Monday, April 30, 2012

Picnic at the Winery - Birthday Style!

Last weekend I celebrated my bestest friend's birthday at local Wolf Creek Winery, a beautiful spot overlooking sprawling fields, a lake, and their adorable herd of goats. We polished off many bottles of vino and ate devilishly good vegan food while we competed with the tables nearby for rowdiest laughter.

Did I say devilishly good? Because, upon specific and urgent request, I prepared a batch (3x what you see above) of Bianca's Tofu Deviled "Eggy" Bites! These magical morsels pleased vegan and omni alike - as they always do - with their convincing eggy appeal and creamy texture. If it weren't so insane to eat a block of tofu a day I would totally gorge myself on these. Miss deviled eggs? Here's your solution!

The bestie's hubby made some bombtastic dip, which I believe is as simple as vegan sour cream and a packet of veggie soup mix. This stuff is dangerous and disappeared fast.

He also prepared two (TWO!!) homemade pizzas. This one had Tofurky sausage, red peppers, and caramelized onions with both flavors of Daiya (on a homemade crust, mind you).

Mmm... gardein strips, scallions, and portabellos...

Katie and Olivia after a wonderful night! Coming up: my very special recent Vegan Essentials haul and a new local vegan restaurant!

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Vegan with Hyperlipidemia: Part II

The saga begins one year ago with a young, health-conscious, 3-year veteran vegan finding out, accidentally, that her total cholesterol level was 279. The details are in the original post, but here is a quick recap: my understanding of heart disease and cholesterol were challenged upon learning that my levels were so high. This forced me to consider how my genetics and biology had a stronger hold on my health in this regard than did my diet and lifestyle.

After confirming the results with my doctor I was left to deal with the decision to either immediately begin taking a prescription statin or following more natural remedies, in this case red yeast rice extract. I took the recommended dosage of RYRE for one month and had my levels re-tested and found that my total cholesterol had dropped 50 points. This was very encouraging and I agreed to have more bloodwork done in three months.

I continued taking RYRE and began a rather challenging fitness routine in hopes that I could also lower my LDL levels in the process. After three months, my results read as follows: my total cholesterol had climbed 20 points. I was devastated. What was I doing wrong? I was doing everything right, for chrissakes! My doctor reminded me that we could continue trying natural options, but I needed to start considering taking a prescription drug to lower the numbers. As mentioned in my first post, my parents both take statins for their levels and my father has reported significant muscle pains as a side effect of one drug. I wasn't done trying.

So I continued with my fitness routine, ate healthier meals, and increased the amount of RYRE I was taking by 50%. This was no easy task because, while it boasts a more natural interaction, RYRE is considerably more expensive than the popular $4 generic Rx drugs available. I hoped, hoped, hoped that this would cause my levels to plunge into a safe range.

Three months later: the levels hardly changed at all. My doctor warned me that if they did not change by the next time I had bloodwork he would seriously push for prescribing a statin. Part of me had resigned to that fate, yet another part wondered if there was more I could be doing. Because of course: vegan doesn't automatically equate with the pinnacle of health. I felt pretty damn helpless.

So I continued to do more research on how to lower cholesterol levels, yet much of the information encouraged limiting or eliminating meat, egg, and dairy products from one's diet (uh, duh). Well, shoot. What else is there to do? Originally my doctor had wanted to prescribe fish oil supplements, until I reminded him of my ethics. Are omega-3's really that important in the fight to lower cholesterol?

Apparently, yes. These are touted as one of the top nutrients to assist in lowering cholesterol. I was not taking any supplements or paying much attention to my omega-3 intake during this time - so I kicked my ass into high gear. For the past few months I have been preparing a refreshing green smoothie in the morning at least 5 days a week containing a combination of the following:

  • Good Karma Unsweetened Flax Milk
  • Flax oil
  • Chia seeds

Along with these changes I am trying to be more aware of how much fat I ingest throughout the day. Fat, especially in the oh-so-popular "trans" form, can contribute to high cholesterol levels. That shit's bad for you all around. Even though it is a huuuuuuuuuge challenge for me (love my fatty foods), I am making efforts to commit more seriously to this task because I know it will help.

In March I had my levels tested again and they had dropped 20 points, back down to the original reduced level of 227. My LDL levels remain about the same (136) and I hope to see some improvement in 6 months when I will be re-re-re-re-re-re-tested. Success!

Some things I have learned during this struggle:
  1. Don't assume that your blood and nutrient levels are in the safe range, despite an overwhelmingly healthy lifestyle. Get a full work-up regularly.
  2. Educate yourself on your family history of diseases and health risks.
  3. Just like a diet change or exercising cannot, by themselves, change something as complex as cholesterol: neither can a pill. Not a fancy pharmaceutical. Not an overpriced natural remedy. Recovery and maintenance of a physical health condition extends to all areas of one's health.
So I will continue to exercise regularly and keep my heart pumping. I will continue to take my RYRE, yet only at the recommended dose. I will continue to enjoy a heart-conscious, low-fat, green smoothie packed with omega-3's most mornings. I will monitor my blood pressure regularly. I will cut out trans and other fats when and where I can from my diet. I will follow up with my bloodwork. I will prove to myself, my genetics, my doctor, my friends, my community that - despite the challenges my liver presents - I can fight these numbers and create a globally healthy lifestyle for myself.

