Almond Butter = BAE

IMG_5940If you can’t already tell, I love almond butter! Not only the taste or the texture, but also its nutrient density. Now, you probably know that nuts are a great source of protein, but they are also a fabulous source of fiber and nourishing fat, all of which are essential parts of a healthy vegan diet. But with all nut butters, brands and added ingredients play a major role in the nutritional value.

First, I want to quickly discuss the difference, nutritionally, between peanut butter and almond butter. When I was little, I would only eat peanut butter, and it actually wasn’t until recently, when my mom told me that almond butter is healthier, that I made the switch. Both butters do offer a variety of nutrients, however almonds have some that aren’t as available in peanuts. For example, almonds contain a high level of Vitamin E, an antioxidant that fights nasty free-radicals, as well as high levels of magnesium and iron. In addition, almonds and almond butter contains less oil and more protein than peanuts. Again, both nuts are good, but when looking at nutrition value, I vote for almond butter.

IMG_5946Nut butters sometimes get a bad rap, especially from people claiming they have too much fat, but it isn’t the nuts themselves that are concerning. While it is true that the best way to get the full health benefits from nuts is to eat them whole and raw (un-roasted with no salt or oil), this can be achieved with nut butter as well. My all time favorite almond butter is Whole Foods’ grind-your-own, a little station set up in most Whole Foods stores that lets you fill your own containers of almond (or peanut) butter. The reason I like it is because there is no salt or oil added, just nuts! However, this stuff is not cheap, and you pay by weight. In my opinion though, it is totally worth it. The butter comes out very thick and fluffy, and rarely separates like normal nut butters do because there isn’t anything added. I use almond butter on toast, rice cakes, and eat it with fruit. To me, it is a great addition to a meal taste where you want a little extra protein, and it’s great in smoothies too! Try it out 🙂

 

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Breakfast Fruit Burritos

IMG_5474On the weekends, my dining hall only serves a minimal variety of breakfast foods, and an even more limited number of vegan options, so I make myself breakfast on the weekends. I played around with this creation for a few months, trying to find a way to incorporate fruit and nuts into a cohesive food dish that tastes good and is easy to eat. It does, however,  require taking certain food items from your dining hall buffet (I think these items are available at most buffet style dining halls, but I’m not entirely sure). Anyway, this has become my favorite breakfast food, and there are plenty of variations that can be explored in order to keep the dish fresh and interesting!

The Recipe:

IMG_5349First, gather your ingredients: 1 tortilla (my dining hall only offers flour tortillas. If your school has a sandwich-making area of the buffet, look there), almond butter, 2 pieces of fruit, and raw walnuts. Start by spreading a thick layer of almond butter Start by spreading a thick layer of almond butter down the center of the tortilla. Next, slice both pieces of fruit into small, bite-sized pieces. I typically use either a banana and an apple, banana and pear, or apple and pear, but any fruit will do. Pour the pieces down the middle and on top of the almond butter. Leave a little room (about an inch) at the bottom of the tortilla that has no fruit–this makes folding easier. Next, take the desired amount of walnuts into your palm and IMG_5356lightly crush into smaller pieces. I tend to use about 5-9 walnuts, but it just depends on how much crunch you want. Then, at the end where you left the 1-inch space, fold the tortilla up before wrapping the two sides in and together like a IMG_5306burrito. This way, nothing will escape from the bottom, and your wrap will be easier to eat!

Options and Variations:

1.) If you have the resources to attain this, try adding some whole or ground flaxseed, hempseed, or chia seed. Most likely your local health foods store will have at least one, if not all three, of these. Seeds are a great source of Omega-3’s, which support heart health and are natural anti-inflamatories. I use a mixture of all three!

IMG_49732.) You can also try frying your fruit first! To do this, put a little coconut oil into the bottom of a frying pan. Then slice your fruit into thin sheets (this works best with bananas and pears, but I have also had success with apples) and place them in the oil over medium to low heat. Be sure to flip the fruit so that most sides brown evenly. If you have access to fresh oranges, try squeezing some of the orange juice on the fruit while it’s cooking for some added sweetness! However, remember that by cooking the fruit you are bringing out more of the fruit’s sugar, so I only use method on occasion, and it’s especially nice during the winter months.

Enjoy.

 

The F-Word of Nutrition

Fat. No one wants to think about it, few know it’s role, and many are suffering from two much of it in their bodies. But is fat all bad? I wanted to take a closer look at this complex macronutrient.

