It’s Just Food, or Is It?

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To someone who has always had a healthy relationship with food, food is just food. Meaning food is simply something you eat to enjoy and to keep you alive, and yes, sometimes indulge in just for the sake of eating something tasty. But, for me, and for many other people I know, food is so much more than that.

For myself, food is something I spend a lot of time thinking about. As I’ve alluded to in earlier posts, a lot of people who get into nutrition have history of disordered eating (perhaps one day I’ll share more, but today isn’t that day). One reason why I chose to study nutrition is because I was so misguided as a teenager when it came to learning how to be healthy. I wish I had a qualified nutrition professional leading me in the right direction when I was younger, so now, I’m doing my part to help myself and help others in the future. But that’s not the only reason. I love cooking, I love creating healthy versions of recipes, and I believe proper nutrition is vital to living a healthy life. I’m also intensely passionate about science and scientifcally-based evidence when it comes to using nutrition to prevent and treat disease.

As a nutrition student, I’ve learned so much in my classes. My favorite courses so far have been Medical Nutrition Therapy, where we learn how to treat illnesses and symptoms like portal hypertension, ulcerative colitis, hepatitis, and others, and I also really enjoyed Cultural Aspects of Food. In Cultural Aspects of Food, we learned about how early man ate (surprise: the paleo diet, although very healthy, isn’t completely reflective of how cavemen ate), how different cultures eat, issues surrounding the global food source and how we’re going to sustain ourselves. Even though I feel like I’m getting a great education, I sometimes doubt myself when it comes to what I’m eating. Based on the recommendations in my Nutrition 101 class, I’m doing pretty well, nutritionally. I eat a lot of fruits and veggies, my grains are always whole and not refined, I limit sugars, and my protein is usually lean (I don’t eat meat for various reasons [but I completely understand that veganism isn’t for everyone] so I stick with beans, tofu, etc. which are low in fat). But, I also take in a lot of information from outside of my classes.

My MNT textbook, often found on my bed after a long night of studying.

My MNT textbook, often found on my bed after a long night of studying.

 

When you’re passionate, or dare I say, obsessive, about food/nutrition, you tend to want to learn as much as you can, and this can present some problems because it can be information-overdrive. Somedays I’ll read some article claiming gluten is the most harmful thing one could ingest, and the next, I’ll read a scholarly paper proving that whole wheat products are perfectly fine for non-celiacs. It can be really confusing to sift through information, especially because nutrition is such a new science. We’ve only been studying what we’ve been eating for a limited amount of time and in that time, there has been so much conflicting advice. In the 80’s and 90’s, fat (in all forms) was shunned. That did us no good. In the early 2000’s, Atkins was the boss. Low-carbohydrate diets have been shown to be effective for weight loss, but at what cost? Eating large amounts of meat, especially factory-farmed meat, has been shown to increase the risk of cancers and heart disease, and it’s unsustainable for our planet. Now, it seems like the focus is on eating is purity, or cleanliness. To be healthy means you must eat organic, gluten-free, dairy-free, etc. While I can agree that a diet consisting of mostly unprocessed, whole, organic foods is best, it’s not healthy to obsess over how pure your diet is, especially if it limits your social life or mental wellbeing.

So what advice as someone studying nutrition can I give to you (and myself!)? I think the answer is to find a way of eating that is a) based on nutritionally sound advice (we need carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals to sustain ourselves) b) balanced, based on the individual (some people really do feel better avoiding gluten even without diagnosed Celiac Disease, some people do well eating only plants, some people need less carbs to thrive) c) an ongoing experiment. Meaning you might experiment with the ratios of your macronutrients and see how it affects you, or you may want to see if going gluten-free alleviates some stomach pain, or you may find that a moderate diet of whole grains, dairy, fruits, veggies, and meat is working just fine. The important thing is to find a way of eating that makes you feel healthy, have patience in the process, and focus on yourself instead of buying into every new piece of advice that comes along.

 

-Jess

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How to Make the Best Choices at the Salad Bar

My dad and I dined at my favorite salad bar (I discuss that below). In my container: kale, falafel, beets, and numerous other veggies!

My dad and I dined at my favorite salad bar (I discuss that below). In my container: kale, falafel, beets, and numerous other veggies!

