Tag Archives: recipes

Falling in Love with Food Again – The Mediterranean Way

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LovePeople

The Mediterranean has always fascinated me – the people, the geography, the history, art, culture, politics, etc.  Food is no exception.  This October, I brought the Mediterranean into my world, and I’m sad to be leaving it behind me.

The Basics
Many people (Americans) hear about the Mediterannean Diet, that it includes the eating styles of the Italians, and automatically assume that means pasta, alfredo, breadsticks, maybe lots of meatballs, etc.  In this and many other ways, Olive Garden has done a huge disservice to Americans and what we think Italian food is.  That type of food is Italian, but it is more reminiscent of Northern Italy, where heavier foods abound and health benefits of said diet do not.  Instead, the MedDiet embodies the food stylings of areas that actually border the Mediterranean Sea.  Meals in these places tend to be fresh, light, flavorful, with a very healthy dose of olive oil and red wine.
Study after study promotes adherence to the Mediterannean Diet for its heart health benefits.  I focus on heart health because it’s the most important system in the body! …and also because it is my research and interest bias.  A study of over 1.5 million people showed that those individuals who follow a Mediterranean style of eating suffer lower rates of heart disease, cancer, and even neurological disorders like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s than those who do not.  Clearly, those Italians/Spaniards/Greeks/Turks know what they’re doing.
So what is the MedDiet? Like all healthy diets, the MedDiet recommends a focus on whole foods: fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, lean meat, fish, some dairy (but not a lot), and very little red meat.  On top of those key traits, however, is an emphasis on olive oil (and the frequent glass of red wine).  Interestingly, because of the olive oil and nut/seed focus, the MedDiet is actually fairly high in fat (~40%; Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend 30-35%), which goes to show that fat is not the enemy.  To be clear, though, olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats, while nuts like walnuts are omega-3 rich, both of which are very heart healthy.  Saturated fat is another story.

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One of the many reasons that this eating style promotes overall health is because of the high intake of phytochemicals (compounds in plants that often give the plant a distinct color or fragrance and typically have antioxidant/anti-inflammatory properties).  Many researchers have sought to determine which specific component of the MedDiet is the source of the diet’s benefits.  Olive oil and walnuts are often studied, and while they show significant benefit when either simply added to the diet or substituted for unhealthy fats like butter, they don’t explain everything.  That’s no surprise to you or me (though this type of research plagues nutritional science), and the benefits from the diet likely come from eating simple, whole, fresh foods that have complex and synergistic favorable effects.

MedDiet Score
One of the coolest things (in my opinion) that has come out of all the studies of the MedDiet has been the results that show that you don’t have to eat foods specific to the region in order to realize the value of the diet.  What I mean by that is there are plenty of foods from around the world that are just as healthy as those consumed in the countries bordering the Mediterannean.  For example, Latin (particularly Mexican) foods are near and dear to my heart, and I eat them at least weekly.  A late night visit to nearly all drive-thru burrito joints in the American southwest will prove this, but a dish that includes foods such black beans (legumes), quinoa (whole grains), fresh pico de gallo (vegetables, herbs), and avocado (healthy, monounsaturated fats) can still be consumed whilst following the MedDiet plan.  Research has shown that as long as these types of whole, fresh foods are consumed, it doesn’t matter if they come from the Mediterannean region.  Check out the MedDiet score sheet to see how your diet stacks up!

My Experience
I have been looking forward to doing the MedDiet more than any other diet since I decided to embark on this whole project.  After the hell month that was the Fast Metabolism Diet, I was expecting to have a similar response to the flexibility and joy of the MedDiet as I did when I made the Paleo to Weight Watchers transition.  It didn’t go as smoothly this time around.  While I was restricted on both FMD and Paleo, I didn’t develop the issues with eating/food on Paleo that I did with FMD.  As a recap, when I was following FMD, I felt consistently hungry, restricted, and over-analytical about food.  This resulted in me gorging myself on unhealthy foods because there was no reprieve from the monotony and control of the diet.  I cheated constantly, but I felt no actual enjoyment of what I was eating.
Unfortunately, these issues with food and eating transcended into the first 7-10 days of October.  I ate out of necessity, but I realize now that because of FMD, I had forgotten how to enjoy food – to even really taste it.  Luckily, this issue disappeared before it ruined my whole month.  I eased back into cooking for fun and joy, and I really got to stretch my legs in the kitchen again.  I can’t adequately describe how amazing this felt once I strapped on my proverbial chef hat and got to it.  For the past few months, I haven’t really tried many new recipes, I haven’t experimented much, and I’ve just been in a cooking rut.  But no longer! I didn’t even give a second thought to what I was eating – did it fit into the stipulations for this month’s eating plan? Was it too salty/too high fat/too many points/GMO-free?…and on and on and on.  I felt so much freedom this month.  In general, the MedDiet style of eating is how I like to eat anyways.  When in doubt (of me “following the plan”), I usually just threw in some more veggies to my meal, tossed the finished product with some extra olive oil, and poured myself a glass of wine.  Oh and then ate some dark chocolate for dessert.  Yes, this is real life, and this is actually a great way to eat.  Try it on. I bet you’ll like the way it fits J
Being in the kitchen again and doing it as a hobby instead of out of necessity brought so much joy to me this month.  It’s interesting, cooking in this Mediterranean way.  I felt relaxed, at peace.  Cooking can be meditative for me, and I felt it more this month than I have in a very long time.  Nearly everything I made this month was made from scratch and there is power and beauty in that.  Food is obviously a necessity, but to make it into an art is invigorating.  I loved that about this month. So very much.

