Happy Birthday to Vitamin Valentine!

My blog is officially 2 years old this june (technically my blog’s “birthday” was June 10th). I’m proud that I’ve been able to make writing a commitment, even though I feel like I’m a lot less focused on this blog than when I first began. Part of this is actually for a really good reason. I’m a lot less fixated on food than I used to be. Throughout writing about recipes, nutrition tips and advice, I’ve learned quite a bit about what healthy eating actually is. Here are some things I’ve learned as a nutritionist and student of nutrition:

1. Healthy eating is different for everyone

When I started this blog, I was kind of obsessed with counting calories. I just couldn’t shake it. This was not healthy and made me have a really negative relationship with food. I’ve mentioned in past posts that I used to struggle with obsessive dieting, so counting calories was definitely something that I needed to get away from. Instead of taking the latest diet advice or trying to adopt a lifestyle that ignores your personal health needs, do what feels right to you. It might feel uncomfortable to trust your gut, but ultimately, it is the healthiest.

It's a wrap, with chicken in it, because I felt like it ;) !

2. Eat the rainbow

Ok, so you’ve convinced yourself that your “intuition” is telling you to eat burgers and fries? Let’s be real. Your body needs fresh food in the form of fruits and veggies. Things that grow from the earth offer an abundance of vitamins and minerals and are truly nourishing. Learning to prepare vegetables so that they taste good is fun, I promise!

3. Don’t compare your diet to anyone else’s

I used to follow a bunch of vegan people on instagram and then would feel guilty every time I ate something that was less than 100% organic, raw, sustainably-produced, blah blah blah. I realized I was spending more time feeling bad about my perfectly healthy diet than enjoying my food. I also became somewhat obsessed with posting my own food pictures! If you find yourself comparing your diet to someone else’s, try to remember that no one is perfect when it comes to eating. And remember to take anything food-related on social media with a grain of salt (no pun intended).

4. Always bring snacks

Wherever you go, there you are…and hopefully you brought a snack because you will get hungry! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been out running errands and became so hungry, I ended up overeating during my next meal. I’ve learned that keeping snacks in my bag really lets me avoid stuffing my face come lunch or dinner. Trail mix, granola bars, a bag of baby carrots, a piece of fresh fruit- these are all great snack ideas to have on hand.

5. Get moving

Exercise is essential for staying healthy, both physically and mentally. Not only do you burn calories and build strength (depending on the activity), exercise has been found to decrease stress and increase mental awareness. Moving your body will you help you in every way to improve your health…plus it makes your butt look good :). Start small and increase the amount of time you exercise. Try different activities and see which one you really like. I used to hate yoga, and now in a few weeks, I’ll officially be a registered yoga teacher. Go outside your comfort zone when it comes to trying new activities, you might just find your passion!

6. Have some kind of routine

Routines can be boring, restrictive, and repetitive-or-they can be grounding, give you a sense of purpose, and help you get things done. It’s all about perspective! When making a routine (whether its related to exercise or when you’ll prepare your meals, etc.) consider what will be most realistic and doable for you. If you’re not a morning person, don’t force yourself to wake up at 5 AM to go for a run everyday, because that’s not exercise, that’s torture. Likewise, if you work 60 hours a week and don’t have a spare minute to prepare your food, don’t waste your free time cooking elaborate meals. Instead, aim to have simple staples and healthy options at the places you dine at.

7. Be a perpetual student

I started this blog the same month I decided to go back to school to pursue a second bachelor’s and a master’s both in nutrition. I’ve probably learned just as much about food outside of the classroom than in it. I’ve learned a lot about how to treat illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, cancer, etc. and I love my professors, but when it comes to learning about the best way to eat, that’s in your hands. Be curious about your food and figuring out what works for you. You know yourself better than any person- nutritionist, doctor, etc. and it can never hurt to learn about food from a variety of sources and then integrate what makes the most sense for you, personally.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the past two years of my blog! If you’re a student of nutrition, feel free to share this post!

-Jess

My (new) Favorite Vegan Restaurant + Some Updates

I feel like I start every post lately explaining how busy I am, but it’s true! School is definitely hard this semester. This post is going to be a personal one, because I haven’t been cooking anything too creative lately (ok, that’s a lie, I’ve been making some delicious kale salads but I keep forgetting to take pictures of my creations and a food post without a picture is just sad.)