And so can you. If you have symptoms of or have been diagnosed with a physical condition, despite your honest efforts to live a holistically healthy life - you are not alone. And you should feel no shame. There are some battles that require more ammunition than we realize and, usually, it can be provided in the form healthy, nutrient-rich food in the correct formula for your body. Be weary of a physician who is quick to whip out their prescription pad and feel confident in exploring lifestyle tweaks and alterations to achieve your desired state of being. You are worth it.

This post is dedicated to my dear friend Amber of Almost Vegan, who is currently facing the challenge of being diagnosed with an autoimmune thyroid disease, Hashimoto's disease. Please consider donating what you can to assist her in handling her finances associated with treatment. <3

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Beanfields' Healthy *Nacho* Chips!

The nice folks at Beanfields contacted me a few weeks ago requesting a review of their snacks, which are quickly gaining attention in the vegan and health communities. I was ecstatic because this is the first time a company has approached me to review their product! But when I learned what flavors their hearty chips offered I really became excited...

Nacho flavored chips! YES. I believe I noticed this flavor before absorbing anything else about the product at its core. All of their chips are made from black and navy beans and rice - no corn, gluten, dairy, or other common allergens. They also proudly display their use of non-GMO ingredients. Each serving has 4 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber - pretty impressive for chips!

The company appears to be on the rise and has earned its acclaim at VegNews' 2012 Natural Products Expo West, bringing home the "Best in Show" title. I am confident that we will be seeing these hit health stores nationwide soon!

I received 5 of the 6oz. bags (3 Nacho, 1 Pico de Gallo, 1 Sea Salt) and 3 single serving bags (2 Nacho, 1 Pico de Gallo). I immediately threw one of the single serving bags into my purse to bring to my class after I gushed over how much snacking I had to do.

When I opened the bag to the Nacho chips I was expecting to see the neon-orange dusted triangles so familiar to my teenaged years, yet these were darker and less florescent. With visible flecks of black beans and light seasoning these looked much healthier than the non-vegan nacho snacks. The taste was hearty and satisfying and the nacho flavoring was subtle, but definitely reminiscent of the junk food of my youth. If you're expecting an explosion of salty flavor you might be disappointed upon trying these, but I find that with my adult palate I was very pleased. They were impressively cheesy considering the seasoning did not include nutritional yeast!

The next night in class I brought along the Pico de Gallo flavored chips to try. These were a bit darker and had a deeper flavor, probably because they were spicier than the nacho flavor. These would be excellent dipped in guacamole (mmm!). Overall I am very satisfied about both flavors and couldn't say which I like best (and I haven't tried the Sea Salt version yet!) - they are each unique and very, very tasty. And the chips are filling snacks, unlike corn, tortilla, or potato chips - they held me over all evening.

Thank you very much to the folks at Beanfields for introducing me to their products - I will gladly spread the joy of finally having a vegan nacho chip option out there that boasts healthy and satisfying ingredients!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sweet Potato, Black Bean, & Kale Enchiladas

What warms the soul better than a plate of a homemade noms? Possibly knowing that it's low in fat, high in nutrients, and was super-easy to prepare. I whipped up some simple enchiladas for quick lunches and hearty dinners last week and was very pleased with how they turned out. The sweetness of the sweet potatoes, the creaminess of the protein-packed beans, and the crunch of the kale all worked together very nicely.

Leave it to me to turn this low-fat dish into anything but with a huge dollop of vegan sour cream...

Here's the recipe:

Sweet Potato, Black Bean, & Kale Enchiladas

2 cans of diced tomatoes
1 medium sized sweet onion, diced
1 can of black beans
1 large sweet potato
2-3 stems of kale, leaves torn into chunks
8 whole wheat tortillas

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Poke holes in the sweet potato with a fork and microwave for 4-5 minutes on one side, flip, and microwave another 4-5 minutes until soft.
  • Give the tomatoes and onions a whirl in the food processor until you have a slightly chunky sauce.
  • Once sweet potato is cooked, scoop out the insides and mix well with black beans and kale.
  • Prepare a large plate with a few spoonfuls of the enchilada sauce. Add a few spoonfuls of the sauce to a 9x13 pan to cover the bottom.
  • Take one tortilla and place each side onto the plate with the sauce, getting each side coated. Add about 1/2-3/4 cup of the filling to the middle of the tortilla. Add 1-2 spoonfuls of the enchilada sauce. Roll up tortilla and place in the baking pan. Repeat until you have filled the pan.
  • Spoon the rest of the sauce over the tortillas. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Enjoy with some vegan sour cream or melted vegan cheese (or not, if you want to keep it fat-free!).
Coming up: a review of some awesome snacks which made their way to my door today!