Recipes
I already posted a number of recipes that I developed this month.  Here are some of my favorites that I didn’t create, but are worth noting.
Butternut Squash, Chickpea, Lentil Stew– My parents just bought me a crockpot when they were visiting earlier this month (thanks Mom and Dad!), and this was my first creation in it.  I LOVED it!  I was sort of lazy, though, and I didn’t cook anything beforehand, as the recipe recommends – I just threw it all in the crockpot the night before, started it the next morning, and then my house smelled like a freaking dream when I got home.  I topped this stew with toasted pepitas, pine nuts, and walnuts, and served with carrot apple muffins.

Hummus Crusted Chicken – So simple and easy! I didn’t serve mine with the squash and zucchini though.  I roasted carrots with a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and maple syrup for about 30 minutes, and then made a basic spinach salad to go along with all of it.

Kale Ricotta Gnocchi – This takes a little more time than most meals, so I recommend it for a lazy weekend evening.  This was one of those preparations that was meditative and lovely.  I truly enjoyed making this meal.  To make these a tad healthier, I substituted whole wheat flour for the white flour and part skim ricotta for the regular ricotta.  My gnocchi weren’t as pretty as hers, but who cares? They tasted pretty. I pan fried mine in the butter sage sauce and served with roasted butternut squash (tip: I like to leave the skin on my squash while it roasts and let it get nice and crispy.  It just adds another dimension of texture and flavor).
Hope you try some out and enjoy them as much as I did!

Final Stats
I’ll leave you now with the outcomes of this month.  I put on a couple pounds, but they were full of love, olive oil, and happiness so I’m ok with it.  Nothing else too earth shattering to report – but seriously, I can’t recommend this “diet” highly enough.  I hope I’ve made that clear.  Now pour yourself a glass of wine, get in the kitchen, and whip up some joy!

 

Goal/Normal

Smoothies

DASH

Low Fat

Sustainability

FMD

MedDiet

Anthros
Weight

121-60

124

123.5

123

123

125.5

127.5

BMI

18.5-24.9

19.5

19.5

19.25

19.25

19.7

20

PBF

21-32

19

?

?

?

?

?

WC

<35

27.5

?

26.5

27

27

27.5

HC

38

?

36.5

37

37.5

38

W:H Ratio

<0.8

0.72

?

0.73

0.73

0.72

0.72

Blood Pressure

<120/80

92/68

91/68

103/66

103/68

95/65

102/73

Diet
Total kcal

2000-2200

1980

1865

1780

1905

925-1688

1920

Protein (%)

Oct-35

17

15

22

19

15-61

16

CHO (%)

49-52

54

52

60

52

28-77

46

Fiber (g)

at least 25

33

30

23

25

30-52

28

Fat (%)

20-35

29

33

18

29

10-46

38

Sat Fat (%)

<10

7

8

7

8

3-7

7

Sodium (mg)

2300

2320

2147

2315

2282

1250-1740

2127

Potassium (mg)

4700

3925

3874

3143

3746

4014-4624

3826

Fruit/Veg (servings)

5-9

8-10

7-9

4-6

5-7

8-12

6-9

Cost

135.42

127.32

145.2

254.45

195.14

204.3

Fancy Food For Fun – Mediterannean Diet!

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This month I’ve been following the Mediterranean Diet.  I’m not going to go into any great deal on the specifics of the diet in this post (I’ll save that for the next one).  In short, the MedDiet is the traditional diet followed by the people that live along the Mediterannean Sea (go figure).  It is characterized by LOTS of fresh fruits and veggies, poultry and fish, whole grains, lots of olive oil, nuts and seeds, a little bit of dairy, and very little red meat.  And WINE!
I’ve had so much fun cooking over the last couple weeks, and I wanted to share some of my new recipes with you.  As a reminder, please apply the term “recipe” loosely.  I estimated the amounts of everything I used – I don’t measure. If you try something and don’t like it, it’s because I estimated incorrectly or because your tastebuds are broken.  You can choose the culprit.

From Brussels, With Love

Brussels Sprouts are my favorite vegetable.  If you just cringed, it’s because a) you’ve never actually had Brussels Sprouts or b) you haven’t had them made right.  Brussels Sprouts have a really nice bitter, but subtle flavor and they marry well with both savory ands sweet flavors.  The best combination out there is bacon and Brussels sprouts, but I like to add something sweet to balance it all out – typically dried cranberries or honey.
Here are a couple of my favorite ways to prepare B Sprouts.  Try them out if you hate (or think you hate) them or if you just want a new way to prepare these delicious little cruciferous veggies!

Triple B’s: Brussels Sprouts, Barley, and Bacon

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12-15 medium sprouts, ends and outer leaves removed, sliced in half along long axis
¼ cup walnuts, roughly chopped
2 T honey
2 T olive oil
1.5 T balsamic vinegar
2 T dried cranberries
1 apple, diced
¼ cup  crumbled feta
3 slices bacon, cooked and chopped into small pieces
½ cup barley (I used 10 Minute Barley from Trader Joe’s)

Preheat oven to 400°F.
Whisk together honey, oil, and vinegar in a small bowl.
Combine sprouts and walnuts in a bowl and coat with sauce.  Spread  onto a roasting pan with all ingredients except bacon and barley.  Roast in over for 30-35 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook and chop bacon and cook barley according to package directions.
When fruits, veggies, and nuts are soft, take out of oven, mix in barley and bacon, and eat up!

