Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sunday Morning Breakfast

Breakfast is really my favorite meal of the day (unless I happen to be having an afternoon tea party). On the weekends I can take the time to cook myself a tasty breakfast and sit down to enjoy it with a pot of tea. During the weekdays, alas, I eat my breakfast in the car during my drive to work.

Today's breakfast consisted of: 1 slice Ezekiel bread spread with 1 T Trader Joe's Organic Superfruit Spread; 2 C spinach topped with 1 medium egg and 1 oz New Zealand Grass-Fed Cheddar; and a pot of Harney & Son tea, Florence flavor (a sort of chocolate hazelnut). The meal (which was incredibly delicious and filling, by the way) weighs in at about 300 calories, with 15 g fat, 18 g protein, and 4 g fiber. Plus I've gotten 30% or more of the RDA for calcium, Vitamins A, C, B12, and some minerals. (This is all according to the calculations at FitDay.)

Now, for a vegetarian, every little bit of iron counts, and this meal contains some from the spinach, egg, and bread. There is a difference between dietary iron found in meat and that found in plant products. Due to the nature of the molecules involved (heme versus non-heme), the body is much more able to absorb iron found in meat. This gives vegetarians a double-whammy, as plant products tend to be lower in iron in any case, but now we also have to deal with that iron being much less readily absorbed. To throw some numbers out there, the recommended daily intake of iron for an adult woman is 18 milligrams/day, whereas for a vegetarian woman it goes up to 32 mg/day. That's why I say that every little bit counts.

So what can you do to help the iron get into your system? One of the key things is Vitamin C. Having Vitamin C in the same meal as iron allows that iron to be better absorbed by your body. That's why, at breakfast, I went for jam on my toast instead of honey. Each would provide some sweetness to my morning, but the fruit spread packs a Vitamin C punch that was otherwise missing from the meal.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The other half of "Kale and Hearty"

I was going to post a recipe review, with pictures even, but my camera's batteries are so dead that it will not even turn on so that I can do a download. The batteries are currently charging, and that post will have to wait for a more auspicious day.

Going beyond vegetables, Kale and Hearty is also about wellness. Good health embodies many aspects of daily living. I'd like to offer two items for this evening, one for you and one for me.

I admit it: I'm a calorie counter. Back in my senior year of high school, I would keep a food diary of everything I ate, calculating the calories and grams of fat. Being a scientist, I like to take the scientific approach to questions like "what is a reasonable diet on which I lose weight in a healthy fashion but still get enough to eat?" So I discovered for myself that I do quite nicely on about 1900 calories a day and normal exercise levels. That keeps me at 145 lbs (healthy for my 5' 7" height). If I gain weight for whatever reason, I can drop down to 1700-1800 calories and increase my exercise. This was highly beneficial to me in college. While all around me fellow freshmen were gaining weight, I was staying stable and actually toning up, because we had a nice fitness facility in the gym.

Back then, I kept track in a little steno notebook. Nowadays, it's all about logging things on the computer. I use FitDay, the first one I found, and the only online log I've tried. I like the way it shows me various nutrition charts, so I can see how I'm doing on all my vitamins and minerals in addition to calories, fat, protein, and fiber. You can also chart your physical activities, moods, and make journal entries. There's also CalorieKing, Calorie Counter, and many others to be found online, all generally free (with advertising).

I recommend that everyone, whether you're trying to gain weight, lose weight or just stay healthy, keep a food diary at least for a couple weeks, so you can see what you're really eating, and what an average day's nutrition is really like. Having the numbers in front of me really does help me make the healthiest food choices. Plus, there's nothing like being a hundred calories short and the end of the day so that there's room for a piece of dark chocolate.

