Monday, October 31, 2011

Review: Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness

Happy Halloween and last day of Vegan MoFo!! Even though I didn't blog every single day, this really got me off my butt and back to blogging more regularly. So thank you!

I asked Robert Cheeke for a copy of his book Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness: The Complete Guide to Building Your Body on a Plant-Based Diet and he kindly sent me one, signed even! It seems to be pretty relative to my current lifestyle, as I started the P90X program and wanted more info on how to train on a vegan diet. Now, I'm not actually doing bodybuilding, but it is a pretty intensive workout program combining cardio, yoga, and weight training.

I finally got through the book and really wanted to review it during Vegan Mofo....I've been ultra busy, but I finally did it.

He begins by telling us how he started eating a plant-based diet and how he got into bodybuilding. It's always nice to have some sort of background information. It brings you closer to the writer. He talks about how he started his company, Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness and he lays out some great points for starting out in the bodybuilding world, which could really go for any hobby or career.

He then goes on to discuss a nutrition program and how to go about putting one together. Cheeke encourages you to go out and research what your body needs and gives a great overview of various nutrients and how they interact with your body. He gives some sample meal programs, some to build mass, some for fat burning, and some for competing in bodybuilding competitions. Though he doesn't follow a raw food diet himself, he also gives sample raw food meal programs, based on a fellow bodybuilder, Giacomo Marchese.

Cheeke discusses how to create your own training programs from warm-ups to exercises to include that don't require any equipment at all. He includes sample training programs in Chapter 4 and makes sure to include the inevitable question: "Where do you get your protein?" in Chapter 5.

Now I did skim my way through parts of the book, as I'm not competing in any bodybuilding competitions, nor do I want to bulk up. But there's definitely good info in there for those of you that are doing just that. Towards the end of the book he talks about various supplements and amino acids, and gives sources for finding equipment and products/supplements needed for bodybuilding.

This is definitely a great book to have if you're ready to start bodybuilding on a plant-based diet. Or even if you just want some helpful tips on what to eat pre or post workout, what supplements to add to your diet, and which exercises are most helpful for you.

Thanks, Robert!

Eat smart,

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Pumpkin Pie Granola

It's that time of year again...pumpkin time! I have to admit, the idea of cutting a pumpkin open and scooping out its insides doesn't really sound appetizing. But a lot of people do it....and that's why we get pumpkin in a can :)


So today I have a seasonal recipe for you:

Pumpkin Pie Granola
-adapted from Oh She Glows.

2 cups oats (any kind, you can even use quick oats, barley flakes, etc.)
1/2 cup uncooked millet
2 TB chia seeds
2 TB flaxmeal
1/2 cup chopped almonds & walnuts
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 TB date sugar

1/4 cup agave nectar (or 1/2 cup if you like your granola really sweet)
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/4 cup water (leave out if using 1/2 cup agave instead of 1/4 cup)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325 F. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl. In a smaller bowl, stir together the wet ingredients, then add them to the dry. Mix well, coating everything. Put a piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet and spread the granola out as much as you can. Bake  for about 35 minutes, stirring twice. Take it out of the oven and let it sit for about 15 minutes, to dry out even more. This is not a very sweet granola, but if you serve it with yogurt and/or dried fruit, it will taste sweeter.

I like it in yogurt with dried cranberries, but you could use almond milk instead of yogurt.

Hope you have a nice Halloween weekend. I'm still super busy, but hope to crank out at least one more post before VeganMoFo is over.

Eat smart,

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Starter tips and recipes for new vegans

Yesterday, I posted about transitioning to a plant-based diet. Today I'm going to give you a few easy meal and snack ideas for those new to the diet.

The idea is to eat as many "whole foods" you can. Try to ease up on the processed food. That means buying lots of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. 

Do you have a steamer basket at home? Or a big steamer pot? I steam vegetables ALL the time. It may be one of the healthier ways to eat cooked vegetables, because it doesn't cook them for that long (so they keep more of their nutrients) and there's no oil involved (like frying). Pre-cut vegetables don't last as long as whole ones. Just keep that in mind. If you buy pre-shredded carrots and florets of broccoli in a bag, use them up fairly quickly. I tend to buy whole heads of broccoli and cauliflower, as well as the big whole carrots (not baby carrots, but if you like those, go ahead). 

