Weekday Chickpea Coconut Curry

I went to a potluck the other week and one of my friends made this incredibly delicious chickpea curry.  Although I did look at the original recipe, I decided to tweak it a bit to better suite how I like to eat (ie. I added veggies).  I mean what’s a meal without something green in it?  This curry is an absolute winner when it comes to simplicity and speed.  15 minutes tops I would think since the majority of the time is just sauteing the onions and opening some cans.

Perpetual Flow - ingredients for chickpea coconut curry

On evenings where I’m totally strapped for time, or even just so starving I’m close to eating an entire bar of chocolate just because it’s already made, I make this curry.  My trick is to go to the store and grab the ingredients for 2 meals so that if the next time I don’t have time to cook I already (brilliantly) have everything I need.  Obviously, this recipe can be played with as much as you like.  Add whatever veggies tickle your fancy and other spices too.  You could even add ginger if you have some lying around that needs to be used or red pepper.  There are so many options!

Perpetual Flow - chickpea coconut curry

Many people love serving it on white jasmine rice, but I went with wild rice this time just to kick things up a notch.

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 x 15 fl. oz can coconut milk (full or low fat, I don’t find it makes much of a difference)

2 x 15 fl. oz cans chickpeas, strained and rinsed

2 tbsp curry paste (I used red because it’s what I have in my fridge but you could also use green or yellow)

1 tbsp soy sauce or tamari

1 or 2 medium tomatoes or a handful or two of cherry tomatoes, cut into chunks

1 or 2 handfuls of spinach, rinsed

salt and pepper, as needed

1 tbsp lime juice

fresh herbs such as cilantro or parsley  (optional)

Rice (optional)

perpetualflow chickpea coconut curry

  1. In a large pan, saute the onion over medium heat until translucent (around 5 minutes).  Add in the garlic and continue sauteing until fragrant (about 30 seconds)
  2. Add the curry paste and 1/4-1/2 the can of coconut milk to the pan.  Stir the curry paste until dissolved into the coconut milk.
  3. Add in the strained chickpeas, the remaining coconut milk and the tamari. Simmer the mixture for a few minutes.
  4. Right before serving add in the tomatoes, lime juice, salt, pepper, and spinach.
  5. Garnish with herbs and a slice of lime.  Serve over rice.

And there you go.  A crazy delicious, simple, and fast recipe for any weekday night you’re in a pinch.  I usually have chickpeas soaking on the counter because I use them in so many recipes so you’re welcome to use non-canned chickpeas too if you have them available.

Chocolate Chia Pudding with Vanilla Coconut Cream

I woke up this morning and realized that it was Valentine’s Day.  I don’t have anyone to ‘celebrate’ it with here in Kelowna but I still decided that a little love could be spread on my part and hopefully others would feel it.  As I lay there I thought to myself ‘what would be something easy to make today that could spread the love?’.  Answer?  Well, obviously chocolate because it’s awesome…and what else?  Well, I am one of the world’s (lucky) coconut lovers.  A light bulb went on – chia pudding and coconut cream.  This recipe requires so few ingredients and it’s so simple to make.  Even a boy could do it! (Just bugging you men!)  No complicated folding or baking or rising to worry about.  Mix a few things together in two separate bowls, layer, and VOILA!

Chocolate Chia Pudding with Vanilla Coconut Cream inspired by Minimalist Baker and Oh She Glows
Chocolate Chia Pudding with Vanilla Coconut Cream inspired by Minimalist Baker and Oh She Glows

I also learned throughout this recipe that the hand-mixer I purchased from the Salvation Army does not work if absolutely anything is touching the beaters.  I could put the darn thing in water and the beaters would stop turning.  So, this recipe also shows that you can do the coconut whipped cream by hand and save yourself dirtying up more dishes if you’d like.

Coconut Whipped Cream inspired from Oh She Glows
Coconut Whipped Cream inspired from Oh She Glows

Layering was probably the most stressful part of this entire dessert.  Although truly it’s nothing to worry about and the more half-hazard you do it the more deliciously disheveled it will look.  Top with any fruit you’d like or even jam or coconut chips.  Have fun and if you don’t have someone to share it with I hope you eat it all just like I did!!!

Choco Chia Pudding with Coconut Cream
Choco Chia Pudding with Coconut Cream

 

Chocolate Chia Pudding Recipe can be found at Minimalist Baker and the Coconut Whipped Cream can be found at Oh She Glows. Two of my most favorite food blogs!

 

Creamy Tomato Soup

I was sitting at work today searching through my go-to food blogs for something that would tickle my fancy and excite me for dinner.  I starting looking at photos, which is almost entirely how I base my opinions of food and I know is as bad as judging a book by it’s cover, but I realized that what I felt like without a doubt was a creamy tomato soup.

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Tomato Soup from Blissful Basil

I remember waaaay back when, I used to go to a baby sitters after school and my after school snack was usually bologna sandwiches and canned tomato soup.  Over time I learned to hate both of those things with a passion.  In fact, one day the sandwich and soup was placed in front of me and I burst into tears because I couldn’t bear eating it even one more time. Bologna was off the table as of that day and I still have a very serious aversion to Campbell’s canned tomato soup.

Anyway, far from the thought of canned soup I searched the internet for what looked like a delicious homemade tomato soup.  I dislike putting cashews in things so I stayed away from any recipes with cashew.  Low and behold I fell upon a recipe from one of my favorite food blogs, Blissful Basil.  Their tomato soup recipe uses cauliflower to make the soup creamy instead of cashews.  Added benefit – cauliflower is cheaper than cashews and work just as well to cream up this soup!

