Teaching Nutrition Education

When I decided that I would switch my career from Teaching to Nutrition, I had a feeling that the departure from teaching would not be a forever goodbye. I was right.

Last summer, at the very beginning of the nutrition graduate program I am in, I had the opportunity to help out at the Food As Medicine Everyday (FAME) series through the Food As Medicine Institute. At the core of this program is the empowerment of others to take the reins of their health. This is accomplished by a series of classes that combines, in each class, hands-on cooking experiences with nutrition lessons. I  can’t begin to tell you how much this experience with FAME meant to me. That summer with FAME showed me that I can still teach and help others on their own health journey through nutrition. That summer with FAME, a program that is meant to empower its participants, empowered me.

famifames Get a FAME book today!

I stuck around FAME and the Food As Medicine Institute (FAMI) to learn from them in other ways, but that experience with the nutrition education aspect of FAMI was definitely a spark that was ignited. By continuing to work with the program and furthering my own education in nutrition, that spark turned into a flame and that fire needed an outlet.

class2  Natural Grocers kitchen space

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In November, with a local plant-based chef from La Vida Veggie (Heather Solano), I co-presented my first class at a Natural Grocers grocery store for the local community and what an experience that was! I experienced several emotions that day from being a nervous wreck to worrying about how many people would show up to “Oh my gosh, we have 22 people in this kitchen; we can’t screw up!”  Heather and I taught a full-on vegan Thanksgiving menu to those 22 guests who seemed to thoroughly enjoy the nutrition component just as much as the cooking and eating portions. The fire kept growing.

I remember washing the dishes after that vegan Thanksgiving class and feeling so elated about what I was just a part of. I went home that afternoon exhausted, but completely motivated to figure out how to again achieve that feeling of elation. It didn’t take me long to connect with two other local grocery store chains: New Seasons Market and Fred Meyer.

I just taught my first New Seasons Market class on Mindful Eating and what an experience that was. There was no cooking involved, but the health and wellness topic still managed to get a group of eight individuals to commute through the slushy roads from Portland’s melting snow and ice. I may have led this class, but it was more of a facilitation experience thanks to the wonderful conversations and participation of the individuals who were in the room. I have another Mindful Eating class scheduled at a New Seasons Market and I’m definitely looking forward to connecting with another group in an attempt to strengthen their and my own connection to food in a more nourishing way.

fredmeyer Beautiful 20th Century Workshop kitchen space at Stadium Fred Meyer.

With Fred Meyer,  I knew of a local store equipped with a kitchen space that they used for classes. You can probably guess what happened next…I met with the kitchen coordinator, we were both mutually interested in coordinating a class or multiple classes, and we scheduled the first one. I just taught that class a week ago (Jan. 21st) and again I had an amazing experience that was very different from the Natural Grocers class. At this class, the smaller group allowed for a completely hands-on cooking approach that had us all huddled and cooking together while learning about the nutrition and health benefits of 3 plant-based breakfast recipes and enjoying conversations about nutrition and health.

The fire continues to burn and I have scheduled more classes at these listed grocery stores and am even going to begin co-teaching Food As Medicine Everyday classes at an elementary school twice a month. How amazing does that sound?! You’re probably not going to be surprised to hear that I am  currently planning a career that includes community nutrition education because of how inspired I am each time I conduct a class. Teaching at these stores and interacting with their customers has been a phenomenal experience. At a grocery store, you never know who to expect. It’s a wonderful place where different socioeconomic statuses, different levels of nutrition backgrounds, different health perspectives and experiences, and more, are all represented and can be present in the very room you are about to teach your class in. This is what community education is all about–bringing in and interacting with different persons and perspectives while teaching and learning from  each other through the sharing of questions and stories–and I’m grateful for these opportunities, but especially to FAME for igniting that initial spark.

willatgreenfest Manda (friend and FAMI staff) and I working the Food As Medicine Institute contest booth at the Portland Green Festivals, December 2016.

 

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Ground Up Nut Butters- Nutrition Spotlight: Cashews

The following post/article was written as a partnership with Ground Up nut butters, a Portland women-owned and run small business. Part of Ground Up’s mission:  “[T]raining disadvantaged women in the Greater Portland area in marketable skills through the production and sales of delicious & nutritious nut butters!….Our goal is for women to engage in creative self-expression with the hope of gaining confidence and realizing their full potential. Women will work with us for 6-9 months and then transition into full-time employment at Portland-area businesses.”

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Nutrition Spotlight: Cashews

By Wilfredo Benitez, www.EatRunandDone.com

Disclaimer: While the nutritional information contained within this article is supported through research, individuals on a strict diet plan or with a condition should consult with their physician before introducing cashews or other tree nuts into their diet.

If you were to guess which of the most commonly consumed nuts in the U.S. has the lowest lipid profile, would you guess cashews? If so, you’d be right and if not, well now you know. But that’s not to indicate that the fats from nuts and seeds are bad and that consumption of them should be avoided. For some, the lower fat profile is an added benefit for a variety of reasons, but with the many benefits of cashews, this is one nut that should be added to your grocery list if it is not already a regular.

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Let’s take a look at what the health benefits of cashews are and what these benefits are attributed to.

There are different types of fats: saturated fats and unsaturated fats (these include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids). Cashews have a greater amount of healthy monounsaturated fatty acids compared to other fatty acids and this is where most of the benefits of cashews come from. It is well supported that monounsaturated fats can help reduce triglycerides which are normal to have in the body, but a high amount of this form of fat has been linked to a greater risk for heart disease. One study even found that the risk of heart disease was 37% lower for individuals who ate nuts more than four times a week compared to those who never or rarely consumed nuts. To apply this to real life, and with the disclaimer that I am not a medical professional, it may not be a bad idea to enjoy a tablespoon of nut butter a few times a week, perhaps much more depending on your metabolism and lifestyle.

groundup8 Oatmeal for breakfast with some cashew nut butter is a great way to keep full longer and to get healthy fats, protein, and other minerals in your diet. 

