Plant Life

Today marks two years of not eating anything with a face. I discussed my reasons for moving toward a plant-based diet here, but two years in, a review of the process seems in order.

There have been many failed recipes. Homemade bean burgers that fell apart before we even got them out of the oven, a spring roll that was fine with enough sauce, but the wrapper tasted like rubber, and a misused spice that ruined a whole pot of stew all come to mind. Trial and error. Find what works. Dump what doesn’t.

Gather knowledge. And recipes! I have a penchant for purchasing cookbooks. The more photos, the better. Discovering Forks over Knives has a quarterly magazine FULL of tasty concoctions that I’ve revisited many times was a game changer. The internet?! Hello. SO. MANY. IDEAS. It has been a learning curve, but some tasty eats along the way.

Health. There has been much research on the health advantages of a plant based way of eating. Here are a few:

NutritionFacts.org

Forks Over Knives

Thug Kitchen (Language alert – but SO funny and great eats!)

Dr. Dean Ornish

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

Quick article from Harvard Health

Dr. Garth Davis

Personally, it’s been a road of increasing health, but not in the way we typically think of it. For most of us, we think of health in terms of appearance. 6-pack abs, a certain size, before and after pictures, etc. all promote an idea of what healthy looks like. The fact is, you can be very unhealthy and achieve those things. I’m talking about health from the perspective of cholesterol and A1c (blood glucose levels). Health from the inside out.

For me this process began after getting blood test results that indicated I was prediabetic. Basically that means that I was on the road to Type 2 Diabetes. I sought advice from a registered dietician and followed her instructions. My numbers came down. Among the list of foods to consume was lots of processed meats; and it just didn’t seem right so I kept investigating, reading books such as Protein-aholic by Dr. Garth Davis, Presto! How I made over 100 pounds disappear and other Magical Tales by Penn Jillette, The China Study by Dr. Colin T. Campbell among many others. I read about Type 2 diabetes and how the conventional advice was to limit carbs/sugars and watch the A1c numbers come down. It’s true, the numbers will come down a bit. But it’s putting a bandaid on the problem. It’s not addressing why the body isn’t processing carbohydrates the way it should.

Fat is actually the issue. Fat gums up the locks of our muscle cells, not letting insulin do it’s job of letting in the energy (carbohydrates) in. “Fat in the bloodstream can build up inside the muscle cells, creating toxic fatty breakdown products and free radicals that block the insulin signaling process. No matter how much insulin we have in our blood, it’s not able to sufficiently open the glucose gates, and blood sugar levels build up in the blood. And this can happen within three hours. One hit of fat can start causing insulin resistance, inhibiting blood sugar uptake after just 160 minutes.Fat is actually the issue. Fat gums up the locks of our muscle cells, not letting insulin do it’s job of letting in the energy (carbohydrates) in.”

-Michael Greger, M.D.

And what type of fat? Saturated fat. The kind from animals, trans-fat, deep fryers, etc. You know – the ones that you know you shouldn’t eat. (The fats from avocados and nuts are unsaturated fats.) According to my registered dietician, eating meat was going to help me lower my blood glucose levels. By eating meat?! Nope. Bandaid for sure, but not a long-term solution.

My A1c numbers came down but my cholesterol and triglycerides had shot up! Great. (insert eye roll). It’s no wonder most of us are so dang confused by nutrition. The ‘experts’ attend conferences funded by fast food companies. While many practitioners are simply teaching what they are taught, it’s not solving the problems, and it’s not accurate information.

Fast forward a year in to a plant based diet, I had bloodwork done yet again to check my A1c and cholesterol. My triglycerides came down from 276 to 118. My doctor was so excited by my results she called me from her personal phone after hours to celebrate with me! My A1c number when from 5.6 to 5.3. That doesn’t seem like a whole lot, but it is a trend in the right direction. The farther down the normal range the better. A plant based diet has done just that!

BUT WHAT ABOUT PROTEIN!? My answer is two things.

  1. Proteins are amnio acids. There are 20 amino acids – some are made by the body, some we obtain from food. Regardless of whether you get those amino acids from plants or animals, the amino acids are the same to the body.
  2. Take a look at a gorilla, one of the strongest animals on the planet. Guess what? They have lots of muscles on their body and are capable of lifting 10 times their body weight. They are STRONG. And they are plant eaters. I don’t think they are saying to their gorilla friend at the gym, “What about protein, Brah?”

