Nutrition, Recipes

5 Favorite Dairy-free Alternatives

Hello, world!

As you may know, I have lots of food allergies, with my biggest one being dairy! That means no milk, butter, cream, etc etc. One distinction I want to make right off the bat though: lactose intolerance and dairy allergies are NOT the same! Lactose intolerance means you can’t properly digest lactose (milk sugar), whereas an allergy means you have an immune response to any part of milk (whether it has lactose or not) and can be a lethal response (anaphylaxis).

I’ve had this allergy my entire life, but some people might develop it later in life, or have decided to cut out dairy for nutritional reasons. Whatever the reason, there are LOTS of alternatives for milk in cooking, baking, and more. Reading labels and ingredients is key here, because there are some very surprising foods that contain milk (such as McDonald’s french fries). Lookout for things like butter, non-fat milk, whey, casein, or the dreaded “may contain milk” or “manufactured in a facility that also processes milk”. The easiest way to know if something is dairy-free? When it’s vegan!

If you’re just getting started on a dairy-free life, or want to find a new alternative, here are my top 5 dairy-free alternatives that are versatile in their uses and fairly easy to find!

  1. Silk milk
    My family always uses Silk for things from cereal to baking. Silk comes in a variety of forms (soy, coconut, almond, cashew) and flavors (unsweetened, original, light, vanilla, etc). It substitutes perfectly in baking/cooking for regular milk and has the best taste from other brands.
  2. Earth Balance butter
    I recently started using Earth Balance instead of other brands, and I’ve fallen in love. Not only does it come in either a tub or a stick, it also doesn’t have as much water in it, therefore it doesn’t sputter and spatter as much when in a hot pan. (I found other brands of milk-free butter have a high water ratio, therefore it spatters a lot as if you’re cooking bacon)
  3. Daiya cheese
    Oh Daiya, there is nothing else like you! My whole life I wanted to eat cheese, but the alternatives always tasted like cheap lipstick. Daiya is the first and only cheese I’ve found that actually melts and stretches, and tastes good! When I make pizza with this, normal cheese-lovers always devour it.
  4. Tofutti sour cream and cream cheese
    Tofutti is another favorite brand of mine. It started with eating their ice cream sandwiches for breakfast as a kid (while my parents were still asleep, lol). They have a great sour cream that makes fajitas and tacos 100% better, and also does well in baking. Their cream cheese + some jam makes the perfect topping for a bagel too!
  5. So Delicious ice cream
    So Delicious is another versatile brand- they have milks, yogurts, ice creams, and more! But here, I’ll focus on their ice cream. They have lots of different formulations (soy, coconut, almond, etc etc) and so many flavors! Not to mention the flavors are so rich and creamy despite not having any cow’s milk. Favorite flavor: mocha fudge!

Of course there are TONS more brands and options out there, but these are my favorites! In the coming weeks, I’ll post some recipes (including my famous pizza) that use the alternatives I mentioned.

What’s your absolute favorite dairy-free food or brand? Tell me in the comments!

Peace and love!

Nutrition

How To Eat Clean, Be Happy!

Hello, World!

Life is pretty great right now! Counting down the days until I can move out of my (sad) apartment and into my new one!! It shall be glorious

As you know from my previous post, 3 Essential Parts to a Healthy Lifestyle, I have been sick! Ugh, it’s been incredibly frustrating because I haven’t been able to work out at all. This cold from weeks ago developed into violent coughing fits, so cardio was a no go. Thankfully, I’m FINALLY getting better! I definitely think my decision to eat healthy when I got sick played a major role in becoming better. Also, I haven’t gained any weight despite not working out for over a month! What what? It’s pretty fantastic.