 

If you’re worried about gaining weight from including nut butter or nuts in your diet, think again. There are numerous studies that debunk the idea that eating nuts leads to weight gain. Sure, having a diet very high in fat without the lifestyle to warrant it, may indeed lead to weight gain and other issues, but that can be said for almost anything. In fact, many studies have shown that a diet that includes a healthy amount of nuts is linked to better weight control and prevention of weight gain.

Lastly, I wouldn’t be doing cashews justice if I didn’t speak to them as an excellent source of copper, a mineral that we need to get from our diet. This essential mineral is necessary for utilizing iron in the body, energy production, eliminating free radicals in the body that damage cells and organ systems, and for formation of collagen which is essential for bone and tissue health. Not much copper is needed on a daily basis, but an inadequate intake of copper can lead to issues with blood vessels, joint problems, undesirable cholesterol levels, and possibly iron deficiency anemia. It should be good to know that just two tablespoons of whole cashews (about 1 tablespoon of cashew butter) offer about 40% of one’s daily recommended intake of copper.

                      –The author of this article thinks that carrot sticks and Ground Up nut butter is a phenomenal combination and a great way to absorb the fat soluble Vitamin A in carrots. Feel free to connect with him via his blog or on IG: @eatrunanddone.

Beanfields Recipe #2: Roasted Bell Pepper and Eggplant Dip!

Who doesn’t love a good dip? I absolutely love hummus, but I don’t want to eat hummus all the time. So I decided to create this Beanfields Snacks recipe for a dip that I know you’ll enjoy! It’s vegan and gluten-free and it can be used as a spread or, as I can attest to, be eaten straight out of the bowl!  And do you see those ingredients? It’s completely guilt-free and full of nutrients! That’s what I call Food As Medicine.

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Nutrients of this recipe (only some!):

Bell peppers – Vitamin C (157% in 1 cup!), B6, Vitamin A

Eggplant- Not an excellent source of vitamins and minerals, but a source nonetheless. Instead, though, eggplant provides us with nasunin, a potent antioxidant compound that protects cell membranes from damage.

Chickpeas- Manganese, Folate, Copper, Fiber, Phosphorus, Protein, Iron, Zinc

Health Benefits: In short, this recipe is packed with vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients to keep us well. Don’t know what phytonutrients are? Think again. I’m sure you’ve heard of  carotenoids, flavonoids, and polyphenols before. Well, this recipe is full of phytonutrients that work to keep our body healthy and functioning properly. I won’t make specific health claims, but I recommend that if you are really curious about them, visit WHFoods.com to research some of the foods in this recipe and read about the numerous health benefits and you can follow up with the studies that support the claims.

Admittedly, as I’m learning as a nutrition student, it is best to eat bell peppers and many other vegetables without exposing them to heat (i.e. raw) due to the loss of some nutrients, but who says both can’t be done? I mean, what’s to stop you from enjoying this dip with slices of bell pepper, carrots, or celery? So, go ahead and have fun making this dip and eating it too!

ROASTED BELL PEPPER & EGGPLANT DIP

Ingredients

Red bell pepper- 1 medium

Eggplant- ½ medium

Chickpeas- 1 cup

Beanfields Jalapeno chips- ¼ cup crushed

Nutritional yeast- 1tbsp (optional)

Garlic- 1-2 cloves

Onion- ½ onion, sautéed

Olive oil- 4 tbsp (1/4 cup)

Water- 2-3 tbsp

Salt- ¼ teaspoon (more or less to taste)

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Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°.
  2. Coat roasting dish with 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil.
  3. Slice bell pepper and eggplant and coat with oil using an oil brush. Place on roasting dish and roast in oven for 45 minutes.
  4. Pour and spread teaspoon of olive oil on sauté or frying pan and heat skillet on low heat.
  5. Chop onion and garlic and sauté in skillet on medium heat until almost fully cooked (approx. 5 minutes).
  6. Add chickpeas to pan for another 3-5 minutes. Add another teaspoon of olive oil if necessary.
  7. Take out the bell pepper and eggplant and place all ingredients in a blender, including remaining olive oil, Beanfields chips, and nutritional yeast if you are using it.
  8. Blend the ingredients on a lower mode until a proper dip texture is formed; the dip should not be too thick when in blender as it will thicken more when it sits and cools. Pour/scoop the dip into a bowl or container and place in fridge for an hour or so to cool. (This dip can also be enjoyed hot as a topping or as a side.)
  9. Enjoy however and with whatever you please!

 

Happy Eating & Cooking!

Pump(kin) Up Your Health!

 

The following blog post was written for and published on the Food As Medicine Institute (FAMI) blog.

 

Everyone knows that we are in pumpkin season right now. If you weren’t aware, it’s about time to get your head out of the gutter. Actually, since those gutters are probably full of fallen autumn leaves, you may want to get back to work. I digress…

Did you know that pumpkins are part of the Cucurbitaceae family which include melons, cucumbers, gourds, and squashes? That’s right: pumpkins are related to cucumbers! Neat, right? As a cucurbitacin, pumpkins are high in phytonutrients that will help keep you healthy and well throughout the fall season. But that means you have to eat them, not just take pictures of an orchard or create jack-o’-lanterns with your kids. Sadly, that just won’t cut it.

Healthy because its orange.

The more colorful the food, the better they are for you. If only it were that simple. Well, actually, it often is, with several exceptions of course. Don’t toss out that cauliflower or onion just yet!