Cutting vegetables doesn't really take all that long. Or do it in advance....maybe in the morning, before work, or the evening before. Store them in a container in the fridge and then take them out when you're ready to throw them in the steamer. Try to keep the vegetables similar in size so they take the same amount of time to cook. Always throw any greens in for the last couple of minutes only (spinach, kale, collards, etc.). Keep pricking them with a fork to see if they're done. I like mine a little al dente! 

I love meals in a bowl. Three layers: grains, vegetables, sauce. That's all. Cook up some brown rice or barley. Put that in a bowl, and top it with those steamed vegetables and some sauce. You can try this cashew tomato sauce (it's also great on pasta), or maybe an Asian sauce (scroll down to the Asian Ginger Sauce, it's delicious!). Actually, that page has several grain and sauce variations to try, so it's a good link to keep.

How about a salad? Throw all the vegetables you love into a big bowl (I'd chop them up first!), and add a sauce. Be careful with pre-made bottled sauces. A lot of them have cheese and other dairy products in them. I try not to use much oil, so I avoid those dressings. You can try my Avocado's really refreshing! And easy.  Here's another salad variation (and you leave out the kelp noodles if you can't find them).  Maybe you want some potato salad instead? Those are the rare occasions I use vegan mayo (Vegenaise). 

Another easy recipe is this Vegetable Barley Stew. A great meal for the upcoming winter months! Again, this just involves cooking up the barley in one pot and the broth and cut up veggies in another.

What? You want pasta? That's easy too! I prefer brown rice pasta, but you could use whole wheat instead. I'd stay away from all things white flour. That's not a vegan thing, it's just a healthy thing. This is a great pasta sauce, using cashews. Or try some peanut sauce for a change. Looking for parmesan? I've got a super simple recipe for a vegan parmesan substitute! I even have a great pesto recipe, without cheese!

Hummus and guacamole are great healthy snacks. Serve them with cut up veggies or tortilla chips. Or you can try my muesli in yogurt.

Breakfast is easy. If you eat cereal, just make sure there aren't any funny ingredients hiding in there. My biggest worry about cereal is the sugar. The sugar content can be so out for that. You can just switch our regular milk for a non-dairy milk, like almond milk or hemp milk. I find that hemp milk seems to be a bit sweeter and creamier than the others. I use unsweetened plain soy milk in my coffee, and hemp and almond milk for other things, like oats. I love oats. Every which way. You can see my whole post on oats here

Feel free to peruse my recipes page for more suggestions.

If you eat a variety of whole foods, you'll get most of your nutrients and vitamins. You have to include lots of different colors of fruits and vegetables, as well as various grains, beans, lentils, and some nuts and seeds. Don't worry, you'll get plenty of protein if you are able to do this! Sometimes, those that follow a plant-based diet are deficient in Vitamin B-12. You can find this in nutritional yeast and fortified non-dairy milks. You may have to take a supplement, if you don't get enough.

And again, if you have questions, just ask. 

Also, if you have any major health problems, you may want to consult a doctor first, before drastically changing your diet.

Eat smart,

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Helpful tips for transitioning to a plant-based diet

I thought I'd put together a few helpful tips on transitioning to a plant-based diet. Probably most of you that read this already eat this way, but perhaps a few of you don't know exactly how to get started.

I've been vegetarian for several years now. At first, I still ate fish, but dropped that about 3-4 years ago. And now, I've dropped all animal products from my diet and have eaten this way for almost 2 years! It wasn't really that difficult, though it may seem so at first. The hardest part about a plant-based diet is eating out, and even then, once you know what to look for/order, it's not really all that difficult. And besides, there are more and more vegan restaurants popping up all over the place these days.