Creamy Tomato Soup from Blissful Basil
Creamy Tomato Soup from Blissful Basil

I usually try a recipe for the first time without changing very much, just to see how I would alter it in the future, if I felt I wanted to make it more personalized to my tastes.  I’d say next time I’d remove the pepper, as I really don’t like them for some reason (I wish I did!) but for those of you who like them, add away!

You can find the recipe here.  Let me know if you make this recipe and what you may have changed to make it yours.  I added grilled cheese sandwiches.  I mean, that’s always a winning combination!

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So Easy – Almond Milk

I have been making my own almond milk for over a year now and I have been asked many, many times about why I do it and how long it takes.  I was the exact same before I started.  Fearful that it would take a long time and waste a bunch of expensive almonds.  Once I tried it though, I could never go back.  It is so different than the stuff you buy in a box they shouldn’t even be able to label that stuff almond milk.  So, in an attempt to show everyone who wants to know how EASY it is to make your own almond milk at home, I’ve posted this video.

And if you don’t believe me, I’ve got almond-milk-making into a science and it takes me 5 minutes in the morning.  That means I throw them in a blender, go brush my teeth, come back and drain the milk, go and change my clothing, wring out the milk and it is made!!!  Amazing!!  It lasts about 4 days so you do need to make it more regularly than buying the boxed variety but it’s so much better!!!  Just try it once.  I dare you.

DIY Bathroom Scrub

Since cleaning up my act in terms of food, there has been a natural progression towards being more concerned about other types of products in my life. I’m still trying new types of bathroom products and cosmetics, but the big things that I’m now moving towards are more natural DIY cleaning products.  I’ve found that not only do they work well but they work out to be far cheaper AND I don’t have to worry about chemicals in the house.  I can’t remove all chemicals but my hope is to minimize them as much as I can.

My favorite new product is a bathroom scrub.  I’m embarrassed to say that I used to use Scrubbing Bubbles brand to clean my shower/tub.  It smelled like chemicals but did work. So, moving forward I needed to find a natural bath scrub that actually worked.  Here it is folks…the wonder of wonders bathroom scrub.  I swear by this stuff!  It’s not very abrasive so I haven’t found that it scratches anything yet.  I’ve used it for many different purposes including cleaning the toilet.  I usually use a vinegar-based bathroom cleaner (recipe to come) on faucets just to be on the safe side.

Most or all of the ingredients you can buy at your local grocery store.

bathroom scrub

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup baking soda

1/4 cup liquid castile soap (you can use whatever scent you like best.  I use unscented so that I can add my own – see below)

1 tablespoon hydrogen peroxide

1 jar or container

Optional:

~10 drops of tea tree oil

~10 drops of any other essential oils you might like.  I like adding orange or lemon.

Mix all the ingredients together and put into the container of your choice.  The only tip necessary is to leave room in your container (about 2 inches from the top) because this mixture expands.  Make sure to tighten the lid to prevent it from drying out.  However, if it does dry out, just add a little water and it’ll be as good to use as when you first made it.

Let me know where you use it or if you have any other handy tips!

The Hardest Thing To Do Is To Do Nothing

My life has been a continual series of changes lately. I recently moved to a different city, started a new job, created a new home, have been meeting new people, have run on new trails, and generally have just been lost a lot of the time. I’ve been enjoying a lot of the change but unfortunately the mindset of staying ‘present’ has been falling by the wayside in certain aspects of my life.

Last year I started a meditation practice. I didn’t (and still don’t) go to a meditation center or sit in an uncomfortable cross-legged position. I don’t take an hour or more each day to meditate and I definitely don’t get up early to do it while the sun is rising (although in BC that’s happening fairly late now so I guess I could). What I have tried to do is meditate at night for 15 minutes before bed. I even do it lying down in bed because it’s when I’m the most relaxed and afterwards I can just fall straight to sleep. Why did I start this practice? I had heard about a really great beginners app for meditation and challenged myself to try it for 30 consecutive days. Well, the old adage that routine comes from repetition worked. I actually started to look forward to meditating each night (which surprised even me)!

I had repeatedly heard about the benefits of meditation during a time in my life when I had found myself really stressed out. I was hoping that taking some time to myself in which I wasn’t ‘thinking’ I would be able to solve some of my problems and help deal with some of my anxiety. I have to admit that it was not the easiest thing to start doing even though I had dabbled in it a few years before.  I can tell you that I didn’t feel anything immediately. Even after a few months of being pretty consistent I couldn’t tell you how meditation had changed me. I did know that I looked forward to doing it. It was only when others noticed change in me that I was able to recognize that changes had happened, but in different ways than I had originally expected.   When I stood back and looked within myself I realized that I had become more patient, less prone to feeling stressed and anxious, and more aware of my feelings and those of others. There was no defined moment during meditation where the solution to my life’s problems had become clear, but what had happened was that I had begun to feel better able to cope with the problems that do exist as well as those that will assuredly happen to me in the future.

I also found that falling asleep became much easier. No tossing and turning being unable to shut off the thoughts that kept me awake. It became so easy just to slip into sleep. A number of my family members have also used this app and have found it very helpful to reduce stress and anxiety. I have yet to get my mom to try, stubborn as she is, but I swear it would help even her.