The orange hue of the pumpkins’ skin and flesh is due to specific phytonutrients, chemicals found in plant foods. The phytonutrient category that lends the orange color to pumpkins are carotenoids which include specific chemicals you may or may not have heard of such as beta carotene, alpha carotene, lutein, lycopene, and others. Is there another vegetable that you can think of that is orange and might have carotenoids in it?

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But how are pumpkins healthy?

Due to the nutrient profile of pumpkins, this winter squash variety, like most winter squash varieties, is an anti-inflammatory and even an anti-cancer food. While most of the studies on winter squash’s benefits for health have been conducted on laboratory animals, there have been numerous studies on the various nutrients in pumpkin that support the claims made here.

One of the many benefits that the beta carotene nutrient in pumpkin provides for our bodies is reducing organ damage brought on by oxidative stress in the body. What causes oxidative stress? A poor diet, smoking, drug use, and environmental pollutants are among the sources. And what does oxidative stress lead to if left unchecked? Disease and possibly cancer.

Some studies show that adequate or higher levels of carotenoids may result in a reduced risk of pancreatic cancer and a reduced risk of breast cancer for women. And there is adequate research to show that the nutrients found in pumpkin have been shown to improve blood sugar regulation and possibly improve cardiovascular health. Even iron deficiency anemia may be prevented or treated with Vitamin A supplementation and pumpkin has plenty of Vitamin A.

So what are you waiting for? Start pump(kin)ing up your health today!

 Health properties (not every micronutrient is included)

Based on 1 cup:

Calories: approx. 50

Rich in: Vitamin A

Good source of: B2 (Riboflavin), Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Copper, Iron,

Decent source of: Manganese, Phosphorus, and Potassium.

Bonus: Pumpkin has minimal amounts (but amounts nonetheless!) of all of the essential amino acids.

The pumpkin oatmeal recipe that I wrote up for this blog post can be found on the FAMI blog. 🙂

Enjoy your health!

 

References:

  1. Jansen RJ, Robinson DP, Stolzenberg-solomon RZ, et al. Nutrients from fruit and vegetable consumption reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer. J Gastrointest Cancer. 2013;44(2):152-61.
  2. Esrefoglu M, Akinci A, Taslidere E, Elbe H, Cetin A, Ates B. Ascorbic acid and beta-carotene reduce stress-induced oxidative organ damage in rats. Biotech Histochem. 2016;91(7):455-464.
  3. Jayaprakasam B, Seeram NP, Nair MG. Anticancer and antiinflammatory activities of cucurbitacins from Cucurbita andreana. Cancer Lett. 2003;189(1):11-6.
  4. Eliassen AH, Hendrickson SJ, Brinton LA, et al. Circulating carotenoids and risk of breast cancer: pooled analysis of eight prospective studies. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2012;104(24):1905-16.
  5. Semba RD, Bloem MW. The anemia of vitamin A deficiency: epidemiology and pathogenesis. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2002;56(4):271-281.

Get Those Kids Moving!

An article I recently read on ScienceDaily.com is the motivation behind this post. That article  covered a study that was recently published in Sports Medicine on how high-intensity (this is measured, not simply just an extreme or inhumane amount of exercise) exercise can reduce the amount of adipose tissue of 6-8 year old kids. Obvious right? Get a kid doing sprint intervals on a track or sign him or her up for a daily boot camp session at your local gym and he or she is bound to burn off some fat and lose some weight, extra or not. But in this study, just 10 minutes (yes, 10, not an hour or 2 hours)  of high-intensity exercise resulted in less central adiposity (when fat is stored in the mid-section, it is a risk factor for many diseases and other health problems).

Ten minutes is nothing right? Wrong. It maybe used to be “nothing”, but in a time where recess at school is not necessarily the norm and physical education, or gym class, does not happen every day, those 10 minutes of healthy activity–exercise, if you will–may be more hard for your children to come by then you would think.

So here’s an idea: on days that your child doesn’t have gym class or soccer practice or gymnastics practice, etc., plan to do something active with them for a minimum of ten minutes. You may think, “Oh, they have soccer practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays and a game every Saturday. They really need those other days off to just relax.” Not necessarily. First off, they likely won’t get burnt out by playing at your local park,  scootering, skateboarding, or biking around the neighborhood, or playing some frisbee in a nearby safe open space. They’re kids! In fact, they’ll probably love the extra time they get to spend with neighborhood friends, mom, dad, sister, brother, cousin, babysitter, aunt, uncle, etc. If having kids exercise in a fun, healthy way isn’t great enough, here’s a bonus: if you’re involved, this idea gets you out the door as well! Heck, stay inside and play some DDR or whatever has replaced DDR at this point (I haven’t played video games in quite a long time); if DDR isn’t high-intensity, I don’t know what is!

But here’s something you must, must remember to do or else the “health” aspect just goes right out the window: fuel your kiddo(s) with some healthful, nourishing, love-filled foods before and after this exercise time. If your child is grabbing a handful of Skittles or downing a bag of Doritos before you start your bonding/exercise/playing time, they’re not going to be getting the same health effects that should be resulting from the healthy activities. The same thing goes for if they walk in the door after a half-hour of playing at the park and go right for the cookies or whatever else is their go-to. This applies to us as adults so why not foster these healthy habits in our youth. It’s kind of our moral obligation in a way.

