Quick and Healthy…AND Cheap!

So, when I’m skipping around the internet for recipes, or fussing in my kitchen trying to come up with something tasty, there are a few prerequisites. It has to be healthy, of course…and even though that’s open to wide interpretation, by “healthy” I mean generally 6 or less whole food ingredients, and something that nourishes and strengthens your body in the long term, not just over the next three hours. And, for this particular blog, it needs to be quick; I look for stuff that can at least be prepared ahead of time, so when you’re ready to walk out the door, you have something in your belly that constitutes more than a cup of coffee or a handful of potato chips.

But there’s a third, sort of bonus prerequisite that sometimes factors in, and that is cost. High quality organic ingredients can be a little more expensive, so when I find something that isn’t, I get pretty excited. Of course, this week’s post isn’t about any sort of miracle food; in fact, it’s been a staple in a lot of households for a long time. But it’s one of those meals that can be prepared at the beginning of the week for dinner and end up feeding you happily for the next three days. How’s that for bang for your buck?

What I’m talking about are beans and rice, with just enough pizazz to keep you from yawning yourself to sleep over your dinner (or lunch or…) A little spin on the classic old favorite, that will fill you up and last forever. And this recipe uses black beans, which rock a high protein and fiber content, which helps move food through your digestive tract quickly and efficiently. Plus, black beans help regulate blood sugar, which helps with cravings.

A few other happy bonuses: the soluble fiber in black beans helps lower cholesterol, which leads to a lower risk of heart disease and heart attacks; they also contain flavonoids which are powerful antioxidants. There’s also a healthy dose of vitamin B6, or folate, which helps support nervous system health.

Here’s another little tip as you’re navigating the potential wilderness of healthy eating: write a list of 10 quick healthy meals, and post it on your fridge. Try to keep the ingredients for at least 5 of those in your kitchen as often as possible. Then, when you get home late, or when mealtimes sneak up on you, you will be more likely and more prepared to have a healthy meal rather than, say, order a large pizza. It helps.

One last point: you don’t have to stick to this ingredient list…you can throw whatever you like in, or, more appropriately, whatever you have on hand.

Healthy Black Beans and Rice

1/4 small red onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, diced
1/2 carrot, diced
1 T. olive or coconut oil
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 medium green bell pepper, chopped
1 can prganic black beans
1/2 t. curry powder
1/2 t. cumin
1/4 t. chili powder
1/4 t. paprika
2 c. cooked brown rice (you can substitute any grain, really)

–Heat the oil in a medium skillet and add the onion and garlic.
–Over the next few minutes, add the carrot, peppers, and finally the beans, heating through.
–Add to rice/grains and serve.
–You can get creative, really, adding whatever condiments you like such as soy sauce, tamari, or tahini to taste.

*Recipe courtesy of keepyourdietreal.com

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Chia Power

So, I know I said I was going to stay away from quick bars for a little while, but I just couldn’t help myself.  As always, I’m looking for things that are easy to prepare and fun to eat, with a lot of staying power to keep me moving through my days.  What else can I say…?  I’m a sucker for quick protein snacks and these fit the bill.

There’s a few awesome things about these.  First, they take about five minutes to prep, even with blending the oats and buckwheat into flour.  All you do is mix the dry ingredients together, and add water…easy!  Second, they are vegan and gluten-free, if you are looking for an option that won’t make you feel too bloated.  Third, they have a good dose of protein, which will fill you up for a few hours and keep you going through a tough practice, or give you a little pick-me-up snack after you’re done.

The other nice thing about these is that you can play around with the ingredients, using different flours and nuts and seeds to vary the flavor.  They offer a variety of options, and keep well in a baggie as a quick snack for any busy day.  You can add avocado or hummus, even toast them and try them with a tasty jam.

Super Power Chia Bread*

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup chia seeds
  • 1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds*
  • 1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup gluten-free rolled oats, ground into a flour
  • 1/4 cup raw buckwheat groats, ground into a flour (or more oat flour)
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp fine grain sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1 cup water

1. Preheat oven to 325F and line a 9-inch square pan with two pieces of parchment paper, one going each way. (I used a round glass pie dish, because I didn’t have a 9×9…and ended up adding a few extra minutes to the bake time)

2. Add rolled oats and buckwheat into a high-speed blender. Blend on highest speed until a fine flour forms.

3. Add all dry ingredients into a large bowl and stir well until combined. Stir in the water until combined. The mixture will be very watery and runny at first, but it will thicken up fairly quick.  Scoop it into the pan and spread it out with a spatula as evenly as possible. You can use lightly wet hands to smooth it down if necessary. Sprinkle the bread with Herbamare or fine grain sea salt before going into the oven.

