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Blogger Love: Health & Nutrition

While the blogroll on the right hand side of this page gives you a list of some of the websites and blogs I like to visit, I want to take a minute to give you a little background on how I discovered my favorites, what they’ve taught me and why I keep coming back for more.

Without further ado, and in no specific order, I bring you…

Gena @ Choosing Raw – This was the first blog that I stumbled upon while making the transition to veganism and it has been a Must Read for me ever since. Gena is bright, straightforward and exceptionally knowledgable about veganism, health and cooking, and her recipes are creative and inspirational. One of the major things that I’ve learned from Gena is to be proud of my healthy food choices and to be strong and confident, not embarrassed, when I end up in the spotlight over my diet (which frequently happens). And more importantly, without her I never would have discovered kale salads, collard wraps or all of the amazing uses for raw cauliflower!

Kailey @ SnackFace – Kailey’s writing is vivacious, cheeky and fun, you can really tell that she’s having a great time and her blog is a joy to read! I had been toying with the idea of starting a blog when I stumbled on SnackFace. While many of my favorite sites cover the blogger’s daily life and all that it entails, SnackFace is one of the first that I discovered that focused on multiple, seemingly unrelated, topics. While she is sharing her daily adventures in Cincinnati, her adoration for both food and fashion come through loud and clear. It was reading her blog (and some gentle urging from a coworker) that really motivated me to start MCLV. I figured that if I could do it half as well as Kailey, I’d be all set.

 

Elise @ Hungry, Hungry Hippie – Elise is a nurse and in every post she comes across as well-informed and passionate about health and nutrition. She knows what she’s talking about and really cares about getting the message out there. She shares great recipes, yummy restaurant suggestions and jealousy-inducing photos of Santa Monica. But what really keeps me coming back for more is her organization. Yes, I’m serious and yes, I know that I’m a nerd. Elise works long shifts (12 hour night shifts, can you imagine?) at the hospital while simultaneously keeping up an exercise regime, eating healthy, spending time with her adorable husband and making time for friends and family. Whether she intends it to or not, her blog is virtually a tutorial on how to get $&#t done! 🙂 It is nothing short of educational to see how a busy, healthy, successful woman plans her life.

Jenna @ Eat, Live, Run – The first thing you’ll note if you head over to Jenna’s site is that she is not a vegan. At all. This Cordon Bleu trained Southern girl lives for butter, eggs, ribs and chocolate. She loves food, LOVES it, and it is ridiculously contagious. Her giddy excitement for cooking, breathtaking photographs and hysterical anecdotes (read the one about the BBQ sauce, please) will make you laugh. And then run straight for your kitchen. Whenever I read her site I’m galvanized to try something new, to go home and cook no matter how enticing delivery sounds, and first and foremost, to enjoy every single bite!

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Gina @ The Fitnessista – While I love Gina’s recipes (you HAVE to try her Southwestern-stuffed Sweet Potatoes) and her adorable and optimistic spin on life, I have to admit that I am a total sucker for her fitness posts. This girl can dance, yoga, spin, aerobicize and pump iron with the best of them! Not only does she teach professionally, she has put together workouts, posted videos and even created boot camps for her eager and oh-so-lucky readers. She’s a brilliant and enthusiastic teacher and always has a fun and interesting spin to keep you engaged. Summer shape up, woo woo!

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Evan @ The Wannabe Chef – I discovered Evan’s site when he did a guest post for Choosing Raw, but what made me fall in love with his site was his passion for all things delicious, his humor and the fact that he’s a Classics major (hey, we classicists gotta stick together! 🙂 ) Evan’s writing is funny and relevant, and his almost daily recipes are creative, delicious and wholesome. AND he’s doing it all as a student! He loves good food and indulging his cravings, and some of the things he comes up with are downright sinful (chocolate peanut butter mousse anyone?).

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Angela @ Oh She Glows – If Angela wasn’t a baker (check out her Glo Bakery website) and food blogger, I would have to suggest that she become a photographer. This girl’s photos will make you drool with envy almost as much as her recipes will. And speaking of recipes… Wow. Her Vegan Mac n’ Cheese was one of my first forays into “scary” vegan cooking and I’ve been slowly but surely making my way through her recipe page since then. Her website is stunning and well-organized, always a pleasure to read.

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I hope that if you have time you’ll check out these sites, I really can’t recommend them highly enough!

What’s your favorite food blog?