So how do we do this? How do we abide by our moral obligation to help keep our youth healthy? We teach them. We talk to them and with them. We learn together–no matter how much you already know–that an apple (classic example so please substitute this with any other fruit, vegetable, etc.) is healthier than the Skittles and we learn why that is as well. We learn that we can add peanut butter to the apple slices and maybe a dash of cinnamon and we have a delicious treat. We make our own granola bars or we get really smart about what bars we bring into the home. We strive to make at least one recipe a week with our children to teach them the importance of preparing our own meals, and we have fun while doing it.  We model what we preach. We walk our talk. We don’t grab the cookies when we walk in the door. We don’t buy the potato chips but then tell our kids that they can’t have any…they’ll just have some when you’re not looking. We need to be great, not just good, at role modeling what we want our kids to do or not do. And lastly, we need to build on what our kids are learning about in school when it comes to food and nutrition. There are some great programs and articles for kids out there that do a great job about teaching our children the importance of eating healthily and limiting the junk food, but all of these articles and nutrition programs have very little effect if these conversations and new ideas are not continued and fostered at home. Let’s change that!

Let’s make healthy fun. Let’s make “exercise” fun (maybe without even saying the word exercise!). Let’s make food fun and engaging and something we can all look forward to learning about together.

So get going. Go have some fun with the kiddo(s) in your life!

PS: That’s me in the picture above with my niece. This was taken a few years ago so she was either 6 or 7. You may be thinking, “How is she ‘moving’ if she’s on your shoulders?” She’s on my shoulders because she and I “ran” the entire first mile off and on and had a blast while doing it. She would sprint. I would chase her. She would chase me. We ran in circles. We pet dogs. We had so much fun and I put her on my shoulders to pose for this picture, but we continued running off and on for the next mile. She didn’t want to complete the 5k and there was no harm in that!

Own The Day with Nii.

 

If you were at Portland VegFest this past November, it is likely you were introduced to a new food bar that, if you are into bars and healthy snacks, should be in your pantry. For that matter, keep one in your glove compartment and your office desk while you’re at it. Nii (rhymes with “bye”) Bars are nutrient-packed and have ingredients that make for sustainable, long-term energy to keep you fueled throughout your workday afternoon as well as your outdoor adventures.

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I came across Nii bars while grocery shopping one day. I picked up what I thought was a “Knee” bar and the simple, whole foods ingredients led me to grab a couple more. What caught my attention right away was the first ingredient of the Almond Chocolate Chip bar that was in my hand: raw organic almond butter. Listen here people: a nut butter as the first ingredient is something you just don’t see in other food/protein/energy/nutrition bars; typically you’ll see dates or some form of syrup sweetener.

I did some research and realized I could totally get behind what Nii was and is about. Their “Own the Day” philosophy is one I try to live by each day and their ingredients are what I look for in a food bar. They’re not only vegan which is a huge plus for me (obviously), but they are organic and made of whole foods ingredients which is exactly what I want to be putting in my body especially as fuel for my running. Not much time had passed before I was accepted as a Nii Ambassador and I’ve been happy to spread the Nii love and awareness of this delicious and nutritious bar for those who want to maintain or pursue healthy and active lifestyles, especially for those in the Portland area (home for me).

They’re good all year round!

I’m ecstatic to finally publish this  post because just today, Nii Foods has launched their new website and it is a beauty!! The new website isn’t something that is just a new URL address or a prettier online space for customers and potential customers. This undoubtedly marks a new chapter for the Nii team just as turning That Vegan Runner (my previous blogspot site) into Eat, Run, and Done. marked a new chapter for me. For example, in addition to the site, Nii simultaneously launched their Nii Tribe which was a project  that I know they’ve been looking forward to putting together for a while now. I know, because I’m in the tribe! Click on the link and scroll down to check it out and see who else is part of this great community.

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Nii Foods founder, Shanais Pelka (above right), was kind enough to answer some Nii questions that I was curious about and I figured the curious potential consumer would like to know as well.

W is me (Will) and S is Shanais. Sorry if I just insulted some people’s intelligence.  😮

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W: What does Nii mean? What was the inspiration behind calling your bars, “Nii Bars?” 

S: Nii is my nickname. It is short for Shanais and it is what all my closest friends called me in middle school. 

W: They may go by different names (e.g. nutrition bar, protein bar, energy bar, granola bar, adventure bar, etc.), but there are hundreds of bars out in the market. What made you dissatisfied with the options enough to get you to start creating what would become Nii bars?

S: I was dissatisfied with the other bars on the market for numerous reasons. Many bars contained soy protein or GMO whey protein. I wanted to create a bar made of real, whole foods.  Out of all the organic bars on the shelves, the sweetener, such as dates, agave, or rice syrup, was generally the first ingredient. I wanted to create a bar with nut butter as the first ingredient, therefore making a nutrient-dense sustainable food that would provide long-lasting energy. Finally, I worked very hard to avoid agave syrup, and so I chose to use coconut nectar, which is sustainable and is loaded with enzymes and nutrients. 

W: Did your children have any role in the five flavors of the Nii Foods bars? 

S: Yes, my children spent many hours in the kitchen with me as we mixed different nut butters, seeds and fruits. My children and their friends were the taste-testers with each new prototype.

W: Some potential consumers may say that the fat content in Nii bars are too high. What is or would be your response? 

S: This is a common misconception. Fats are, in fact, an essential macronutrient. Every single cell membrane in our body is made of fat and fats are needed for muscle and tissue health, metabolism, energy, and hormonal balance. Omega 3 and 6 fats, as well as medium chain fats from coconut, are extremely important in hormonal balance, gut health, muscle and skin health, and in moderating inflammation.

W: You are a mother first, I’m sure, but you are also a nutritionist and an educator. Do you find yourself combining those two titles at times and becoming a nutrition educator?