So what have I been doing this whole time? I’ve been eating clean! You’ve probably heard this phrase all over the health and fitness blogosphere, but it’s pretty vague if you ask me- in fact, I had to google it to make sure I truly understood it! Essentially, eating clean is eating whole and fresh foods. Getting inspired by colorful produce at the supermarket. Feeling the satisfaction of cooking at home and enjoying your creation. As someone who has ALWAYS been a huge fast food addict (you can ask any of my friends- Burger King is my favorite), making this transition actually wasn’t very difficult! I have tried a couple different eating plans in the past, from eating only 1200 calories a day (not a good idea) to stricter plans that dictate your every meal and snack, and none of those stuck for longer than a couple of weeks. I’ve been eating clean for over a month now, and my body feels fantastic!

By eating clean, I have noticed my eczema has disappeared! How do I know it was directly related to eating clean? If I do have a crazy meal once in a while, it’ll creep back and disappear within a few days! My energy levels have also improved! I used to have intense fatigue that no amount of coffee could battle, but now I can have my green tea in the morning, and I am set until bed time! And these are only some of the benefits!

Specifically, let’s talk about what I’ve been eating. First off, I try to make everything myself and eat as little processed/premade things as possible. I especially focus on replacing all crackers/chips/pretzels with fresh fruits and veggies. Here’s an example of what a day looks like:

Breakfast: OATMEAL! My obsession ❤ I cook a 1/3 cup of oats with water and cinnamon, and then top it with chia seeds, flax seeds, honey, and various fruits (strawberries, blueberries, banana, etc). I also have a glass of Green Goodness smoothie from Bolthouse and green tea to boost my energy for the day.

Lunch: sliced chicken breast sandwich topped with spinach and tomato and toasted in the oven! I’ll also pair it with a spinach salad topped with sliced strawberries!

Snack: banana with home made peanut butter

Dinner: grilled chicken breast sauteed with broccoli, onions, mushrooms, red wine vinegar, olive oil, and s&p! (You can find this one on my Instagram @happy_body_blog!)

As you can see, the foods I eat during the day are very simple- easy to make with not too many ingredients or anything crazy. I think that’s the point of eating clean overall- just make it simple! Some of these meals may not sound exciting, but I swear they taste so good and are incredibly satisfying because the ingredients of the meal get to shine. I also try to change it up every day or week. I don’t let myself get in the habit of eating the same sandwich for lunch every day because I know I’ll burn out and get bored! In fact, I plan my weekly meals on what inspires me at the grocery store. If I see some awesome asparagus on sale, I’ll quickly look up a recipe on my phone for ideas on what to pair it with. My goal is to always pick a different item, or at least one I don’t normally eat, every time I go to the store to keep eating clean fun and interesting!

So with my new focus on eating clean and experimenting in the kitchen, I will be posting a lot more recipes in the future! To see my creations day to day, be sure to follow me on Instagram, and check my blog soon for some yummy recipes!

Let me know how you eat healthy and clean, and what some of your favorite recipes are! I would love to try them out!

Peace and love!

Nutrition

To Be Gluten-Free, or Not To Be?

Hello World!

Now I’m sure you have noticed the gluten craze building in the nutrition world. Tons of people saying gluten is terrible for you, and yet other sources say whole grain breads and pastas are wonderful for you! What should you believe? Which side should you join? Well, I’m going to give you both sides of the argument, so you can make the educated decision for your body! Let the debate begin!

Whole Grain Argument: The main point of the whole wheat argument is to eat only 100% whole grain products as opposed to bleached or enriched wheat. When wheat is bleached or enriched, it means that it has been stripped of its nutrients (and that’s why it has to then be enriched). This stripped down wheat acts as a simple sugar in your body- it burns quickly, so you become hungry shortly after, and it is ranked high on the glycemic index, which means it spikes your blood sugar. Wheat that has not been bleached and retains its nutrients is whole wheat. Products that are 100% whole grain are lower on the glycemic index, and digest slower, thus keeping you full longer. They are a great source of vitamin B, zinc, iron, and especially have a lot of fiber. B vitamins give your body energy, while fiber helps regulate digestion and can protect you from a multitude of health problems. Many nutritionists caution against going gluten-free because you run the risk of becoming deficient in those nutrients.

