Progress Report and How to Build a Salad

The results are in: I’m down another three pounds and just one pound shy of my pre-pregnancy weight! My one-week raw food challenge yielded exactly the results I expected. Honestly, despite all of the raw produce I eat on a regular basis (and my success this past week), going 90% raw was more difficult than I anticipated. It wasn’t until a few days in that I really got into a groove with snacks and small meals that kept me satisfied.

I found myself eating roughly 40% each raw fruits and veggies, 10% raw nuts, seeds, and butters, and 10% “other” (cooked items, oils/vinegars to dress salads, etc.). I experienced increased energy levels, which is essential these days with a newborn waking several times throughout the night. I found it easy to lose a little bit more weight even though working out did not go as planned.

In my last post, I was beaming about our new B.O.B. jogging stroller and getting back to running again. Well, I tried, and let’s just say I experienced some healing setbacks that I didn’t expect. I thought I was ready for a low-impact jog, but my mind and body had different plans. I did, however, keep with regular outdoor walks, began doing arm exercises with two-pound hand weights, and even got down on the floor for some good ‘ole ab toning. I’m feeling really great and look forward to trying jogging again soon.

DSC_2594

So, how did I consume all of that raw produce in order to feel satiated and energized and achieve the results I was looking for? Mostly, salad! No, we are not talking iceberg lettuce with shredded carrots…I mean big, hearty, versatile salads with flavorful low-sodium/fat/sugar homemade dressings.

Here’s how I build the perfect salad:

Start with a nutrient-rich leafy green base. While there is certainly nothing wrong with iceberg or romaine lettuces, you’ll get more out of a salad with kale or spinach. Leafier greens tend to be more fibrous, so chop them small and/or massage your dressing onto the leaves to make them more palatable. Also, consider greens that you may not have realized you could eat. Travis and I consume the tops of beets and carrots, for instance, either in salads or smoothies.

salad at home

Mix a variety of fruits and vegetables. Fruits and veggies pair well together, allowing you to balance sweetness and freshness. I prefer hard, crunchy fruits like apples or pears in my salads, but there’s obviously no limit to the combinations. This salad—surprisingly, from Chili’s—includes pineapple. Berries make for a delicious addition, too. As for veggies? Really anything goes. I prefer veggies that are palatable in a raw state, but you could even prepare a butternut squash and slice it thinly. Play around with combinations that maximize flavor and nutrition.

Chili's salad

Kick it up with a crunch. Raw nuts and seeds do the job nicely. Whenever possible, opt for those without added oil, salt, or sugar, of course. Even nuts that aren’t necessarily tasty raw—walnuts, in my opinion—take on a whole new life when paired with the right produce and dressing. I will eat a whole bowl full of kale with just nuts/seeds and am totally satisfied.

Make your own dressing. ALWAYS. There are many a tasty option out there in the world of premade dressings, but an abundance of them contain animal products, preservatives, and/or an excess of oil, salt, or sugar. It is simple and fast to make your own dressing. A vinaigrette comes together by mixing acid (mustard, citrus juice, vinegar, etc.) and a touch of oil and/or sweetener, plus salt, pepper, herbs, and spices to taste. Love ranch? Caesar? You can still have creamy dressings using a nut or seed butter as the base. This extra effort is worth it for a healthier salad. Ranch might make veggies tastier, but it takes over whatever health benefits you were gleaning from them without it…

Add cooked elements to make it extra filling. Lastly, your salad will keep you fuller longer if you add cooked beans, lentils, tofu, or whole grains. I especially love to do this when I’m making a burrito bowl. 🙂 Remember, though, that cooked items contain more calories than raw, if you’re trying to watch your weight. Point is, if you’re aiming to eat more raw produce, that is what should be the star. (You can’t go wrong, however, with my multi-grain salad, bean salad, or potato salad for a filling fix that is highly nutritious!)

Salad with beans

During my one-week raw food challenge, I was comfortable eating a lot of salad. In my ordinary plant-based life (60-70% raw produce), I typically eat at least one salad a day, either on its own or in a wrap. If the thought daunts you but you’re trying to eat more produce, start small: carrot sticks and dip (homemade, of course!), apples and peanut butter, etc. Once you find yourself having more energy, you’ll be chowing down on fresh fruits and veggies on the regular in no time!

Advertisements

One-Week Raw Food Challenge

As expected, this week, I plateaued on my weight loss journey. After I gave birth to Nolan, the last four pounds were the toughest to lose and it looks like that is going to be the case again. While I didn’t gain any weight over the past week—plant-based eating works wonders for maintaining a healthy weight, regardless of the intensity or amount of exercise—I didn’t lose any either and I’m not seeing any differences in my appearance.