Toasted SooFoo with Brussels Sprouts and Baked Salmon

SooFoo can be found in the health food section of many grocery stores (I got mine at Safeway).  It is a blend of brown rice; green, black, and brown lentils; rye and wheat berries; oats; barley; and buckwheat, making it a really tasty and great source of whole wheat grains.  I’ve also seen something similar to this at Trader Joe’s – I think it’s called Harvest Medley, and it takes less time to cook, making this a very easy dish to throw together when you don’t have a ton of time.
I’ve already given my spiel about my love for Brussels Sprouts, so I won’t go into that again.  Lastly, salmon is by far my favorite animal protein source.  It’s such a diverse, mellow flavored fish, and I never tire of cooking it.
So here was my attempt at combining this strange mix of grains along with my favorite veggie and protein.  I was pleasantly surprised at the result.

Serves 2-3

½ cup SooFoo
1 cup water
1 large salmon filet
~1-2 T olive oil
salt, pepper to taste
juice of half a lemon
7-8 brussels sprouts, outside leaves and stems discarded and cut into ribbons
~2 T pine nuts
~3 T dried cranberries
4-5 dried apricots, roughly chopped
~2 T parsley, roughly chopped

In a small/medium saucepan, bring water and SooFoo to a boil, reduce to simmer for 40-50 minutes. You know how it goes :).
Meanwhile, drizzle salmon filet with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and squeeze lemon juice on top.  Place in a cold oven, heat to 400°F, and take out in 25 minutes.  This is the best way I know to cook salmon.
When SooFoo is nearly done, start sautéing Brussels Sprouts and pine nuts in just a bit of olive oil (you don’t want them to be soaking, just enough so they don’t burn). Sprinkle with salt and pepper. After about 3-4 minutes, add in the SooFoo and a little more oil in order to toast the grains. Stir occasionally to prevent burning. Mix in apricots, cranberries, and parsley.  Season with salt and pepper to taste
Serve salmon over veggie, fruit, and grain mixture.  Add parsley for garnish.
I ate this dish with a nice big glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, but I’m not going to pretend to know how to pair wine with food.  Whatever makes you happy! J

My oh my, the Pizza Pie!

Everyone loves pizza! And what’s better than pizza? Homemade pizza, that’s what! It’s so easy (and cheap) to make at home, and I don’t take advantage of it nearly enough. If you don’t want to make the dough, you can buy it in the freezer section at some grocery stores (Sprouts definitely has it; I haven’t checked elsewhere).  I really like making it, though, because it’s fun to see the whole thing come together from scratch.  Here are a couple of my most recent concoctions.
Use this recipe for Whole Wheat-ish Pizza Dough.  This will make enough dough for two pies.  You can easily halve it or you can just save the dough in a Ziploc bag – just make sure to squeeze all the air out of the bag.  I kept mine for 3 days in between pies; I don’t know how much longer it would last.

Pesto Mediterranean Pizza

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Whole wheat pizza dough (see above link)
Pesto (make from scratch by blending together some basil and olive oil until you get the consistency you want, add pine nuts/walnuts, salt and pepper to taste.)
Marinated artichoke hearts, sliced into ribbons
Marinated garlic stuffed olives, roasted red peppers, diced
6-8 cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters
1.5 cups mozzarella cheese (I use 2% milk fat)
½ cup feta cheese
basil chiffonade

Preheat oven to 425°C.
This is pretty much a free for all.  Roll out the dough on a countertop covered in flour.  If you’re feeling adventurous, do some tosses to make the pie.  I didn’t do that.
Transfer the dough to a pizza stone or pan.
Spread pesto (however much you want) onto dough.  Cover pesto with veggies (the veggies I bought were just marinated in jars. I got them from Safeway, but use whatever you want.  There are no rules here).
Top veggies with mozzarella and feta cheeses and chiffonade basil leaves
Bake for ~15 minutes or until cheese is melted and crust is lightly browned.

Pumpkin, Spicy Sausage, Fried Sage, and Smoked Gouda Pizza

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Whole wheat pizza dough (see above link)
~1 cup pureed pumpkin
nutmeg and fresh ground pepper to taste
1 spicy turkey sausage, fried and crumbled
2 T olive oil, separated
1 cup smoked gouda, shredded
1 cup mozzarella cheese (I use 2% milk fat)
6-7 large leaves of sage, torn apart roughly
2-3 T pine nuts

Preheat oven to 425°C.
Start by rolling out the dough as before and transferring to pizza stone/pan.
Brush ~1 T olive oil onto dough. Spread pumpkin puree over the dough.  Sprinkle a little nutmeg and pepper over pumpkin.
Spread the cooked sausage over the pumpkin and top with cheeses.  I actually used only gouda in my pizza, but it’s not a very “melty” cheese.  I would recommend mixing with mozzarella in order to get more melt.
Sautee the sage and pine nuts in remaining oil over medium-high heat until sage is crispy and pine nuts are slightly browned.  Sprinkle them over the cheese.
Bake for ~15 minutes or until cheese is melted and crust is lightly browned.

Hope you enjoy these! Please let me know if you have any questions! Cheers 🙂

Sionara Smoothies!

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Smoothie month may have been my favorite month thus far.  I think that is likely due to the fact that smoothie month involved absolutely no restrictions – it was just an addition to my diet.  I was still able to eat all the food I wanted to, which made it super easy to adhere to the “diet.” And therein lies the problem with smoothies.  Smoothies are so easy to incorporate into the diet because they taste good.  But, as I’ve said before, they can be very calorically dense, which means that it’s easy to over-do the smoothie thing.