Gluten-Free Argument: First of all, what is gluten? It’s a protein found in wheat and other grains like barley and rye. It helps bread rise, keep its shape, and adds elasticity, which gives the bread its chewy and fluffy texture! However, Gluten has been linked to multiple health risks. As you may have heard, people who have Celiac Disease have an immune response to gluten (like an allergy). Studies have shown links between gluten consumption and thyroid disease or even so far as Alzheimer’s. Many people may even have gluten insensitivity- think of this like the difference between lactose intolerance and a milk allergy. An intolerance makes it uncomfortable to eat the food, while an allergy makes it dangerous to eat the food. Many find that by reducing or eliminating their gluten consumption, they get more energy, less “brain fog”, and other benefits.

Overall, both sides have benefits and problems. There is not an ultimate answer. The amount of information on the internet about both sides is enormous, and the best we can do is to become as educated as possible so that we may make the best decisions for ourselves. Do a little experiment- eliminate gluten from your diet for a week or two. How do you feel?

Peace and love!

Nutrition

Favorite Foods That Boost Wellness

Hello World!

College football is finally here! Hooray for dressing up, going to tailgates, and cheering on my favorite team! Of course football season can lead to some pretty unhealthy eating habits, such as drinking lots of beer and eating more chips and burgers than you really should have! We can’t let a fantastic time of the year be an excuse to lose all of our good habits!

With that being said, lately I’ve been curious about the health benefits of individual ingredients. We all know staying away from the fried foods and eating more leafy greens is good for you, but what about other ingredients? What about spices and foods you may not usually think to use? With this thinking, I’ve come to realize that some of my favorite things hold great health benefits that you may not realize! I love the way foods work! 🙂 Here are my favorite food items, their benefits, and how you can incorporate them in your diet!

Cinnamon: This spice packs more than just flavor! It helps regulate blood sugar and reduces your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels! Perfect for oatmeal, peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and smoothies.

Cayenne: Spicy peppers contain capsaicin, which, despite its heat factor, can help reduce inflammation. Add this to your chicken, chili, or even your sauteed vegetables.

Turmeric: An Indian spice that can those suffering from arthritis, and has overall anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and antibacterial properties. This spice is absolutely delicious on chicken along with cumin!

Bananas: My favorite fruit! Bananas are fat and cholesterol free, and are high in potassium, B vitamins, manganese, and fiber! I could put a banana into almost any recipe- that’s just how much I love them!

Blueberries: These berries are incredibly high in antioxidants, vitamin C, fiber, and are a wonderful low calorie snack! If you are looking for convenience, buy a giant bag of frozen blueberries. Fold them into a piping hot bowl of oatmeal, on top of some ice cream, or into a smoothie!

Oatmeal: As my favorite breakfast food in the world, oatmeal has high levels of fiber that reduce cholesterol levels, reduces appetite with the compound beta-glucan, and can reduce your risk of colon cancer thanks to its antioxidant levels (who knew?). I could eat oatmeal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner! Add any fruits, cinnamon, or even chocolate chips to make more of a dessert style oatmeal.

Sweet Potatoes: Along with their delicious taste, sweet potatoes are anti-inflammatory, low on the glycemic index (don’t spike your blood sugar), and are packed with vitamins A and C. Just by themselves, sweet potatoes are divine, but you can also use them in a black bean and sweet potato casserole!

Pumpkin Seeds: As the only seed that is alkaline-forming, pumpkin seeds are incredibly helpful if you have an acidic diet. They also have high levels of zinc to battle osteoporosis and illness, and vitamin E. Throw these seeds in your yogurt for some added crunch, or on top of your bread dough before you throw it in the oven. Pumpkin seeds are even fun to just snack on.

Coconut Oil: Not only is coconut oil a great moisturizer/deep conditioner, it also fights of candida and other fungi, and boosts your thyroid function. Try using it in place of olive or canola oil the next time you saute or grill!