So, it’s time to take it up a notch. As of Sunday, it’s been four weeks since Oliver was born and I feel mostly healed from childbirth. I’m ready to make my daily walk at least a partial jog. My in-laws hooked us up with a brand new B.O.B. jogging stroller that can hold a child up to seventy pounds, so Oliver—or Nolan even—will be accompanying me for my runs for years to come.

While exercise is important and essential for heart health and weight loss, it is my belief that diet is even more so. As you know, I follow a mostly vegan plant-based lifestyle composed of 60-70% raw plants and 30-40% cooked. Since I have reached a plateau, to accompany gradual changes in exercise, I’m doing a one-week raw foods challenge where I’ll be upping my raw plant intake to 90%.

Eating raw plants is extremely healthy and in many cases, preferred to cooked plants. Most raw plants contain more nutrients than if they were cooked and cooked plants also contain more calories than raw. What?! I’m not a scientist, but in simple terms, according to what I’ve read, when a plant is cooked, it is injected with energy (heat). Since calories = energy, increasing the “energy” in a food is also increasing its calories. Point being, while I don’t count my energy molecules, I don’t need as many of them if I’m trying to lose weight. 🙂 All the more reason to go raw.

DSC_2583

Because I am used to eating mostly raw plants anyway, I am not concerned about feeling satisfied by even more of the raw stuff and less of the cooked. I don’t think I could sustain a 90% raw diet in the long-term because there are so many cooked plant foods that I can’t live without (potatoes, beans, whole grains, etc.), but I know I can do it for a week and expect to see a few more pounds drop as a result.

What are you going to eat? Where do you get your protein?

Some of you are thinking it, so here are the answers:

I’m going to consume a variety of raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, nut/seed butters, and plant milks as they are or in easy-to-combine dishes like smoothies or salads. I’ll incorporate grains by putting them dry and uncooked into the Vitamix and turning them into flour. I can use this flour in power balls or bars, for instance, and obtain the nutrients in fewer calories.

There is some level of protein in virtually all plants, but especially high levels in nuts and seeds. I’m not worried about getting enough protein—I never am—and I’m not a bodybuilder, so I just need to make sure to eat an adequate amount for my body type and physical activity level. Protein is nothing to stress about, despite getting this question often. A dietician I follow has written numerous times about how most Americans (even vegans!) eat way too much protein…I’m not a nutritionist, so I’ll leave it at that.

Part of staying full and satiated, for me, anyway, is grazing. The pics in this post exhibit snacks I eat all day long in lieu of three traditionally large meals. Just an idea if you’re not sure how you could make this work. 🙂 Check in next week to see how my raw food challenge went!

DSC_2579

How I Made the Switch

10860945_10105950389328904_2142054229820765234_o_edited

What I love about being an educator is my ability not only to teach students important academic content, but to help shape their lives.  I am thankful that my work habits trickle into my personal life, allowing me to reach those outside of the classroom, too.  Since adopting a plant-based lifestyle over three years ago, I’ve had many students, friends, and family members interested in making the switch themselves.  They’ve asked me for ideas and recipes, just wanting to live a healthier life.

As I’ve always stressed, I am not an expert in nutrition or dieting; I know what I know from old-fashioned research and experimentation.  For me, the proof of my lifestyle and Fresh Formula concept is in how I look, and more importantly, feel, in the day-to-day.  While I’ve never been overweight or unhealthy overall, I really believe that we can always improve, which is what I set out to do.

I also believe that the people in my life bring out the best in me, making me want to live as long and as healthy a life as I possibly can.  My husband and son in particular are what inspire me to make smart choices (as my mom always says!) each and every day.  I don’t want to watch my son ride his bike off to school; I want to ride my bike with him.

11001720_10204884344286016_940481854688695948_o_edited198628_10101096867216124_2241408_n_edited The most common question that students (and people in general) ask me once they learn that I don’t typically eat animal products is “What do you eat?”  I addressed this in a previous post, so I’m here today to answer the second most popular question:  “How do/did you do it?”

I’m an ordinary person with a busy lifestyle and like many people, occasionally make a really unhealthy food choice.  As a result, I knew that I would have to take baby steps in transitioning from a traditional, animal-laden American diet to one revolving around plants.

For me, the first step was doing away with cow’s milk.  Many varieties contain added sugar, hormones, and more (I’ll let you research that on your own).  I gave up cow’s milk over six years ago and should have done it sooner, being that I am mildly lactose-intolerant.  Skim milk never irritated my system much, but I knew that it wasn’t the healthiest milk option for me for a number of reasons.  So, I have since switched to plant milk.  I drink primarily almond, but I also like cashew, hemp, oat, and grain.

