healthy diet is one that includes lots of fruits and veggies, adequate protein, quality rest, and ample activity. You only get one life, if you spend most of it recuperating from nights out, you might be doing yourself a disservice in the long run. Who you spend your time with and what activities you do influence your health greatly. If you’re looking to improve your life, try to get active in social activities based on health and fitness. Try a yoga class or attend a workshop at a health food store. You might end up meeting someone who can change your life, and if not, you did something new and enlightening.
  • Having realistic goals is also important when staying committed to a lifestyle change. Planning to lose more than 1-2 pounds a week may not be possible, and losing any more than that will most probably result in loss of muscle tissue. Lowered muscle mass leads to a decrease in overall caloric burn, so keep your goals realistic and healthy. Even if you lost a quarter or a half a pound each week, you’re still losing and overtime you’ll reap more benefits had you lost that weight in a shorter duration.
  • Stay away from fad diets! It is so tempting when you see a celebrity (or even a random person on social media) touting their weight loss due to a diet of green smoothies and air, but a) you don’t actually know if that’s how they truly achieved their physique and b) a drastic, restrictive change in diet will typically lead to rebound binge-eating and feelings of failure if you can’t stick to it (especially if you tend to be a perfectionist, or someone who is prone to black and white thinking).  Remind yourself frequently that any change in diet needs to be realistic, long-lasting, and one that is not going to drive you crazy!
  • If you’re going on a diet not because you want to improve your health, but because you want to focus on a goal and you think dieting will give you a sense of empowerment…then you need to talk to someone who can first determine if you even need to change your diet, and you need to ask yourself what is going on in your life that you feel weight loss is going to fix. This one is really geared towards individuals who are at a normal weight but feel pressure to lose weight based on unrealistic societal influences. I myself have been prone to this type of thinking and I believe it is so important to not use dieting or exercise to define ourselves or to feign self-improvement when it is really based on some unhealthy goal. Talking to a professional (a social worker, psychologist, or school counselor) may be the step to take in this instance.
  • Reward yourself! It’s hard to stay committed to something if you don’t recognize your achievements. Rewards can be as simple as a manicure at the end of the week that you lost a pound, or a trip to a tropical location when you’ve reached a long-term goal. Even just recognizing a new exercise or fitness achievement (such as running your first mile without stopping) can produce a great feeling of accomplishment that you should notice and celebrate.
  • Check your mood. One of the biggest barriers to success is having a pessimistic, woe-is-me mood. If you tend to magnify your shortcomings and berate yourself when you slip-up, then you need to practice a little more kindness and patience towards yourself. Some fitness and exercise gurus will claim the opposite, and that a tough-love approach is best, but in my opinion, if you can’t show yourself some compassion, it’s going to be awfully hard to actually believe you’re capable of achieving your goals. Sure, you want to have the discipline to get things done and not give into unhealthy temptations, but discipline comes from self-efficacy and self-esteem, which are impossible to maintain if you’re always feeling down in the dumps and you tend to be intensely hard on yourself.

There are many other tips and methods to staying committed to a diet, but these are ones that particularly stand out to me, and I also felt that some of the above pointers are rarely discussed when it comes to dieting and lifestyle change. For more tips on how to improve your diet, keep reading and subscribe to my blog via email! (see the side-bar tab) and feel free to follow my inspirational Instagram account @ vitaminvalentine, where you’ll find pictures of my food creations and other tidbits from my life.

-Jess

Part One of Staying Committed to a Diet: The Basics of Healthy Eating

A healthy diet is one that includes mostly whole, non-processed foods, as shown in these photos.

A healthy diet is one that includes mostly whole, non-processed foods, as shown in these photos.

One of the biggest difficulties of changing your lifestyle is actually committing to the daily habits that improve one’s health. It takes a lot of effort to be consistent with a new way of living, and this is especially true if you aren’t always thinking of the reasons for why you want to change. Another roadblock to staying motivated and committed is the huge amount of dieting advice and information out there.  I’m taking a class called Cultural Aspects of Food, which examines how different cultures use different foods, and recently we dissected how our ancient ancestors ate.  Popular diets such as the Paleo Diet (which I’ve discussed before) claim that our ancient ancestors were healthier due to not consuming grains and having a diet consisting of mainly vegetables, fruits, meat, fish and healthy fats. Although I can’t disagree with that fact that the above listed food groups are healthy, most dietitians and researchers agree that a diet that includes whole grains has so many benefits, some of which include providing b-vitamins, fiber, and phytochemicals.

Besides the Paleo Diet, it’s so easy to be convinced to try the newest diet craze. Everyone wants a miracle cure but the most important thing to realize when trying to disseminate diet information is that there is no instant cure or miracle way of eating. Consistently eating healthy (and healthy has many meanings which I will discuss a little later), making exercise a priority, and limiting consumption of alcohol are some things that will always produce a healthier outcome.

So what is healthy eating? Healthy eating for most people means intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean protein, healthy fats (non-hydrogenated plant sources, such as nuts, and fish oils), and fat-free or low-fat dairy (if tolerated). Eliminating a food group will not necessary bring better health unless there is an underlying disease/disorder, such as Celiac Disease (discussed in a previous post), so always use caution around diets which advocate for elimination of random foods or diets that claim that a certain food is a miracle cure for disease (no food has all-healing properties). Although this advice may seem contrary to my last post on gluten-free eating, I’m mainly gearing this towards people who have no food intolerances and do not suffer from Celiac Disease. As always, before changing your diet, you may want to consider talking to your doctor or visiting a Registered Dietitian to help you based on your specific health needs and goals.  Stay tuned for my next post of this series where I’ll discuss some ways to stay motivated, now that you know which foods to eat!

-Jess