Chia Seeds: If you are looking for a super food, chia seeds are the way to go. They are low calorie, high in fiber, protein, and omega-3 and 6 fatty acids, reduce appetite, and are a good source of calcium! They are very small and don’t have much taste- I add a tablespoon of chia seeds to my morning oatmeal to really jump start my day.

Garlic: Along with being very delicious, garlic is anti-inflammatory and reduces bad cholesterol levels! It’s perfect for flavoring meat, hummus, pastas, and breads!

Cranberries: These red berries contain anthocyanins, a phytochemical that acts as an antioxidant, reducing cell damage in the body. This explains why pure cranberry juice is used to treat urinary tract infections! Cranberries can be used in desserts, oatmeal, with turkey or chicken, or in juices and mixed beverages.

I personally was surprised by some of the things I found as I researched my favorite ingredients! I always love learning more about the foods I eat and how to improve. I dare you all to Google your favorite ingredient, even if it’s one I listed here already, just to see what kind of wonderful things it does for you. I would love to hear about what you find!

Of course, remember to follow me on Twitter @Happy_Body_Blog, and like the HappyBodyBlog Facebook page for more updates and health tips!

Peace and love!

Nutrition

The Typical Japanese Diet

Hello, World!

Where have I been? Did I fall off of the Earth? Is HappyBodyBlog over? Never fear! Rachel is here! I do greatly apologize for the time lapse- I have been in Japan! Can you believe it? My dream of studying abroad in Japan has finally come true, and life with my host family has been phenominal. Unfortunately, because my life has been so busy because of my studies, I have had no time for HappyBodyBlog! I barely have time to work out (but no worries, I always make time). In less than 2 weeks I will be back in America and HBB will resume with business as usual!

In the mean time, because I have to be educational in all of my posts 😉 , I wanted to talk about the typical Japanese diet. I must say, for the looongest time, I could not figure out how the Japanese stay so slim. Everywhere you go, there’s lots of pastries, sweets, desserts, and fried foods! Even at McDonald’s, the portion size for french fries is huge just like America (I do admit, I have been to McDonald’s here, but I feel like it’s a must when in a foreign country lol)! Like any other culture though, that is only the surface. Unlike Americans, the Japanese walk everywhere. I mean everywhere. Public transit is much more popular (and convenient) that driving a car. You have to walk to the station, stand on the incredibly crowded train, then walk to your destination. Since walking and standing for long periods of time is a low intensity workout, the body tends to burn a higher percentage of fat. I’ve been able to partake in the not-so-healthy foods without gaining weight because I am constantly moving. I still find it amazing.

Of course, Japanese food isn’t just fried potato (that’s what they call french fries) and desserts! There is much more to their diet. As you may have suspected, the Japanese eat copious amounts of rice and fish. They never eat brown rice. Ever. My host mom was surprised when I told her that in America, it’s common to eat sushi made with brown rice. White rice, despite our common belief, does have some health benefits. It is a great protein source, and therefore amino acid source, so it is good for muscle health. It is also easily digestible, so it is a safe choice when you have nausea or diarrhea.

Fish, on the other hand, is loaded with nutrients and health benefits. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish improve heart health and function, lowering the risk of heart attack and stroke, prevents inflammation, and also aids brain health, possibly leading to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s and depression. If you aren’t allergic to fish, I highly recommend adding it to your diet!

If this wasn’t amazing enough, the Japanese also eat a lot of miso soup. You know, that soup with the tofu and seaweed they serve at every Japanese restaurant in America? Yeah, it is just as amazing as the health benefits of fish. Not only is miso soup incredibly delicious, miso is a complete protein- it contains every amino acid! It is also high in antioxidants (which reduce your risk of cancer), B vitamins which give your body energy, and improves digestive health. The oligosaccharides in miso balance the bacteria in your intestines. Miso truly is an amazing ingredient!