What even is fat? Fat is made up of carbon and hydrogen chains, and alterations to these chains result in different types of fat. Contrary to what you may think, fat is essential for keeping our body running in working order: it provides energy stores, develops and grows our brain tissue, keeps us insulated, makes up part of our cell membranes, and is essential for absorbing certain vitamins and minerals. However, there are some fats that are better for us than others, so let’s break it down:

foods-high-in-saturated-fatSaturated fats have chains that are tightly packed; that is, each carbon has a hydrogen atom, thus making the chain saturated. These fats are characterized by being solid at room temperature, and common examples include dairy products, meat fats, and coconut oil. Saturated fats have taken a tough blow from the media, and most of us have grown up with the assumption that all saturated fats are bad, which is not necessarily true. Saturated fats can increase our LDL cholesterol levels (Low-Density Lipoproteins). LDLs and HDLs (the other kind: High-Density Lipoproteins) are the protein carriers for cholesterol, a naturally occurring, waxy substance that does a variety of good thing for our bodies including the production of Vitamin D and acting as a temporary bandage at sites of inflammation. However, LDLs in excess can causes blockages in the arteries, which is bad news. Although healthy_fatssaturated fats in moderation can be beneficial.

Unsaturated fat chains are missing some hydrogen atoms, so their chains are not saturated. These fats are liquid (or very soft) at room temperature, and examples include things like avocado, nuts, and canola, sunflower, and olive oil. Unsaturated fats are considered “good fats,” because they promote the production of HDL cholesterol.

Trans fats are not natural. And I’m not just saying this; humans manufacture these fats by artificially injecting hydrogen atoms into a fat chain, a process known as hydrogenation. Trans fats increased in popularity when fast and processed foods became popular, because trans fats are used to increase a food’s shelf life. Remember the story of the Twinkie under the bed? If you leave a Twinkie or another heavily processed food under your bed for a few years and then look at it, the food will probably look exactly the same. You cannot do this with an apple, right? Fruits and vegetables will begin to rot in just a few days, thus they have an expiration date that is much much shorter. And we like this rotting process! This is what happens in our body and allows the food to be broken down and digested properly. Trans fats increase LDLs and decrease HDLs, so basically they do nothing for our health.

Omegas are also an important type of fat to discuss. Omega-3s are often known as the “really good fats” in my family. Omega-3s are anti-inflamatory, and promote heart health. Common examples include oily fish and flaxseed. But don’t be confused by Omega-6s, which are not the same thing! Omega-6s inflame tissue, and are found in many processed foods.

avocadosSo what is the fuss over fat really about? In my class, my professor told us about the man who we can probably blame for our brainwashed understanding of fat. In the 1960s, Ancel Keys conducted the Seven Country Study, in which he looked at different countries and their diets, trying to link high fat intake and cholesterol with cardio vascular disease. Unfortunately for us, Keys was tricky, because actually more like twenty-two counties were examined, but only seven fit in with his hypothesis. The study shocked people though, and that’s when food industries decided to take fat out of everything, prompting the “low fat” advertising boom. However, even without as much fat in their diets, Americans were just as sick as ever. But this idea that fat is bad continues even to this day. I know that in my own life, I have never thought of fat as a positive thing in food, or had any idea what was meant by “unsaturated” vs. “saturated” so I suppose that is why this subject is so interesting to me. The bottom line: not all fats are created equal, fat is vital for our body’s function, and it’s all about moderation and balance.

 

 

Turmeric Dreams

IMG_5506As a college student it is easy to forget about sleep. We work hard in classes all day, participate in extra-curricular activities and clubs in the afternoon, and then toil away at schoolwork all night. When are we expected to sleep?! As a child I struggled with periods of insomnia and sleep discomfort, and recently these instances have become common again. Lack of sleep affects everyone in different ways, but I find that is not only stresses my physical body and mind, but it wears down my memory and flattens my mood. I complained about this to my mom, and she immediately sent me a jar of turmeric powder and instructions about how to make a simple drink to consume before bed that would soothe my mind into sleep.

So what is turmeric? This bright yellow powder is an ancient spice, used especially in Ayurvedic medicine, with a variety of health benefits. Turmeric has been known to fight off a number of cancers, promote peaceful sleep, soothe tendons and muscles, and has overall powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It has even been known to increase general mood by stimulating serotonin and dopamine levels. Overall, it seems that we should take advantage of this brilliant little spice.

