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Friday, June 29, 2012

Drawing a Line in the Sand: No More Meat

There, I've said it. From here on out, no more meat. Changing to a vegetarian diet is more than a dietary change. It is a change in lifestyle--and that takes time and effort. Honestly, I can say that I mostly vegetarian. Sometimes I regress and eat meat, but not often. One of the hardest parts of becoming vegetarian is trying to create meals that are not full of carbs or fat.

Pasta and rice. I love both. Pasta is my downfall. It is difficult to create interesting and different vegetarian meals without using either pasta or rice. I have yet to find a non-semolina based pasta that I can eat. Most become starchy and sticky or turn to mush.

Rice is not as big a challenge. I rarely use white rice. We most often use Madagascar Pink rice or Volcano rice from Lotus Foods. When I serve brown rice, I add scallions to it. My kids like it better that way.

What--A vegetarian diet is full of fat? It can be if you use a lot of cheese. I am finding that there are too many recipes that use cheese almost as a meat substitute. While cheese has its place, I am trying to limit the amount of dairy I eat. Vegetarian cheese does not appeal to me. Still searching for a solution to this dilemma.

Solutions that Work
I've been experimenting with rice noodles. The kids like them and they add an authentic taste to stir fry. Quinoa is a wonderful grain that is high in protein. Most of my kids like it and it is fairly versatile. I can swap out pasta or rice with quinoa in some dishes.

It has been a long slow process for me and my family. We are eating healthier but I do not foresee anyone other than myself becoming completely vegetarian.


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Three Kid Friendly Dipping Sauces

Try these three, kid friendly dipping sauces the next time your picky eater says he won't eat veggies. Use a variety of raw, sliced vegetables. My kids like broccoli, carrots, celery, sweet bell peppers and jicama. You can try blanched green beans or snap peas. Cherry or grape tomatoes also work well. The sauces are low in fat and healthier than ranch dressing.

Almond-Miso Dip
You'll need:
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of white miso paste.
1/2 cup warm, 100 percent apple juice.
1/2 cup organic almond butter.

Dissolve the white miso paste in the warm apple juice. Combine with almond butter and mix until completely blended. If the mixture is too thick, add more apple juice. Allow to cool to room temperature before serving.

Creamy Tofu Dip
You'll need:
1 cup silken tofu.
6 ounce container of Greek style yogurt.
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill.
Salt and white pepper to taste.
Paprika for garnish.

Puree the yogurt and tofu in a blender until smooth. Add dill, salt and pepper. Refrigerate for one hour or ideally overnight to allow for flavors to blend. Garnish with paprika before serving.

White Bean Dip
You'll need:
15 ounce can of white beans, rinsed and drained. Eden Organic has BPA free cans.
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice.
1/4 cup olive oil.
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley.
3 chopped scallions, white parts only.
Salt and black pepper to taste.

Combine beans, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper in a blender. Puree until smooth. Add parsley and scallions. Blend until smooth. Chill before serving to allow flavors to blend.

Other options for kid friendly dipping sauces include hummus and guacamole. Organic, all natural peanut butter or cashew butter can be substituted for almond butter. The recipes are based on dip recipes found in Vegetarian Times magazine.


Friday, June 22, 2012

Easy way to reduce dairy intake

I do not plan to go vegan, I just don't see how I could possibly manage it. But, reducing my diary intake is an important goal for me. Using soy based products won't work for me. My oncologist told me to avoid soy because of the type of breast cancer I have. The first step that I am taking to reduce my dairy intake is switching from cow's milk to almond milk.

Why switch?
If you remove all the studies sponsored by the dairy counsel, very little evidence exists that cow's milk is good for you. My non-dairy milk of choice is Blue Diamond Almond Milk. It is free of soy.

Switching to a non-dairy milk is diet friendly. Unsweetened, original almond milk only has 30 calories per cup. The original has 60 calories per cup. That is a lot less than 90 calories for one cup of skim milk. I still get the calcium I need but without the calories.

I noticed after switching that my skin is clearer and less dry. While I cannot prove that this is due to removing cow's milk from my diet--it seems to be more than just a coincidence.

Making changes
I do not find much of a taste difference between almond milk and cow's milk. Almond milk does not taste different in cereal or coffee. When I bake, I replace cow's milk with almond milk and no one in my house can tell the difference. It is a great way to cut the calorie count of a recipe. My kids like chocolate flavored almond milk to drink. It's a nice treat for them on occasions.