I also did a test of sorts, I looked up the nutritional value of my typical breakfast and compared it to a typical meat/egg breakfast. Here’s how it stacked up:

Bowl of oats with sliced almonds, blueberries, and hempseed: 23g protein, 12g fiber.

2 eggs, 2 slices bacon and an English muffin: 11g protein, 0.8g fiber

The numbers are clear. Protein is more than sufficient and plant based eating will give you the fiber most omnivores lack and then some!

My palate has changed. Eating a steak or a piece of bacon doesn’t even sound appealing. (I used to LOVE me some bacon!) When I walk by the meat department in the grocery store I can actually smell the blood. It’s so weird. Two years in and I’m feeling great, my doctor is beyond thrilled with my results and I have energy! I have no desire to return to eating meat. Doing so would undo all the health progress I have made and wouldn’t make sense.

Cheers to eating nothing with a face for life!

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Culinary Escapades

This week we tried a vegan pulled “pork” sandwich that was featured on Tasty Vegetarian’s facebook page. WOW. The flavors did not disappoint, however the jackfruit, was …messy. (To put it mildly.)

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This thing was a beast!

Here’s the video, if you are interested:

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So weird, but fun! Side note: super glue is likely manufactured from jackfruit. This is the stickiest substance on the planet! Sheesh! I had it everywhere and had to wash my hands with a scrub brush multiple times to get it off!

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The house smelled AH. MAZING at this point, regardless of how this pile of fruit looks.

It was very tasty, but sadly, we were missing an ingredient so a trip to the store resulted in a longer cooking time. Ours came out mushy. We will be trying again, however – but this time with canned jackfruit. Once was enough of an experience for this cook!

Later I whipped up this little experiment of my own. I love tacos. LOVE them. For these, I used cauliflower for the crumbly “meat”, (sounds weird, but seriously, cauliflower is amazing in its ability to take on different flavors.) With the cauliflower seasoned and sautéed with homemade taco seasonings, I topped the tacos with some brown rice and black beans that I had left over, some fresh salsa and sliced avocado. They were divine!

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Even hubby said they were good, and he’s not a fan of tacos!

I picked up a cookbook and tried this slaw made with veganaise, a mayonnaise substitute. It was not my favorite. At all.

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May look pretty, but the dressing was gross! Veganaise gets a thumbs down from this girl.

I had made some red lentil chili the other day and it made a bazillion servings. (Recipe in the link.) It was delicious, but a bit spicy even for me – and I dig heat! I had a numb mouth and a ready glass of ice water while eating! Using the leftovers, I topped it on some mixed salad greens and added avocado and tomato to dial down the heat just a notch. Turned out pretty good!

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Gotta get those greens in!

One thing I miss with our veggie tray is ranch. Hummus is okay, and it’s growing on me – but sometimes I just prefer ranch dressing. Attempting to make a completely vegan/plant-based version and perhaps dial up the nutrition factor, I found a recipe for one here. Made with tofu and seasonings, I thought it might work well….

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…I don’t know if it was because I used more potent red onions, or the silken tofu instead of regular, but I just did not like this. Thumbs down. It didn’t taste like ranch.

I’m still experimenting with different ranch versions and am excited to find one I like! Going to try one that uses almond milk this week! Fingers crossed because I need ranch for these beautiful veggie trays!

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This $2 divided tray has been key in getting my kiddos to snack on veggies this summer. Best two bucks ever spent! I just keep it filled with whatever veggies I have on hand and set it out. It gets eaten!

And finally, made this quick lo mein last night. Super easy and came together in a flash. I added in my tofu crumbles that I like. They have the texture of mushrooms and even my hardcore carnivore hubby likes it!

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Lo mein! YUM!

I have quite a few recipes printed up for next week. I tend to gravitate toward stir fries and tacos, so we will be venturing out a bit and trying something different!

If you have a favorite plant-based recipe – share in the comments!

DIY Mayo!

I love LOVE mayonnaise on things like sandwiches, in potato salad, egg salad and also for use in creamy dressings like ranch!

What I am not a huge fan of is processed commercial made mayos – love their flavor, but not the preservatives and soy-based ingredients. I went looking for a “tastes like Best Foods” version of homemade mayo.

I found a few olive oil based mayos, and while okay, they weren’t my favorite. I tweaked some recipes and added my own twists (extra lemon please!) and here is what I have come up with as my go-to mayo!