Seaweed is a highly used ingredient in Japanese cooking. This is truly a super food. Found in many forms, seaweed is a highly versatile ingredient. At the top of the list, seaweed contains high amounts of iodine, which is essential for thyroid health. The thyroid controls hormone release in the body, and is a huge determinant of weight. Iodine is added to tyrosine to create hormones which regulate metabolism. Without a good metabolism, maintaining a good weight is near impossible! Seaweed also contains high amounts of B vitamins and magnesium, which can reduce blood pressure.

Just based on these 4 items (rice, fish, miso, and seaweed), you can see all of the health benefits that the Japanese enjoy. I also have found a new appreciation for fruit thanks to Japan. Fruit is treated as something very special- it’s a treat and a dessert. I have always disliked apples unless they were covered in peanut butter or in pie, but Japan has the most delicious apples. Ever. Their peaches are also amazing. In fact, most of the time my host family serves fruit for dessert (melon, peaches, pineapple, etc). Japanese have it all figured out- fruit contains a lot of sugar, so it is nature’s dessert. Fruit is so much healthier for you than eating pie, cake, brownies, etc. The more I think about the Japanese diet, the more I understand how they stay so slim and healthy!

So, who’s adventurous enough to try cooking a Japanese meal? Maybe some okonomiyaki or somen? Of course the Japanese eat much more than just the items I described, but this is just a small view into the basic essentials. I encourage you all to try something new, and enjoy the wonderful things that other cultures have to offer!

As always, be sure to check out my Facebook page and Twitter for updates and daily tips on how to stay healthy

Peace and love!

Nutrition

The 40/30/30 Diet- What is that?

Hello World!

Today is day 4 of my June Nutrition Challenge (check out my earlier post here if you haven’t read about it!), and I am loving it! I haven’t craved the dairy-free ice cream sandwiches in the freezer at all, and I’ve successfully denied the temptations that my family keeps offering me! I can tell that my muscle definition is getting better thanks to the high protein intake I’ve had, and I actually feel skinny. There’s still time to join me and make a nutrition change for the month of June, whether it’s cutting out fast food or starting a new diet plan! Whatever it is, take that step forward towards a healthier you!

Now with all of this excitement about better nutrition, the 40/30/30 plan pops up a lot. Multiple health and nutrition specialists (including my nutritionist) recommend it, which brings up the question: What is it, and what are the benefits? Well, there are 3 things that the body gains energy from: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. These 3 things provide calories, which gives the body energy to work. But we can’t just get our calories from one source, like eating 100% protein and nothing else. There has to be a balance, so many experts provide a recommended ratio of the 3 energy sources. For example, the MyFitnessPal app that I track my food intakes on recommends 55% calories from carbs, 30% calories from fat, and 15% calories from protein. I personally do not agree with this ratio. When I followed their recommendations, I had a very hard time getting results from my workout routines. Despite eating a healthy number of calories and meeting the 55/30/15 ratio, I was eating way too many grams of sugar in order to get 55% energy from carbohydrates (see my earlier post here about how evil sugar can be). Yes, this ratio may work for some people, but it is not for everyone since we all have unique needs. There are other ratios to consider.

The 40/30/30 plan means 40% of calories come from carbohydrates, 30% fat, and 30% from protein. As some of you may know, this is similar to the Zone Diet, but not exactly (Zone is a little more tricky and uses “blocks” to determine how many carbs/proteins/fats to eat per meal, and the creator actually said that he regrets mainly categorizing it as a 40/30/30 plan). I am following this 40/30/30 plan now in the June Nutrition Challenge, and I am enjoying its benefits. Protein and fat take longer for the body to digest, therefore people feel full for longer compared to carbs which are converted quickly, and they are both very important for the body. Proteins repair cells and (healthy) fats improve brain, heart, and other major functions. The challenge with this ratio, and any ratio really, is the types of foods you eat. The 40/30/30 plan promotes healthy blood sugar levels because you are eating fewer carbs (which raise blood sugar) in exchange for more proteins and fats. However, if you continue to eat carbs with lots of sugars in them, it defeats the purpose of following a 40/30/30 plan. Your blood sugar will still spike, and desired results won’t appear.