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Weekend Grocery Shopping

When you work long hours and try to simultaneously maintain a consistent workout regime, eat healthy and get enough sleep, doing your grocery shopping on weekends can be a serious life saver. Many people plan their meals for the week and write their grocery lists accordingly, which is an especially great strategy if you’re cooking for a family, interested in making sure no food goes to waste and/or sticking to a budget.

I tend to be a bit more lackadaisical when it comes to grocery shopping for a couple of reasons: (1) I’m only cooking for myself so I have more flexibility with my meals, which means that if I want to eat nothing but sugar snap peas and jalapeno hummus for “dinner” no one can say anything! 🙂 (2) I try to eat seasonally as much as I can so I like to see what’s available in stores/at the Farmer’s Market before deciding what to eat. (3) I get a CSA basket every other week so I have to factor in its arrival when I consider what I’ll need for a given week. (4) Finally, I only spend every other weekend in San Francisco since I spend the other half in Sacramento with my boyfriend, and obviously if I’m coming back on the train at 7pm on a Sunday there’s no hope of grocery shopping.

In all of the situations above its great to have some basic staples and emergency items in your pantry. Just in case.

I like dipping.

A lot.

Hummus is a non-negotiable staple in my life and I usually have a couple store-bought varieties on hand at any given time. I also like to get sprouted garbanzo beans at the Farmer’s Market to make my own hummus, though I that I must warn you, sprouted hummus has a very distinct flavor. I’ll also dip virtually anything (including a spoon and/or my finger) into nut butter, so I usually keep a jar or two of sunflower seed butter in my pantry (and under my desk) as well as cashew butter.

Dipping time! Lydia's kale chips & juice pulp crackers/flatbread from TwinCakes

I like crudities and/or apples for dipping in hummus and nut butters, as well as kale chips (Lydia’s Organics can be hard to find but all of her products are worth the effort) and juice pulp crackers. I mentioned TwinCakes in this post, they are a vegan/gluten-free/mostly raw East Coast bakery that you can order from online. I adore their crackers, flatbread and snack bites, all of which are parfait pour dipping!
 
Another staple that I keep in the pantry are various gluten-free goodies, pastas & grains for quick meals, breakfasts and snacks.
 

Gluten-free goodness: Brown rice pasta from TJs, Quinoa pasta from Real Foods, Mary's Gone Crackers chia seed Sticks & Twigs and Glutenfreeda Oatmeal

The gluten-free snacks that I keep around vary depending on what I find in stores and what I’m in the mood for. My last trip to the Farmer’s Market yielded a ton of new products so I had to move my stash to the freezer for safe keeping, so in addition to the above I have sprouted garden burgers, chickpea flour naan, spicy Moong Dal and GF falafel in the freezer.
 
Yum.
 

Healthy raw or dried snacks and canned goods that can easily be added to/used as the base of a meal are also good to keep around. 

 
I always have tons of nuts, chia seeds, dried fruit, lentils, beans, seeds, quinoa, couscous and canned beans & tomatoes on hand. These might not seem like much but adding kidney beans to a salad can be the perfect topping, dried pineapple rings (no additives) the most amazing dessert when sprinkled with cinnamon or quinoa the ideal base to your grilled vegetable dish.
 

Two other quick meal basics that are absolutely necessary in my kitchen are nooch and Braggs, which can both be used for a variety of dishes.

 

I couldn't live without Bragg's Liquid Amino Acids (less sodium than soy sauce & ideal for a quick stir fry) and nutritional yeast from the bins at Real Foods

Nutritional Yeast (aka Nooch) is deactivated yeast, available as a powder or in flakes, either pre-packaged (looks like parmesan cheese cans) or in the bulk bins at a health food store. Nooch contains protein & vitamins and is a complete protein, in addition to being free of sugar and allergens like dairy and gluten. Vegans, vegetarians and raw food enthusiasts often use nooch in place of processed cheese substitutes like soy cheese and Daiya to achieve “cheesiness” in their recipes. If you checked out the Oh She Glows Mac n’ Cheese recipe that I talked about here, you’ll see that nooch is a major ingredient.
 
Bar love. 🙂 While I’m not a ‘replace my meals with bars’ kinda girl, I do always keep bars of some sort in my purse, desk and pantry.
 

I go through phases with my bars, and while I will always LOVE Larabars, I'm deep in Raw Revolution devotion right now

I’ve also made two batches of these super easy raw cacao snack bars from Choosing Raw in the past few weeks. You can easily add/subtract flavors based on what you have on hand (cacao & coconut turned out SUBLIME) and these are delish after being frozen.
 
