Monday, July 8, 2013

Cha-cha-cha-chia! A new (old) superfood!

(Turns out 'chia' is not just a plastic pet covered in grass-like fur!)

I'm very close to my little cousin, Alicia - not only is she incredibly smart - as in, Harvard Law smart - and pretty - as in, Halle Berry pretty - but we have a great deal in common, including a keen focus on healthy lifestyles. While I'm the protein powder/weight-lifting/kick-my-own-ass-in-spinning brand of healthy, Alicia is the vegetarian/Pilates/outdoor-run kind of healthy – which is fun, because we can get a different perspective on health and fitness from each other. However, the whole vegetarian thing has always made me a bit skeptical - so the other evening on Skype, I asked Alicia how she manages to get enough protein in her diet. Aside from beans (which she loves, and I hate), she told me about chia seeds – which she described as a superfood and her new go-to source for protein. Wait, a superfood that I’ve never heard of? Impossible! So immediately I did some research, and happily discovered my new favorite superfood.

Alicia and I
So what are chia seeds? Chia seeds are born from a plant in the mint family that is native to the Aztecs and Mayans in Mexico and Guatemala. Among other things, the Aztecs were quite accomplished herbalists, and according to ancient folklore, it was chia seeds that provided strength and courage to warriors and athletes, who were said to have survived on the seeds alone for weeks at a time. It wasn't until Wayne Coates, a marathon-runner and professor of agricultural engineering at the University of Arizona, investigated these seeds in 1991, that the rest of the modern world started becoming aware of a potential new superfood. Coates told The Huffington Post: "Chia is the highest plant source of Omega-3s. It has tons of fiber, and even a lot of antioxidants and minerals. It's 20 percent protein -- which is, compared to wheat, or even soy, incredibly high."

Raw chia seeds
So what is it that makes these little seeds a superfood?

 Chia seeds are high in protein, calcium, and iron
 As Coates said, chia seeds are also contain Omega-3 fatty acids and potassium, as well as other disease-fighting antioxidants
 Chia seeds are high in fiber - making your digestive system quite happy, and leaving you feeling full and satisfied for many hours.
 Chia seeds are gluten free! This is great for people like myself, who are allergic to gluten!

Additionally, one of my favorite properties of chia seeds are that they help the body retain fluids and electrolytes - meaning my body stays hydrated - as well as helping build muscle and tissue, making it popular for athletes and strength trainers.

So after reading all of that, you're probably thinking what I was: "What's the catch? They probably taste horrible or are packed with calories." To my (pleasant) surprise - one tablespoon of chia seeds is a mere 65 calories - plus, they don't taste like much at all, making them easy to incorporate into your daily meals.

Currently, my favorite way to ingest these little super seeds is in my morning breakfast shake. With little time for a properly cooked breakfast, I'm often blending up a quick shake before/after my morning workout. If I have the time, I'll soak one tablespoon of chia seeds in water* for 10-15 minutes - they begin to open and become gel-like, making my smoothie thicker without changing the taste at all. (*One can soak chia seeds in any kind of liquid - including any kind of milk, which will have the same effect).

I was shocked to find the incredible versatility of the chia seeds – there are many uses, including:

1) As an egg substitute:
1 tablespoon of finely ground chia seeds + 3 tablespoons of water = 1 egg in a baking recipe (not, for example, in an omelet :)).

Chia pudding
2) Make a healthy pudding for dessert!
 2 cups of coconut milk
 1/2 cup chia seeds
 2-3 tablespoons of cocoa powder (optional)
 1 teaspoon of vanilla
 1 tablespoon of sweetener (optional) - I would use honey!

Put everything in the blender and blend until smooth. Put in the refrigerator for 10 minutes and it will thicken nicely! As you've probably realized by now, the different flavor combinations are endless! 

3) Thicken salad dressings and soups
Just by adding a couple of tablespoons of chia seeds (finely ground or not), will cause any dressing or soup to thicken (just let it stand for a few minutes). This also goes for things like meatballs - which can be thickened with chia seeds instead of breadcrumbs.

4) Make grain-free crackers!
There are several variations and recipes available online - I haven't tried any of them yet, but they sound and look tasty!