If you’re like me, you love the freedom that making your own salad/assortment of hot foods involves. One food trend that is only expected to grow in future years are salad bars or self-serve hot food bars. The food service industry is realizing that people love to customize their own food, and what better way to cater to their customers than allowing a self-service set-up. Depending on where you’re dining, salad bars may offer an array of healthy and not-so-healthy options, and it can be tempting to load up on those comfort food options (I think everyone can agree that mac and cheese and mashed potatoes look so good!) How can you make the wisest choices when you have so many less healthy choices available? Here are some tips for navigating the self-service food set-up:

  • If available, choose a smaller size plate. Studies have shown that the size of your plate or bowl influences how much you’ll eat. Eating off a larger plate can lead to eating larger portions of food, and consuming more calories.
  • Make at least half of your plate greens. In general, the darker the green veggie, the more nutritious it is. Spinach, romaine, and kale, are all good choices. If possible opt for these over iceberg lettuce, which is all water and little nutrients.
  • Make your plate or container look appetizing by adding colorful veggies. Carrots, peppers, broccoli, cucumbers, baby corn, are usually some common options offered.
  • Add a protein component. Some healthy options include grilled chicken, beans, tofu, turkey, and hard-boiled eggs. Try to keep the portion size to the size of deck of cards (about a half cup).
  • For dressing, your best bet is oil and vinegar. Although oil is high in calories, usually the oil provided will be olive oil, which has healthy fats that will help absorb the fat soluble vitamins in vegetables, such as vitamin K, vitamin E, and vitamin A.
  • Since there will probably be less healthy options available, choose this item last and stick to a 1/4 cup portion. Full-fat cheese, a serving of mashed potatoes, or a dessert item are all things you definitely want to limit at the salad bar in order to have a healthy meal.

I personally love dining at salad bars/hot food bars. In fact, I rarely go out to eat and instead I insist that my friends and family meet me at Whole Foods Market Salad Bar when they decide to treat me! What I love about Whole Foods Market Salad Bar are the many vegan options, which of course you’d expect at a salad bar because of the vegetables, but Whole Foods takes it a step further by offering different bean salads, grain salads, different types of tofu, and so much more. If you live near a Whole Foods Market, I encourage you to pick up a tray and make yourself a meal!

What are your strategies to navigating self-serve food bars? If you have a favorite salad bar restaurant or food place, do share by leaving a reply!

 

-Jess

How To Get Your Fruit Fix On

Summer is almost here (well, it’s almost a month away so that counts, right?) and summer is peak fruit season. Consuming at least two or more servings of fruit a day provides you with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and a healthy source of carbohydrates, but many people are so used to eating cereal or eggs for breakfast, and having cake or cookies for dessert, when fruit would be a healthier option.

Depending on where you live, different types and varieties of fruit may be in season during the summer, however, in most supermarkets and health food stores you can find fruit staples like oranges, bananas, apples, pears, and typically berries like strawberries and blueberries. If you’re lucky, you might also find mangos, papayas, and kiwis. During the summer months in the northeast, plums, peaches, and nectarines are all in season along with several different varieties of melons.

When thinking about ways to eat fruit, think out of the box! Fruit can be puréed and used in place of oil or eggs in muffin batter, juiced or blended into a smoothie, or added to accent a savory dish! Here are some other ways to enjoy fruit while getting a variety of vitamins and other nutrients.

 

Deconstructed Fruit Salads

Arrange fruit (and nuts, for a source of protein and healthy fats) on a plate and have a feast for your mouth and eyes. Children may especially be fond of these dishes due to the shapes and colors. For a fun activity, ask kids to describe the flavor and texture of each different type of fruit.

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Nutella-like spread, or similar nut butter pairs well with apples and bananas!

Nutella-like spread, or similar nut butter pairs well with apples and bananas!

Citrus fruit salad is not only fun to eat but visually appealing as well!

Citrus fruit salad is not only fun to eat but visually appealing as well!

 

Pair sliced fruit along with a whole grain product, like a berry-oat muffin, oatmeal, or whole-grain cereal.

Pair sliced fruit along with a whole grain product, like a berry-oat muffin, oatmeal, or whole-grain cereal.

 

Smoothies & Juices

For smoothies, use a banana, soy yogurt, or low-fat yogurt, along with any other fruit you enjoy to create a quick yet filling breakfast or snack!

For juices, sneak in some veggies, like carrots or beets, in with your fruit for an extra-nutritious beverage!


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Add to Savory Dishes

Try adding apples, citrus fruits, or mangoes to rice dishes, salads, or meals involving beans. I’ve found that fruit goes well with asian-inspired meals, especially with teriyaki sauce.

Kale salad with oranges, topped with pear dressing makes a vitamin A and vitamin C-rich meal.

Kale salad with oranges, topped with pear dressing makes a vitamin A and vitamin C-rich meal.

Sliced mango added to a bean salad topped with various veggies and teriyaki sauce is one idea for a fruit-infused main course

Sliced mango added to a bean salad topped with various veggies and teriyaki sauce is one idea for a fruit-infused main course

For a crunchy meal, shred jicama (a root vegetable) or prepare brown rice, and add oranges, kale, bell pepper, and top with hot sauce for a variety of flavors and textures!