Last month I lost 4 pounds, and I was worried about the weight loss.  I started this month by replacing my breakfast with a smoothie.  I realized pretty quickly that I wasn’t going to gain any weight that way.  Typically, breakfast for me consists of 400-500 kcals, and my average smoothie was probably about 300-350 kcals.  Clearly, that isn’t going to result in weight gain, so I decided to start drinking the smoothies as a snack in either the morning or the afternoon.  I found that I snacked less on empty calories and that I was able to regain the weight that I had lost the previous month.  This actually happened to be a perfect fit because I was able to get in plenty of extra, nutrient-dense calories. It’s easy to eat extra, empty calories (i.e. chips, cheese, candy, French fries, etc.), but those leave me feeling sluggish and lazy.  Packing in calories that were rich in vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals is the best way I’ve ever put on weight.

Moral of the story: If you want to pack more nutrients into your day via smoothies, you can do it.  If you want to gain a little weight, add it to your normal diet.  If you want to lose a little weight, replace a meal with one. SCIENCE!

 I also have a few tips based off some of my experiences.

Some fruits/veggies don’t blend well: apples, mangoes, celery, grapefruit, carrots.  Whenever I added apples to my smoothies, they came out with the consistency of applesauce.  Mangoes – again, weird texture…the same is probably true of peaches, plums, etc.  Celery is really good when you juice it, though it also lends a weird consistency to a smoothie.  Grapefruit (maybe other citrus, I didn’t try any) wasn’t a good addition to smoothies.  The pith doesn’t break down well, and you’ll get weird “skins” throughout your smoothie, which is pretty gross.  I didn’t actually try to put carrots into my blender because experience and a brain told me that wouldn’t blend well.  However, carrots are a great veggie to juice, and carrot juice is delicious.  Drink it on its own or add to a smoothie of your liking.

Liquid is necessary.  This is pretty obvious, but there were some fruits that I thought had more liquid in them than they do (berries, mostly), and your smoothie will come out super thick and more like a puree than anything drink-able.  I usually just added water, coconut water, or almond milk to increase the drinkability of these smoothies.

For thickness/creamy texture: avocado, avocado, avocado.  I had never thought to put avo in a smoothie before, but it’s one of my favorite foods, so I tossed it in just to see what would happen.  Magic happened.  The avocado adds a very subtle flavor, but gives a smoothie a really silky texture.  Plus, avocadoes are full of monounsaturated fats, fiber, and potassium. Never a bad thing! Plain greek yogurt also gives a similar result.

And now for my favorite smoothie and my favorite juice. Sorry, as usual, for not real recipes.  As usual, I didn’t measure anything.  These are estimates – adjust accordingly.

Berry Avo Smoothie -This is tangy.  Replace the cranberry juice with coconut water if you want something a little sweeter.

½ avocado

¼ cup 100% cranberry juice

4-5 strawberries

handful each of blueberries, raspberries, and frozen cherries

dollop of nonfat plain Greek yogurt

~1 tbsp flax seeds

Carrot-Pineapple-Ginger Juice (2 servings) –This is amazing.  I only made a couple of juices because they’re a pain in the ass to make/clean up, but this one is SO good.  It just felt like I was giving my body a hug when I drank it.

6-7 full sized carrots

½ pineapple

2 celery stalks

A few quarter sized slices of fresh ginger (I LOVE ginger, so reduce this if you don’t)

 

Goal/Normal

Baseline Data

Vegan

Paleo

WW

GF

Smoothies

Anthro    
Weight

121-60

127.5

127.5

128.5

124

120

124

BMI

18.5-24.9

20

20

20.1

19.5

19

19.5

PBF

21-32

21.4

21.2

20.6

21.3

18.5

19.0

WC

<35

27.5

27.5

27.5

27.5

27.5

27.5

HC

38.5

37.5

38

38

38

38

W:H Ratio

<0.8

0.71

0.73

0.72

0.72

0.72

0.72

Blood Pressure

<120/80

113/77

101/69

105/72

110/70

93/65

92/68

Diet    
Total kcal

2000-2200

1975

1809

1965

1900

1850

1980

Protein (g)

77.5

57

100

75

78

80

Protein (%)

Oct-35

16

12%

20

16

17

17

CHO (%)

49-52

51

39-50

47

54

52

54

Fiber (g)

at least 25

26

42

32

27

29

33

Fat (%)

20-35

29.5

44-54

47

30

31

29

Sat Fat (%)

<10

7

8

8

7

7

7

Sodium (mg)

2300

2587

2138-2527

2132

2370

2250

2320

Potassium (mg)

4700

3479

3959-4109

3742

3628

3658

3925

Fruit/Veg (servings)

5-9

3-7

8-12

6-8

5-7

6-8

8-10

Cost

192.59

206.38

120.97

128.57

135.42

 

Again, sorry for the late post.  I just moved to Boulder, CO on Saturday, so things have been a bit hectic.  But don’t worry! I haven’t fallen off the diet-a-month train. This month I’ve started following the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet.  I won’t give too much away yet, but if you’re interested in improving your vascular health, stay tuned! I’ll give a nice physiology lesson on how sodium and potassium impact vascular function next time, and I’ll go through some basics of keepin your ticker and its extensions in good working order.

