Oh, mega delicious chai spice walnut butter

Lately I’ve been noticing persistent, intense cravings for food that I don’t normally eat (salmon, greek yogurt, eggs, chicken).  Whenever I’ve had these cravings in the past, I would feel really conflicted because I have deep compassion for animals and all beings, and yet I’m a firm believer that cravings for groups of food (in my case, animal-based proteins) may be a sign of deficiency in one’s diet.  My most recent craving for salmon has been going on for a few months.  In the past, there were a  few times where my non-vegan cravings were so intense that I *may* have indulged in some non-vegan food, which led to confusion about my own veganism and a lot of self-judgment.  Recently, I’ve been feeling confused because I take a vitamin with algal-based omega 3’s so I feel like I take in enough of this essential fatty acid to keep fish cravings away.

I value authenticity and this includes my blog and my social media.  I sometimes really struggle with honoring my body’s non-junk food cravings and being true to my personal ethics of not harming others (animals included).  For the past few years (typically in the winter months), I find my body (or mind?) particularly craves heavier protein (from animal sources) and I proceed to spend months vacillating between staying true to my values and rationalizing why I should indulge in my persistent cravings.  I also spend time and effort doing research on the best sources of plant-based protein and amino acids, and make an effort to include at least 50-60 grams of protein each day (which based on my weight and activity level meets the recommended requirements–but may not be enough based on lab work and other symptoms).

There are so many reasons why veganism is important to me, to name a few:  I don’t want to participate in the mistreatment/abuse/slaughter of innocent animals, concerns about the environment and the sustainability of our current factory-farming system, my religious/spiritual beliefs of ahimsa (sanskrit for “do no harm to others”), health reasons, and the fact that I was never much of a meat-eater as a child, I became a vegan at 15, and it just kind of became my natural way of eating.

As a nutrition professional, someone with a master’s degree in nutrition, and a soon to be registered dietitian, if someone came to me stating that they had persistent cravings for certain foods (not junk foods, but foods with actual nutrients), I would examine their diet, and then make recommendations.  I would also check their blood work (if available), and ask them if they had any symptoms of a nutrient deficiency (fatigue, slow healing, light-headedness, hair loss, brittle nails, etc.).  I would never force my own personal beliefs on someone, as most people aren’t vegan, and a sure-fire way to make people defensive is to press your beliefs on someone.  I would probably recommend that this hypothetical client/patient include more protein in their diet (I would first recommend plant-based protein but if they wanted an animal-based protein, I can’t pressure them to be vegan/vegetarian).

I’m not one of my clients/patients, but I have been taking my own advice and eating more protein; however, the idea to just eat what I crave (animal based protein) is met with feelings of guilt and confusion.  It seems like this conundrum might just be a part of my life that I’ll have to deal with as both an empathetic person,  as someone who is well-versed in nutrition, and as someone who believes in honoring body, mind, and soul.

Because the craving for salmon is so specific, and because I know so much about nutrition, I’m thinking that maybe my vitamin with omega 3’s isn’t enough.  I’ve started including more whole food-based sources of omega 3’s that aren’t from a supplement.  One delicious source of omega 3 fatty acids are walnuts.  I was never a huge fan of walnuts, but I do love nut-butters, so I decided to see if I could make a walnut butter, and I was impressed about how it came out.  Below is the recipe for my walnut butter creation.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 cup raw walnuts (I used 365 Whole Foods Market brand)
  • 1 tbsp. organic virgin coconut oil (I used Trader Joe’s brand)
  • 2-4 tbsp. chai tea (I used pre-made tea from Oregon Spice brand)
  • 1/8 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp. Vermont maple syrup

Directions:

Measure ingredients and mix until blended smooth in a food processor.  Enjoy, or store in the fridge.  To soften, microwave for 45 seconds.

This nut butter makes a delicious addition to oatmeal and tastes amazing on toast.  I had it mixed with dairy free cashew yogurt + jam and topped it on my favorite sprouted grain toast.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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Have you ever experienced persistent cravings for a particular food/group of food?  How did you deal with it? Are you a vegan/vegetarian who struggles with a similar issue?  Feel free to share or comment on this post or through my instagram account @vitaminvalentine

-Jess

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A moment to breathe

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Ah…that is my sigh of relief because I’m officially on “vacation” from my internship rotations for the next two weeks.  Yesterday was the last day of my community rotation.  If you read my last post, I’ve been working with the senior population, mostly in the scope of the meals-on-wheels program and other community programs for senior citizens.  I didn’t know what to expect of my community rotation.  Before I got into the dietetic internship, I worked in community nutrition as a nutritionist for the Women, Infants, Children (WIC) program, so I did have some experience in public health but clearly the WIC program is quite different than a program for senior citizens.  Anyway, my community rotation was fantastic.  I loved working with seniors and sharing nutrition knowledge.  If you read my last post, this rotation involved some public speaking along with making healthy baked goods to share with individuals at senior community centers, which was fun!  During this rotation, I had an amazing preceptor that truly wants interns to succeed and learn from each rotation which made it an overall positive experience.