I have no affiliation with this app (it’s called Headspace), just a desire to tell people about the fact that there’s an easy, practical, and unintimidating way to meditate in the comfort of your own home. Being guided through meditation prevents anyone who wants to learn how to meditate, from sitting for 20 minutes in complete silence with a bunch of thoughts whizzing around in your head. You end up on a journey without feeling lost or frustrated with meditation.

I truly think that meditation is a fantastic addition to daily life. As difficult (or easy) as it might seem, it’s both easier and harder than that. But for all the time you think you’re wasting by meditating, try even 10 minutes a day and I swear you’ll enjoy benefits that far outweigh the time it takes to do. Think of it as equal in importance to getting regular exercise and eating right. It is something already proven to decrease stress, blood pressure, and reduce anxiety.

There is also an awesome website called zen habits written by Leo Babauta that I swear reduces anxiety and stress just by spending the time reading it.  The website is so simple you breathe easier just looking at it.  If you just have a few minutes to unwind or are struggling at work to focus, visit zen habits, take a few deep breathes and you’ll feel so much better.

Chuck it

During this trip to Maui I have been getting up most mornings and going for a run. I can’t say this is a regular thing I do in Vancouver, considering the weather is usually cold and wet and nothing to lose sleep over. However, this refreshing morning routine in Maui has shown me something truly terrifying. As I’m running along this beautiful, sunny, wind-swept path, it feels like every single tourist walking in the opposite direction is carrying a Starbucks cup and/or bag, or some other brand of disposable cup filled with their must-have morning drink.

Although, they may be getting a jolt of must-needed caffeine, I’m getting a jolt of depression knowing that each one of those cups and bags are going to end up in the landfill. It must be thousands a day. This doesn’t even count the later afternoon walks I have when I see adults walk by with their sugary-alcoholic beverages that look like heaven in plastic cups. Not to be reused. It is time for people to take responsibility and start treating vacation places (as well as your homes) with respect and not as a temporary garbage-dump.

Although, I told you I’m not a green-living site, I have to write this or I’ll explode from frustration. Here is a list of things that you need to discontinue using now!!

  1. ONE-TIME USE ANYTHING

Disposable one-time use items are the first thing you need to stop throwing away. This can include such a large number of items I couldn’t begin to list them all. However, I think the most common ones that you can easily do something about include:

Coffee cups – I feel that there are two options for consuming your steaming, delicious wake-me-up drinks: 1. Sit down in the café and drink out of the café’s mugs, or 2. Bring in your own refillable coffee mug/thermos. I want everyone to know that no one brings their own mug in for the pathetic 10 cents worth of savings you get (coffee shops, that’s directed at you), they are bringing it in to prevent the disposal of one more paper cup. Students are an exception to this rule. I see them more than anyone bring in their own mugs and it’s almost always because they want to prevent garbage AND because they need the extra 10 cents – usually savings for their next meal. And traveling is not an excuse!!! Bring a mug from home in your bag. Fill it with socks or clean underwear. I don’t care. The quarter of a pound it contributes to your check-in is nothing compared to how much landfill waste you’ll save when you’re away for two weeks and will drink out of it every morning. You can even take it and a teabag on the plane with you and ask have a steeping tea onboard your flight.

Straws and Napkins – I know that Martha Stewart, Bed Bath and Beyond, Pier 1 and numerous other home and garden companies bombard us with great summer patio sets with fun, colorful plants, glasses, and refreshing-looking drinks to cool us down. In almost every idyllic picture there are throw away items like bright, stripy straws or boldly patterned napkins to complete ‘the look’. Even if you sit down at a restaurant or bar, unnecessary paper napkins and plastic straws are provided when you order a drink. For your information, straws are probably one of the most useless things on the planet. Although you may feel like they are necessary, it seems to me that just tipping the glass back a bit also works to get a drink in your mouth. I do admit this may expend more energy, but who couldn’t use burning an extra half a calorie? And as for the napkins – when at home, either with the family or guests, use cloth napkins. They can be just as bold, just as impactful, without having to throw them away at the end of dinner. If you throw them in with other linen, then you’re not necessarily using more water to wash them either. So the moral of the story is as follows:

  • When out, specifically request no straw or napkin (or toothpick for that matter!) with your drink or food.
  • If you absolutely need straws buy reusable and washable ones. They come in a variety of different materials such as stainless steel, glass, and acryllic like those found here. (simplystraws, greenmunch, thekitchn)
  • Buy cloth napkins instead of paper ones
  1. PLASTIC BAGS!!!

For those of you who go grocery shopping and bring your own reusable bags, you know how angering and depressing it is when the person ahead of you gets their groceries double-bagged. Would you like an extra small bag for your pork chop? Yes, please. How about for your gallon of whole milk? Yes, three bags please, we wouldn’t want it to bust through the bags when you could easily carry it by the handle provided on the side. Extra fluffy five-ply toilet paper? Definitely, who doesn’t want their 24 pack of non-recycled toilet paper bagged when it doesn’t fit into a bag in the first place? Ok, my rant is over for now. Welcome, everyone, to the day when you can go almost anywhere and buy a reusable grocery bag for 75 cents (try Whole Foods if you don’t know where else to go), or better yet, get one for free at many conferences or trade shows. There are even great sites with funny and unique designs if you want something to call your own (Etsy – Tote Bags, coolmompicks, cafepress – funny bags). There are no longer any excuses for why you should be walking out of a grocery store with plastic bags. Or paper. If you want an eye-opening documentary about how a lot of this plastic ends up in the ocean, degrading down to micro-plastics which cause pollution and degradation of aquatic life, it’s called Plastic Paradise. And if you want reference to a website that lists all of the reasons why you should not continue using plastic or paper bags, please see here. I truly hope once you educate yourself about why reusable is the way to go, you’ll never turn back.