Homemade Mayo Recipe

1 cup avocado oil

1 whole egg, room temp

1/4-1/2 tsp lemon juice

1/4 + 1/8 tsp salt

2 1/4 tsp vinegar

few dashes of mustard powder to taste

Set egg out on counter while gathering/measuring all the ingredients. By the time you are ready to blend – the egg will be good to go! All ingredients go into a mason jar or large coffee mug. If you use a bowl or a wide-bottomed container, the mayo won’t blend quite right. Using a taller mug or glass jar works best. If you have a wide mouth mason jar + lid, you can store your mayo right in the same container!

Using an immersion blender, blend all ingredients starting from the bottom and slowly lift the blender while running as mayo thickens.

Voila! Mayo that tastes even better than commercially made, store bought varieties. And better for you!

 

Soup Saturday

After teaching spin this morning and training a few clients, I decided to turn this dreary rainy weather into food prep day so we’d have delicious meals ready to roll through the week. There is nothing quite like a road trip to remind us why home cooked food is awesome!

Yesterday I made this yumminess:

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I’m more of a “throw it in the pan and see what happens” sort of cook. It’s the way my mom cooked growing up and more often than not, it turns out great.

Roughly, this is what I did:
2-3 tablespoons sesame oil, 2-3 tablespoons coconut aminos, 1 clove garlic minced, 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced, 1 package of lean sirloin strips.

Brown the meat and ginger and garlic in aminos and oil. Remove meat from pan and set aside in foil covered bowl. I then added a couple dashes more of the oil and aminos and then threw in the veggies; water chestnuts, carrots, celery, broccoli and cabbage. Stir fry until fork tender, then add steak back in. Top with a few more dashes of aminos and diced green onion. Sprinkle sesame seeds and serve! Also Whole30 compliant!

Speaking of Whole30, remember that? I followed it about 85-90% for 4 weeks, then we went on vacation. (I did not want to be the lunatic packing food for a cross-country drive.) Here are my takeaways from my Whole30ish:

  1. I’m not good with eliminating food I love. Yes, it’s only 30 days. No, it isn’t a huge deal, but often it sets us up to fixate on the food we aren’t “allowed” or that isn’t “compliant”.
  2. Not a huge fan of the Facebook groups associated with Whole30. I’m sure not all of them are like this, but the one I was in for “first timers” had a LOT of disordered eating patterns. Lots of legalism and “keeping with the rules”. Yes, I know that’s the point, but again – long term goals in mind – this sets people up for “failure” when they don’t “comply”. I really hate the language, too. So legalistic. Barf.
  3. I do love that it encourages a whole lot of veggies and fruits. Whole30 definitely makes you a label reader and there isn’t anything wrong with that! There is so much sugar in many things that really don’t even need it. The premise of eating only whole, real foods is definitely a good thing.
  4. Pickles. Yum. Found some with no sugar added: Bubbies! Cloudy and weird, but so tasty!prod_pure_kosher_dills_lg
  5. It got me back in my kitchen playing with my culinary skills. LOVE that. I love cooking and enjoyed planning, chopping, and prepping.
  6. I liked that there wasn’t snacking. There wasn’t 6-8 meals a day. Even though I enjoy food prep, I also would like to not live my entire life in the kitchen. There are 3 components to meals: proteins, veggies/fruit, and a healthy fat.  I was full in between, due to healthy fats like olives and avocados. Hmmm, avocados…..Yum!
  7. I learned that I actually can drink coffee black. I even liked it!** That’s one thing I will be taking away from Whole30 is that I will continue drinking it black. I noticed when I did put cream in, I didn’t care for it as much. Who knew?!  (**Liking black coffee – but still a coffee snob. My favorite is french press from freshly ground beans.)
  8. I noticed a big reduction in bloating. Because I didn’t do a “proper reintroduction” I don’t have the specifics on what causes bloating for me. Legumes or dairy. Those are main culprits for bloating for most people.
  9. Finally, overall I think if people give it a try and feel better – great. It’s a reset for your digestive system. I don’t care for the crazed adherence to legalism that many Whole30 participants exhibit, and many over a long period of time. I don’t think it’s wise to eliminate entire food groups without checking with a registered dietician or your health care provider.

So there are my thoughts on Whole30.

For today’s food adventure, I started with chicken soup. Daughter is sick with a cold and looks like Hubby is headed in the same direction. Nothing like chicken goodness to cure what ails you!

Starting with a mirepoix, the french word for raw, roasted or sautéed vegetables – usually carrots, celery and onions – with butter or olive oil, is the flavor base for a wide variety of dishes. (Ooh look – I’m fancy using french!)