I’m looking forward to this little break from the internship.  I’m hoping that I’ll have more time to devote to yoga, painting, running, taking long walks outside (my vitamin D levels are probably so low right now, thanks to winter), and just enjoying the holiday season.  I hope you have time to reconnect with yourself, too.

-Jess

Fall-ing into place

October was such a crazy month, that I didn’t get a chance to write a blog post, so consider this post an extended update.  In addition to starting another rotation of the dietetic internship (DI), I moved into a new apartment in October.  Needless to say, I’ve been a very busy girl these past few months!

I’ll start by sharing some updates about my latest rotations.  I’ve been interning in a long term care facility for the past two months.  My experience at this facility has been divided into two parts:  institutional food service management and clinical long term care.  The food service management rotation was surprisingly fun.  It takes a lot of work and organization to oversee the management of a food service department, especially in a residential/long term care facility.  I learned about forecasting, budgeting, purchasing, and how food is stored and prepared in this facility.  I also got to know the food service staff and presented an inservice on food sanitation and teamwork, which are essential in a food service kitchen.

My second rotation at this same facility has been in the clinical area.  I’ve been working on nutrition assessments of residents in long term care (LTC) while getting to know the residents, their health conditions, and and how to address health problems using evidence-based nutrition interventions.  I’ve found the clinical aspect of this rotation to be a little more challenging than food service, mostly because assessments need to be written in a very particular way and I’m still finding my voice when it comes to making recommendations and writing evaluations.  My advice to anyone else going into a clinical rotation of the DI is to learn from each preceptor and try to see everything as a learning experience, especially if you don’t have much clinical experience prior to starting the internship.

Like I mentioned above, October was super busy due to transitioning from one rotation to the next, all while moving my life into a U-Haul and changing homes.  I absolutely love my new apartment– it’s so roomy, light, and has such a great energy about it.  Growing up, I wanted to be an architect or an interior designer, so I’m having a lot of fun trying to make the best use of space and decorating (on a budget!).

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My new room 🙂

I’m hoping the rest of November will be a little more calm now that I’m settled into my new home and in December, I’ll get a short break from the internship (which is definitely welcomed, because every intern needs a break now and then!).  I’m looking forward to sharing more updates and info when I start my next rotation 🙂

-Jess

Diary of a Dietetic Intern

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My life right now summed up in a picture- Dietetics Manuals, case studies, and healthy brain fuel!

Hello again readers!  I’m so excited to write this post/update as an RD-to-be/Dietetic Intern!  My Dietetic Internship (DI) officially started a few weeks ago with a two-week orientation that was jam-packed with projects, assignments, and learning all about what’s to come during the internship.  In case you’re reading my blog for the first time, I’m currently a Dietetic Intern and on my way to becoming a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN).  The process of getting accepted into an internship was extremely competitive (my internship has an 11.8% acceptance rate!).  Not only was the application process competitive, but it was also stress-inducing, and time-consuming because I was working on my master’s thesis and working full time as I applied, so I’m elated that I even get to call myself a Dietetic Intern.  Still confused as to what the DI entails?  The DI is a commitment of supervised practice in a variety of rotations, such as clinical/hospital settings, long-term care, community nutrition organizations, renal/dialysis centers, and specific areas of nutrition/dietetics in order to train graduates to enter the field as health professionals (Registered Dietitians/Registered Dietitian-Nutritionists).

I started my first rotation this week at a Long Term Care facility gaining experience in institutional food service management.  It’s been so interesting to learn about food service management and how much work goes into budgeting a menu, planning, overseeing a kitchen, and keeping guests happy.

While I’m not going to share too much details about the specifics about what I’ve been doing while in the internship, I will share how I’ve been managing my time/stress levels and trying to remain sane outside of the DI.  If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that I love running and yoga, so I’ve been making it a point to continue doing these things to manage stress and keep fit during this crazy process.  I’ve also been sticking to a food budget and meal planning for myself (…or trying to) because the DI is an unpaid program and a girl’s gotta eat, but also watch her wallet (and waist!).

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Trail running is my go-to stress relieving activity (and how cool are my tie-dye socks?!)