As a last note, this also includes produce bags, or bags that can be used for bulk-bin items. I still reuse the small clear plastic bags from my past for buy bulk items instead of throwing them out after one use. (reuseit – produce bags, thekitchn – reusable produce bags, ecobags – produce bags).

  1. CELEBRATION FAVORITES

It seems like every party needs balloons, right? WRONG! These babies are totally unnecessary and if filled with helium, may accidentally float away only to redistribute themselves somewhere else, with a good chance of degrading the environment. Therefore, not only do they cause environmental degradation in their construction, but they cause it when thrown away on purpose, or by accident too (not to mention the current shortage of helium). Try to use reusable streamers, votives, or mini-lights to add a little festivity to a party.

Wrapping paper is also a crazy and unnecessary packaging. I know it might be exciting for some of you to go to the store to pick out the best and most appropriate wrapping paper. I, on the other hand, find it probably the most annoying part of giving gifts (aside from picking out cards). The worst time of year for wrapping is Christmas! I love Christmas, but I hate throwing away garbage-bags full of wrapping paper after everything has been opened. An alternative? Cloth gift bags! I was originally going to sew a few of my own this year to provide to my family for Christmas, but since I looked at a bunch online for this post, I may just buy them because they are so incredibly awesome! Here are a few sites to visit if you’re interested in buying some: livingethos, reuseit – reusable gift wrap, wrapsacks and here’s a site for instructions if you’d like to make your own: so sew easy, healthychild. The list of make-your-own instructions is never-ending so feel free to search your own to find the best site for you.

  1. BOTTLED WATER

I am lucky enough to come from a place where my tap water is of amazing quality and the thought of buying bottled water never crosses my mind. However, when I walk down the Whole Foods aisle of bottled water, people are grabbing them like they know we’re expecting a major earthquake or blackout. Sometimes I wonder if they’re privy to something I’m not. The weird thing is that most of the time they’re grabbing the smaller bottles, not the larger ones. I mean, who wants a tiny bottle or water if you’re thirsty? Plus, there’s amazing water coming out of the tap!! The first and most important point I’d like to mention is that although bottled water has the appearance of being high quality, bottled water’s quality, unlike tap water, is not controlled. There are not necessarily standards by which bottled water is responsible to maintain and no governing body to ensure bottled water quality. Bottled water can say it is ‘natural spring’ water from Fiji, but actually be groundwater piped up from beneath Wisconsin in the proximity of underground fracking. It’s all in the labeling and boy do people fall for labeling.

Again, traveling is not an excuse, since if you bring your own reusable water bottle on the plane with you you have it throughout your trip as well as being able to use it on the plane. This saves throwing away all of those tiny plastic cups the stewards/stewardesses provide you with.

Remember for your next dinner party, bottled water is a ridiculous thing to waste money on (unless you live somewhere where tap water is not provided or is of questionable quality). Get a filter if you must, but try to have faith in your town’s water supply that they know what they’re doing. At least they are required to provide a certain quality of water to residents. If you are truly uneasy about your tap water, boil it before drinking it. And as an alternative to fizzy water, go and buy a SodaStream or whatever it’s called. At least you can recycle the CO2 cartridges and don’t have to power through 10 glass or plastic bottles in a night for yourself or guests.

I’m sure I’ll think of more, but if any of you have specific items that frost you, let everyone know! It may just be that others haven’t thought of it before, so include links if you’ve come across great alternatives.

Diets make me crazy!

I have a pet peeve and it’s the word diet. I feel like fad-diets are thought of as ways to help you ‘hack’ your life and end up thin, popular, rich, and healthy. Fad-diets to me are just temporary band-aids by which ‘doctors’ or ‘experts’ take money from those of us who just want to be healthier and feel good. And who wants to be throwing money at someone who almost always makes us more confused about what is healthy? Based on looking at the number of books in the Food and Health section of your local bookstore, healthy fats, minimizing carbohydrates, eating only meat, taking pills, juicing or fasting, cheat days, ketosis or doing all of them at the same time is the way to a healthier you. There is no possible way we can keep up with the myriad of information bombarded on us and make any sense out of it at all. It becomes insanely confusing, made worse only by the fact that marketing and branding sends us mixed messages about…well, everything.

Fad-diets are temporary. They are usually restrictive and they are 100% not fun. They can even be exceptionally unsafe. Eating healthy foods and getting rid of the rest of the processed crap has been shown to promote health in so many ways I don’t want to list them here. That’s not a diet. It’s a life choice that is possible and fulfilling in the long term.

I wrote this post due to a situation that happened to me a few months ago. I went out for lunch with two of my bosses at a restaurant of my choosing. One of my bosses knows my predisposition for plant-based eating and is understanding because his girlfriend is vegetarian. My other boss, however, does not know this about me. We sit down and pretty early on my male boss asks me if I’m still vegan. I say yes and my female boss looks at me, smiles and says, “Does that mean you don’t eat gluten?” I didn’t know what to say. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I know that people out there just eat food they think is good for you (or not) and don’t try to understand or learn about nutrition. Totally fine if that’s the world you want to live in. However, what really got me was that now that I’ve been immersed in being nutritionally conscious, I forgot that there are people out there that don’t care or don’t know about alternative ways to eat. This post is for those of you who want a refresher on diets, want to learn what different diets are, or just don’t care but will read anyways.