Ultimately, no matter what plan we follow, the content of the foods we eat determine our success. For example, in order to meet 30% calories from protein, you could eat a lot of steak. The problem with steak though is that it contains high amounts of unhealthy fats, which in the long run lead to heart disease. Red meats also contain high amounts of L-Carnitine, which used to be connected to weight loss and better energy, but studies now show that L-Carnitine leads to plaque buildup in the arteries. I don’t mean to bash red meat, but it goes to show that it must be eaten in moderation, and not at every meal. Instead, you could get your protein from chicken, turkey, fish, tofu, or protein powders. Just like with carbs, you don’t want all of your carbohydrates to come from candy and desserts! The foods we eat determine our success!

Like I said, every body is unique and requires it’s own blend of nutrients. Some respond well to 40/30/30 or 55/30/15, and others have their own ratio that works well too! Honestly, finding the right nutrition for you requires trial and error, but believe me, once you figure it out, your body will notice!

Do you like to follow a certain ratio of carbs to fats to proteins a day? Let me know what works for you! Also, check out my new Facebook page to get daily health tips and post updates!
https://www.facebook.com/happybodyblog

Peace and love!

Nutrition

Too Many Simple Sugars? Oh My!

Hello World!

School is out, Summer is here, and I am ready to get my health in order! Do you ever wonder why your workout routine just isn’t getting the results you want? During the semester, I could easily keep a perfect flat stomach, and now that I am back home, it’s not so easy (I know, my life is just SO hard, hehe)! I may be getting enough sleep and working out twice as hard, but the results just are coming. I decided to analyze my diet.

I’ve been using the MyFitnessPal app on my phone, and I have to say, I love it. It’s very easy to use, has almost all of the foods I eat in its database already (and there is a tool to add more foods to the database as well!), and there are lots of graphs to track your nutrients and calories for us visual people! I’ve logged my diet for 10 days in a row, which is a record for me, and now I see exactly why I’m just not getting the results I want: WAY. TOO. MUCH. SUGAR! Oh my goodness, the number of grams of sugar I eat in a day is crazy! I may be eating healthy things like granola and gluten free waffles, but they all have sugar, and I eat too many in a day. So even though I have a healthy calorie intake, the sugars are keeping me from really toning my body.

Now for all of you science-savvy people, here’s why sugar can be evil: When you digest your food, all carbohydrates are broken down into their simplest form: glucose (sugar). The pancreas sees this rise in glucose, and therefore releases insulin in order to activate glycogen synthase (enzyme). The glycogen synthase transports the glucose to cells to be metabolized for energy (hooray metabolism!). However, when we consume simple sugars (white sugar, syrups, sodas, etc), the body overreacts and releases too much insulin in order to get rid of the glucose as soon as possible. The glycogen synthase enzyme cannot move fast enough to transport the extra glucose to healthy cells for energy, so the glucose is turned into fat! Yikes! This also causes blood sugar crashes and even more cravings for sugar!

Even though simple sugars are evil, this doesn’t mean that all carbohydrates are bad! We need carbs for our metabolism so that we can have the energy required for everyday life. We just need to make good choices on which carbs we eat. Read food labels- how many grams of sugar are in your favorite breakfast cereals, snacks, or condiments? Try swapping your usual choices with ones that have fewer, if not no, grams of sugar. I’ve eased myself from eating Quaker’s apple cinnamon oatmeal every morning, to the lower sugar version, and now I just eat plain oats with cinnamon (no sugar)!

To really make a change in your habits, I challenge everyone to track your food intakes for a week. Are there any good habits that you see? Maybe some consistent not so good habits? Being honest with yourself and writing down everything that you eat will help you realize what needs to be done in order to make positive changes! The key is BEING HONEST!

Now that I have successfully gone gluten free, my health goals are to eat protein at every meal, and to drastically reduce my sugar intake! What are your health concerns and goals?

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @Happy_Body_Blog and sign up for email updates at the bottom of the page!

Peace and love!