Now, as for my current overall health, I've been noticing that my face has been breaking out in a different way over the past several weeks. The best complexion I've ever had was while I was on a hard-core vegan diet. I am tempted to do an elimination diet to determine if there's something in particular that makes me break out, but that would require me to be incredibly mindful of my diet, perhaps more attention than I'd like to pay to it. For starters, then, I've switched facial washes. My "Desert Essence Thoroughly Clean Face Wash" is probably too harsh and drying, so while at Whole Foods the other evening, I picked up "Alba Sea Lettuce Cleansing Milk", which is for dry, delicate skin. My skin is not in the least bit dry, but is delicate, and after just two days of use, I can already see a difference. I'm glowing a bit, which is very nice to see. :)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Lima beans with Garlic

At work this afternoon, I started pondering what I wanted to prepare for dinner. In the fridge, I knew I had some leftover squash and shredded broccoli stalks, along with marinara sauce, so I decided to do vegetable pasta. So the veggies were sauteed up in a skillet, whole wheat pasta was cooked separately, the two were mixed and covered in marinara. But I knew I wanted something higher protein to go with my carbohydrates. Leftover cooked lima beans would do the trick, and I had that bulb of garlic from yesterday's expedition to the market, so I thought to roast the garlic in the oven and mash that all in with the lima beans, in the manner of garlic mashed potatoes.

However, when I did get home, I suddenly didn't feel like getting my hands all covered with sticky after squeezing all the cloves of roasted garlic out of their jackets. What to do, what to do.... I decided instead to make a bit of "browned" butter and garlic. (I put that in quotation marks because I didn't truly brown the butter, but one could.) A grind of sea salt, and a shake of oregano later, and I had produced serious rainy-day comfort food. Mental recipe success! The initial flavor of the beans is followed by the mellow golden tones of garlic and butter. I imagine that this recipe would work with any light-colored, well-cooked bean, like navy or great northern.

1/2 cup cooked lima beans has 105 calories, 6 g protein, 20 g carbs, 5 g fiber, less than 1 gram fat, and respectable amounts of iron, potassium, and magnesium.

To cook lima beans (and, in general, any sort of bean) from dried, soak the beans in plenty of water for 8 hours or overnight. Drain the soaking water, and add fresh water to cover beans by 1 inch. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 2-3 hours or until tender. Lima beans have a seed coat that may detach during soaking or cooking. This is entirely edible, but may be removed and discarded for aesthetic reasons, if you so choose. Yes, cooking dried beans requires prep time, but once cooked, you can refrigerate and freeze the beans for later use.

To make four 1/2-cup servings, melt two tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan over low-medium heat. Add 4-5 cloves of garlic, chopped. (You can add more or less garlic according to your taste. It is cooked, so the flavor is not too strong.) Let cook gently until the garlic just begins to brown. Add two cups of cooked lima beans, and mix well, mashing with a spoon. Throw in some dried or fresh oregano and salt to taste. Once heated through, serve it forth.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Farmers Market Findings

I am fortunate to live in a place where we have a farmers market all year long. Every Sunday I have the opportunity to buy locally-grown (as local as you can get to metropolitan Los Angeles) fruits, vegetables, fungi, and plants. I love to see the people strolling about through the stalls, trying samples of fruit, shoveling green beans into a bag, asking the owner to hook them up with a selection of mushrooms. For me, the best moment was at my favorite purveyor of potatoes, carrots, and assorted glamorous sundries. I was sorting through the loose beets (roasted beets = serious yum!), and the scent of beet and dirt wafted up, giving me that small connection to the earth.

This trip to the market came fortuitously after receiving the February issue of Vegetarian Times in the mail. I found two recipes I particularly want to try, and was able to get the ingredients accordingly. One involves green beans and assorted small potatoes, the other shittake mushrooms and kale. I also purchased cabbage, garlic, apples, and beets for general use. Actually, the apples are for saucing. I buy the "seconds", the ones with blemishes and odd shapes, because I can easily cut out the rotten spots, chop up the rest, and make delicious, all-natural and sweetener-free applesauce.