S: Yes, in fact, I do combine both of these titles frequently.  Prior to starting Nii, I worked as a nutritionist in a holistic pediatrician’s office and I taught Environmental Science for a local college.  There is nothing that I enjoy more than teaching people about health, nutrition and holistic healing. 

W: Before they were Nii bars as we know them, they were Nii nut butterballs. Did you have any initial plan to keep them in ball form?

S: I did initially pursue keeping the Nii balls in ‘ball’ form.  Unfortunately, it was more expensive to create. I do still have hopes of creating small Nii ball bite-sized snacks in the near future. 

W: Is there anything that consumers can expect from Nii Foods in the near or not-so-near future that you are willing to disclose? 

S: I have some new superfood flavors I have been working on. I am hoping to make one of these new flavors a charity bar.

W: Now, here is the big question: What is your favorite Nii Bar? How about your children’s’? 

S: My favorite Nii bar is the cacao coconut flavor because I love raw coconut and raw cacao nibs.  My children’s favorite flavor is peanut butter, hands down. 

niibar6 Decisions, decisions.

For those of you who are curious which my favorite Nii Bar would be, I’d have to agree with Shanais’ children on this one and say Peanut Butter with Almond Chocolate Chip as a very close second, but they’re all delicious…and nutritious.

Check out the videos below for some inspiration and knowledge about what Nii Foods is all about.

Happy Snacking/Eating/Running/& Living!

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And don’t forget to Own The Day.

 

4 Foods I Gravitate Toward When I’m Not Feeling So Hot

I woke up two days ago not feeling too great. I wasn’t shivering or sweating profusely, but there was some swelling around my throat and my sinuses were congested. Feeling anything more than the occasional sniffles only happens once (maybe twice) a year since I started eating a plant-based, vegan diet, so when it happens it’s not just an “Oh, I’m due for a cold and body aches” kind of  moment. Nobody is ever due for that. What’s happening is my body’s way of telling me I took it passed a certain point without caring for it the way I usually do. This is actually how things have been the past few days.

I haven’t been eating junk, but I’ve been eating a bit more sweets than usual and less raw vegetables all the while putting in some really good running workouts. If I wasn’t pushing my body with my running, I may have gotten away with the brief lapse in proper nutrition, but I should have known better. Here what I think: Anytime you get sick, it’s your body telling you not that you have done something wrong, but that you haven’t been doing something right. A cookie (vegan for me…hopefully for you too) or slightly healthier dessert after dinner isn’t going to get you sick. It’s the lack of proper nutrients that will likely be the culprit. So if you’re sneaking a leftover dessert to enjoy while on lunch, fine. But don’t forget to leave room for the fruits and veggies in your lunchbag.

So, when I’m feeling not so hot, I like to reflect on what my food intake has been like. I described this part above and so when I check that step off, I then have to do something about it. So what do I do? First, I figure out when to run. There are plenty of studies that show that sweating boosts the immune system so as long as I don’t push my body to exertion, a good run and a good sweat are a must for me. Next, I figure out the gaps in my recent nutrition. Once I figure those out, I resolve to get back to my proper-eating routine ASAP. Lastly, I start to make a more conscientious decision to intake certain foods that I know will boost my immune system and help me recover as quickly as possible while also helping other systems in my body and preventing other issues from arising. I consume almost all of these foods daily anyway, but sometimes I may forget to incorporate them and so a check-in can be very helpful.

So what are the foods I gravitate toward? Here are four of them:

Turmeric

Turmeric is an antioxidant powerhouse. What this means is that it has antioxidants which fight free roaming radical chemicals that travel through the body and damage healthy cells and cell membranes. When you exercise free radicals in the body are amplified initially which is why proper and smart/targeted nutrition is key to helping your body recover and keep your systems healthy. Increasing one’s antioxidant intake is essential for optimum health. Because the body can’t keep up with antioxidant production, antioxidants (vitamins, minerals, enzymes) must come from one’s daily food intake.

Curcumin, turmeric’s active ingredient, is high in antioxidants and is very ant-inflammatory so it’s something I need to be including in my diet daily to take care of my body’s needs.

Val and I include turmeric in every dinner. We could be having veggies, beans, cooked tofu, quinoa, brown rice, sweet potatoes, mashed white potatoes…it doesn’t matter; there is turmeric in the dish. I’ve included it in oatmeal before just to see if the peanut butter and cacao powder I also use can mask the taste and I’d still get the benefits of turmeric, but uh…that didn’t really happen. It wasn’t disgusting, but it wasn’t something I’m going to repeat. At least I got even more turmeric that day!

Cayenne Pepper

cayenne Photo from NutritionFacts.org

I have to first mention that cayenne pepper is of the Capsicum family and so the benefits of cayenne pepper spice are also the benefits of most other peppers in the Capsicum family. Capsicum is an excellent course of so many key nutrients and properties that truly boost one’s health. Rich in antioxidants, beta carotene, vitamin C, and many other properties, Capsicum and cayenne pepper is extraordinarily good for immediately boosting the immune system. Capsicum is well-supported to almost immediately improve blood flow and circulation in the body as well which is incredibly important for recovery from exercise. If circulation is poor, unwanted issues can arise which is what makes cayenne pepper a staple in my pantry. Capsicum is also really helpful in improving one’s digestion so why adding it to my food is a no-brainer.

I sprinkle cayenne pepper onto my veggies, brown rice, lentils, quinoa…essentially, anything that I cook for dinner.

 

Ginger

I don’t use ginger as often as I should, but it is a food that when I’m rarely feeling under the weather (once, maybe twice a year), I always want to go and get.  What I’ve come to learn about ginger is that there is such a concentration of its properties that you don’t need to consume a large amount of the food in order to reap its positive health effects. So what are these health benefits?