As an initial statement, I wanted to put in perspective the current state of fad-diets. In a study by Katz and Meller (2014), major diets of the day were compared to see if one came out on top: low carb, low fat, low glycemic, Mediterranean, mixed/balanced (DASH), Paleolithic, vegan, and elements of other diets. What they couldn’t conclude was that there was any best diet, however, they did state that “a diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention.” The researchers also noted that nutritionally-replete plant-based diets are supported by a wide array of favorable health outcomes, including fewer cancers and less heart disease.

Below I have explained a few of the more common diets. In some cases I have added notes about when care may be necessary regarding a diet, but feel free to eat in a way that works for you.

Vegan

The first thing I’d like to clarify is that veganism is an ethic, not a diet. It is an entire lifestyle choice and does not revolve solely around what is or is not being eaten. Vegans are best described as not eating animals, animal products, or animal secretions (which just sounds incredibly disgusting). This includes: meat, eggs, dairy, honey, and gelatin. Other less obvious foods include some sugars (those made with bone char), many candies with shiny coatings (which are made from the resin excreted by the lac bug), some red-pigmented foods (those with cochineal, carminic acid, or carmine listed which are made from a female cochineal insect), soy cheese (some have casein, a milk protein added to them), peanuts (some use gelatin as an additive), refried beans made with lard, orange juice that is fortified with omega-3s derived from fish, and many beers and wines. The list is a long one, so to be vegan means in many cases, making your own food or being very diligent about checking labels (or eating at vegan restaurants – which are usually delicious!).

In addition to not consuming foods that exploit animals, this also extends to the use of products that may exploit animals. This list is extensive but includes various items such as leather, lotions, cosmetics, clothing, shoes (surprising it’s commonly the glue in shoes that is derived from animals), paint/paintbrushes, and many vitamins and supplements.

There are many reasons that people choose to live their lives as vegans. The most common that I am aware of include: 1. living their lives with compassion towards animals and to prevent the unnecessary suffering of animals, 2. for their health, and 3. to prevent environmental degradation.

A while ago I probably had the same feelings about vegans as most non-vegans. I thought they were too pushy about their beliefs and many of them came across as hacky-sac playing hippies (no offense). More recently I’ve learned that although I still don’t appreciate the pushy vegans, I completely understand their message and have chosen to live my own life similarly. I have met many, many wonderful caring, quiet, humble, fun and fashionable vegans who don’t want to push anything on you, but just want to live their lives as they choose.

Living as a vegan isn’t necessarily easy and you do need to put in time to ensure you are fulfilling all of your nutritional needs, but it has been shown to promote many health benefits as well as weight loss.

Whole Foods Plant Based

This diet is exactly as it sounds. It emphasizes eating whole foods (meaning not processed) that are plant-based (similar to being a vegan). Therefore, it tries to move away from what is considered ‘vegan junkfood’ such as tofu, tempeh, ground-round, and other meat-like alternatives that have been processed, to whole foods such as vegetables, legumes, fruits, and grains, that are minimally or not processed at all. Some plant-based eaters are vegans but just don’t want the hassle of being labeled a vegan.

Side note – A very interesting and motivational whole-foods plant-based athlete, author, and podcaster is Rich Roll. He is a very well known athlete (running, biking, swimming), motivator, and podcaster. I recommend checking out his site here (http://www.richroll.com/) to read about his journey, how he came to eating plant-based, and listening to his podcast.

Vegetarian

Ask any vegetarian what they eat and you will probably get a different answer from each one. Some don’t eat meat, some don’t eat fish (like fish is any different than meat), or eggs, or dairy, or radishes. It’s like they become a class of diet because they don’t have defined limitations on foods they will or will not eat. They become the IBS of the diet world: a catch-all due to their non-specific food restrictions. If you actually look up the definition of vegetarian, you’ll find that they are “a person who does not eat meat, and sometimes other animal products, especially for moral, religious, or health reasons”. Wikipedia says that vegetarianism is the practice from abstaining from the consumption of meat (red meat, poultry, seafood and the flesh of any other animal), and may also include abstention from by-products of animal slaughter. See here all Vegetarians – by definition, meat includes seafood. IF you eat seafood, you are called a pescatarian. IF you eat eggs and dairy, you are called a lacto-ovo-vegetarian (lacto means milk and ovo means egg in Latin). IF you don’t eat radishes, then you’re totally normal because I think radishes taste awful. Although, most other people don’t care what type of vegetarian you are, I do find specific terms useful, since cooking for a ‘vegetarian’ can be like a game of Russian roulette.

Gluten-Free

Gluten is a protein composite found in various grains and wheat. It gives dough elasticity and breads a chewy texture. The protein gliacin, which is found in gluten, is the culprit behind the crappy, bloated feeling you can sometimes get after eating foods with gluten in them. Taking things to the extreme, people who have been diagnosed with Celiac disease are gluten intolerant because eating gluten will physically damage their small intestines.