4. Bake at 325F for about 25 minutes, or until firm to the touch. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes and then lift it out and transfer it to a cooling rack for another 5-10 minutes. Slice and enjoy!

5. This bread keeps for 2-3 days max – any longer and it gets gummy in texture. You can try freezing it…and toasting it straight from the freezer.

*Recipe from http://www.ohsheglows.com

Liquid Protein

So, I really think I have tried almost every protein drink, bar, gel and goo out there in my quest for the perfect fuel; as I learn more about the benefit of whole food I am less eager to fuel my body with these options, but when I am really in a pinch or grabbing something from a convenience store when I am on the go, they are good for a quick fix to tide me over for a few hours.  So I’d like to discuss a few of the options out there…

…of which there are about a jazillion. Literally. So for my purposes today, I am only going to cover three of the more common protein shakes you will find, as well as everybody’s favorite: chocolate milk. Because, let’s face the facts, folks; they can try as hard as they want to make protein drinks taste like chocolate, but the general effect is like looking for fireworks and getting something more like sparklers.

As I waded through the test subjects, there are a few things I found to be fairly common ground for all of them that I’ll go into here. First, the serving sizes are all about the same, about 8-12 ounces. Second, they have a lot of ingredients in common and this isn’t necessarily a good thing. For example, they all (including the organic chocolate milk) contain carrageenan. Why is this important, you ask? Well, even thought it has been deemed “safe” by the FDA for use in foods as a thickening agent, it can lead to gastrointestinal disorders. It tends to coat the inside of your stomach like honey, which can present a digestive challenge. Some folks may not react well to it. Not to mention that it is also used in aircraft de-icers (?!); it is used to thicken the fluid in order to help it adhere to the aircraft surfaces.
Hmmmm…

These types of pre-made shakes also tend to have a LOT of ingredients that are phonetically challenging; lots of -ides and -ates that make me a little nervous. But it is possible to find some with less; this is actually one of the areas where chocolate milk comes out ahead because the organic varieties really have very little in them.

But I am digressing slightly. Let’s meet the contenders:

1) Gatorade Protein Recovery-G Series Recover 03: Gatorade has branched out a little from their standard electrolyte drinks trying to break into this “recovery” market, as people start to realize the importance of replacing not just their electrolytes but also their protein and glycogen stores. And while I am not sure how I feel about this, I decided to give it a shot.

So, how does it stack up? In a serving just over 16 ounces, you get 270 calories, 20 grams of protein, and 45 grams of carbohydrates. For your buck, you get a little less protein bang. But Gatorade did use whey protein, which is optimal for muscle recovery. I found that I didn’t get any gassiness or bloating from this one, which is sometimes problematic for me when I drink these things, and which may be a problem for those with lactose sensitivities since this product does include milk protein concentrate. The taste is so-so, about what you’d expect from store-bought shakes. If you make your own pretty regularly, don’t expect this to come close.

2) Myoplex and Myoplex Lite: EAS manufactures these gluten-free options for protein fulfillment and recovery, and I have to say, they are among my go-to drinks when I am looking for quick protein. I like to keep a bunch at work for after my workout or for a mid-morning snack. I usually opt for the lite version (which is a little out of character for me, but they are smaller servings and also a bit cheaper).

Myoplex Original comes in 17 ounce servings and weighs in at 300 calories; you get 42 grams of protein and only 7 grams of fat; the lite version is only 11 ounces and you get 20 grams of protein and only 170 calories. I don’t usually sweat the calories; I mean, I’m not super worried about what I’m taking in there. I know that with either one, I am getting good protein for muscle recovery without a lot of sugar (4 grams in the lite and only 1 gram in the original). And both contain a variety of B vitamins and trace minerals that are important for your daily health (although not a substitute for a solid multivitamin).