I've had oatmeal for breakfast three out of the past four mornings, using the basic recipe that Kath has on her real food blog. I've been throwing in a spoonful of almond butter, cinnamon, and a few chocolate chips. However, I do not buy bananas very often. It's not because I dislike them, but because they're not available locally, and banana monoculture farms are a big problem in the rain forest. Since my favorite apples come from a local, organic farm, and are particularly in season right now, and produce an exceptionally sweet sauce, I'm going to try that as an addition to my oatmeal. Certainly the texture will not be the same, and apples are low on the totem pole of nutritional value, but they provide sugar and fiber, and they make me happy, which is another important factor in one's food.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Current reading: The Jungle Effect

I've stayed up later than usual reading "The Jungle Effect" by Daphne Miller, MD. I'm almost halfway through, having read Part I and two countries of Part II. I'll be posting a full review once I'm finished, and definitely talking about some of the recipes in the back. Already I've selected the delicious vegetarian ones I want to try first.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Criminy! Mushrooms!

For lunch, I made a delicious and easy pasta featuring crimini mushrooms.

Ingredients (for two servings):
olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
10 oz crimini mushrooms, sliced (I used a bag from Trader Joe's)
parmesan cheese
fresh basil, chopped (or other herb of choice)
whole-wheat pasta

Prepare 2 servings of pasta. At the same time, heat some olive oil in a large frying pan and saute the garlic for a couple minutes until it barely starts to brown. Add the mushrooms and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the pasta is done and you're really hungry. (The mushrooms will release a lot of water, so a large frying pan is needed so that the water can boil off more easily and you're not left with soup.) Mix the mushrooms and pasta and divide into two bowls. Grate parmesan cheese over the top, to taste, and toss in some fresh basil.

You'll hear a lot that mushrooms are great for vegetarians because of the protein content. This is only half true. Checking out both my nutrition textbook and a nutritional data website gives us some numbers. Mushrooms are mostly carbohydrates and protein, with a small amount of fat, and traces of minerals. The protein that is present is good for vegetarians because it contains all the essential amino acids. However, with only 2-3 grams of protein per serving, you'd have to eat a lot of mushrooms to reach your RDA, if fungi are all you consume.

Since you know that it's good to have moderation in all things, these tasty little fungus fruits are a great inclusion in the balanced vegetarian diet, and come in a number of varieties to suit any recipe and taste.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Pie Dreams

I've been thinking about pie a lot today. Slightly more so than usual. It's mostly because I had a date to go get pie this evening, which went swimmingly. The pie was adequate--german chocolate cream, rather like chocolate pudding with coconut and a few chopped nuts mixed in--but it didn't match my dream of pie, which is a sort of brownie-pecan-caramel concoction. I'll have to figure out the best way to make that happen. I also feel nearly up to the task of making butterscotch pie, from my grandmother's recipe, which involves, literally, forty-five minutes of slaving over a hot stove. That's why I've only ever made it once before.

The other pie I was pondering earlier is apple. See, at the farmers' market where I shop on Sundays there is a fellow who sells fantastic Fuji apples. I normally buy the seconds, since I'm just going to chop them up and turn them into applesauce, and appearance doesn't matter. They're so sweet, that my applesauce recipe consists of two ingredients: apples and cinnamon. Now, given that I can make delicious applesauce with no added sugar, couldn't I also make an apple pie, just as delicious, with little or no added sugar? I plan to find out.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


Because I had some for dinner, let's take a moment to talk about tofu. Me, I love tofu. I can eat it straight from the package, drizzled with just a bit of tamari. Or lightly cooked on both sides in a frying pan with a few gyoza. Or boiled and added to soup. Or sauteed up with a bunch of vegetables. get the idea.

The nutritional content of tofu will vary somewhat according to the type of tofu. Firm has less water than soft, so it will be more nutrient-dense. A 4 oz serving (one quarter of the typical one pound package) contains about 80 calories, 9 grams protein, 2 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fat, with significant amounts of iron and calcium. You can also find super-firm tofu, which packs around twice the protein--17 grams--of ordinary tofu.

The biggest downfall of tofu can also be considered it's greatest asset: lack of flavor. People often complain that tofu doesn't taste like anything. (C'mon--it tastes like tofu.) This gives you amazing opportunities to add tofu to a number of dishes where it can provide protein without altering the taste of the dish. I've thrown it in all sorts of things from pasta sauce (cut up into chunks) to vegan chocolate mousse (pureed smooth).

