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

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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

Authenticity, Compassion, and Omega 3’s

Have you ever felt morally conflicted?  I have, and today I’m sharing why.  If you’ve been following my blog or instagram page for a while, you may have noticed that I try to follow a plant-based/vegan lifestyle.  I say “try” because I’m human and I’m not perfect.  As you’ll read below, I’ve had moments when I’m not 100% vegan.  I still wear my old leather shoes and belts, but I no longer buy these items.  I do this because I personally do not want to contribute to violence and pain in this world, but I understand people may have other beliefs when it comes to what they do.

A few months ago, I started having intense cravings for meat, poultry, and fish.  This is not a new occurrence for me.  I became a vegan at age 15, and honestly, I’ve taken a few short breaks in the 12 years since then due to health issues and intense cravings that were related to anemia and B-vitamin deficiencies (pro-tip: take your vitamins).  The most recent series of cravings motivated me to pay closer attention to my diet.  Even as someone who (almost) has their Master’s in Nutrition, I still have to remind myself what balanced eating looks like.

I tried adding more protein to each meal, but the cravings persisted.  I tried going outside more too, because I tend to get low in vitamin D during the winter, but I still craved salmon constantly.  Every time I really wanted a piece of chicken or fish, I reminded myself of the torture animals face, so instead I would buy beans, tofu, veggies, and some form of carb…followed by another carb because I wasn’t really satisfied and I found myself overeating on desserts (vegan muffins, vegan cookies, etc.).

Finally, sometime in the past two weeks, I decided to just eat a piece of chicken.  It tasted delicious, I felt satisfied, but I did not sit right with my morals.  I brushed it off, and tried to convince myself to listen to my body.  This worked, and a few days later, I ate a wrap containing meat and cheese at Whole Foods Market.  However, this time something felt so different.  In all my years of being a vegan, it was really mostly for my own health.  I felt it was easier to not overeat on a vegan diet, especially because all my “trigger foods” used to be dairy-based (ice cream, froyo, cheese, and baked goods, the latter of which you can find all sorts of vegan versions).  Over the past year or so, I’ve become more aware of how eating affects the environment and the animals I love.

This most recent fall-off-the-wagon made me realize some important things.  First of all, it’s important to eat a balanced diet.  If something feels off, it probably is.  If you’re constantly craving something, it may be a sign that you’re deficient in a nutrient.  I realized I’m really lacking in omega 3’s (an essential fatty acid found in fish, but also found in plant sources such as flax oil and chia seeds).  I’m also sensitive to some of the proteins I was eating, especially large amounts of legumes eaten in one sitting.  I realized that it’s important not to judge yourself, and to not judge others.  I felt an immense sense of guilt when I was eating chicken, and I felt equally guilty after I overate on vegan junk-food when I couldn’t seem to satisfy my hunger and cravings.  No one is perfect.  We do enough self-criticizing that I would hope I don’t face criticism from vegans and animal-rights activists.  I learned from this recent experience what is important to me and that is my health, the planet, and living in accordance with my values. Because of this, I’m making it my mission to plan out my meals more carefully, supplement my diet with a vitamin/mineral supplement, take an omega-3 supplement, and try to eliminate foods that don’t agree with me.  I don’t plan on ending my veganism, in contrast, I’m really interested and excited to develop a more nutrient-dense, plant-based way of eating using the knowledge I’ve gained from my nutrition classes.

I hope to help people who have struggled with similar issues.  I also hope to spread a message that even adding more plant-based foods and eating less meat is great and something to be proud of.  Have you gone through a similar experience when it comes to veganism or any issue related to how you eat and how you feel?  Feel free to comment, email me, or connect on facebook or instagram @vitaminvalentine.

-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 🙂

My 100th Post

This is the 100th blog post on Vitamin Valentine!  I’ve been wanting to post a recipe recently but October and November were super busy due to school and work so for my 100th post I’ll be sharing some personal updates.

These past few months have been busy because I’m taking a pretty intense research class which is preparing me for writing my master’s thesis next semester.  I’m also planning something that could lead to career advancement (but I’m keeping the details of that a secret, for now).  If you haven’t been reading my blog for long, I’m currently completing my master’s in nutrition and I work full-time as a community nutritionist working with women, infants, and children (WIC).