The Myoplex shakes use soy proteins, which don’t necessarily come up on everyone’s list of favorites. There are a lot of discrepancies in the conversations surrounding soy protein, like should you opt for it before or after working out? Or is it inferior to whey protein? Is it really a “girl’s protein” as some men’s magazines have claimed? Well, after reading through a bunch of the internet articles about it and trying both soy and whey in addition to others, the conclusion I have come to is that it is–like so many other diet and supplement choices–highly personal. What works for me might give you gas or make you feel, well, icky. I know that isn’t exactly scientific, but I really feel that it is hard to make a solid recommendation on what works “best” for everyone.

3) Muscle Milk: So, Muscle Milk is pretty common; I mean, as convenience stores make the effort to appeal to more health-conscious customers, this tends to be what shows up in their coolers. What’s inside? If you are looking at the 11 ounce container, you get about 210-240 calories, depending on the flavor, with about 25 grams of protein. They use milk protein concentrates and whey protein (which absorbs quickly), plus you get lots of trace minerals and B vitamins. What you don’t get is lactose or gluten: bonus!

The down side? I really don’t think the taste is anything to write home about; it’s a bit chalky and even when I’m drinking the chocolate (which is usually my standby flavor for protein drinks), I just can’t shake the sensation of my mouth being coated with something odd.

4) Chocolate Milk: I saved the best for last. I gotta say, even though it seems a bit sinful, chocolate milk might be your best option, especially if taste is a big factor for you (and really, when is it not?). There are a bunch of perks: there is a 3:1 carbohydrate to protein ration, which enhances glycogen replacement after exercise, and more potassium than Gatorade Recovery. It also contains casein, which absorbed slowly, which in turn sustains amino acids in your circulation for hours after you consume it. And, of course, calcium.

If, for example, you were to pick up an 8 ounce container of Horizon Organic lowfat chocolate milk, you would find that it has 11 grams of protein and only 2.5 grams of fat; plus you can find it with DHA omega-3, which is awesome. The other bonus is that it is usually a lot cheaper than some of the specifically-marketed “recovery” drinks.

The bummer here is that if you are lactose-intolerant, this is probably not going to work out so well for you, depending on the severity of your body’s reaction to lactose. Also, most of the studies done on the efficacy of chocolate milk as a recovery aid were done on high-end endurance athletes. That being said, I think most derby practices and bouts qualify as endurance events.

I know this was a little wordy, but I also know how confusing it can be when you are staring down a shelf full of options and have no idea where to start. I hope this helps a little. Also, bear in mind that it might take you trying a few products to find what is going to work best for you, and that it might change over time; I find that some days downing a protein shake just doesn’t work for me and my digestion.

Until next time…

Baked Chickpeas and Tasty Treats

So, I just tried this yesterday and I have to say, I’m quite excited about it.  Mainly because I have a bit of a weakness for salt and vinegar potato chips, and this really hits the spot without all the crap you find in chips…plus chickpeas have tons of good stuff in them and they fill you up AND they taste good, besides.  Radness on so many levels.

Now, most of you are probably already familiar with chickpeas in salads, hummus, curries, etc. I was intrigued by this recipe because it’s cheap and simple, and once you’ve made up a batch you have a quick finger food for snacking on the way to practice or in between meals, that gives you a quick protein shot and fills you up.

Here’s the recipe:

2 cans chickpeas, drained
3-4 c. white vinegar (I actually used a little white vinegar and a little cider vinegar, and just enough
to cover the chickpeas)
salt and pepper
olive oil

–Empty the drained chickpeas into a medium saucepan along with the vinegar and a pinch of salt. Bring this to a boil and let sit for 30 minutes.
–Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and preheat the oven to 425. Drain the chickpeas and spread them out over the baking sheet; drizzle with olive oil and add salt and pepper to taste. (I think you could also experiment with other spices or oils, and come up with some great taste combinations.)
–Bake them for 45 minutes, turning once about halfway through. When done, let them cool and refrigerate.

Let me talk a little about what you’ve now got here. Chickpeas are an excellent source of protein and fiber, which means you stay fuller longer. They have a low glycemic index, which means they stabilize your blood sugar and the carbohydrates are broken down and digested slowly, which gives you slow burning energy=more energy for longer. They also have tons of iron, which is important for menstruating women; plus, iron is an important part of hemoglobin which transports oxygen from your lungs to all of your cells (oxygen is good). Iron is also part of critical enzyme systems for energy production and metabolism.