The Recipe:

IMG_5498Kindly ask a parent (or relative, friend, etc.) to send you a container of pure turmeric powder. My mom sent it in a small mason jar for ease of transportation. You can also go to your local health foods store, for most of them have a spice selection that will include turmeric. Make sure that the spice is of high quality and from a source that you trust.

About 30 minutes before sleep, take about 1 cup of non-dairy milk (I use plain soy milk because that is what I have available) and mix in 1/2-1 tsp. of turmeric powder. Stir well and microwave until warm.

Warning: Turmeric stains!

 

 

Food Pyramids: Myths and Lies

We’ve all heard of the food pyramid right? Since I was little I’ve heard this name tossed around as it gets argued over and increasingly updated in order to reflect recent developments in nutrition research. Or so we think. In my Personal Health and Fitness class, my professor attempted to give us the truth about these little pyramids, revealing the complexity of their creation. Overall, I thought my professor did a pretty excellent job.

pyramidThe first picture he showed us was the food pyramid infographic from the early 1990s. My professor made sure we saw the “6-11 servings” instruction under the Bread, Cereal, Rice & Pasta Group. “That seems like a lot of servings, don’t you think?” he asked us. Wow, this pyramid certainly had issues in my mind, and also, as my professor pointed out, it isn’t very clear about portions (what is a serving here, and for who? A child? An adult?). I was shocked to see how small a space vegetables took up as well. My professor also wanted us to note the Fats, Oils and Sweets section, reminding us that fat is actually essential in our diet (more on that in another post). Anyway, 2005 brought an update to the pyramid. As you can see, the pyramid structure is still intact, but the layout is different. No longer are the food groups arranged in horizontal sections, but rather they are put in slices, and there is less space for the grain group2000px-mypyramidfood-svg. My professor was not pleased, explaining, “Still we see nothing about portion size. How do we determine what these slices represent? And why is this guy running up the side of it?” Clearly the figure running is supposed to show how physical exercise should be incorporated into our daily lives, but why put that in the same category as daily nutrition? This was also the first time we talked about the government’s role in all of this. Growing up with parents who are educated about food nutrition and also food politics, I have known that the government and industry play a huge role in what USDA_MyPlate_green.svgeducation about food is released to the public, but this was new information for many of my classmates. The next update in the food pyramid trend brought a whole new design: the plate. This design with the confusion about portions, because it’s easier to picture food on a plate. However, this picture is still full of flaws, and my professor agreed. The biggest issue I had was the cup of dairy on the side, and my professor said, “its weird that they put this here because not everyone needs dairy in their diets. Dairy isn’t even good for my diet. They shouldn’t have put it there.” He also spoke of how the dairy industry would probably have sued the government if it had been left off the plate. Finally, my professor showed us his favorite food guide, which was hepjan2015Harvard’s representation of a food “pyramid.”I certainly found this one to be the best and most accurate of them all. “Notice how they use much more space on the plate for vegetables and the glass is full of water instead of milk,” he cooed. Also, he pointed out the “Limit milk/dairy” notice under the water picture, a sentence that dairy industries would get the  government in trouble for incorporating into their food guides for sure, but Harvard does not have to worry about that because, well, it’s Harvard.

Anyway, I wanted to share this history, which in my mind reinforces the point that you shouldn’t take all food advice seriously, even if the advice is coming from your government. Because, unfortunately, money is often the driving force behind the information, not research or health.

Apple Valentines

IMG_5321As a single girl, Valentine’s Day is often a holiday I choose to forget. However, this Valentine’s Day why not make a sweet, simple, and nutritious snack for yourself! I took one large, red apple and cut it in sheets (start on one end and make sheets about 1/4 inch thick, like you’re cutting an onion). Then, carefully, with a small, sharp knife, carve hearts into the smaller sheets. I cut mine into various sizes and layered them onto one another for more flourish. Arrange the hearts onto the flat, larger sheets and enjoy! Optional: eat with crushed walnuts, almond butter, or dark chocolate chips.

I sent pictures of these tasty apple hearts to all my girlfriends, wishing them a Happy Galentine’s Day (from the show Parks and Recreation). Because really, who needs boys (or girls) when you have apples and good friends? ❤

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