Gluten Free Livin’

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Hey, remember in January when I was good at having a blog and posted all the time? The good ol’ days. I now suck at having a blog, but I’m still keeping up with the experiment.  This month was a little crazy for me (I’m pretty sure I’ve said that every month, though).  I spent the first half of the month getting ready to defend my dissertation, then I defended my dissertation (and passed! I’m a doctor now!), and the last half of the month was spent coming down from the craziness, but also still writing and editing manuscripts and grading 2o95471371o25 assignments.  So that’s part of the reason why I haven’t been writing.
The other main reason why I haven’t been writing is because I absolutely hate discussing this topic with people.  This month I went gluten free (sort of…more on that in a minute).  I don’t have anything against gluten free (GF) foods — it’s more so the craze about the evils of gluten that pisses me off.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation with a random stranger, usually on an airplane:
Stranger: What do you do?
Me: I’m a nutritional scientist.
Stranger: Oh, what do you study?
Me: Vascular health.
Stranger: Oh, neat. What do you think about food allergies?
Me: I don’t think about them too much.
Stranger: laughs nervously and looks confused.
Me: Smile sweetly, put in earbuds, turn on iPod, close eyes.
If you don’t get why this is annoying, it’s because vascular disease and food allergies are extremely different topics. I try to be understanding of the fact that most people probably don’t appreciate how huge of a field nutrition is.  In many cases, I’m sure I’m extremely ignorant to what other people do.  You could be in finance, and I’d probably say something stupid like, “so how about this tax season?” And you’d smile sweetly, put in your earbuds, turn on your iPod, and close your eyes because you do absolutely nothing related to taxes and I’m an idiot.

I’m certainly not saying that food allergies/sensitivities aren’t a real thing because they definitely are.  Food allergies seem to be on the rise, and I wish I had a good explanation as to why that is.  I don’t.  But I don’t feel bad about it because no one really does.  I could speculate and say that it’s because we just know more about them and we know how to diagnose them, and that’s why we’re seeing more of them — not because of any actual pathology.  There is definitely a genetic link to it, but this doesn’t explain the huge surge that we’ve seen.  Some say there is a huge, population-wide evolutionary change that is causing us to react to gluten.  That doesn’t make much sense to me, though, because if we think of ‘survival of the fittest,’ why would we evolve to NOT digest a widely available food? It’s typically the other way around…like with humans drinking dairy.  We’re the only species that consumes milk after infancy, and that happened in response to animal husbandry in Europe, which is why many people of Asian or African descent are lactose intolerant.  They’re actually the normal ones.  The rest of us are mutants. Or it could be a huge government conspiracy.  That’s probably it.

But I digress. Now for a brief overview of the types of gluten intolerance.
Celiac Disease – This is an immune reaction to gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, barley or rye.  This reaction causes damage to the small intestine, which can result in malnutrition as many nutrients can’t be absorbed when the small intestine is damaged. People with Celiac’s typically have GI distress whenever they eat gluten (including diarrhea, bloating, cramps, etc).  There can also be less obvious signs/symptoms of Celiac’s, including anemia, depression, skin rashes, etc. You can get tested for Celiac’s, but you may test negative and still have a gluten intolerance/sensitivity because the test for Celiac’s only tests for a very specific protein (alpha-gliadin), and there are 5 other components of gluten that a person can react to.

Wheat Allergy– This is also an immune reaction to wheat, but it’s a little different than Celiac because of the parts of the immune system that are activated.  Once again, you can be tested for a wheat allergy, and the treatment isn’t quite as restrictive because you can still eat barley and rye.

Gluten Sensitivity– For a long time, doctors thought this was totally bogus and that people who tested negative for CD but who claimed to have an issue with gluten were just hypochondriacs.  But more research indicates that there is a very wide spectrum of reactions to gluten that can range from fairly minor (a little bloating, maybe some skin issues) to extremely painful (explosive diarrhea).  If you suspect that you have a gluten intolerance, try eliminating it from your diet.  If your symptoms go away and then reappear when you reintroduce gluten, you probably have a gluten intolerance.

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So what’s my issue with this whole gluten free thing? I’ve clearly just shown that there is a wide array of issues with gluten and that there isn’t necessarily a medical diagnosis for all of them.  My issue is that people who have absolutely no reaction to gluten like to be food snobs and think that foods that are GF are somehow healthier than foods that aren’t.  There is no evidence that suggests that gluten can have any adverse effects on your health if you don’t have a gluten intolerance.  There are a lot of THEORIES by BLOGGERS, but I’ve seen no EVIDENCE from SCIENTISTS.  And that’s where I like to get my information.  But whatever, go ahead and pay extra money for gluten free foods.  If someone is looking for a lucrative business venture, I recommend starting a gluten free bakery or a gluten free potato chip company (chips of course are already gluten free, but label it that way, stick it on a shelf at Whole Foods, and you can make a pretty nice profit off of it).  It’s incredible what people will pay money for.

Michael Pollan (author of In Defense of Food and The Omnivore’s Dilemma) describes this phenomena as “orthorexia”: an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. I think we have an epidemic of it in this country, which is ironic because we also have an obesity epidemic.  Here is a hilarious example of orthorexia in the grocery store:  The Terrible Tragedy of the Healthy Eater. Give it a whirl. You’ll laugh. Because you’ll read this:

“As you read more you begin to understand that grains are fine but before you eat them you must prepare them in the traditional way: by long soaking in the light of a new moon with a mix of mineral water and the strained lacto-fermented tears of a virgin.”

Alright, now that I’ve talked enough smack about people obsessed with healthy eating, let me give you a run down of my GF month.

So it turns out that gluten is in a lot of stuff that you wouldn’t expect it to be in, like soy sauce and salad dressing.  I did a hell of a lot of food label reading this month, and that got old.  To avoid that, I just stopped eating most processed foods, which wasn’t really all that hard because I don’t eat much processed food anyways.  And I always make my own salad dressings. Problem solved.