For a crunchy meal, shred jicama (a root vegetable) or prepare brown rice, and add oranges, kale, bell pepper, and top with hot sauce for a variety of flavors and textures!

 

Get creative with fruit and always try new foods, new dishes, and experiment in the kitchen! If you enjoyed the pictures in this post, feel free to follow me on instagram @vitaminvalentine for even more creative visuals of healthy food and recipes!

-Jess

 

Working With What You Have: Cookie Edition

Is there such a thing as a "bad" cookie? No, only imperfect ones!

Is there such a thing as a “bad” cookie? No, only imperfect ones!

I want to start this post by wishing all the Moms who are reading a very happy Mother’s Day! Watching my Mom and Grandma in the kitchen gave me an appreciation for cooking and baking and I carry that with me every day. Today I woke up and realized I completely forgot to buy my mom a Mother’s Day present, and by forgot, I mean, I’m a student and my funds are limited. With that in mind, I had to be resourceful so I headed to the cabinet to see what I could create. No chocolate chips or oatmeal were to be found, so there went my idea for chocolate chip oatmeal-cookies. I did however have all-purpose gluten-free flour, trader joe’s hemp protein powder, almonds, almond butter, and raisins.

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Sounds like a weird combination, but I was willing to try it.

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I created the recipe below as I went along (which is something I frequently do) and I realized that my improvisational cooking method is somewhat symbolic for some things that I’ve realized since starting this blog. When I decided to go back to school to study nutrition and start this blog, I feared writing about myself at all because I think we constantly judge ourselves and fear judgement from others. Allowing myself to write about things I’ve dealt with personally (like calorie obsession) and things I’m learning has taught me that despite being imperfect, what I’ve learned can help others. All the best teachers and wisest individuals I’ve come across aren’t the ones who appear to be perfect, they’re the one’s who embrace what they have, appreciate the lessons they’ve learned and are willing to share it with others. So, what does this have to do with cookies? The following recipe may not be your cup of tea, but it serves as a reminder that you can work with what you have to bring joy into the world (in this case, joy was a smile on my Mom’s face because if there’s one thing my Mom can appreciate, it’s a baked good). Don’t worry if you don’t have the items I’ve used, as I’ve come up with a few alternatives listed next to each ingredient.

Almond Raisin Protein Cookies (makes 3 dozen)photo 3-5

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose gluten-free flour (you can use whole wheat flour, spelt flour, or any other kind of flour)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • dash of salt
  • 1/2 cup Trader Joe’s Hemp Protein Powder (you can use any kind of protein powder in a flavor you enjoy. The one I used was vanilla flavored)
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 1/4 cup almond butter (instead of using oil, I used almond butter because it’s tasty, nutritious, and is a good fat source in place of oil or butter).
  • 1/4 cup almond milk (I used unsweetened original variety, but a vanilla flavor might also work well)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup of raisins (or another dried fruit that you prefer)
  • 1/2 cup almonds (whole, raw)- you can use any other kind of nut that tickles your fancy
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon

Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F and in a mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and protein powder.
  • In separate bowl, combine applesauce, almond butter, almond milk, and vanilla extract.
  • Create a well in the dry ingredients with your fingers or a spoon, and add in the wet ingredients. Mix.
  • Add in the raisins and almonds
  • Grease a cookie sheet, and drop cookie dough on the sheet using a spoon.
  • Place in the oven for 10-15 minutes (keep on eye on it, because all ovens differ in temperatures and each batch I made took a different amount of time).
  • Enjoy!

Experiment with this recipe with the ingredients you have and embrace imperfect, improvisational baking!

-Jess

 

 

Easy Chocolate Recipes for Stress Relief

Ah. That is my sigh of relief because my finals are done and I have officially completed my first year as a nutrition student! What a year it has been for me! These past few weeks have been both stressful, yet enlightening…and also filled with chocolate. Yes, chocolate. I consider chocolate to be a great stress reliever (when consumed in moderation) and for the past week or so I’ve been eating at least one meal or snack that has a chocolatey component. I don’t think I’m alone when I say that chocolate just makes me feel happy! But on a nutrition note, chocolate offers many benefits such as antioxidants and has actually been shown to reduce cortisol (a stress hormone) levels overtime (which proves my point that chocolate is a great stress reliever!). I’ve also noticed that lately my diet is heavy in carbohydrates because of my new juicer and that leaves me craving a fat source. Chocolate is rich in fats (mainly saturated and monounsaturated fat) which is why eating a piece of chocolate after a meal can be ever so satisfying.