Dr. Perlmutter in his book Brain Maker, explains how gliacin acts to increase the permeability of your gut. This increase in permeability is known as leaky gut and occurs in almost everyone who eats gluten. Wheat eaters, even if you feel fine, be aware!! (For even more specifics on this topic, read his book Brain Grain, which is about how eating gluten affects the body). Leaky gut occurs when the tight-junctions between cells in your gut let through compounds or molecules they shouldn’t. In response, your immune system attacks the unknown invaders and an inflammatory response occurs. Long term and chronic inflammation within the body can cause serious health consequences (I will write about this issue in a separate post).

The problem these days is that gluten is hidden in many foods, including very surprising items, and sometimes it takes an expert to figure out if it’s in something or not. Many people are sensitive to gluten, so if you feel like you’ve tried everything to feel better after eating, maybe you should remove gluten from your diet for a while and see how you feel. There’s no harm in trying.

Paleo

Oh-Paleo. How much I’ve heard about you lately. This diet feels like it has taken over North America, especially in the cross-fit community. The Paleo diet is based on eating similarly to a Paleolithic person who lived during the Paleolithic era (approximately 2.6 million years ago to approximately 10,000 years ago). This pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer period is distinguished by the development of primitive stone tools. The Paleo diet of today emphasizes high protein intake in the form of animal products, lower carbohydrates with lower glycemic index values such as non-starchy fruits and vegetables, high fiber, moderate to high fat intake, high potassium and lower sodium. Sounds pretty reasonable…However, when I’m around Paleo dieters, I’m always shocked at how much meat they eat as a proportion of their total meal. After looking on the paleodiet.com website, this becomes less surprising, as they state “Protein comprises 15% of the calories in the average western diet, which is considerably lower than the average values of 19-35% found in hunter-gatherer diets”. Whaaat?!? This means that with all of the meat consumption in the “average” western diet, we’re still supposed to actually eat MORE to be Paleo??? That seems like a lot of meat. And from my understanding it’s supposed to be organic and grass-fed. I can tell you right now that this type of diet is not going to be sustainable for our world now and moving into the future unless the organic and grass-fed meat that is eaten is a vastly smaller amount of our total food consumption.

If you currently eat a Paleo diet, please be very careful and understand what you’re putting into your body and understand that there is controversy regarding this diet. Don’t just do it because everyone around you is. This diet has not been proven to confer health benefits in the long term.

Side note (here comes a rant!) – I’ve never quite understood how a diet claims to represent a time period of over 2 million years. That is a freaking long time!! I mean, even in the last 200,000 years there has been two big ice ages. The world is a dynamic place and I can only imagine how vegetation and animals have changed in spatial extent and composition throughout 2 millions years. How do we condense 2 million years of eating to what is now known as the Paleo diet? I also don’t understand how thinking that eating like someone from prehistoric times is supposed to promote health in people of today. The world is a completely different place! One example I get frustrated with is the argument that Paleolithic people didn’t get cancer or arteriosclerosis or dementia, ergo, the Paleo diet must be good for us. The average life span of a Paleolithic person is estimated as only 35 years for men and 30 years for women. These people weren’t necessarily old enough to have had time to develop these types of diseases! Additionally, they most assuredly exercised more than we do, having to actually hunt for food and potentially migrate throughout the year. In conclusion, we can’t currently make claims that Paleolithic people were in any way more healthy than we are in the long term, with the exception that at least their foods weren’t covered in pesticides or originated from GMO crops.

Mediterranean Diet

I actually tried this diet in my youth when I came across the Blue Zone book because I was extremely inspired by the number of centurions (people who live to be 100 years old) alive who ate a Mediterranean style diet. It is based on the traditional living habits of people from Mediterranean countries such as Italy, France, Greece, and Spain. The Mediterranean diet varies by region, but emphasizes plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and fish. Olive oil replaces butter and herbs and spices are used to flavor foods instead of salt. However, ensure you realize that although you may be eating like a Mediterranean, they are very active people, often walking many miles a day and living off of what they grow themselves.

Glycemic Index

The glycemic index (GI) is a measurement carried out on carbohydrate-containing foods and their impact on our blood sugar. The lower the GI value, the less it impacts blood sugar and insulin levels. A low GI diet claims that you’ll digest food slower so you’ll eat less because you’ll remain full for longer.

It’s probably not surprising for you to hear that low GI foods include vegetables, certain fruits, legumes and beans, and minimally processed wheat or starchy products such as breads, cereals, and pastas, and dairy. Apparently, meats do not have a glycemic index because they do not raise blood glucose levels.

This seems to be an older fad-diet that is still emphasized a lot for diabetics due to the problems they face with blood glucose. I still think that this diet allows for far too much starchy food, regardless of the GI, and doesn’t emphasize eating non-processed foods.

Raw Foods

So this diet is an interesting one to me. I’m actually glad I had to read about it, because apparently I didn’t know much of what it means to eat as a raw foodie. I assumed it was basically a vegan who only consumed raw and non-processed foods. Although this is a subset of Raw foodism, it is not the whole story. Raw foodism is far more expansive than I had originally thought. There are four main types: raw vegetarians, raw vegans, raw omnivores (eating both plants and animals), and raw carnivores (those who eat primarily meat).   Food isn’t heated about 40°C and is eaten fresh, dehydrated using low heat, or is fermented.