You could write a book about the studies of ginger and the possible effects on the human body (perhaps preventing cancer; fighting gastrointestinal issues), but for purposes of this post…Ginger is antiviral and antibacterial food and it is also anti-inflammatory and has antioxidants. Whew! That’s a lot of anti-anything. This makes it a good for preventing sicknesses and for fighting them. After exercise, the body experiences inflammation and free-roaming radicals that can cause unwanted health issues and fight passed the immune system to render you feeling not so good. For this reason, you want to be sure to take in the best foods possible to reduce the chances of you getting sick after a hard workout.

If you’re into smoothies, add a thing slice or two of ginger into your blends. Like to stir fry or just want to keep it simple with brown rice tonight? Grate some garlic and add it to your dishes for an extra kick and some super tasty flavor. You could even grate some ginger and add it to a glass of room-temperature water with some lemon and cayenne spice to give your immune system the wake-up call it may need. Try it!

 Garlic

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The very same sulfur-containing compounds that give garlic its off-putting odor are some of the very compounds that make it one of the most-supported foods for promoting good health. Just one clove contains about 5mg of calcium, 12 mg of potassium, and tons of sulfuric compounds which makes garlic a no-brainer when it comes boosting the immune system. What’s more, a key property of garlic is allicin which is known to kill certain bacteria and to fight off infection; there are other properties of garlic that have these abilities as well.

There are many ways to consume garlic and many forms it comes in, but Val and I usually slice and dice and then cook it in our dishes. What I’ve learned so regarding cooking garlic is the following:

To get the most out of your garlic, cut the clove open and let it sit for 5-10 minutes before starting to cook with it or consuming it raw. When a clove is left open, allicin starts to form which is where the power punch of garlic really comes from. Cooking the                     garlic does stop the sulfur enzyme from forming, but once the allicin has already started to form (after the clove has been left to sit for up to 10 minutes) it’s my understanding that the allicin has become more heat resistant and can be cooked in low heat for 10-15 minutes without the allicin being destroyed.

 

The body is a marvelous thing. It’s astonishingly good at being Ms. Prevention and Mr. Fix-it at the same time, but it doesn’t mean we can just sit back, eat popcorn and Twizzlers, and simply be along for the ride. We have to be willing to always be in the driver’s seat and to give our body the best care we can give it. It may be okay to put Regular in the gas tank every now and then (I certainly do it), but we should always strive to give our bodies the Premium it deserves.

Some references:

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=78 

http://www.cayennepepper.info/health-benefits-of-cayenne-pepper.html

 

Q&A with Dr. Michael Greger, MD-the Go-To for All Things Nutrition

His name is Dr. Michael Greger, MD. And he’s coming to Portland.

And I am thrilled.

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A couple months ago, I learned that a family member had high LDL (the bad kind) cholesterol. Unfortunately, many people in this country have high cholesterol, but the cholesterol levels coupled with the family history made this more of an issue than it may be for others. I later found out that that same family member was just diagnosed with another possibly debilitating ailment, but one that, luckily, can be reversed and prevented with proper nutrition and a removal of meat (and hopefully dairy) from the diet. When I shared the news with Val, her response indicated she was reading my mind: “Watch some NutritionFacts.org videos about it and what can be done.” So we did just that and the family member was absolutely shocked at what she learned and I was shocked at how well she understood everything Dr. Greger was saying. I shouldn’t have been because I knew that his videos are so easy to follow and to grasp. I’m grateful to have a resource that is of such importance and one that my family can now utilize when they have their own questions and concerns.

As an aspiring nutritionist and with a fiancé who is studying naturopathic medicine, I look up to Dr. Greger as a kind of savior for American society. He understands the importance of nutrition as medicine and has made it his life’s work to teach others that you really are, or will become, what you eat…metaphorically, of course!

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When I first heard about Dr. Greger, it was from Val telling me that I needed to visit the NutritionFacts.org site and now I’m telling you to do the same. But don’t stop there. Watch his nutrition videos, read his articles, binge watch YouTube recordings, and if you’re local, come meet and hear him speak in Portland on January 19th. Oh! And if you really want to educate yourself…get his new book How Not to Die and prepare to have your eyes opened.

Dr. Greger was gracious enough to answer some questions I had for him and the following screenshot is semi-proof that I’m not making these responses up!

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Q&A with Dr. Michael Greger

Why did you decide to write How Not to Die?

It all started with my grandma, actually. The reversal of her end-stage heart disease with a plant-based diet is what inspired me to go to medical school, but when I got there I was shocked to find out that this whole body of evidence on reversing chronic disease with lifestyle changes—opening up arteries without drugs, without surgery—was being largely ignored by mainstream medicine. And so if the cure to our #1 killer could get lost down the rabbit hole, what else might be buried in the medical literature that could help my patients? I made it my life’s mission to find out. That’s what led me to start NutritionFacts.org and that’s what led me to write the book.
What should people who don’t like to be overwhelmed, but want to improve their health focus on first: their food/nutrition or exercise?

 

The #1 cause of death and the #1 cause of disability is diet (with smoking at #2 and inactivity somewhere around #5), so definitely changing what we eat.

 

It is a common belief, and one that is well-supported, that MDs generally do not have adequate education in proper nutrition for maintaining a healthy diet as well as fighting various illnesses and disease. Is any of your work targeting the lack of nutrition education in our society’s most esteemed medical profession?

 

Indeed. Doctors have a severe nutrition deficiency–in education. Most doctors are just never taught the impact healthy nutrition can have on the course of illness and so they graduate without this powerful tool in their medical toolbox. There are also institutional barriers, such as time constraints and lack of reimbursement. In general, doctors simply aren’t paid for counseling people on how to take care of themselves. Of course the drug companies also play a role in influencing medical education and practice. Ask your doctor when’s the last time they were taken out to dinner by Big Broccoli.