If you read my last post, you learned that I “ended” my vegan diet because I craved fish and chicken, etc. Well, I’m back to my old vegan ways because I kept getting grossed out about making meat and found I was completely dependent on prepared foods (like already cooked meat at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, which ends up being really expensive). To me, being grossed out by cooking a particular food item is a sign that its just not going to work out. Now that I tried experimenting with a “flexitarian” diet, I feel I can return to my vegan ways and avoid some of the cravings that were sneaking up on me by paying closer attention to micronutrients to avoid certain deficiencies.

Although I’ve been busy, I did get a chance to take a mini-vacay in upstate NY where I ate at Garden Cafe on the Green, a cute vegan restaurant in Woodstock. I ate there twice. The first occasion I had a chickpea wrap with oven-roasted potato “fries) and the second time I had a blackbean-sweet potato burger. Both meals were delicious and I highly recommend the place if you happen to be in the Woodstock, NY-area.

a picture of the chickpea wrap at Garden Cafe.

a picture of the chickpea wrap at Garden Cafe.

 

In addition to eating, I also got to spend much time outdoors during my upstate getaway. I love exploring nature! This blogs tagline is “food for the mind, body, and soul” and I believe being in nature is one source of “food” for the all of the above! Fun fact: I actually used to be the education director of a nature preserve before I decided to go back to school for nutrition!

Had to stop and take a photo of this beauty!

Had to stop and take a photo of this beauty!

a birds nest I saw while hiking

a birds nest I saw while hiking

On a nutrition note, spending time outside, especially when it’s sunny, is a good way to boost your vitamin D intake, which often decreases during the winter months.

A short vacation wouldn’t be complete without going to a few souvenir shops, and that I did. Woodstock is a fun little town with a ton of cool stores that show it’s grooooovy history 🙂

a sculpture made of various knick-knacks

a sculpture made of various knick-knacks

Inside a thrift store.

Inside a thrift store.

I hopefully will have more time to post some of my recipes. After April I have finals for the spring semester…followed by two summer classes but making time for food (and creating healthy recipes) will always be something I love to share!

-Jess

Raw Vegan Blueberry Almond Balls

The combination of almonds plus dried fruit is one that I always gravitate towards. As I wrote in a previous post, I love larabars, which are my go-to energy bar for when I don’t have time to sit down for a meal or snack. I decided to make my own version of a larabar, in “ball” form (instead of a bar). After experimenting with a few different combinations of dried fruit to nut ratios, and looking at a few recipes online (specifically, I mainly adapted Angela Liddon’s dark chocolate cherry bite recipe found here), I made the final product which I really enjoyed! Here it is:

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Ingredients:

  • 8 medjool dates, pits removed
  • 1 cup raw almonds
  • 1/2 cup dried blueberries (found at Trader Joe’s)
  • 2-3 large prunes, pits removed
  • a dash of salt

 

Directions:

  • Process almonds and dates in a food processor, until fine chunks appear
  • add the dried blueberries, salt, and prunes
  • remove from the food processor and with your hands, mold into ball-shapes. Enjoy, or save for later by covering and storing in the refrigerator.

 

-Jess

Wrap it up: Tofu Salad!

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Tofu is probably one of the most versatile plant proteins to cook with. One of my favorite ways to eat tofu is in an egg-salad-like dish (sans eggs). This dish can be eaten in a wrap, a sandwich, on crackers, or on its own. Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients (serves four or more)

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  • 1/2 a package of firm tofu, drained
  • 1 carrot, peeled and cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 cup onion, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 1 tsp. dill
  • dash of black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. turmeric (optional, used for color)
  • 1 tsp. mustard
  • 3 tbsp. vegan mayonaise
  • 1 tsp. soy sauce or tamari
  • 1 tbsp. tahini sauce (optional)

Directions

Drain the tofu and press out remaining water using paper towels. Chop the tofu into small pieces.photo 2-8

Chop the onions, carrot, and celery.photo 5

Combine the ingredients in a bowl, and add mustard, vegan mayo, soy sauce, and tahini. Add spices (pepper, turmeric, dill). Mix together and add to your favorite slice of bread, salad, or wrap.

I added salsa and spinach leaves to my finished product. Yum!