In addition to the dry (i.e. pantry) items that I like to keep on hand, there are also a few perishable staples that I consistently keep at home. Hummus (as lovingly mentioned above), spinach, firm pressed tofu, onions, ginger, garlic, large dates (always key for raw dessert recipes), sprouted garbanzo beans, sweet potatoes, dipping veggies like celery, carrots, cucumber, cabbage & peppers, Daiya (Pepperjack is AMAZING) and berries to throw in the freezer for smoothies.
 
After the weekend shopping I cut up my fresh veggies and store in two ziplock bags, one to take to work (with a tub of hummus)  and one to keep at home for snacking. I also cube 1/2 my sweet potatoes and any squash I may have picked up, to make them easier to prepare mid-week (I love baked sweet potatoes as a side so usually keep one or two whole). I also make big batches of black beans (try this recipe for Cuban black beans) and lentils to be added to wraps, stir-fries, salads and eaten as sides during the week (small containers of each go to the office with me as well).
 
Other than this minimal prep I tend to just eat what sounds good on any given night, since I have all the necessary ingredients on hand!
 
I hope that you’ve enjoyed this peek into my cupboards and I’ll be back at a later time with a look at the goodies I keep stored my office for mid-day snacking.
 
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Nutrition vs Disease

Today I would like to discuss an important topic, the relationship between what we choose to eat and how those choices affect our overall health. There are many different diets and lifestyles out there and an equally large number of reasons behind those lifestyle decisions, our dietary choices can be made based on health, financial limitations, available time, ease, convenience…

I truly believe that each person has a different ideal diet, based on their preferences, needs, allergies and overall health. I believe that if you listen to your body – how it feels after certain foods are consumed, what your energy levels are like, how well you sleep – you can determine what works best for you. Some people will need to consume or limit consumption of various foods due to allergies and/or health concerns and I recommend discussing this with a doctor or dietitian prior to making any changes to your diet.

That being said, I think that nutrition is the single greatest factor impacting personal health today. According to the CDC the increasing cases of diabetes indicate that 1 in 3 Americans will be diagnosed at some point during their lifetime (CDC). To me that is an even more terrifying statistic because Type II diabetes is preventable. Yes, you can be predisposed, but leading a healthier and more active life can reduce the likelihood of contracting the disease regardless of genetic predisposition.

People are beginning to become aware of this important correlation and as a result there is increased scrutiny on how healthcare professionals treat illnesses and the level of nutritional education being recommended/received in these related fields. The following article was sent to me by a doctor that I work with and I thought it provided an excellent outline of the important role of nutrition in good health (What physicians don’t know about nutrition – but have every reason to learn).

A quick look at the leading causes of illness and death makes it clear that knowledge of nutrition is critical to the modern practice of medicine. Cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, innumerable cancers —all are linked at least in part to poor diet. What’s more, the success of many of the treatments and interventions used to address these illnesses hinges on improving diet and nutrition.

Yes, it is easier to take a pill to alleviate a symptom than it is to change your lifestyle, eating habits and possibly your entire outlook in order to cure the underlying problem that is causing those symptoms. The question is, is it better for you in the long run?

This question is the basis for how I approach my personal health. Sure, you can pop some aspirin for a headache, but why do you have a headache to begin with? Are you dehydrated? Are you hungry? In our modern world built on convenience and instant gratification, it’s habit to reach for the most accessible and effortless cure for what ails us, not necessarily what’s best for us.

I loved Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic when I was growing up and there was a line in it that resonated with me each time that I read the book:

Sometimes they ate nothing but Snickers and Milky Ways for nearly the whole week, until their stomachs began to ache and they finally called for a salad or a glass of milk.

As children we’re more in-tune with our bodies, we don’t binge or stress eat. Yes, we’ll try to get away with eating nothing but Halloween candy if our parents will let us, but eventually we give into our body’s true needs. Have you ever tried to feed a baby when it has gotten full? They will stubbornly refuse to take another bite, no matter how hard you try. Somewhere along the line we stop listening to our bodies and we lose that connection with our body’s basic demands. What goes into our body stops being what we need, what our bodies want, and starts being based on emotion or preoccupation or comfort.

One of the most significant lessons that I’ve learned in the last few years is the art of listening to my body, and I can’t begin to convey how much that has altered my approach to eating and to food in general.