 

Are you optimistic that the overall health of our society will improve over time and that more and more people will be knowledgeable about food and nutrition?

 

Absolutely! It’s like smoking in the ‘50s. We already had decades of science linking smoking with lung cancer, but it was ignored because smoking was normal. Most doctors smoked. The average per capita cigarette consumption was 4,000 cigarettes a year, meaning the average American smoked a half a pack a day. The American Medical Association was reassuring everyone that smoking in moderation was ok. There was this disconnect between the science and public policy. It took more than 25 years and 7,000 studies before the first Surgeon General report against smoking came out in the 60’s. Until the system changes, we have to take personal responsibility for our own health and for our family’s health. We can’t wait until society catches up to the science, because it’s a matter of life and death. But just like [with] smoking, society will eventually catch up

 

More and more books, personalities, celebrities, restaurants, and films that focus on plant-based diets and veganism are being more frequently recognized and discussed in health, nutrition, and food conversations throughout the country. Do you think this is because more people in this country are recognizing that vegetarianism and veganism are healthier diets and lifestyles for a person and for the planet or do you think such recognition is just to satisfy a new market or audience?

My hope is that the science is slowly, but surely getting out there!

 

Information about his Portland visit can be found at the NW Veg website. I’ve copy and pasted some info below. As of this posting there are only 50 spots left! Click here to reserve your spot before it’s too late. Hope to see you there!

NW VEG and Adventist Medical Center present Dr. Michael Greger with “Food as Medicine: Preventing and Treating Disease with Diet” on Thursday, January 19th at 6:30pm at the Adventist Medical Center (Amphitheater), 10123 SE Market St., Portland 97216. Doors open at 6pm. This event is free and open to the public.

Is It Just About the Calories?

I got the idea for this post just the other day. There was a CNN article that focused on airlines’ options for dining tens of thousands of feet above ground and it immediately caught my attention as I was in an airport waiting to board a flight back to Portland when I came across it. I was disappointed that the article focused almost entirely on calories and not nutrients, essentially leaving the reader with the impression that low calories equal more healthy…this is not the rule of thumb.

A calorie is a unit of energy and therefore we need them. If we consume an excess of calories then sure we can run into health issues and in America where portions are way larger than they need to be, an excess is not as rare as it should be. Foods are generally covered in sauces, cheeses, or dressings that pack way more extra calories that are often unaccounted for by the common person and this is where calories can sneak up on us, but I don’t think watching every single one of those calories is how people should automatically look at food. Eating mindfully should be about looking at the ingredients and the nutritional value of the food and then making a decision ato eat it or not. I’m writing an article for Vegan Health & Fitness magazine that focuses on mindful eating and, in it, I told a shortened version of my personal experience with counting calories that I’ll briefly share here.

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Back in college, when Val and I were a year into our relationship and we passed the getting to know each other phase, we decided to become healthier. That phase involved us eating at the dining halls often, making brownies mixed with an extra packet of Jello pudding, making 15+ non-mini pancakes and eating them in one sitting while watching a movie on the futon, and so many other instances of poor habits. So one day, I downloaded a couple apps and made sure to enter every food into that app to track my caloric intake. Based on those numbers, I calculated how many calories I had left to eat to ensure I would not gain weight, but since I was running, I had to then consider the number of calories burned as well. There was a long period when, during a run, I would have a version of the following conversation in my head:

Okay, that’s 600 calories burned so far. So the cereal, peanut butter, and oh, let’s say the chocolate-covered raisins I snacked on, have all been burned up. If I run another X miles I can burn off the rest of lunch and be guilt-free come dinnertime.

Weight fluctuates, but one’sknowledge about food shouldn’t diminish, but only be strengthened.

Everything was a numbers game and it was all centered around losing weight which I thought was the path to health. I got down to my goal weight (for my running purposes) eventually and tried so hard to maintain it, but I’m grateful that I realized how unhealthy I had become.  I wasn’t getting sick all the time or becoming a toothpick, but I was far from well. I worried constantly about my weight and what I ate. I’m grateful that since that time, I’ve picked up habits that help me to eat and live mindfully and that all came with proper education about foods.

I learned what nutrients long-distance runners need to run well and to recover properly and then I found out what foods I can find them in. I swore off counting numbers for anything anymore so instead, I just started to make sure that I ate a varied and balanced diet (one thing, however, that I would not oppose at all if people were to start counting is their fiber intake; more fiber in the diet generally means more plant foods and healthier eating). Eventually, I found vegetarianism and then veganism a few months later and my health, wellness, and running improved quite dramatically. I’m not saying that you need to be vegan (but please do give it a shot and find resources to help you if you do consider it!), but you do need to learn what nutrients are in your food instead of constantly focusing on and worrying about calories as the road to health.

I was so focused on reducing calories and not realizing that food is fuel. It became less about the low calorie, weight-loss mentality and more about the balanced and mindful eating. If I want to enjoy a pizza with Val or friends, then I’m going to do that and I’m going to graciously accept that food as fuel for my body and my running.

Let’s look at a couple examples of food comparisons to give a glimpse as to what I mean:

1 cup of Frosted Flakes                 1 cup of oatmeal/rolled oats

Approx. 150 calories                         Approx. 150-160 calories

Pretty similar in calories so it’s okay to eat either, right? Not so much. Which is the most nutrient-dense food? That’s right: oatmeal. “Nutrient-dense” means that for the number of calories, there’s a great amount of nutrients in that food. So for oats, you’re looking at a good amount of manganese, magnesium, fiber, phosphorus, zinc, protein, and many, many other nutrients. For Frosted Flakes and most other cereals, you’re going to find preservatives to keep that cereal on the shelf for a longer period of time, and refined carbohydrates that turn right into sugar.  Plus, there are too many preservatives in those ingredients, but most often there is a higher amount of sodium and sugar, and a lower amount of protein and potassium in cereals than in their whole grain forms and this is the case with Frosted Flakes.