Bread: I didn’t try any gluten free breads because I don’t eat that much bread anyways, and it seemed like a waste of money to buy it just to say “hey this does (not) suck.”
Pasta: I love pasta, and while I don’t eat it that often, I’m not willing to give it up. I had heard some horror stories about wheat-free pasta, but my experience was just fine.  Quinoa pasta was my favorite.  I seriously couldn’t tell the difference between it and normal pasta.  Quinoa pasta is a good middle ground between regular pasta and whole wheat — it’s higher in fiber than the normal stuff, and doesn’t have the distinct textural difference of whole wheat pasta.  I also tried rice pasta, which is really what most people hate on.   It wasn’t quite the same as normal pasta, but if  the choice is explosive diarrhea or a little different texture, then I’d just suck it up and eat rice pasta.
Other grains: I never realized how many gluten free foods I already eat.  Quinoa, rice, corn – all GF! Seriously, cooking at home was no challenge AT ALL.  I ate a lot of oatmeal this month, which is cool because I love oatmeal.  Oats, in and of themselves, are gluten free, but they’re typically processed on machinery that processes wheat or grown on fields that also grow wheat.  You just need to get steel cut oats if you want them to be GF.
Mexican food: Mexican food (one of my favorite things in life) is easy to make GF.  Just swap out flour for corn tortillas, and you’re golden.  Of course, there could be gluten in some other ingredients… refried beans? cheese? I don’t know. But read the labels on the cans or buy beans that haven’t been processed much, shred cheese from a block, and you should be fine.
Beer: This is where I started to suck.  I love beer, and it is just so full of gluten. I drank normal beer multiple times, but I also tried out some gluten free beers. Not too shabby.  Here’s a helpful list: The Best and Worse Gluten Free Beers I tried the New Planet 3R Raspberry Ale, and as the list says, this doesn’t really taste anything like beer.  It tastes good, and it would be a good segue for someone trying to get into beer by taking baby steps.  I also had the Redbridge Ale, which was really good, actually tastes like beer, and I wouldn’t have guessed it was GF.
Eating Out:  If you actually have Celiac’s and you are extremely sensitive to gluten, this may  prove to be challenging because you may need to eat places where they specify that GF foods aren’t cross contaminated with wheat.  Most places don’t take those kinds of precautions, but I think that those practices will become more common as time passes.  This month was especially hard for me compared to the other months.  I think the reason for that was that I just didn’t really see the point.  I already knew from my experience with Paleo (and life) that I don’t have a gluten sensitivity, so it was hard to adhere to it when I was eating out. It was a challenge with the other diet patterns as well, but with those, I was cutting out entire food groups in order to see if it affected my health, mood, etc.  Since I already knew that I wasn’t going to gain any insight on the whole gluten thing, it was harder for me to want to do it.  So a lot of times I didn’t.  I ate eggs benedict with an english muffin (I could have had them hold the muffin), I ate sandwiches, when I could have eaten a salad, I ate chicken and waffles (which were aswesome, btw. Check out Pasco if you live in Tucson. You won’t regret it) when I could have eaten a quinoa medley. My friend Dezi said he was going to call me out on my blog for being a cheater, but look who got to it first?!

Recipes!
I didn’t try to reinvent the wheel or anything this month and make my own recipes.  Like I said, I was busy. So I’ll just share some recipes that I did try.
Roasted Chickpeas  These were super good, and a nice, healthier substitute for crackers…but a couple words of caution: bake them longer than you think necessary.  If not, you’ll get some that are still soft in the middle, which isn’t bad when you eat them right away.  But wait a couple days, and they will taste weird and gross. You can really do anything with the flavors with these as well.  Use salt, cinnamon, and honey to make sweet and salty chickpeas…use parmesan and rosemary for another twist.  Go crazy.  It’ll be fun.

Polenta Pie  This was my first experience with polenta (which is simply corn meal and water).  I wasn’t thrilled with it, but that could have been my fault. It says in the recipe to “slowly whisk the corn meal into the boiling water.” Mine was more of just pouring the corn meal into the water.  It congealed immediately and I sort of burned it.  So the texture was weird and kind of mealy.  To make up for that, I added A TON of cheese, which made it edible by giving it more flavor and improving the consistency.  So, my first attempt at polenta wasn’t really a success, but I’m not ready to give up on it because I’ve heard good things.

Almond Butter Pancakes  This is another example of my inability to follow a recipe, which resulted in a crappy meal.  This recipe calls for almond flour, and I didn’t have any, so I substituted in coconut flour.  That was dumb. More dumb than the substitution was that I did a 1:1 sub for almond flour.  If you haven’t worked with it, you should know that coconut flour is EXTREMELY absorptive.  Had I done a quick google search of “coconut flour pancakes” I would have realized that I needed about 25% of what I used.  I had to add about 2 cups of almond milk to give it a consistency that even halfway resembled pancake batter.  This was my second experience with coconut flour (I also made “tortillas” while doing Paleo), and I don’t like it.  The consistency is weird and it’s hard to manipulate to make it work well. The end product falls apart, and I don’t like the flavor much.  SO, I bet if you wanted to try these pancakes, I imagine you would have success as long as you follow the directions.

Coconut Pecan Breakfast Cookies  These were probably my favorite thing that I made on the GF diet.  I’m not much of a baker (because you have to measure and be precise, and I hate that in cooking.  See above examples.), but these were easy and delicious. I didn’t have dried blueberries, so I used dried cranberries, and they were a good substitution.