When I became a vegetarian (there was no "transitioning" was just cold tofurkey for me), I ate a lot of processed veggie foods, because they were easy. Easy to find, easy to cook up, and fast. I ate a lot of faux veggie meat slices in sandwiches, veggie dogs, etc. And I still ate regular yogurt, cottage cheese, cheese, so there was plenty for me to eat. But perhaps this wasn't the healthiest way to go about it. Now there are even more "quick" and "easy" fake meat sources. Just go to Whole Foods and you will see a whole refrigerator and  freezer packed with the stuff. Veggie meals galore, from Amy's (not all of their items are vegan), Candle Cafe, Gardein, Kashi, etc. They are not cheap either. I won't say not to buy them, because I do occasionally, when I need something quick and it's on sale.

Becoming vegan (or eating a completely plant-based diet), is more of a challenge. I used to love cheese and yogurt. And now I don't really crave them anymore. Your body gets used to it. Besides, if you really want it, the non-dairy industry has really changed a lot in the past few years. There are several non-dairy yogurts you can buy (yes, they've got the cultures!). Some made with soy, others with coconut milk. There's even non-dairy ice cream! And that stuff is delicious. Mind you, I don't eat it all the time. It's high calorie, high fat, and high sugar, like regular ice cream. Though it's made with healthier ingredients. I was never really an egg person, but there are substitutions you can make when you're baking. As for eating, lots of vegans make scrambled tofu. It's very popular.

There are so many non-dairy milks out there, I couldn't possibly name them all. They're made from nuts, hemp, rice, oats, soy, etc.

So you see, there's not really a lack of food out there for those of us on a plant-based diet! And in time, you'll learn to make your own foods too, instead of buying them pre-packaged in the store.

Here is a list of staples that I keep (not all of them all the time, I try to vary the fruits and vegetables) in my kitchen.

Watch out for the "dirty dozen" in the case of fruits/vegetables. Those items you'll want to buy organic, if you can.

Vegetables: kale, spinach, zucchini, carrots, onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, celery, cucumbers, ginger, beets, cabbage, peppers, there are limitless options!

Fruit: apples, pears, lemons, limes, frozen berries, bananas, peaches, nectarines, tomatoes, avocados, dates, dried fruit, also limitless options!

Other items:

Nuts (cashews, almonds, walnuts, etc.)
almond butter or sunflower seed butter (there are many other nut butters out there too)
pureed/strained tomatoes in a jar
Pasta (I use brown rice pasta, but there are lots to choose from)
Oats (quick cooking, steel cut,  and whole oat groats)
Buckwheat (raw, hulled groats)
Brown rice
Flax seeds, ground
Chickpeas, black beans, etc. (I buy Eden Organic in a BPA-free can)
Earth Balance "butter"
Daiya shredded cheese (I keep it in the freezer), great on pizza
Teese Mozzarella
Rice Vegan Cheddar slices and vegan cream cheese
Almond milk, soymilk, and hemp milk-all unsweetened (Silk, Almond Dream, Tempt)
Sprouted grain English muffins and tortillas (Ezekiel)
Corn tortillas
Nutritional Yeast (great for B-12, tastes cheesy, sprinkle on top of pasta, etc.)
Non-dairy yogurt (Silk, WholeSoy,etc)
Non-dairy ice cream (So Delicious, Coconut Bliss, etc)
Lots of spices

This is not a complete list, but you get the idea. If I forget something, I'll come back and add it to the list.
Most of these things are easy to cook. I highly recommend a rice cooker (Zojirushi) for cooking rice and whole oat groats. You can set them to be ready at a certain time.....breakfast or dinner! There are great recipes out there for raw, soaked buckwheat or oat groats as breakfast oatmeal. Though you can easily cook up quick oats for breakfast too (S eats those every morning).  Other handy appliances are: a food processor, juicer (Breville), and a highspeed blender (Vitamix).

Many products contain dairy ingredients. See here for a pretty good list of ingredients that are made from dairy. Even some cheeses that are made from soy or rice have CASEIN in them (this is a dairy product!). Watch out for those. Some soy yogurts also contain casein. Read the label!! (don't worry, you'll eventually learn what products you can eat, without looking at the label single every time)

I've learned to read labels. A lot.

Whatever the reason love animals, you'd like to be healthier.......choosing a plant-based diet is an amazing choice! Good for you for even thinking about it.