Don't be discouraged if the first tofu you buy is not as tasty as you want it to be. I've gone through many different brands and levels of firmness to find my favorites. The brands available for purchase at health food and specialty stores are definitely tastier than those at the general supermarket, and tend to cost about the same--less than $2 a pound here in Southern California. It is also possible to make tofu at home from soybeans, but that's definitely a topic to save for later.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Small Meals For Big Satisfaction

I heard an interesting story on NPR this morning, about twin brothers, one of whom was diagnosed, years ago, with Type 2 diabetes. Because they are identical twins, and this disease has a strong genetic component, the other brother knew that he was at high risk for the disease. He chose to participate in a national research study on what factors play a significant role in the delay or prevention of onset of Type 2 diabetes. Within the various groups in the study, this fellow "was randomly assigned to the "lifestyle intervention" group. He received intensive counseling from a dietitian and motivational coach who helped him develop a plan to eat less and exercise more." Think that a something ordinary like this won't make a difference? The study found that these simple lifestyle changes were twice as effective as a prescription medication at preventing diabetes. One of the changes involved in eating less was learning to eat small portions all the time.

Vegetarians, especially new ones, may discover that their vegetarian meals do not seem to hold them as long. You know the saying about Chinese food, how you're always hungry an hour later? That's because vegetable matter is processed more quickly by the digestive system and doesn't stay as long in the stomach, meaning that you might find your belly growling long before it's time for lunch. This problem can be alleviated by eating more portions of fat and animal protein-rich dairy foods, like cheese and eggs. Dietary fiber, the complex carbohydrate found in whole grains and legumes also takes longer to process in the stomach. However, it's important to have all things in moderation.

What works for me is a technique similar to that done in the health study. When I am feeding myself, I tend to eat six small meals spaced every three hours. Eating this frequently means that I am never a slave to my hunger pangs (and I get some pretty painful ones), and because these mini-meals are about 300 calories each, I consume the right number of calories I need to maintain my healthy weight. There's some flexibility in this as well, as I can always make allowances and adjust my meals accordingly if I know I'm going out to dinner. There's also some wiggle room in case I decide to have some hot chocolate in the evening or a cookie after lunch.

The ideal mini-meal/maxi-snack will have components from at least a couple of food groups and should contain protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Here are some examples:
Stir-fried veggies with 4 oz of tofu
1/2 C beans and 1/2 C rice with fresh salsa
1 apple and 2 T peanut butter
Sauteed greens and cooked quinoa with a sprinkle of fresh grated parmesan cheese
A bowl of minestrone with a serving of whole-grain bread
1 C yogurt with a sliced banana

An easy way to begin eating mini-meals is to take what you'd eat at normal meal and divide it into two portions. They don't have to match; you can have half your peanut butter sandwich with baby carrots, and the other half later with a cup of strawberries. Take a normal amount of time to enjoy your food, and you might be surprised at how good your stomach feels with a smaller portion.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Start of the blog

I have been a vegetarian for over 15 years--nearly half my life. I have studied nutrition, both at college and on my own, so I know a little, obviously, on how to be a 'hale and hearty' vegetarian. Recently, there have been people who look and me and say something along the lines of "I can't believe you're a vegetarian--you look so healthy!" It seems that there are people out there who are vegetarian but don't know how to do it in the most nutritionally sound way, or who want to change their dietary habits but are afraid that the vegetarian way might not give them what they need. Therefore, my goal will be to give practical information, recipes, and other useful tips to get the most out of a plant-based diet.

Here are some useful notes:
1) I am a chemist by trade, not in any way a professional nutritionist, so what I write is not a substitute for the advice of a certified dietician. However, if I don't post the source of my information, that detail will always be available upon request so you, the reader, will know the accuracy of the data herein.
2) I am predominantly ovo-lacto vegetarian who has occasional vegan weeks. That means that I do eat milk and eggs, but not every day. My brand of vegetarianism involves no dead animals, so no poultry or sea creatures.
3) While my intention is to not force a certain diet on anyone, occasionally some fairly strident opinions may come through. If you take offense, remember that we are all civil creatures here, and kindly make your comments accordingly.

With that, here's to starting 2010 on a healthy stomach!