Going vegetarian is a lifestyle commitment. I'm taking it one step at a time. So far, I have not found a substitute I like for cheese--but I am working on it. For now, it looks like I will just have to reduce my cheese intake.


Saturday, June 16, 2012

How to tell if a product is vegetarian

It can be difficult to tell if a product is vegetarian or vegan. To decipher many ingredient lists you need a degree in chemistry. Something as benign as a marshmallow could contain gelatin, which is usually made from animal products unless it specifically states vegetarian gelatin (not sure if this really exists.) This brings me to the question-is there an easier way to determine if a product is vegetarian or vegan. The answer is yes and it is on the label.

Kosher Parve
Look for kosher products when you are shopping for vegetarian and vegan foods. The exact label you want to see is kosher, parve. Anything that is labeled kosher parve cannot contain meat or dairy products. All you have to do at that point is to make sure it does not contain fish or eggs. Most fish (not shell fish or anything that feeds on the bottom like catfish) and egg products are considered parve.

Why Kosher
In order to be deemed kosher parve, a product must be inspected for ingredients and preparation methods. The product may not contain or be manufactured or prepared in a facility where it could come in contact with beef, chicken, turkey, milk or milk products. The facility cannot prepare or manufacture non-kosher foods due to the possibility of cross-contamination.

Things that you may not think of as non-vegetarian or non-vegan may actually contain ingredients that would offend you. For example--red dyes. Not all red dyes are acceptable. Certain red dyes are made from beetles. I don't know about you, but I would prefer not to have bugs in my food. The FDA has regulations about the cochineal beetle and carmine contained in food products. I would rather look for a kosher label on all food and drink that contain red pigments. This way I can be positive that they are beetle free. It is against Jewish law to eat bugs or anything derived from insect parts. The only exception to the bug rule is honey because it is created outside of the bee.

The exact ruling against eating insects is found in Leviticus 11:43 "You shall not make yourselves abominable with any creeping thing that creeps, neither shall you make yourselves unclean with them."

Other reasons to look for kosher parve products is that kosher law is much tougher than any FDA or USDA regulation. To quote an old Hebrew National commercial "We answer to a higher authority." So there you have it. Make it easier on yourself if you are unsure about how to tell if a product is vegetarian or vegan. Check the label.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Keeping Vegetarian When Dinning Out

If you live in a large city, finding vegetarian restaurants is easy. However, for people like me, who live in small rural towns, vegetarian restaurants do not exist. What do you do when you want to dine out? Is keeping vegetarian when dinning out possible in a small town? The answer is yes.

Chains with vegetarian options
Fast food chains like Subway, Quiznos, Firehouse and Lenny's Subs have vegetarian options. At Subway you can create your own sub by choosing veggies, bread and dressing. Quiznos and Firehouse subs have similar options. Lenny's offers a vegetarian sub or you can have a grilled bean patty. They dress it up like a burger. I find their bean patty tastier than textured soy products.

Most, but not all major restaurant chains offer salads. Some offer other meat free options. Call and ask before heading out to avoid disappointment.

Chinese food may contain more meat than you think. Fried rice usually has eggs in it. Find out what they fry it in. Some dishes use beef or chicken stock even though they are all vegetable dishes. Fried foods could be fried in lard, so double check when in doubt. The same holds true for Mexican foods. Many Mexican dishes use lard.

Menu options
Choosing from a non-vegetarian menu is difficult. Ask about sauces, especially tomato sauces are prepared. Good options are plain tomato sauce on pasta with a house salad. For pizza, choose veggies or plain pizza. Ask if the sauce is meat based. If it is, opt for a white sauce which is usually made from cheese.

Friends and family
It is inevitable that you will be asked to dinner or other gathering at the home of a friend or family member. Let them know that you do not eat meat so they can prepare vegetarian options for you. During the holidays it might be challenging to find meat-free options at corporate events and other community based parties. When attending an event where you can bring your own food, make sure to pack a vegetarian entree for yourself.

This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to attend a Casting for Recovery retreat. Although I did not specify that I needed a vegetarian meal plan, there were plenty of salad and vegetable dishes available, so I did not go hungry.

It is all about thinking creatively if you want to keep vegetarian when dinning out. Ask for a double portion of vegetable side dishes if there are no vegetarian entree options. Pasta is always a good choice. So are house salads and vegetable appetizers. I have almost always been able to find something to eat, no matter which local restaurant I choose.

Hope you find this helpful. The above picture is vegetarian sushi created by my son Adam.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Dieting is Tough

Dieting is tough. Sometimes will power alone is not enough. I get hungry on a 1200 calorie diet. Staying focused is difficult, but for me it is a matter of life or death. Losing weight will significantly reduce the risk of breast cancer returning. So far, I am losing weight, but it is a struggle.