I have been to a number of raw food restaurants and am impressed that people can eat that way for the majority of their diet. Not that the processing is an issue, it’s more that I don’t feel satisfied when all of my food is raw and either cold or lukewarm. I love cooked mushrooms. Same goes for broccoli and cauliflower. In fact, I love many vegetables cooked over raw and I think I would miss more than anything the physical heat of cooked foods. Who doesn’t relax when you first taste a bowl of hot soup, or have a sip of tea or coffee that’s close to burning your mouth?

There is a lot that is still unknown in the realm of cooking foods versus eating foods raw (Subramanian, 2009), with my conclusion being that you should just eat veggies and fruits regardless of if they are cooked or not. Eating a broader range of these items, both cooked and/or raw, exposes you to the greatest number of good-for-you compounds that will keep you as healthy as possible.

Side note – want more information about a raw vegan diet? I just heard about Fully Raw by Kristina in one of Rich Roll’s Podcasts and really fell in love with her spirit and devotion to the raw and vegan lifestyle.  I visited her site and her food looks amazing!! Opening a not-for-profit co-op with local farmers contributing makes me wish we had more here in Vancouver.

Fully Raw Kristina and for some awesome recipes you can watch her YouTube channel Fully Raw Kristina YouTube Channel

References:

1. Katz, D., & Meller, S. (2014). Can we say what diet is best for health? Annual Reviews , 35, 83-103.

2. Subramanian, S. (2009, March 31). Fact or Fiction: Raw veggies are healthier than cooked ones. Retrieved June 21, 2015, from Scientific American: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/raw-veggies-are-healthier/

Perpetual Flow - Vertical Herb Garden

DIY Vertical Herb Garden

So I’ve been feeling like a bit of a stalker lately in that I have searched ‘vertical herb garden’ more than 50 times on Google images within the last month or two. It’s been a DIY project that I’ve been dying to get started and have been patiently waiting for the right pieces of the project to make themselves available. Mostly, I had a hell of a time finding pots.

Many websites I searched said that their project was super easy, but I’ve gotta say, you have to have patience because not everything falls into place from the get-go. I searched around 10 stores before driving all the way to IKEA to get the pots in this picture. IKEA scares me almost as much as Costco and I will go there only under dire circumstances. However, they had what I needed so off I went.

Once you get the gear this project becomes far more simple. Depending on the type of pot and attachment system you are using, this may be more or less complicated.

Perpetual Flow - Vertical Herb Garden
The materials used (minus the screws) to make my vertical herb garden.

Since the IKEA pots came with their own hanging brackets, all I had to do was screw in a few screws and hang the pots.

Perpetual Flow - Vertical Herb Garden
The screws have been screwed in.

Perpetual Flow - Vertical Herb Garden

I think this is a truly beautiful idea because not only are your herbs easily accessible when you need them in the kitchen (ie. you don’t need to put on boots to go wading outside in the rain to get some), but they add wonderful green wall art. Everyone will ask you where you bought it or how you made it.

The length of wood I used was about 3 ft in length and I sanded and coated the top surface so that it stands up a bit more over time as well as to bring out some of the gorgeous texture. Try this with the wood vertical or horizontal, depending on your available space.

 

 

Here are links to images of a few others that inspired me if you want even more motivation!

1. Upcyclethat.com

(I didn’t use mason jars because I was concerned about the drainage and being able to see any mold that might grow)

2. 99pallets.com

3. outdoorfurnitures.org

4. organicauthority.com

(potentially pricey, but you have the ability to move pots around because of the magnetic system. In this case, you could also put in kitchen bits and bobs too)

5. homes-kid.com

The Importance of the Microbiome

Before heading on a much-needed trip to Hawaii for two weeks after finishing school, I decided to stock up on a few books for reading on the plane and on the beach. It’s one of my favorite things to do actually. Walking into a bookstore to pick out what I’d like to read. I feel like it’s how some might feel when they walk into a wine store. So much selection…might be good, might be bad…will enjoy it either way. However, I always feel a little regret because I find it hard to part with my money for books I’ll only take a day or two to read. I actually started and finished one of the books I chose on the plane. That’s what happens when there is no longer in-flight tv!!!

I just finished my second book and haven’t wanted to start the third one until I managed to write a post about it. The book I read is called Brain Maker and the author is Dr. David Perlmutter. The book discusses the burgeoning topic of gut microbes and their potential effects on your brain. Sexy, I know. However, I have heard about these little beasties before in various podcasts, but had never really paid too much attention to the topic. To my detriment, apparently. Although, I found the punch line of the book to be very repetitive, this may help increase the impact of the message for people less knowledgeable about the subject matter. What would I know though, I’ve never written a book. Regardless, I enjoyed learning about the importance of gut microbes when it comes to health and not just what types of conditions they can improve, but more important to me, HOW they come to help these conditions. Since the science is fairly new, not all of the answers are found in this book (or in current literature), and you’re just going to have to take your lumps with that. What I really appreciated though was the fact that this book makes you feel like you can actively DO something about your current health and potential future health. There are relatively inexpensive (and non-pharmaceutical) ways to help promote a healthy gut and that makes me excited!!! This is a very new and exciting area of science and I definitely feel that it’s worth picking up this book in order to gain even one more way you can beneficially impact your health.