One of the perks of my job is that most my coworkers are interested in nutrition.  Today my coworker asked me for insight because she wants to go vegan.  I was so excited to help her because I love sharing the benefits of eating a vegan diet.  I also think this coworker is becoming a vegan for the right reasons and not just because it’s “trendy” at the moment. Veganism is becoming more and more popular, but in order to adopt a vegan diet and stay on it, the motivation must be intrinsic and there has to be a reason why you want to dedicate yourself to this cause, whether its purely for health reasons, ethical reasons, or a mix of both.  I created several easy vegan recipes  for my coworker during my lunch break and a food-shopping list which I love making (is it weird that I absolutely love food shopping?)  What is your motivation for your current way of eating?  Do you feel like you make the best choices for your health? Feel free to share your opinion through comments or connecting via Facebook or instagram 🙂

Hopefully I’ll have some more time in mid-december and january to post some delicious, vegan recipes in blog post #101!

-Jess

Pumpkin Spice Almond Treats

October is here and I am happy!  October is my favorite month because I love fall, halloween, and everything pumpkin spice flavored/scented. To celebrate the start of fall, yesterday I made raw vegan pumpkin spice almond treats. These almond treats have all the sweet flavors of fall and are full of healthy fats, fiber, and vitamin E.  I made this and ate 2 for breakfast along with pumpkin spice banana nicecream (frozen bananas, pumpkin puree, and pumpkin spice flavors) but you can eat them as is for a snack or dessert.

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Ingredients:

  • 10 pitted, medjool dates
  • 1 cup raw almonds
  • 1/2 tsp. ground vanilla bean or vanilla extract
  • 1/8 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp. cloves
  • 1/8 tsp. ginger
  • optional- you can also add 1 tbsp. pumpkin spice “butter” spread from Trader Joe’s (its vegan!) and adds a bit more sweetness

Directions:

  • Add all ingredients to a food processor, and process until the mixture is sticky and moldable
  • Mold into balls, bars, or squares and enjoy or refrigerate. These treats taste best at room temperature, so when you’re ready to enjoy them, take them out of the fridge 30 minutes-1 hour before.

P.S.- to make the pumpkin spice nicecream, see my earlier post on “the best vegan breakfast” and combine frozen bananas and canned pumpkin puree in a food processsor. Add the spice mixture above (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger) and enjoy.

-Jess

 

Rest and a Fresh Recipe

Have you ever changed your diet and felt amazing…only to go back to how you were eating and feeling before?  It can be hard to stick with eating healthy, even if we feel the benefits.  I often wonder why this is, and I’ve noticed that for me I’m a creature of habit and habits are hard to change, especially when you’ve been doing something or eating something for so long.

I mentioned in early August that I was taking a break from drinking coffee.  I quit coffee cold turkey and was coffee-free for over 35 days until I decided to indulge in an iced coffee. For the next week, I was drinking about a cup of coffee in the AM.  I also got on average about 4 hours of sleep each night that I had drank coffee in the morning.  Although caffeine shouldn’t affect my sleep so much, it does and I came to the conclusion that I’ve become extremely sensitive to caffeine and (for me) it just isn’t worth it any more.

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Of course I documented my iced coffee indulgence!

I’m happy I realized coffee was affecting me in a negative way instead of drinking even more coffee to make up for lack of sleep, which is something I used to do on a daily basis.  I’m also happy to share what I learned during this self-realization coffee experiment: don’t beat yourself up!  If you slip up on a health goal, diet, or exercise routine, etc., instead of berating yourself and feeling like poo, simply note the difference in how you physically, mentally, and emotionally feel when you’re doing something good for yourself vs. how you feel when you do something that doesn’t benefit your overall health.  Then, decide which feelings you’d rather feel.  In my case, if I kept drinking coffee, I’d probably feel energized for a few hours, but ultimately miss out on sleep and feel really tired at work, in class, and during my free time.

Being coffee-free also made me realize the importance of eating energizing foods.  I pride myself on practicing what I preach, but sometimes quick convenience foods are an easy option that I rely on.  These foods are ok in a pinch, but real, wholesome, unprocessed foods provide so much more.  I’ve decided to share a delicious meal filled with fresh veggies that I made recently.  It took me about 10 minutes to make the entire meal and it’s packed with fiber, lycopene, vitamin A, vitamin C, and deliciousness.

Zucchini Noodles with Tomato-“Cheez” Sauce

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Ingredients (serves 1-2):

  • 1 large zucchini
  • 2 vine-ripe tomatoes (or use about 1-1.5 cups of ripe cherry tomatoes)
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp. oregano
  • 1/4 tsp. basil
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of pepper
  • 5 kalamata olives
  • 1/4 cup raw cashews

Directions: * you will need a food processor and a vegetable spiralizer (or buy spiralized zucchini at a supermarket)

  • Spiralize the zucchini into spaghetti-shaped noodles and set in a bowl or plate
  • Using a food processor, blend the tomatoes, spices, cashews, and olives together for about 3-5 minutes, or until a sauce consistency appears
  • Top the noodles with the sauce and use whatever garnish appeals to you
  • Enjoy, and take care of yourself!

 

-Jess