In your search for the lifestyle that gives you the most energy and makes your body run at its best, I suggest doing research on your own while you try various alterations to your eating habits. In 2009 I was diagnosed with gluten intolerance and had to learn to feed myself all over again. I had never been much of a cook, relying heavily on prepared and processed foods, and it was a bit of a shock to suddenly be faced with the task of not only teaching myself to cook, but educating myself on what I could and couldn’t, should and shouldn’t, eat. I did online research, watched documentaries and bought an embarrassing number of books on the subjects of health and cooking.

Here are some of the books that I found interesting and/or helpful (even if I did not ultimately agree with their point or conclusion), in no particular order: Clean by Alejandro Junger, Live To Eat by Joel Fuhrman, The China Study by T. Colin Campbell & Thomas M. Campbell, Thrive & Thrive Fitness by Brendan Brazier, The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone, Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman & Kim Barnouin, Vegan Soul Kitchen by Bryant Terry, The Vegan Monologues by Ben Shaberman,  Vegan Freak by Bob Torres & Jenna Torres, The Vegan Girl’s Guide to Life by Melisser Elliott, Eating in the Raw by Carol Alt, Raw Inspiration by Lisa Montgomery, Raw Food Kitchen by Ani Phyo and a countless number of additional cookbooks.

By taking my nutritional education into hand I opened up an entire new world for myself. I had never heard of green smoothies, chia seeds, sweet potato fries, socca, polenta pizzas or quinoa before, all of which are now staples that I can’t imagine life without. During my late teens and early twenties I led a low-energy life that required immense quantities of caffeine and had suffered from sinus infections, migraines, eczema and annual bouts of pneumonia and bronchitis. Over the years I’ve tried incorporating and giving up various foods, studied the results and while I am still a work in progress, I am the healthiest and most energetic that I’ve ever been.

So I challenge you, next time you reach for the easiest, simplest cure for what ails you, take a minute to think about what might be going on in your body to cause your symptoms. Next time you reach for something packaged and highly processed, take a minute to think about what you body really wants, really needs. Next time you pour that third cup of coffee just to keep your eyes open, take a minute to think about what you’re eating that’s leaving you restless at night or your body sluggish in the mornings. Think about the connection between what you eat and how it makes you feel, and how better nutrition can improve your life.

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Blogger Confessions {III}

  • The most important people in my life are all outside of my home city of San Francisco – They’re in Albuquerque, Palo Alto, San Diego, New York, Southern California, Alaska…

  • It took me a very stubborn year of running {and I’m using the word “running” loosely} before I started enjoying it. Then I signed up for a race and now I can’t remember why I ever liked it…
  • I LOVE DANCING MOVIES. It doesn’t matter what age the intended audience is, it doesn’t matter how cheesy it is, and it certainly doesn’t matter what number in the series it is. Center Stage. Own I & II. Step Up. Own all three. Save the Last Dance. Stick it. Burlesque. Bring it On. Fame. Take the Lead. Honey. I clearly have a problem… Or do I?
  • I’ve studied French, Italian, Spanish, Greek, and Latin over the years but most days I still have trouble with English…
  • My favorite color is green though I went through a phase where I wore nothing but black for YEARS!

Related Reading: Blogger Confessions & Blogger Confessions II

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Gluten: The Good, The Bad & The Itchy

If you’re interested in the food world you’ve probably heard at least something about gluten-free eating. My introduction to this topic was brought about somewhat abruptly by a diagnosis of gluten-intolerance in February of 2009. My post-collegiate diet primarily consisted of processed and pre-made food and suddenly I was being told that I couldn’t eat those foods anymore.

At all.

Gluten is a protein composite that can be found in wheat and cereals, in addition to being an additive in a huge variety of other foods where it is commonly used as a thickening agent (ketchup, beer, salad dressings, soy sauce…). Gluten intolerance is a condition where the body cannot digest gluten. The recent increase in diagnoses of gluten-intolerance is thought to be the result of over consumption, essentially the American diet is so heavily saturated with gluten in this day in age that our bodies are starting to reject it.

A great summary on this subject can be found on The Fitnessista – Reader’s Request: Gluten Freedom.

There are varying levels of intolerance to gluten and the symptoms can range from an upset stomach to malnutrition. The most severe form is Celiac Disease, where the body’s inability to process gluten causes the villi of the intestines to atrophy and sufferers cannot consume any gluten. The form of gluten-intolerance that I have is called DH or Duhring’s Disease and I get mild to severe eczema following the consumption of gluten.

After I was diagnosed and thrown into the gluten-free world with a long – And I mean LONG – List of foods I couldn’t consume I was stunned to find not only a community dedicated to this lifestyle, but also a small group of people voluntarily eating this way.

Why would someone give up bread and pasta if they didn’t have to?