What Helps
I am a snacker. Before switching to a vegetarian diet and wanting to lose weight, I would snack on chips or cheese. Now, when I have a craving for something salty and crunchy, I open a bag of pumpkin seeds in the shell. Eating a serving of seeds keeps my craving for chips at bay. The sodium content is high if you eat the shells, but they are way more nutritional than potato chip or tortilla chips.

Water is my friend. I find that staying hydrated by drinking 64 ounces of water a day really helps. A glass of water helps me feel full after a meal or in between snacks.

Staying busy is another way to forget about calories. Writing, walking, and keeping up with the household chores is one way to keep my mind off of food. The more I focus on other tasks, the less likely I am to eat because I am bored.

Baked Apples to the Rescue
Sometimes I want comfort food. This usually is something warm and sweet--like apple pie. Well, apple pie is not in the diet plan yet. So instead, I make a quick lunch called trail mix baked apple. The apple is warm and sweet. The nuts add crunch. It is a healthier way to have an apple pie fix.

Here is how to do it and depending on the size of the apple, it is about 400 calories.
Core a medium to large apple.
Soak 1/4 cup of raisins in warm water for about 5 minutes.
Mix 1/8 cup of chopped cashews, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg together in a bowl. Add the raisins.
Place the apple in a microwave safe dish and stuff it with the raisin mixture. Sprinkle any remaining filling around the apple.
Microwave on high for four minutes. Let cool, this comes out very hot.

Staying Meat Free
Going without meat is not as hard as I thought it would be. I found that I have more energy without meat in my diet. For me this is a huge bonus because my cancer treatment sucks the energy out of my body and I am chronically tired.

I try new foods or recipes every week. Finding new ways to cook veggies and grains is exciting. My adventure with a vegetarian diet may be different than most because I have to avoid soy products for health reasons. Going meat free and avoiding soy is a challenge at times, but I am up to the task.


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A Review of My Food Diary

One thing that works well for dieters is keeping a food diary. I have tried keeping track of calorie intake and daily exercise with a spreadsheet and it never works for me. Maybe it is because there is no feedback from the spreadsheet or it could be partly because I constantly forget to update the information. An online program called My Food Diary is working well to help me stay on track. It is just more than an exercise and calorie log. There is a lot of information gained from entering in your goals, daily exercise, and food intake.


My Food Diary is an online, subscription based service. I joined with a seven-day free trial and fell in love with it, so I kept the subscription. The cost is $9 per month but it is worth it.

I keep track of my calorie intake, daily exercise, and body measurements through the website. At the end of the day, you see your food intake which is broken down similar to a nutrition label. I can see how many calories I ate, how many were from fat, and the nutritional intake of the food I ate. At the end of the day, you get an overview of everything.

The overview tells you how many calories you need to go in order to reach your goal. For me, I need to net 1200 calories a day. The more I exercise, the more My Food Diary tells me to eat so I maintain that 1200 calorie intake. The system is set up so that you cannot lose more than 1.5 pounds per week. If you do more exercise or net fewer calories, the system lets you know that too.

Tracking water intake is another neat option. Staying hydrated is important and I can tell the system what my water goal is. As long as you log water consumption with your meals, the system will track it for you.

Recipes are another neat feature with My Food Diary. I can add in my favorite recipes and it gives me the nutritional value. This is really important if you modify recipes from magazines and books. Many times I will replace cow's milk with almond milk. This changes the nutritional value and calorie value. The recipe feature allows me to accurately see what I am eating.

Why it Works

This system works for me because it allows me to see the nutritional value of what I am eating. Tracking my food intake for two weeks with My Food Diary, shows me that I need to work on reducing the amount of fat in my diet. Although I usually stay within the net calorie limit, my fat intake is higher than it should be. I have to see where I can cut fat out of my diet so that I can maximize my weight loss.

Another area I need to work on is protein intake. This is another challenging area for me. I am in the treatment phase for breast cancer. Chemotherapy was part of that treatment. The week following chemo was difficult for me because it affected what I could eat. Spicy and peppery foods are out. For the first couple of days after chemo I have difficulty swallowing, so bland soups are the mainstay of the diet for a week. This leads to high sodium intake and a lower protein intake. Thankfully, chemo is now in the past and I can focus on eating better and incorporating more high protein foods into my diet.

I really like My Food Diary. If you decide to give it a try, drop me a line and let me know.