I lost about 50 pounds after becoming vegetarian. And after transitioning over to a totally plant-based diet, I lost another 30! That's 80 pounds lost!!! So yes, that's another plus. My cholesterol numbers went down too! You can do it.

There are so many vegan cookbooks out there now. Just go to Amazon....they are all listed there.

PS-if you are also gluten free, or have other allergies, there are also tons of blogs out there for you!

Tomorrow: Easy first vegan meal/snack ideas.

PLEASE don't hesitate to ask questions if you need help with your transition. I'm here to help, since I've already been through that phase.

Eat smart,

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Reducing My Sugar Intake

Sugar. Is it good? Is it bad? There are lots of different sources/types of sugar, like sugar cane, beets, maple trees, fruit, bees, corn, and other plants like agave and stevia. When I say sugar, I mean any kind of sweetener, calories or no calories. I'm no biologist or doctor, I'm just trying to come to some conclusion about sugar!

I think I eat mostly a pretty healthy diet. And I don't even consume that much sugar.But still, I think I probably need to cut some of it out, whether it's "natural" or not. Sugar is still sugar even if it comes from an apple. Moderation, right?

I don't eat a ton of sweets like cookies and candy. But I do like to put some agave in my oatmeal . I've been able to cut that down though. For instance, I don't need any in my steel cut oats, because they're flavorful enough. I also eat sugar in the form of dried fruit in my oatmeal. Do I need agave AND dried fruit? Probably not.

As for fresh fruit, I eat apples (or sometimes pears instead) occasionally for a snack or in fresh juice. I put bananas and blueberries in my post-workout smoothies a couple of times a week. Occasionally we buy peaches or nectarines or whatever's on sale. I think that's ok.

I keep dates in my refrigerator. I use them when I make raw buckwheat or oatmeal. It's rare (every other week) and I don't use a ton. Or they go into the occasional raw salad dressing.

I do keep a bottle of agave in the pantry, because that's what I use the most.

When I do bake, I use either agave or some beet sugar. I used to use turbinado or demerara sugar, because I thought that was healthier than white sugar. But I'm not so sure it is. So I don't really buy it anymore.

I also add beets to my fresh juices. I hate stevia. Just so you know....can't stand the aftertaste.

I did try Splenda for a while, a long time ago. But then went back to using natural cane sugar.

So I think my main sources of sugar are: dried fruit, apples, beets, bananas, dates, & agave. Am I consuming too much? I probably put too much dried fruit in my oatmeal. Maybe I should limit myself to a tablespoon or so. What do you think? Usually it's cranberries or raisins, which have about the same amount of sugar in them. Three bananas per week is ok, in my opinion. And maybe 2-3 apples per week. A tablespoon of agave in my oatmeal in the morning.......maybe I should bring it down to a teaspoon? Or not at all? I also eat energy bars that have dates in them, like Larabars, PureBars, etc. Though I don't usually eat a whole one and certainly not every day.

And yes, I do sometimes buy non-dairy ice cream at Whole Foods and yes, that has plenty of added sugar. But I only eat about two tablespoons at a time and not every day. Am I taking years off my life by doing this?

I know there are various types like fructose, sucrose, etc. But I'm not a diabetic, and a lot of that has to do with the glycemic index. It seems that fruit sugar (fructose) is broken down more slowly, which is better. Ok, I'm not a doctor, so let's move on.

I'm sure there are some of you out there that think anything with ADDED sugar is bad. And I mostly agree. Though I think occasionally, it's ok. And maybe one day I'll get rid of it altogether (Ok, probably not. Let's be realistic!).

What are your thoughts on sugar? How much do YOU consume? Where should I cut back? I'm in good health, though I really do feel I should cut down on the sugar consumption. It will make me feel better about myself.

I don't buy "sugar-free" items either!

I'd love your feedback on the whole "sugar dilemma"....good news or bad.

Eat smart,

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Vegan Care Package Swap!

Oh no! I'm a day late. So sorry, Lindsay. I just got my awesome box from Ashley in Canada! Why? Because Lindsay at Cook.Vegan.Lover. had a Vegan Care Package Swap. A very cool idea and this is my second time doing it. Packages took a bit longer this time, to get where they were going, because they were between me (Louisiana) and Canada. I would have posted yesterday, but I had work, then concert, etc....blah blah blah.