I added salsa and spinach leaves to my finished product. Yum!

Enjoy!

-Jess

Are Superfoods Superior?

If you read health articles, chances are you’ve come across the term “superfood”, but are these foods superior to others? Lets start with the basics. A “superfood” can be defined as any food that is nutritionally rich in a particular vitamin, mineral, or other substance that is beneficial to one’s health.  In recent years, the rise of health gurus advocating for the consumption of “superfoods” has increased and it can be difficult to distinguish whether someone is actually knowledgeable about nutrition, or if they are trying to sell you something that you might not need.

Can a cookie really be "super" in the health sense? I'm not sure, so I'll just assume they mean super-delicious!

Can a cookie really be “super” in the health sense? I’m not sure, so I’ll just assume they mean super-delicious!

The marketing of specially-formulated powders and supplements, even when they only contain “natural” ingredients, is something I’ve noticed recently, and it’s alarming, because something can be natural, and organic, but not necessarily healthy or essential for the body. Another thing I’ve noticed is just how many packaged items appear to be “superfoods”, when in reality, the most superior of foods are the ones you can find in a farm stand.  Fresh, seasonal produce is the definition of a “superfood” to me, especially if it is grown in nutrient-rich soil and doesn’t need to be imported or shipped from many miles away. The longer a food item is in transit, the more nutrients it loses. Comparing locally-grown blueberries to Amazonian-harvested açaí berries (a so-called “superfood”), it’s actually better to eat the local blueberries because not only will you get vitamins and antioxidants, you’ll be supporting local agriculture, instead of consuming an overpriced, nutritionally-similar açaí berry which must travel a great distance to get to your health food store. Of course, if you have the means to buy more expensive and exotic ingredients, be my guest, but if you’re looking for a nutritious, native source of antioxidants on the cheap, your local farmers market has a plethora of options.

In my opinion, there are no perfect foods. We need a balanced diet, and perfection isn't the goal.

In my opinion, there are no perfect foods.

So, besides supplements and açaí berries, what are some other so-called “superfoods”? Alternative-health experts will tell you to buy goji berries, maca, cacoa, among others, and while these foods definitely have benefits, you shouldn’t feel any less healthy by not buying into the hype. One does not need to have a diet full of “superfoods” to be super-healthy! Fresh berries, greens and other fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, dairy (if you tolerate it), and healthy fats are the things to focus on. My take is that a balanced diet based on whole foods is far superior than one based on supplements or packaged foods claiming to be “super”.

My idea of a meal full of "superfoods" is one rich in brightly colored, locally-grown vegetables.

My idea of a meal full of “superfoods” is one rich in brightly colored, locally-grown vegetables.

-Jess

Tips For Staying Healthy This Cold and Flu Season

As the holidays approach, we’re also entering peak sickness season.  I’ve spoken to several people who have fallen ill due to the flu, stomach viruses, and severe colds. Nutrition plays a big part of whether or not you get sick and the severity of symptoms. A poor diet has an influence on your immune system and if your diet is lacking in several vitamins and minerals, you might be more susceptible to illness.  Here are some ways you can prevent getting sick this winter:

  • Wash your hands, and do it frequently. I know this is a no-brainer, but it is really important for your hands to stay clean especially when illnesses are going around. If soap makes your hands feel dry and irritated, try keeping a small tube of moisturizer with you.  It’s also imperative to keep your hands, cookware, and utensils clean when you’re serving guests to prevent the spread of germs and disease during food preparation.
  • Increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables. Fruits and veggies are great sources of Vitamin C. Although the research is mixed some studies claim that increased amounts of vitamin C can help prevent colds. Even if the research is lacking, eating more fruits and veggies can’t hurt.
    It's always best to get your vitamin C from fresh produce, but if you don't have access to fruits and veggies, you can try adding vitamin C through supplements (always read the label of supplements, because excess vitamin C can cause digestive issues).

    It’s always best to get your vitamin C from fresh produce, but if you don’t have access to fruits and veggies, you can try adding vitamin C through supplements (always read the label of supplements, because excess vitamin C can cause digestive issues).