5) And yes, as a Chia pet!
Chia crackers
Want to reminisce and go back to the 1980s? Instead of buying your chia pet, just get a pot, add some dirt, sprinkle in some chia seeds, and water! Cha-cha-cha-chia! :)

There are many more uses - but my favorite is still either in my morning shake or in a cup of oatmeal!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Add some color to your plate!

After another 'vacation' from blog posting, I'm back! And just in time, because it is (almost) spring - which can only mean one thing: Summer will be here before we know it! And THAT means flip flops, tank tops, short shorts, and summer dresses - so if you haven't started already, it's time to shed the winter jackets and the winter pounds!

You actually don't have to know a ton about nutrition, calorie content, good vs. bad fats, grams of protein, etc. to eat and be healthy - in some ways it is easier than you think. One good rule I like: The more color, the better!
Sure, it's delicious - but not so nutritional.

It is not a coincidence that food having superior nutritional value for us is far more colorful than those foods that are not. (Just to clarify - I'm not talking about artificial foods  here - we all know that Fanta comes in some bright fun colors, but let's be honest, it's not good for the body).

As such, if you're trying to eat healthier, it can be as simple as adding more color to your plate! For example, skip the brown potatoes and white rice, and instead go for baked beet root or yellow squash!

My favorite super foods are full of color: Seaweed, red and yellow bell peppers, olives, blackberries, sharon fruit, grapefruit, parsley, kale, and cherries!

Delicious, nutritional, and so colorful!

Lots of nutritional  value… Not so much nutritional value…(if any)
(lots of color!) (not so much color…)
  • Bell peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Spinach
  • Rice
  • Tomatoes
  • Bread
  • Carrots
  • Cabbage
  • Kiwi (peeled)
  • Pasta
  • Oranges
  • Fried foods (e.g. French fries, tempura)
  • Avocados
  • Cheese
  • Corn
  • Popcorn
  • black/blue/raspberries

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Enough with the peanut butter!

Ok, ok, i'm officially tired of people saying that peanut butter is a healthy food choice - and now i'm going to set the record straight: It's not.

Do I love peanut butter? Yes. Did I grow up (healthy) on a steady diet of peanut butter and jelly lunches? Yes. And in very rare occassions, do I allow myself to indulge and eat it straight out of the jar? I plead the fifth. Is peanut butter good for me? No.

Let's start with the basics: Peanuts are not a nut, they're a legume. That's right, they deceivingly look like nuts and seem to sneak their way into all those mixed bags of nuts - but they are indeed NOT a nut. Don't believe me? Check the Peanut Institute:
(Yes, there is a Peanut Institute - i was surprised too).

SOMETIMES. But definitely not on a
regular basis!

But the real problem is not that peanuts are a legume, but rather that they grow with a carcinogenic mold called Aflatoxin - and yes, this mold is contained even in organic peanuts. The mold continues to grow as they are shipped and sitting on grocery store shelves. Do you think your body really wants to ingest a fungus like aflatoxin? The US Food and Drug Association (FDA) has actually established "action levels" for aflatoxin present in food - so as to protect human and animal health. Any food substance that requires the FDA to monitor the mold content is not going in my body.

Sorry, but apples and peanut butter are NOT my
idea of a healthy snack - the apples spikes blood
sugar, while the body expends a great deal of energy
trying to digest the peanut butter...

But wait - there is an even bigger problem with the peanut: It contains lectins which have inflammatory and atherogenic* properties, and which are extremely difficult on your digestive track (they are immune to digestive enzymes). In fact, this is the overall problem with lectins from grains (most notably wheat) and legumes (including soy), that are shown to have significant GI toxicity for people, and are the foods that are most commonly shown to produce digestive diseases in the body. The truth is, as one of the most mucus-forming and difficult to digest foods, your body expends a great deal of energy simply trying to digest peanuts and peanut butter.
*This means it creates an accumulation and swelling of artery walls - containing lipids (cholesterol and fatty acids - yum!).

Still not convinced? Check the nutrition labels; most peanut-butters - even the "healthy" ones - have sugar, salt, and hydrogenated oils. By the way, your body cannot process hydrogenated oils, so once it goes in it...well, your guess is as good as mine. Finally, peanut butter is incredibly calorie dense - with approximately 190 calories in just 2 tablespoons. I don't know about you, but most people do not eat just 2 tablespoons.