Less than two years later was when I was told I had high cholesterol.  Ugh!  My doctor advised me to give up red meat, pork, eggs, and butter.  I went without these for an entire year—not that I previously ate them much anyway—before I kicked all meat and most dairy to the curb.  Despite being lactose-intolerant, it’s been more difficult to give up dairy because it is often the staple ingredient in comfort foods:  ice cream, mac ‘n cheese, mashed potatoes, etc.  I am no different than the average person – sometimes, comfort food just sounds damn good.

Now, “comfort food” to me is a big salad or rich smoothie because that’s what I’ve come to crave.  I also really look forward to making customary animal-based comfort foods vegan, trying new things, and learning about the latest super foods.  That leads me to the next stage in my plant-based journey…

About six months after eliminating animal products, I decided to make it my mission to try new fruits and vegetables.  A friend that I used to teach high school with and I would head out to the farmer’s market and while I would buy plenty of familiars, I would also try to grab at least one or two items that I didn’t recognize.  While this sometimes wound up in failure (you can’t help what you like and don’t like!), 90% of the time I found some—or a lot of—success with new produce.

The last phase in my journey to plant-based living involved what I call, for no particular reason other than simplicity, “picky vegan things.”  I gave up honey, gelatin, white sugar, etc.  In other words, I gave up the foods that don’t outwardly say “I’m made with animal products,” or that we commonly associate with chickens cooped in their pens or salmon being fed corn, but foods that contain animals or are made by animals nonetheless.

Today, I am working on becoming even more dedicated to an imperfect model.  I am not above grabbing a slice of pizza at a party; I just choose not to eat like the majority 95% of the time.  For this, I am healthier than ever, with great blood work, loads of energy, reliable sleep habits, and a normal weight and heart rate.

I hope that taking a look into how I got where I am inspires you to make a healthy change in your lifestyle, however big or small.  There’s nothing wrong with baby steps and there is no perfect diet.  🙂  For more inspiration and ideas, read more about me, plant-based living, and my Fresh Formula concept.  As always, enjoy!

Bountiful Baskets

DSC_1815

Plant-based living, in general, is not cheap. While I am still coming out ahead of my omnivorous days, no longer purchasing sirloins and brie, to eat high quality, fresh, organic “real food” can still be costly. Consuming sometimes twenty different fruits and vegetables in a day requires real diligence in seeking out the best prices for produce (as well as whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds).

Travis’s parents introduced us to a farmers’ co-op called Bountiful Baskets. I’ve mentioned BB before, but today, plan to go into a bit further detail about what a value it really is.

DSC_1823

Each week, the sale opens online on Monday and closes on Tuesday for pickup on Saturday. Popular items—like the organic fruit and vegetable basket—sell out quickly, so you have to be on your game. We head over to the BB website to place our order. You have a choice between a regular basket ($15) or organic ($25), plus extra add-ons like whole grain bread, tortillas, granola, and bulk produce. These add-ons change each week, as do the contents of the baskets. You can count on a 50/50 mix of fruits and vegetables, but the rest is a surprise.

I love the surprise element of the basket because every once in a while, it contains a fruit or vegetable that I have never heard of before or at the very least, never eaten or prepared myself. This challenges me to research typical preparations and uses, as well as flavor and nutrition information. This week, there is nothing out of the ordinary, but I am elated to see beets in the organic basket…stay tuned for a beet hummus recipe that you just have to try. 🙂

DSC_1818

Anyway, the add-ons that we selected this week were pineapples (twenty-one pounds, to be exact) and what the BB website called a “Freezer Pack.” The FP contained a large quantity of broccoli, carrots, and asparagus. We are keeping half of these vegetables and two of the eight pineapples fresh in the fridge and chopping the rest to go in the freezer. Below, you can see that we filled one-gallon food storage bags with chopped vegetables that will be ready to dump into a pot of vegetable stock for a quick soup. The pineapple chunks, since they will inevitably freeze into one solid unit, are in smaller baggies, the perfect size for smoothies.

DSC_1826

DSC_1824

When add-ons like these—or similar bulk deals in the supermarket—come along, we always stock up and get creative. A couple of months ago, for example, we paid BB an extra $20 for twenty-five pounds of organic tomatoes which we promptly turned into homemade marinara sauce. This was frozen in food storage containers in perfect portions to accompany a box of pasta (or the equivalent in fresh eggless pasta). Today, we are cracking into the last one.

Living a plant-based lifestyle, for us, is still cheaper than being omnivores, in part because we seek out deals and find creative ways to preserve produce that we have stocked up on. Many of the deals come with the seasons and holidays. I don’t often purchase pecans and walnuts, for instance, because they are among the more expensive nuts, but my farmers’ market had longstanding sales on these around Thanksgiving and Christmas, at which point I bought a whole bunch that lasted us for months.