Two ways that I consumed chocolate this past week were in a delicious, guilt-free, microwave brownie recipe involving black beans (trust me, it tastes better than it sounds!) and a quick breakfast involving chocolate chips. Here are the recipes:

Black Bean Microwave Brownies (serves 1-2)

Full of fiber and antioxidants!

Full of fiber and antioxidants!

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup almond meal
  • 1/4 cup mashed black beans (you can either mash with a spoon or process in a food processor)
  • 1 tbsp. honey or maple syrup
  • 1 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • a tsp. or two of almond milk (if mixture needs more liquid)
  • chocolate chips (for topping)

Combine all ingredients (except chocolate chips) in a microwave bowl, and heat for 3 minutes. Mixture should solidify into a cake-like brownie, but continue to heat if not yet cake-like. Top with chocolate chips and enjoy!

 

Chocolatey Rice Cake Snack

My breakfast this morning. The juice was a combination of beets, carrots, and strawberries.

My breakfast this morning. The juice was a combination of beets, carrots, and strawberries.

(This isn’t necessarily a “Recipe”, rather it’s one of my favorite snacks/breakfasts/healthy desserts)

Ingredients:

  • brown rice cakes
  • almond butter (or peanut butter)
  • chocolate chips

For a quick treat, eat rice cakes with almond butter, topped with chocolate chips. Make it a meal by pairing it with a juice or smoothie, or if you’re craving protein, eat an egg, cottage cheese, tofu scramble, or whatever your heart desires on the side!

 

As always, try to listen to your body. The past few weeks have taught me that when I’m stressed, chocolate beckons, and also that high-carb meals can sometimes result in cravings for fat-rich foods. Experiment with what works for you and obey your chocolate cravings in healthy ways! Lastly, if you haven’t done so, feel free to follow me on instagram @vitaminvalentine for daily pictures focused on creative food, wellness, and snapshots of my life!

 

-Jess

In Summer: Frozen-Inspired Treats

one of my frozen-inspired treats (recipe below)

one of my frozen-inspired treats (recipe below)

 

Here in New York, the weather is getting warmer, which means it’s time to think of healthy frozen treats to cool down with! In addition to summer approaching, I was inspired to create some frozen recipes because I recently saw the movie “Frozen” and I am totally obsessed! I love everything about the movie and I can personally relate to Princess Anna’s character, so this movie particularly resonated with me. If you haven’t seen “Frozen”, you should, as it differs from most Disney movies and doesn’t really stick to the princess + prince charming = true love forever equation that’s typical of fairytales but I won’t give too much away in case you haven’t seen it.

 

Getting back to my frozen treats, there’s nothing greater than indulging in a cold dessert on a hot summer day, but ice cream, frozen yogurt, and gelato can be high in calories and make you feel tired if you’ve had too much. Instead, today I made 2 different “ice creams” using a few very simple ingredients. The base for both of these recipes is just a few frozen bananas and almond or coconut milk. Both recipes are vegan, gluten-free, and won’t make you feel guilty or weighed down afterwards.

 

Peanut butter-Banana-Chip Dream Cream (serves 2)

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Ingredients

  • 1.5 frozen bananas (freeze for at least 5 hours). Peel before freezing, and you may also want to cut into smaller pieces and place into a zip lock bag.
  • ¼ cup almond milk (I used an unsweetened vanilla variety)
  • 1 tbsp. natural peanut butter (I used a creamy, salted variety)
  • 1-2 tbsp. dark chocolate chips

Directions:

  • Place cut frozen bananas in a blender, add ¼ cup almond milk, 1 tbsp. natural peanut butter, and chocolate chips, and blend on high. If the mixture becomes too liquid-y, simply place in the freezer for a few minutes, or you can freeze the entire mixture for about an hour in a non-stick container and then re-blend to create an ice cream texture.
  • Serve in a glass or bowl and top with a few chocolate chips. Enjoy!

 

 

Cashew Coconut Banana Cream (serves 2)

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Ingredients

  • 1.5 frozen bananas (frozen for at least 5 hours). Peel before freezing, and you may want to cut into smaller pieces (like in the previous recipe
  • ¼ cup almond milk (I used an unsweetened vanilla variety)
  • a handful of raw, unsalted cashews
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ cup coconut flakes

Directions

  • Place cut frozen bananas in a blender, add ¼ cup almond milk, a handful of raw cashews, 1 tsp. vanilla extract, and coconut flakes. Blend on high. If mixture is too liquid-y, use the same method as in the previous recipe, and either freeze for a few minutes, or freeze for an extended period of time in a nonstick bowl and re-blend to get an ice cream consistency.
  • Serve in a glass or bowl and top with additional coconut flakes. Enjoy!

 

Stay cool!

 

-Jess