Ahem. Anyhoo. Starting with the veggie base, I added a precooked chicken and some fresh herbs. Basil, thyme, and rosemary are herbs that pair well with chicken (in my not so humble opinion) and nothing punches up flavor like fresh rather than dried herbs.

I then added chicken stock and a bit of milk to give it that creamy feeling, without the heaviness of a true cream soup with flour or cornstarch. Hubby loved it and daughter scarfed it up!

Next up I made some spicy pantry chili.

Crockpot chili is a great way to use up whatever you have on hand. Onions, jalepeno, and fresh garlic sautéed with fresh ground beef (or bison or turkey) bring out scrumptious flavors. Add cumin, chili powder, onion and garlic powder, then all desired canned beans and 1-2 cans of fire roasted diced tomatoes to the crockpot. After the meat is browned thoroughly, add it to the crockpot to join the beans and tomatoes. This is where I doctor the spices. Adding more cumin or chili powder for that taco-y taste, (yes, that’s a word!) or red pepper flake for more of a kick. Adding a second jalepeno adds a nice level of heat, too.

Now it’s evening and it’s still raining. I have a full tummy, a full fridge and now I think it’s time for a nice glass of red vino and a snuggle with my dogs!

Happy Soup Saturday!

Teaching Gumption

“Pull the dumbbell up like this,” I told her, “as if you are pulling the cord on a lawn mower.” I had borrowed this phrase from my trainer, because it accurately illustrates the movement I wanted her to perform. To this day I cannot start my lawnmower and not think of this move, and my trainer.

“My mom told me never to learn how to start a lawn mower so I would never have to mow a lawn,” she replied. “My husband takes care of that.”

Whaaa?!

Years ago I remember working in the bank and a recent widow came in, understandably bewildered by the many decisions and paperwork that comes with the death of a spouse. “My husband took care of our finances and gave me cash to spend for household items. I don’t know how to balance a checkbook…”

Jamie Oliver’s experiment with some U.S. schools a few years ago was shocking. He presented grade school children with a whole potato. Not one child could tell him what the object in his hand was. He did this with many fruits and vegetables, and other than just a couple of things (apples, I think) these kids didn’t recognize most produce in it’s whole form!

Why the rant today? Well, let me tell you.

I trained a 12 year old girl the other day who broke my heart. I was able to decipher through our conversation that she is a very young 12 and doesn’t know how to do much, simply because not much is expected of her. She is obese. She is no doubt made fun of by her peers. She was self conscious and insecure (more so than the average tween). When I asked her (and her mother) about the kinds of foods they eat, the mother laughed and said, “I don’t cook.” She said this as if it were beneath her, as well as something of which to be proud.

While training another client, I discovered that she hadn’t eaten anything all day, just her morning cup of coffee. It was 2:30pm! She doesn’t like to cook, doesn’t know what to do to make things quick in the morning, but yet cannot figure out why she has no energy, feels sluggish and cannot resist the afternoon treats her customers bring in to the office! For her, the thought of breakfast was an all or nothing proposition. It had to be a huge undertaking – bacon, pancakes, eggs, etc. We had a great conversation about how to not only eat breakfast everyday, make things quick (hello my favorite: hard boiled eggs!) but also to do what I call “easy prep” so things are grab and go through the week when time is more limited.

As a military spouse, being independent and having some gumption to even attempt to do things on my own is essential. Granted, I grew up with a mother who worked right along side my father building houses. She hammered just as many nails, installed can lights, laid tile flooring and everything in between.  Even now, my parents are building a structure on their property and my mother literally raises the walls with my father. I get that not everyone has that example to follow, and it’s hard for me to wrap my mind around the some of the mindsets I’ve described.

Here’s the thing; regardless of what we’ve been exposed to, if we neglect to teach our children how to perform basic tasks, essential life skills, how are they ever going to learn? School?! Not likely. It’s unrealistic to think that school should, or even could, cover everything. That’s our job as parents. We do our kids a great disservice by doing everything for them. Feeding ourselves and taking care of our bodies is a basic skill. We teach our kids how to use a fork and spoon as toddlers, why wouldn’t we teach them how to prepare food when they are older?

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Give a child a fish, and you’ll feed her for a day. Teach a child to fish, and you’ve fed her for a lifetime.”