Stats

Goal/Normal

Baseline Data

Vegan

Paleo

WW

GF

Anthro
Weight

121-60

127.5

127.5

128.5

124

120

BMI

18.5-24.9

20

20

20.1

19.5

19

PBF

21-32

21.4

21.2

20.6

21.3

18.5

WC

<35

27.5

27.5

27.5

27.5

27.5

HC

38.5

37.5

38

38

38

W:H Ratio

<0.8

0.71

0.73

0.72

0.72

0.72

Blood Pressure

<120/80

113/77

101/69

105/72

110/70

93/65

Diet
Total kcal

2000-2200

1975

1809

1965

1900

1850

Protein (g)

77.5

57

100

75

78

Protein (%)

Oct-35

16

12%

20

16

17

CHO (%)

49-52

51

39-50

47

54

52

Fiber (g)

at least 25

26

42

32

27

29

Fat (%)

20-35

29.5

44-54

47

30

31

Sat Fat (%)

<10

7

8

8

7

7

Sodium (mg)

2300

2587

2138-2527

2132

2370

2250

Potassium (mg)

4700

3479

3959-4109

3742

3628

3658

Fruit/Veg (servings)

5-9

3-7

8-12

6-8

5-7

6-8

Cost

192.59

206.38

120.97

128.57

Clearly I lost some weight this month and didn’t even notice.  I attribute this in no way to the GF diet.  I don’t want people looking at this and coming to the ridiculous conclusion that gluten makes you fat.  I was pretty stressed out the first half of the month, and my diet was weird.  I wasn’t always eating normal meals — a lot of snacking, and I probably just wasn’t eating as much.  I was also working out more this month, which could explain some of the weight loss. Either way, it looks like I need to pack on a few pounds, because I am damn near being “underweight,” according to the BMI categories (Aside: getting down to a weight this low shows me how freakishly thin models and celebrities are… or maybe how incredible photo editing techniques are. I don’t feel like I look that thin, so that just tells me how skinny famous people actually are. I’d like to see one in real life so I can make a more informed comparison.  If you are someone who sees me on the regular and think I look too thin, please tell me.)  My blood pressure is also looking particularly phenom, but I would attribute that to the fact that I’m no longer writing/preparing for a dissertation/defense.  Life isn’t nearly as stressful as it used to be.  So, in general, no huge surprises, other than the fact that I need to put on weight.
Sorry this has been the longest blog post of all time.  This is what I get for waiting a whole month to update you fine folks.  See you next month as I go on my 30 day Smoothie Challenge!

The Delicious Dish

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It’s recipe time! I’ve picked out some of my favorite recipes from the last few weeks of veganism.
You’ll notice that I use almost no “fake meat” products, which is by design.  My diet consisted of mostly unprocessed foods prior to my vegan adventure, so I didn’t want to introduce many of those in to my diet.  I’ve tried a few meatless products before, and for the most part, I don’t like them.  They don’t really mimic the texture of meat very well, and a lot of them are high in sodium.
Check out this article if you’d like some tips from the pros on incorporating more vegan products/recipes into your cooking repertoire.

Disclaimer: There are a few “recipes” that I have developed on my own.  I apologize in advance because I don’t measure anything when I’m not following a recipe (actually I don’t measure much even when I do follow a recipe).  So if you try something that you think you would normally like and find it repulsive, it could be because my estimations of ingredient amounts are off.  Or it could mean that you don’t know what good food tastes like.  Hard to say.

Sides

Citrus Poppy Seed Salad – I thought about using a substitute for the coconut oil because I didn’t have any, but decided to bite the bullet and purchase some.  Totally worth it.  The flavor of the coconut oil is so surprising when combined with the citrus, and it’s delicious.  I used ruby red grapefruit, blood oranges, and navel oranges in my salad.

Barbecued Blackeyed Peas– Ok, so these take a lot of time to make, but it’s mostly hands off time, so you can do plenty of other things while these are soaking/boiling/baking.  I also added a little brown sugar at the end, and it resulted in a sweet, spicy side dish.

Fruit Salad w/honey lime dressing– This is one of my favorite ways to add some flavor to a boring fruit salad.
Ingredients:
2 cups of chopped fruits (You can really use anything, but I used mango, blueberries, and strawberries)
2 T canola oil
2 T honey
2 T lime juice
1 T roughly chopped basil/mint

Whisk together all of the liquid ingredients in a small bowl and mix in the basil/mint.  Pour over the fruit, and enjoy!

Soups

Smokey Spicy Pumpkin Almond Soup– I know this link says butternut squash, but I didn’t feel like roasting and pureeing all that squash, so I used canned pumpkin instead.  I couldn’t find dried chipotle peppers, so I used canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.  Oh my spicy! I substituted coconut milk for heavy whipping cream, and because the soup was so spicy, I just poured in a whole 14 oz can (instead of 1 cup) to calm it down some.  I also added a little honey to sweeten it up.  I ate this first with some cranberry walnut bread (from Sprouts) and then ate leftovers with a black bean and quinoa stuffed bell pepper.