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A typical lunch on the go during this crazy time- Wasa bread sandwiches, raw veggies + hummus, and a fresh, crunchy apple

One thing that really stood out to me during orientation before the rotations actually started was some advice from the DI director– she advised us all to practice self-care in order to help us de-stress.  I really believe self-care and relaxation are so vital to health.  I also think it’s important to make time for friends, relationships, and family, especially because life is so much more than just school + professional commitments.  A few weeks ago my boyfriend and I went apple picking and it was such a a nice way to spend the day while enjoying the outdoors and getting some delicious, locally-grown fruit.  How do you stay sane during busy/stressful times?  I hope whatever  you’re working towards also brings you happiness and (some) time to relax.  I’ll be sure to keep this blog updated throughout the internship, so stop by soon for another post 🙂

 

-Jess

 

 

Balanced on a budget

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My balanced food haul on a budget using the tips below

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how to budget and plan a healthy, plant-based diet.  If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that I work as a nutritionist for the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, which helps low-income women and children get access to healthy food.  I really love educating and helping my clients make the best food choices, especially because many people think eating healthy is expensive.  Although it can be pricier if you shop at exclusively organic health food markets, healthy eating does not have to cost you your entire paycheck.  Today I’m sharing some tips on how to get the most bang for your buck when it comes to food.  Feel free to share any of your tips or advice by leaving a comment on this post or via facebook or instagram.

1.  Plan your meals

Before you do any food shopping, have a plan of what you’ll be preparing and eating for the next week or weeks to come.  This is super helpful because you don’t want to buy a ton of food but have zero recipe ideas or inspiration.  For inspiration, I like looking at vegan food prep ideas by searching the hashtags #veganmealprep, #veganmealplanning, or similar phrases.  Be realistic with how much time you want to put into preparing your meals and whether you want to prepare your meals for the week ahead of time or on an as-you-go basis.  Keep in mind that some food (especially fresh fruits and veggies) will only stay fresh for several days.

2. Stick to the basics

If you’re on a budget, now is not the time to buy several different varieties of truffle oil and exotic $30 tropical fruits.  Stick with produce that’s in season, and stock up on items that you use on a daily basis (for me, my staples are whole grains such as brown rice, whole wheat pasta, whole grain cereal).  If you feel like treating yourself, choose one specialty item that you’ll use sparingly.  For my “treat”, I like to buy a pint of chocolate coconutmilk vegan icecream, which is about $5-6/pint and treat myself to a serving once a week or less, which really does make it feel like a special occasion treat.

3.  Canned + Frozen are your friends

Fresh produce can be more expensive in the winter months, which is why canned and frozen produce can be more economical depending on the season.  You’ll typically find the prices of canned and frozen peas, broccoli, spinach, peppers, and berries are less expensive than the fresh varieties when it’s cold out.  If you’re buying canned goods, you can cut down on the sodium by rinsing your veggies before you use them.

4.  Befriend your local farmer (or become a regular at the Farmers Market)

During the warmer months, you’ll often find that locally grown, fresh produce is a lot cheaper than going to the supermarket (although it depends where you live).  Locally grown fruits and veggies have so many benefits to both you and your community.  Not only can it be the more economical choice, locally grown produce is typically higher in vitamins, minerals, and taste due to less time in transit from the farm to where it’s being sold.  If you have space and a green thumb, you might also want to try your hand at growing your own fruits and veggies (but be patient, all good things take time and skill!)

5.  All hail dry beans

I used to be intimidated by dry beans because I heard they were really labor intensive to prepare.  While it’s true that dried beans require soaking (usually overnight), the actual cooking process is pretty simple (just bring water to a boil, add soaked beans, lower the heat, and in 2 hours you’ll have a big batch of delicious plant protein!).  Dried beans tend to be cheaper per pound than the canned variety.  Another benefit to dried beans is that they don’t contain added salt or preservatives and you can control the amount of seasonings you add as you cook them.

6.  Shop around

Become a master at shopping on the cheap.  Compare prices at several stores.  Some stores may have inexpensive produce, but other items may be more costly, which is why it’s totally ok to do your food shopping at a few different stores (hopefully they’re close in location though).  If you don’t have a car, you may want to do your shopping in one location, so feel free to skip this tip.  In my experience, items like peanut butter, cereal, grains, and (some) produce like bagged spinach and baby carrots are less expensive at my local Trader Joe’s, but for other items, such as apples, cucumbers, dried beans, I’ve found them cheaper at my local non-specialty store.  I also like to visit local farms whenever I can and this tends to result in the least-expensive produce finds.

 

These are just come of my tips that I’ve found the most useful from my experience.  I try to practice what I preach and I know I’ll be using this advice throughout the next year as I do my (unpaid!) Dietetic Internship.  Happy shopping, eating, and occasional treat-ing to you!

-Jess

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

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