I got paired up with Ashley from Dancing Through Life. She's also a musician. Cool, huh? She seems like an amazing person. I had to be a bit more careful in what I chose for her, since she's also gluten-free. But I was able to put together a nice package for her. See what I got her here.

And here's what I got:

Tons of awesome smoothie mixes (great for my workouts!):

More hemp seeds (good, I was running out) and and awesome ceramic mug (I LOVE coffee mugs):
(notice the cute magnet and button!)

These awesome double chocolate cookies (yes, I already ate one):
An energy bar (I ate it yesterday at our "kiddie" concerts), gum, and some chocolate:

That cute button:

It's on a Toronto Public Library tote bag (Yup, I'm addicted to totebags). And a cool local magazine, which I looked through yesterday. It's got some great recipes and articles in it.

Thank you so much, Ashley!! I LOVE IT! You can follow Ashley on Twitter too.

And thank you, Lindsay,  once again, for organizing this great package swap :) 

If you've never done it, you guys should sign up next year.

Eat smart,

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Bircher Muesli

I've recently found myself enjoying yogurt again (Silk unsweetened plain is delicious). Sometimes I put granola and dried fruit in it. Well you know what's awesome? Bircher Muesli! That's what. It's a Swiss style breakfast. I believe the old recipe called for more fruit and less oats, but here's my version:

Easy Bircher Muesli:
(makes 1 serving)

1/2-3/4 cup plain vegan yogurt 
2 TB dried fruit (raisins, apricots, cranberries, etc.)
3 TB flakes (oats, barley, spelt, etc)
6 almonds, sliced or slivered
2-3 TB grated fresh apple (optional)

Mix everything together and let it sit in the fridge for at least 3 hours. Overnight is good too. Eat!

Feel free to adjust, if you want less yogurt or more nuts, etc. Now I want some....

And I just got my awesome package from my vegan care package swap partner! So I'll be telling you all about that soon :)

Eat smart,

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Restaurant Review: Hillel's Kitchen NOLA

This morning we had some symphony "kiddie" shows and we decided to have lunch nearby at Hillel's Kitchen, immediately after the shows. If you check out their website, you'll find a complete menu and it specifies exactly what is vegan and gluten free (V & GF). Though take note, the place opens at noon M-Th, NOT 10 am, as specified on their website. I noticed this on their current menu in the cafe today.

The cafe is inside Tulane University's Hillel Jewish center, which is a very new, bright yellow building. It's all very clean with wood floors and funky bright green chairs. The tables are all large, so you can't really grab a small corner table for one or two. We were in there around 1 pm and there weren't too many folks in there, so you could've taken a large table for yourself.

You order at the counter, pay, and wait for your number to be called to go pick up your order. The menu doesn't seem to really have any big entrees on it. It's mostly sandwiches and salads, with some great looking breakfast items, served all day (vegan granola, vegan bagels & cream cheese, etc.) and snack food like chips/salsa and guacamole.

I ordered the Roasted  Sweet Potato and Pesto sandwich (marked as vegan). It wasn't huge, but was quite enough. I don't usually eat that much bread anyway. Surprisingly, it came with some sort of a BBQ sauce on the bottom AND the pesto on the top. Just a hint of spiciness with a nice mix of sweet and salty. A very good sandwich! I'd order it again. It was served with a pickle, which to my surprise, was pretty darn sweet.  I wish they had some sort of whole grain bread, but it seems they only had varieties of white bread. Same with the pita, it seems (though the pita is straight from Israel).

S got the Roasted Beet and Lentil Salad (also vegan). I thought about ordering that too. Good thing I didn' had olive bits in it (I HATE olives). Wish they'd specified that on the menu. Anyway, he loved it. I tasted some of it..without the olives, and it was good. I suppose I could just order it without the olives now that I know they're in there.