Learning, Learning, and More Learning

Since the phone call, I have met with a registered dietician in my area twice and have gained a wealth of knowledge. So much of which is counter to what we are taught as trainers. (Not to mention the crap nutrition info that gets passed around on the internet!)

During the first session, I was poised to take notes and hang on her every word. What I had been doing hasn’t been working. I was feeling great for the most part, and still strong, but I had been slowly creeping back up the scale, both the literal one, and the scale of sizes in my closet. I was teaching spin and loving it, strength training 2-3 times per week and running any chance I could. Along the way, I kept thinking it was because of the move, the deployment, the lack of a fitness tribe as experienced in Hawaii. When all of your friends are doing the same thing and intensely motivated – it’s not exactly easy, but it is so much easier. Despite crafting a life dedicated to activity and doing fun fitness-y things, I wasn’t heading in the right direction. The dietician promptly said, “A little bit of nutrition knowledge can be a dangerous thing.” And how true that is.

There are some universal basics: calories in vs. calories out (food we consume vs. the energy we expend), but there are other factors as well. 150 calories of soda vs. 150 calories of vegetables are going to do entirely different things to your energy level, mood, satiety, hydration, etc. This is where the what we are eating is just as important as the how much.

For the Type II diabetic, our bodies have an elevated level of blood sugar, beyond what is normal. (Hyperglycemia). To counter this elevation in blood sugar, also called blood glucose, our pancreas produces insulin to help bring that blood sugar back down. At first the body will produce more insulin to get the blood sugar back to normal levels, but over time it cannot keep up. Welcome to Type II diabetes. (Type II has a strong hereditary component. It has been said that genetics loads the gun and lifestyle pulls the trigger.) Keeping it in check will be a priority for life.

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That tank top was an XL

Is it a bummer? Yeah, I guess it could be seen that way, but I get to choose how to view it. For me, meeting with the dietician clicked a missing puzzle piece into place. Though not effortless, I’m not having to kill myself in the gym. Concentrating mostly on high intensity interval cardio (running and spin primarily) and once a week lifting 1-4 reps of max. This maintains current muscle mass. Lifting too much (high reps, focusing on endurance) my body bulks, which is what my 3-day/week plan had been doing. Go figure.

Top pic is the same April shot as above, the bottom is me as of 5 minutes ago :)
Top pic is the same April shot as above, the bottom is me as of 5 minutes ago 🙂 15 lbs down, 12 inches overall and a medium tank.

Ultimately, a body is a body. Mine does what I ask it to and then some. It allows me to get comfortable being uncomfortable. I still wonder if progress pics help anyone except the subject. It’s more than just vanity. When we figure stuff out (that most of us have been trying to figure out since our teens!) it’s empowering to see that success. Dealing with this personally has no doubt helped on many levels as a personal trainer.

If you have been eating well (be honest!) and exercising regularly but aren’t seeing results –  get your blood work done. Have your primary health care provider take a look at it. Take those results to a dietician. Learn. Try something new if what you are doing isn’t working.

It is worth it. YOU are worth it!

The Phone Call

“You’re cholesterol numbers look good…” The nurse paused as I anxiously wondered why they were calling me. I’d had the exam last week, and as per usual, no news is good news. Yet, here I was on the phone going over lab results. Okay…

But.

There’s always a but, isn’t there?

“But…you’re blood sugar numbers are quite elevated…watch the carbs…..portion control….you are prediabetic…”

Oh.

Wait, what? How is that possible? Doesn’t she know it wasn’t a fasting blood draw? I workout! I eat healthfully most of the time. We cook at home, and use real ingredients. Apparently, it doesn’t matter. The nurse on the line was making her routine calls and gave me the advice to cut back on carbohydrates. Sure, come back and retest in 6 months. Or a year. Whenever you want. Okay. Bye. Click. End of conversation.

Still reeling from that conversation a week ago, this morning I met with a registered dietician who went over my food logs for the past week, as well as my blood work from the doctor. There is so much I have to learn. The more I learn, the more I realize just how much I don’t know, you know? The more information I was given, the more questions popped up. 

Honestly, it all just sucks. I could have a pity party (and I did for about 5 minutes) but really – that gets me no where. So I came home and did what any good overachiever would do – I cleaned out my pantry and my fridge and set myself up to kick some pre diabetes butt! It’s reversible, but I will have to watch it for the rest of my life.

A friend sent me this and I giggled as I was surrounded by the contents of my pantry all over the place. I did make a small edit, however:

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Now where did I put those bootstraps? Time to pull ’em on up!