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    one serving of kiwi and strawberries provides about 100% of the RDA for vitamin C

  • Make sure you’re getting enough zinc, especially if you’re suffering from a cold. Again, the research is not concrete at this point, but some studies show that sufficient zinc amounts can help shorten the duration of a cold. Animal foods (such as oysters and other seafood, lamb, and beef) are typically listed as the best sources of zinc, but if you’re a vegan/vegetarian, you’re in the luck because zinc can also be found in sunflower seeds and legumes. Zinc is often found in homeopathic cold remedies such as “Cold Eeze” and others, but the best way to get your vitamins and minerals is always through a nutritious diet.
  • Stay hydrated. Make sure that you’re drinking enough water throughout the day. The standard is 8 cups (64 ounces) but water needs depend on your sex and body size. It’s especially important to stay hydrated if you do get sick and have stomach virus symptoms.
  • Rest. Although it might be tempting to go to every holiday party you’re invited to, if you’re sick, the best thing to do is stay home and rest. You’ll feel better quicker and you won’t run the risk of getting others sick.

Stay Well!

-Jess

Trader Joe’s: A Friend to a Foodie

One of my favorite places to shop for food is Trader Joe’s. Unlike other health food/specialty stores, Trader Joe’s is affordable and not overwhelming. The limited size of all Trader Joe’s stores makes it easy to navigate and find what you’re looking for. Often, I’ll go food shopping without a list (I like to live dangerously like that) and as soon as I enter a TJ’s I know I can find things I need…and many things I don’t necessary need (ahem, imposter nutella spread).

Here are the goods from today’s shopping trip

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Those muffins (see bottom right corner) are divine and are probably the healthiest store-made muffins I’ve ever come across. Each packs a good helping of berries (which make them easily perishable so store these in the fridge) and an ample serving of oats & other whole grains. I nibbled away on one after unpacking.

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I had so much to work with when considering what I should make for dinner, I opted to get creative and improvise a new recipe. Like most of the recipes I’ll be posting, it’s simple, doesn’t take a long time to prepare, and is satisfying and nutritious.

Polenta with Veggies & Quinoa

Serves 1 to 2 people

Ingredients needed:

  • 2 oz. Polenta (can be purchased in most conventional supermarkets in dry or refrigerated form. Polenta is a finely ground cornmeal that is super versatile)
  • 1-2 cups cremini mushrooms
  • 2 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup dry quinoa or brown rice (quinoa is a grain that is high in fiber, protein, and other essential nutrients, but I like a variety of grains so I used both quinoa and brown rice tonight)
  • 1 cup water
  • sauce of your liking. I used Classico tomato sauce, because I will  put tomato sauce on basically anything (yes, I am Italian).
  • cooking spray
  1. Chop onions into a size that you find suitable. I like my onions sliced somewhat fine. The smaller the slices the more the flavor will disperse and pick up notes of the other ingredients. Chop the mushrooms into small slices as well.
  2. If you’re using refrigerated/pre-made polenta, slice a 2 oz. portion into cubes. If you’re using a dry form, follow the steps directed on the package or recipe. If you’re using a mix, the consistency (firm, like a pudding, or something in between) is up to you, but stick with a 2 oz. serving.
  3. Measure a 1/2 cup dry portion of quinoa (NOTE: If you’re using brown rice, prepare ahead of time, as it can take an hour for brown rice to thoroughly cook). Spray a pan with cooking spray and allow the quinoa to get warmed up for just a minute or two. Then add 1 cup of water (quinoa requires 1 cup of water to every 1/2 cup of grain used). Stir the quinoa around for a minute.
  4. As the quinoa cooks, coat another pan with cooking spray and allow the mushrooms and onions to lightly brown. Add in the polenta cubes and baby spinach for the final 2 minutes of cooking. Try to also keep an eye on the quinoa. If the quinoa appears to have absorbed all the water and is sticking to the pan, add more water by the tablespoon.
  5. After 10 minutes, the quinoa should be done. The outer layer of quinoa can be described as O-shaped and sometimes separates from the rest of the grain. This is fine, both parts are edible and equally enjoyable. If excess water remains, you can drain it using a colander.
  6. Determine what sauce/seasonings you want to accent your dish. I went with tomato sauce, but since this dish is so simple, any sauce/dressing would be appropriate.
  7. Make quinoa the base of your plate, add veggie/polenta mix, and top with sauce, cheese, etc. and ENJOY!

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