I must have asked myself that question a dozen times my first week without gluten. I was hungry. I was cranky. I was devastated that this was going to be my life from now on. I even, gasp, had to learn to cook. And then a funny thing happened. I started to… I started to feel better. My eczema went away. My frequent nausea and random stomach pains went away. My headaches went away.

I was officially a convert!

I researched mercilessly online, I bought cook books, I purchased my first set of knives, I started to learn my way around the kitchen, and I also discovered the wonderful wide world of food blogging. This was a hugely developmental stage of my life. I went from eating like a college student (i.e. forgetting everything my mother ever taught me about nutrition) to learning to cook, cutting out gluten, transitioning (slooooowly) to veganism, experimenting with raw foods, and most importantly, rediscovering the art of listening to my body.

Before I continue to sing the praises of a life without gluten and give you a peek into my cupboards, let me remind you that prior to making any major changes in your diet you should speak with a professional. There are right and wrong ways to go about any changes in your diet and speaking with a nutritionist, doctor, dietician, RN, or naturopath can help put you on the right path so that you stay healthy through your transition. I am a firm believer that there are very few blanket nutritional rules out there, every single body is different and needs different things to perform optimally. I’m just sharing my experiences and my insights, and they will not be applicable to everyone.

Now for the good stuff.

Yes, if you go gluten-free, the breadbasket at restaurants will taunt you for the rest of your life, Italian restaurants will become a dim memory, and you will have to explain your needs to every waiter or waitress you encounter. That being said, discovering that there’s more to life than white flour will give you a greater appreciation for food than you can imagine. Prior to my diagnosis I’d never tried the nutty deliciousness that is quinoa, I’d never considered the possibility of brown rice, seaweed or spinach pasta, and I’d never even heard of amaranth, millet, or tempeh. Not only am I healthier now, I am better educated and more knowledgeable. Can’t argue with that combination!

So what do I eat when I have good old-fashioned cravings?

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  • Pizza – I am a pizza girl through and through, and have spent many a night dreaming about cheesy, delicious pies and waxing nostalgic about my favorite pizza place (Za’s, if you’re curious). Luckily I have managed to find ways to circumvent this craving over the last two years. First, I love me some mini pizzas as a snack, which I discuss here. Second, I discovered Amy’s Non-Dairy Rice Crust Cheeze Pizzas. Score! And finally, I learned to make amazing socca flatbread pizzas. I started experimenting with socca after reading the Socca Tribute by the twins over at Pure 2 Raw and have been a devotee of the garbanzo bean flour delicacies ever since (Gluten-Free Vegan Pizza). Coat with hummus and cover with sautéed veggies and you have yourself an amazing, albeit unorthodox, pizza masterpiece.
  • Pasta – All of my usual shops carry a variety of different types of gluten-free pasta choices. Trader Joe’s has brown rice pasta in multiple styles. And both Whole Foods and Real Foods carry quinoa pasta, brown rice pasta, spinach pasta, and other specialty types like kelp. I also invested in a spiralizer which allows you to make spaghetti-like pasta out of squash and zucchini. Gluten-free + a serving of vegetables, that’s a win-win situation, so check out my Vegan Mac n’ Cheese recipe.
  • Bread – I’m not much for sandwiches (they make me uncomfortably full so I usually stick to wraps) but on the occasion when bread makes an appearance in my life (ahem, stuffing) I always reach for Food For Life’s Brown Rice Bread.
  • Baking – I swear by Bob’s Red Mill flours and grains. The Real Food’s in Russian Hill has a great selection and I always run over to browse the choices whenever I have a baking project in the works.

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While going gluten-free in order to manage a medical condition is obviously a necessity, there are those who voluntarily limit or exclude gluten from their diets. The Paleo Diet encourages its devotees to avoid gluten grains, citing them as potential factors in modern societies with high incidences of Celiac, Type 1 Diabetes, MS, arthritis, and other diseases. Even fad diets like Atkins tout the benefits of eliminating bread from the diet.

In addition to discussing your choice with a doctor or other health professional, I would caution those who exclude gluten from their diets for weight-loss purposes to avoid subsisting on processed and pre-made gluten-free foods as much of the nutritional value of these foods has been striped out. Your diet should focus on the consumption of organic fruits and vegetables, whole grains and plant-based protein sources like brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, millet, nuts, beans, tempeh, soy and tofu, and meat and low milk-fat or goat milk dairy products (as applicable to your lifestyle).

Tell me – Have you ever gone gluten-free?

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