But hope is not lost! There are a ton of other delicious peanut butter alternatives - my favorite being almond butter! Try the following:
  • Almond butter
  • Sunbutter
  • Coconut butter (when mixing it in things -likes shakes and pancakes)
  • Macademia nut butter
  • Pistachio nut butter

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Life as a Vegan - Almost there...

Food Envy: Happens when you
go Vegan for three weeks and your
loving boyfriend makes eggs, bacon,
and sausage for dinner...
And without even noticing, nearly three weeks of Vegan-eating have flown by. When I first started my Vegan diet, I assumed that by the second week I would be suffering from food envy and meat withdrawls, but that wasn't the case at all. Actually, I found that as the days go by, eating Vegan has become easier - the fewer food options I have, the less complicated it becomes to decide.

Am I tired of tofu yet? NO! I have discovered so many deliciously marinated tofu options. That said, I still struggle with beans - I just don't think they will ever be "my thing".

Lifetime challenge? Keeping the variety...

I have noticed something else about myself: No matter what my diet looks like, I seem to default (quickly) to eating the same things consistently (I get bored easily - just not with food!). In the case of being Vegan, I frequently use protein shakes to supplement my protein-intake - which is easy and convenient, especially with a busy schedule, but not optimal. If I were to make going Vegan a permanent lifestyle change, I would have to find a way to do less protein shakes, and more alternative sources of protein. (...and yes, learn to love the bean).

I miss meat...but not enough to wear it.
Now that I am half-way through Week 3, I can honestly say that I STILL feel great! I'm already an energetic person, but I have even more energy now - which is especially helpful during my early morning workouts! Also, despite dry and cold weather here in Denmark, my skin is healthy and shiny. And although weight-loss was not the goal, I did lose nearly 4 pounds in this short amount of time.

And now, (part-Vegan) Vacation...!

And tomorrow i'm off to Thailand, with three days left of my 3-Week Vegan challenge! With all the delicious veggie and tofu stir frys, I don't imagine it will be hard to stay Vegan on the first part of our trip. I even ordered a Vegan meal for the long flight there!

What will be my first meat-again meal?...I will report back.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Life as a Vegan - One week down!

Well, i've successfully completed 7 days of being Vegan - and it is going great! I have a lot of energy these days - no need for coffee! That said, there are some notable challenges:

Challenge 1: Getting enough protein

 The protein sources I am turning to during my Vegan journey don't necessarily pack as much protein as what i'm used to - such as egg whites. I have to be careful that i'm not eating too many fruits and vegetables, and missing out on the muscle-building material my body needs, especially after training each day.

All good sources of protein!

Challenge 2: Beans

Prior to this Vegan challenge, I never ate beans; they were just not a part of my regular diet. I have nothing against beans, they've just never really make it in my grocery basket. That said, i've made a conscious effort to eat more legumes (protein) - and my stomach does not like it. I already have a pretty sensitive stomach, and legumes of any kind seem to add to the problem. Even so, it could also be my body reacting to foods that it is not used to processing - so, although there are so many other vegan-friendly things i'd rather be eating, i will still try to get those beans down.

Challenge 3: Keeping those carbs in check!

With fewer food (protein) options, there can be a tendency to eat more carbohydrates. This is a common problem with Vegans - especially those who have just started going vegan - and i myself have noticed an increase in my carbohydrates intake. That said, i'm aware of it and am making sure that the carbohydrates i eat are good ones!

Don't fall into the bagel trap!

Vegan Dish of the Day: Curried Tomato Lentil Soup (Shorba Addis)


1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 small carrot, diced
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon curry powder
2 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/4 cup brown or green lentils
1 Yukon Gold potato, diced
Directions: Over medium-high heat, sauté the onion until it is brown. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the carrot, ginger, garlic, curry powder, and fenugreek, sautéing them for about 1 minute. Add the veggie broth and tomato paste, stirring until the tomato paste is thoroughly combined with the broth. Bring the soup to a simmer. Add the lentils and stir. Once the soup comes back to a simmer, cover the pot and reduce the heat to low. Cook the soup for 20 minutes. Add the potato and orzo; cook the soup, covered, for 5 more minutes.