For dessert,  I ordered the Almond Chocolate Chip Cookie, which is both vegan and gluten free. I must admit, it was quite sweet. Much sweeter than I would normally eat, but once in a while is ok with me. It was very crunchy. Would have been nice with some coffee. The cashier did say there was some free coffee in the lounge, just around the corner (a few feet away). She wasn't sure there was any left and I wasn't sure how long it had been sitting I didn't try it. Maybe next time. I think the cafe has almond, rice, and soy milks for their smoothies (according to the website), so I'm sure you could use some in your coffee.

I picked up a couple of house-made vegan bagels with some vegan cream cheese on the side to bring home. I was impressed that they made their own bagels (albeit white flour). That reminds me, I should make some bagels soon. I haven't tasted them yet, but I'll update this post when I do. I meant to try their roasted tomato soup (vegan) that was on the website, but I either forgot or didn't see it listed on their in-cafe menu. Maybe next time.

Overall, we had a good time. Good food, a nice, clean, atmosphere, not overly pricey. The chef, Harveen Khera, introduced herself to me while I was ordering. Very nice woman. You should read about her on the Hillel's Kitchen website. She even told me about tomorrow's vegan special...I think it involved quinoa and sounded amazing! Unfortunately, I can't go in tomorrow :(  I will, however, be following them on Twitter, to stay updated on their specials.

Don't be afraid to step into the Hillel Jewish Center. No need to make a face when you hear "kosher restaurant"! This place is coming along nicely. I'm excited to go back and try something else (or get that awesome sweet potato sandwich again!).  If you're in the New Orleans area, do stop in for some good vegan food!

Eat smart,

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Spring Rolls with Avocado Sauce

Spring Rolls with Avocado Sauce:
(makes 6 large rolls)

12 sheets of round rice paper (12 cm)
6 large romaine leaves, folded in half to fit onto the paper (or collard leaves)
2 carrots, cut into thin strips about 2-3 inches long
1/2 cucumber, peeled, cut into thin strips about 2-3 inches long
2 green onions, cut to about 2 inches long (optional, they can be pretty strong)
2 stalks celery, cut into thin strips about 2 inches long
1/2 package kelp noodles, rinsed
Avocado Dressing for dipping

Lay all the ingredients out, so you can easily fill the rice paper. Follow the instructions for softening the rice paper (swirl around in warm water for 20 seconds or so.) Do this for one piece and lay it down on a clean towel and add a second on top (so it doesn't break). Put the lettuce leaf or collard leaf down on the paper at the bottom end. Top it with a small handful of kelp noodles, then 3 sticks each of the celery, carrots, cucumbers, and green onion (if using). Starting at the bottom, roll up the paper, holding in the stuffing, as tightly as you can, then fold the ends under. It will stick together. Put it aside and continue with the rest of the rolls. Serve with the avocado dressing.

*Tip: Sometimes it helps stay together if you let them sit for 30 minutes or so before serving. It gives the rice paper time to re-harden a little so that it's not still sticky when you hold it.

I think a cold front is coming in and it's very windy. It was still in the 80's today, but I think tomorrow's high will only be 69!! Brrrrrr.......and, I may be testing out a new place with vegan food! I will definitely post about it.

Eat smart,

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Liebster Award

So yesterday I was nominated by OMGosh I'M VEGAN for this cute award! I've never seen it before, but it seems to be a clever way to get bloggers to connect. Awesome! I'm all for that. I know I used to have a "Blogger of the Week", but I haven't done that in a while. I think I just might start it up again, because there are just millions of great blogs out there. Chances are, you haven't been to even half of them. So, here we go...(I'm copying and pasting because I couldn't find an origin for this award):

The word "Liebster" is German for 'dearest' or 'beloved' but it can also mean 'favorite'. The idea behind this award is to bring attention to bloggers who have less than 200 followers. 

The rules to winning this award are as follows:

1. Show your thanks to those who gave you the award by linking back to them.
2. Link to 5 of your top picks and let them know they've been nominated by leaving a comment on their blog.
3. Post the award on your blog.
4. Enjoy the love and support of some wonderful people on the internet!

Here are my Liebster Award nominations:

Vegan New Orleans
Czech Vegan
That Pain in the Ass Vegan
Vegan and So Forth
Vegan Brew

These are some great go! Go check 'em out!

Eat smart,


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