Aztec Soup – My friend Jenn gave me this recipe, and I can’t get over how easy it was to make (only took about 30 minutes) and how tasty it was. The toasted nuts, avocado, and tortilla chips add so much flavor and texture. I also added in a can of cannellini beans (drained and rinsed) to get some more protein, and a couple teaspoons each of cumin, coriander, and oregano.
Ingredients:
½ c pine nuts
½ c walnuts
2 TBS butter (or oil or vegan butter)
1 small onion-chopped
1 minced garlic clove
6 cups vegetable broth (I use a couple veggie buillon cubes)
2 cups diced butternut squash
1 package of frozen corn (10 oz.) or 1 can
1 avocado, cubed
½ c. pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
Blue corn tortilla chips

Saute the pine nuts and walnuts in 1 TBS of the butter until golden, then set aside in a bowl

Saute the onion and garlic in the other TBS butter, then add the broth, squash and corn and boil until the squash is soft

Serve in bowl and add in avocado, nuts, pepitas, and crushed tortilla chips

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Entrees

Kale Avocado Wraps w/Spicy Miso Dipped Tempeh – There may be some words in there that you don’t recognize.  Miso is soy fermented with a fungus to make a paste that is common in Japanese cuisine.  It’s tangy and tasty.  Tempeh is similar in that it is the product of fermentation of soybeans, but it isn’t tangy, and it makes a great, all natural meat substitute.  All in all, this dish provides lots of probiotics from the fermented foods, which I’m all about, since I’m not getting my daily dose of probiotics from yogurt.  I ate this yummy wrap with the fruit salad mentioned above and sweet potato fries.

Beany, Avocado, Cilantro Salad Surprise – This is one of my creations, which you could probably guess based on the stupid name I gave it. This salad could be eaten as a side or as a main dish, depending on how hungry you are.  The recipe below yields about 4 cups of protein-packed salad.

Ingredients
½ can chickpeas (drained and rinsed)
½ can black beans (drained and rinsed)
1 avocado, cubed
½ cucumber, diced in large chunks
½ red bell pepper, diced in large chunks
~1 cup spinach, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
-Mix all that stuff together

Dressing
½ cup packed cilantro
2 T lime juice
2 T orange juice
3 T olive oil
1 tsp agave nectar
salt and pepper to taste
-Blend all the dressing ingredients together (I used a Magic Bullet). Pour over salad and mix. Eat up!

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Indonesian Cabbage Salad (another recipe from Jenn) – Holy crap. I can’t get over how amazing this salad is.  It might be one of the best salads I’ve ever had. I love it. I love it so much.  Plus, it’s very aesthetically pleasing.  However, like the fool that I am, I forgot to buy bok choi, so I just added more carrots and bell pepper.  Jicama might also be a nice addition. As you can see, I also ate this with vegetarian pot stickers (from Sprouts).
Mix together the following:  1/2 head of purple cabbage shredded or cut thin, 4 stalks of bok choi (sliced thin), 1 carrot cut thin, 1 red bell pepper cut in thin strips, ½ c. fine chop cilantro, ½ c. raw sunflower seeds.
Add this curry sauce:
½ c. almond or peanut butter
½ c. water
¼ c. rice vinegar
2 TBS miso
1 TBS cilantro
2 TBS maple syrup or honey
1-2 tsp red or green curry paste
1 tsp. onion powder
½ tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp ground ginger
-Blend all of the above well and pour over veggies.

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Red Quinoa Broccoli Salad w/Almond Honey Vinaigrette This wasn’t a within-the-last-month discovery for me, but it is my favorite tofu dish, so it’s worth sharing. If you don’t have red quinoa, don’t fret! You can use normal quinoa (or rice)- it just won’t be as pretty. I also add dried cranberries/cherries to give it a little more flavor, texture, and color.

Vegan Alfredo – I know what you’re thinking. Alfredo is pretty much the antithesis of veganism. You are correct.  And while this doesn’t taste exactly like alfredo, it is surprisingly close, which was shocking given the ingredients from which it is comprised.  As an aside, the picture in this link has to be a lie.  All of the ingredients are brown (cashews, soy sauce, mustard, nutritional yeast flakes, etc).  I’m no artist, but from what I know, you can’t mix a bunch of brown colored things and get an off-white result.  So no, it doesn’t look like alfredo, but damn it, it tastes good.  I ate mine over whole wheat fusilli pasta with steamed broccoli. Delish.

Treats
Alright, you only get one treat because I’m tired of writing this post.

Honey-Almond Popcorn– I made my popcorn using actual popping corn, and not from microwaveable popcorn.  It’s cheap (buy it in the bulk section), and it tastes better and is healthier than microwaveable popcorn. But if you only have the in-the-bag stuff, go ahead and pop it, skip the first portion of the recipe, and join back in for Part 2.

Part 1:
In a heavy bottom pot (I use my pasta pot), heat 3 T of canola oil (or any other oil with a high smoking point, NOT olive oil) over medium-high heat.  If you want your popcorn salted, this is the time to add in the salt, as it will coat all of the popcorn as it pops.
Add in a couple of kernels of popping corn, cover the pot, and wait for the kernels to pop.  This is how you know the oil is hot enough.
Remove the pot from heat and add in 1/3 cup of corn kernels (this will yield ~8 cups of popcorn) and count to 30.  This step ensures that all the kernels and oil are at the same temperature.
Put the pot back on the heat, cover, leaving lid slightly ajar (this allows moisture to escape and keeps your popcorn crunchy instead of soggy). Let the popping commence.  Once you’ve got a popping frenzy going, shake the pot occasionally so that nothing sticks to the bottom and burns.
When popping is reduced to ~3 seconds between pops, remove from heat.

Part 2:
Heat 1/3 cup of honey over medium heat until it boils. Remove from heat.
Add a heaping spoonful of almond/peanut butter to the honey and stir until well mixed.
Pour over your popcorn, mix thoroughly, and dive in!

Hope this gives you some ideas for vegan-friendly dishes! I also hope that this shows that eating vegan isn’t boring or restrictive.  My diet is incredibly varied, and I’m never ever bored. Please leave a comment if anything isn’t clear or if you have questions!