In addition, since we don’t buy prepackaged frozen food, our freezer typically always has room to store produce that we have peeled, chopped, or otherwise prepared ourselves. We freeze fruits and vegetables in convenient portions for the anticipated future application. This forethought comes in especially handy when it looks like there is “nothing to eat” and then I open the freezer and remember that I have soup-in-a-bag ready to go.

The photos in this post display $57 worth of produce, most of which is organic. The fresh produce will last us a week or two, but the frozen weeks or months beyond that. The fact that this is a smokin’ deal not enough for you? The extra produce and forgotten pickups are donated to local fire stations. 🙂 See if you can find a farmers’ co-op program in your area!

DSC_1817

What’s in YOUR Kitchen?

DSC_1420

Welcome back! As plant-based living may be new for you – or perhaps you just need new ideas – I thought it would be helpful to give you a tour of my kitchen so that you can see the types of produce I buy and some of the nonperishables that I regularly keep on hand.

The photo that you see at the top of this post is a shot of my countertop, which is often overflowing with produce that does not require refrigeration. I maintain a plentiful stock of bananas, as I use them in many of my recipes and they are among my son, Nolan’s, favorite fruits for snacking. This time of year, I also have an array of citrus, much of which I obtain from neighbors for free. Citrus fruits are ripe for the picking during Arizona’s winter.

You’ll also see in this photo that I have fresh vanilla beans on hand to use in various recipes and to make homemade extract. The basic formula for an extract is the flavor agent plus vodka and involves a long soaking period (another post, another day). Moral of the story? If you have the opportunity to make your own extracts, you’ll find that they are purer and higher in quality than many of the store-bought, imitation varieties. I digress…

Next, we move into my fridge, where you can spy everything from a batch of homemade veggie stock (located under Basic Formulas), to black-eyed peas that have been soaked and are ready for further cooking, a bowl of triple berry togurt (located under Breakfast Formulas), and of course, more produce. We always have a ton of it and get the biggest bang for our buck with a local food co-op called Bountiful Baskets. Through this organization, weekly, we have the opportunity to pay a flat rate of $25 to obtain approximately $50 worth of organic produce. The offerings are seasonal and often local and the contents of the basket are always a surprise. Check out the bountifulbaskets.org or conduct a web search to see if your state offers a similar program.

DSC_1421

On to my spice cabinet, which is my husband, Travis’s, pride and joy in our kitchen! Although the spices and herbs sometimes get misplaced during quick cooking, my hubby generally has them organized by ethnic application (e.g. Italian, Mexican, etc.) or other similarities. For example, mace is located on the exterior of the nutmeg shell; although different spices, they are part of the same fruit and often used together in cooking/baking, so they are grouped together. Yea, I know – our cabinet organization is a bit over-the-top, but with over 60 spices and herbs to choose from, it does well to have them arranged in a way that allows for easy selection.

DSC_1422

When we travel we stock up on herbs and spices that are native to the area and end up saving a ton, as those in jars in the supermarket can be pricey. We are still using, for instance, cinnamon sticks that we purchased during our honeymoon on the British Virgin Island, Tortola, in July of 2011, and turmeric that we bought the following summer when touring a spice farm in Zanzibar, an island off of the coast of Tanzania in East Africa.

Finally, here’s a look into my pantry. First, you can see a variety of oils, vinegars, and sweeteners. It is amazing what these products can do in the way of flavor, even in very small amounts. On the two shelves below those you’ll find staples like beans (dried and canned, no sodium added), seeds, and grains. While I always have quinoa and oats, for example, regardless of price, more expensive items like nuts, dried fruits, and dark chocolate I purchase and stock up on when they are on sale. The flexibility of my formulas and my willingness to experiment with new combinations allow me to create a delicious bite out of whatever I obtain. The very top shelf (not pictured) includes standard baking supplies like cornstarch and baking powder.

DSC_1424

If your kitchen needs a plant-based makeover, consider starting with one or two target areas and make changes slowly, especially if you’re trying to get a meat-and-potatoes spouse or some picky little ones on board. When Travis and I decided to start eating more healthily, the first item we did away with was cow’s milk, which we replaced with almond. Travis, who was a diehard whole milk drinker for years, now swears by almond and I, being lactose intolerant, couldn’t have found a better milk match. Nolan is even more adventurous, drinking coconut and oat milks on a regular basis. If those do not appeal to you, you could try soy, flax, rice, grain, cashew, sunflower, etc. There are lots of options that don’t include added sugar, hormones, or cholesterol and are often higher in calcium than the dairy variety. Plus, you can easily make your own plant milk (we’ll cover that another day, too)!

I hope that a private tour of my humble cooking headquarters has given you some ideas and inspiration so that you are prepared to tackle my formulas (and plant-based living in general) head on. Happy shopping and stocking!