Here is a general list of the types of problems that Dr. Perlmutter says can be helped by promoting or balancing gut microbes:

  • ADHD
  • Asthma
  • Autism
  • Allergies and food sensitivities
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Mood disorders, including depression and anxiety
  • Diabetes
  • Overweight and obesity
  • Memory problems and poor concentration
  • Chronic constipation or diarrhea
  • Colds or infections
  • Intestinal disorders (celiac, IBS, Crohn’s disease)
  • Insomnia
  • Arthritis or join pain
  • High blood pressure
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Yeast problems
  • Acne and eczema
  • Bad breath, gum disease, and dental problems
  • Extreme PMS or menopausal symptoms

With the increased prevalence of every single one of these conditions, I think looking at the importance of gut microbes may be a very significant first step to helping those who suffer from them (or for preventing them). At first glance this list looks pretty extensive. How can gut microbes affect diabetes, autism, and acne? Well, it all simplifies to a few significant points:

The type and quantity of various microbes in your gut

The various strains and numbers of microbes in your gut can generally be an indication of how you’ve lived your life up to that point. Three different “forces” are thought to promote ‘bad belly bugs’ (as Dr. Perlmutter refers to them)

  1. Exposure to substances that may kill or adversely affect the bacteria. These can include: having taken antibiotics (which are meant to kill bacteria), exposure to environmental chemicals (pesticides, residual chlorine in water), and dietary factors such as eating gluten or sugar.
  2. Lack of exposure to substances that promote good belly bugs (found to be a number of fermented foods)
  3. Stress

Inflammation

This is a biggie and is a cause for more health problems than only those listed above. Inflammation can be a double-edged sword when it comes to health. It is most notably known to be the body’s healing response, and is associated with responses such as redness, swelling, itching and heat (think mosquito bites or a sore throat). However, it has been shown that inflammation can continue to exist in the body after it is necessary and it is this inflammation that can lead to illness instead of healing.

As an example, Dr. Perlmutter explains how recent scientific literature shows a very strong correlation between high blood sugar and the development of dementia. How is this related to inflammation, you might ask? Elevated blood sugar levels cause inflammation in the bloodstream since excess sugar can be toxic to the body. Additionally, elevated blood sugar triggers a reaction called glycation “the biological process by which sugar binds to proteins and certain fats, resulting in deformed molecules that don’t function well”. These deformed molecules are not recognized by the body, resulting in an inflammatory response.

“Leaky Gut”

This term didn’t show up in my vocabulary until about 2 years ago. I had no idea what the term meant and assumed it had to do with increasing the permeability of your gut, but what I didn’t understand was why this was bad (call me behind the times if you want). Dr. Perlmutter does an excellent job of explaining leaky gut. To define it simply, it is when the junctions between your intestinal cells aren’t functioning properly (ie. they aren’t as tight as they should be), thereby letting through molecules, pathogens, or what-have-you into your blood that shouldn’t be there. Again, since the body may not recognize some of these over-sized or unidentified compounds, they react using an inflammatory response. There are a number of causes for this condition, including gliadin, a protein found in gluten as well as antibiotics, steroids, and pain relievers (like aspirin and acetaminophen).

Ultimately, leaky gut and inflammation can cause negative impacts on the brain. I have, admittedly, only provided a very simplified and non-encompassing overview of the book and it’s contents, since I feel that it is for you to read and would take far too long to write about it a blog post. I have written this in an attempt to promote interest in the subject matter, since it is so new and exciting to think about. I am not saying this book has the equivalent to a vaccine for every health problem. It provides potential solutions that, unlike pharmaceuticals, you can try and which may not work, but will at least not cause negative health effects. It is also for those of you who don’t suffer from any of the listed conditions but who just want to ensure that your guts are as healthy as the rest of you.

Ways that you can promote a healthy gut

A few of the suggested ways in which you can feed your healthy microbiome are mentioned below:

Consume foods high in probiotics. These foods include fermented foods such as Kimchi, yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, pickles (in brine, not vinegar), tempeh, and kefir (to name only a few). What makes fermentation so special? Well, the fermentation process converts carbohydrates (like sugars) into either alcohols and carbon dioxide or organic acids. This process requires the presence of bacteria, yeast, or both, which proliferate and which you then consume (awesome!). The most common type of fermentation is called lactic acid fermentation.

You can also take probiotics by capsule, but if you do, ensure they contain the following strains: Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus brevis, Bifidobacterium lactis, and Bifidobacterium longum. Try to consume probiotics as capsules in addition to a diet rich in probiotic foods.

Remove gluten from your diet, as the protein gliadin acts to increase leaky gut (for further information I would suggest reading his book Grain Brain, which I myself haven’t read).

Drink filtered water to remove the chlorine. Or, if you’re like me and too cheap to buy a filter (also an environmental problem if you think about the disposable ones) or have good quality water with chlorine as the only concern, you can leave drinking water in an open container for at least 30 minutes to let the chlorine evaporate and then drink or use it or boil it and used when cooled.

Wow. This was a long one folks. I hope you took something from this post and I hope you go out and buy the book or borrow it from a friend. Just so you know I don’t have an affiliation with any companies or individuals and both bought and read this book for my own personal interest. Let me know what you think of it and if it has helped the health of you or someone you know. I, for one, have started making my own kombucha and water kefir and plan on making pickles and kimchi soon.

Acai Berry Kombucha

An excellent blog post on making homemade kombucha is found here:

honest beans – kombucha

Some of my favorite flavors are ginger, mint, hibiscus, orange spice, chai, pineapple, and basil. The list is endless.  With a little imagination you can try any mixture of fruits, herbs, and spices.

A website where you can order water kefir or kombucha SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) if interested is found here:

poseymom – order kefir or SCOBY