Another example.

1 oz of pretzels                            1 oz of almonds

Calories: approx. 110                      Calories: approx. 160

Pretzels get the award for lower calories, but does that mean they are healthier? Not by a long shot. Hard pretzels are way high in sodium and raw almonds contain none. Now, sodium is fine and necessary but the standard American diet has plenty of sodium in it so worrying about where to get sodium is not necessary.  Which has more potassium (an electrolyte that the standard American is generally quite deficient in)? Almonds. Protein is something that most people don’t need to worry about so I won’t get into that. I also won’t go into detail about micronutrients of each except to say that almonds easily beat out pretzels when it comes to essential nutrients such as Vitamin E, manganese, phosphorus, biotin, and many others. Most nutrient-dense food? Almonds win. Research this in more detail for yourself.

I purposefully didn’t provide much detail as far as nutrients in each food, but that is so that you can go and do your own research to either prove me wrong or to find out what other foods may be healthier for you. I had to do this because nobody was able to teach it to me and I’ve been benefitting so much from the process. We should each be building a relationship with food and, like all relationships, that process involves learning about the other. Take the time to learn about your food and the nutrients in your food. Just as many people want to find a partner in life who makes them a better person, so to should the food you eat make you a better, healthier you.

I’d love to read all kinds of comments on this topic. Want to prove me wront or provide an argument? Let’s talk! Want to share your story or thoughts? Let’s talk!

Happy Eating!

3 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Neglect The Rest Day

Some people despise exercising. Others are addicted. A happy medium is obviously the healthier choice, but even those who don’t consider themselves addicted may get down on themselves when they let even one day slip away that they don’t workout.

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When I fall asleep at any other point than nighttime, my body is telling me that it needs rest. Sometimes I can’t help but listen.

Rest days are something I used to struggle with a lot more than I do now. I always had this guilty feeling like I couldn’t eat normally that day or I got antsy because the weather was beautiful and I wasn’t sweating it out on the road. I still should probably get much more sleep than I currently do, but I have disciplined myself to take at least 1 day off a week for recovery and mental rest. Even someone who loves running as much as I do needs a mental period of rest to avoid the rut of not running for several days or weeks. This used to happen to me all the time!

To avoid forgetting to take rest days when I’m race training, I write the rest day into my training plan for the extra accountability. If adjustments to my training plan occur, I simply move the rest day to a nearby day that I know I could use a rest such as before a hard day or after one. Amby Burfoot, 1968 Boston Marathon winner and running guru, once said, “You could spend a lifetime regretting the days when you continued running; you’ll never regret the three to seven days of rest.” He was speaking about resting or easing up when dealing with even a minor injury, but I think his main point can be applied to rest and recovery in general terms as well.

For runners, triathletes, swimmers, cyclists, crossfitters, rock climbers, speedwalkers, and everyone else who has a heavy weekly training regimen, taking a rest day is important for so many reasons. Let’s keep it short and dive right into the top 3 reasons why I think you shouldn’t neglect the rest day.

 It’s Important for Muscle Recovery and Strengthening

If you think exercising and working out is helping you become stronger and more fit…you’re not entirely correct. When your body is able to rest (and I don’t mean the 2 minute rest in between track intervals) it is also able to start repairing muscle damage accrued during your workout routine. When you run, lift weights, etc., you’re actually breaking muscle tissue and that tissue needs repairing if you want to continue your healthy lifestyle. Have you ever gone out for a morning run after a previous hard day and feel like your legs were lead? You probably could have benefited from a bit more rest.

Taking an entire day off to recover is a great decision for the benefit of your body’s health. This doesn’t mean, though, that it’s necessarily okay to lay on the couch all day because you don’t want to use the leg muscles you use for running. In fact, walking is a great way to also help your muscles recover because it will promote oxygen and blood flow.

 It Can Help Reduce Risk of Injury

Exercising hard every day is a lot on your joints and muscles. Inflammation increases in the body after you run–this is natural–so you want to give your body the opportunity to reduce that inflammation and to prevent injury. Proper nutrition can help reduce inflammation, but rest is also essential. Stress fractures, strained muscles, soreness, tightness, and other injuries are much more likely to happen when you keep your body in overdrive every day without turning off the engine. Speaking of engines and overdrive…

 It Can Help You Avoid Burnout

If you’re running and working out 7 days a week, there’s a good chance you enjoy what you’re doing. There’s an even better chance that you at least enjoy the results of your efforts. But there’s always the chance that doing too much of what you enjoy doing can result in burnout. Hopefully you like your job; most people hope to. Do you think you’d want to continue working there if you didn’t get at least one day a week to yourself where you didn’t have to report to the office or check-in with your co-workers? You may have no choice due to bills and other responsibilities, but your feelings about work and productivity would likely take a turn for the worse if you suddenly found yourself in that situation.

Too much of a good thing, may not actually be a great thing. If you love running or any other type of exercise, you’re more likely to continue loving it by giving yourself at least one rest day–one day to recoup. Think of it as a mental health day. The best part is that your exercise of choice is not going anywhere. It will be right there waiting for you tomorrow and you’ll be much more refreshed to take it on!

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A rest day when on a vacation is never a bad thing. Especially when you have certain amenities to take full advantage of all day long!

So give yourself some TLC and treat yourself to some weekly R&R…You won’t regret it!