Chickpeas also have tons of other smaller, trace minerals that are important for your daily health, such as molybdenum, folic acid, manganese and zinc. Not to mention some of the other great benefits: they reduce you levels of LDL (the bad cholesterol), help prevent diabetes because of their ability to stabilize your blood sugar, and may help reduce your risk of coronary heart disease. The other biggie here is that they contain phytochemicals called saponins, which are of particular importance to women because they help lower the risk of breast cancer and protect against osteoporosis. They also help minimize hot flashes in post-menopausal women.

Sounds like a win-win situation to me. I know I will be making up more batches of these tasty treats, and trying out some different spice ideas. I think things like cumin and turmeric might be good possibilities, or maybe a little soy sauce. [Turmeric is an excellent anti-inflammatory in and of itself; studies have shown that India’s population has one of the lowest rates of cancer and other inflammatory diseases, perhaps due to their frequent consumption of turmeric.]

Enjoy!

Going Greek

Well, there’s been a lot of buzz about Greek yogurt in the last few years and how great it is for you.  This post isn’t going to refute that.  But I do want to point out a few things about this little protein-packed gem that you might want to consider before loading up on that 10-for-a-dollar sale on Greek yogurt at your local grocery store.

So let’s start with the good stuff: first, the protein.  When you’re looking for a quick bite that’s going to keep you satiated for awhile, it’s gotta have protein.  Carbohydrates of the wheat and starch variety will generally leave you feeling heavy and sluggish; ever eat a couple slices of pizza for lunch and then crash a few hours later?  This isn’t exactly optimal for attending a three hour practice after work, not only because you’re exhausted but also because you’re probably starving again by the time you strap on your skates. So, protein is the ticket…and Greek yogurt has an abundance of it, approximately 10-16 grams per serving, depending on the variety. This is around twice what you find in regular yogurt.

Greek yogurt also–despite requiring about three times more milk to produce–has lower lactose, and therefore can be a little gentler on those who might be lactose-intolerant. Some folks find digesting dairy just plain hard, which can result in embarrassing “exhaust trouble” later on, and is only exacerbated by being in derby stance for extended periods of time.

You will of course find Greek yogurt in full-fat, low-fat and non-fat varieties; which one you choose is a matter of personal taste. But before you get on the fat-is-bad bandwagon, consider this: you do, in fact, need some fat. It aids in digestion and prevents you from burning muscle (this is a little simplified but there it is). And from a “whole foods” perspective, the more you take out of a food, the more you’re missing…in other words, when you start skimming out the fat in milk you’re taking out other things, too, that your body is going to start missing on a subconscious level, leading to weird cravings. And, for the love of Pete, you’re a derby girl. You’re active. You burn a jazillion calories and really, the 10% of your daily allowance that you get from your Greek yogurt isn’t going to hurt you.

I’m not going to get into advocating one brand over another, or telling you not to buy certain kinds. What I am going to do is give you a few things to look out for on your label when you’re browsing the dairy aisle. First, avoid artificial dyes and aspartame. I think the former is self-explanatory (we’re trying to be healthy, here) and the latter has a well-deserved reputation for artificiality and shady side effects. Again, we’re going for healthy, not fake.

Second, try not to buy yogurts that contain carrageenan. This little devil is often used as a thickening agent (to give lesser-quality yogurts that creamy consistency that Greek yogurt is famous for), and some studies have linked its degraded form to certain types of cancer. The undegraded form is supposed to be purer, but is near-impossible to produce without contaminating it with the degraded form, so best just to avoid it altogether.

A few other things to be on the watch for: high fructose corn syrup (this is basically just disguised sugar and does you no good), and modified corn starch…most corn starches are genetically modified in some form, and unless you are buying an organic variety that certifies it isn’t modified in any way, you don’t want this in your yogurt.

As as far as flavors…? I prefer berry varieties myself if I really am in a hurry. I also like to buy a larger container of plain full-fat and dole it into single-serving tupperwares with some fresh fruit and honey or agave nectar. Add some organic or homemade granola for a tasty, filling breakfast. I personally don’t enjoy naked, plain Greek yogurt for anything except cooking with but that’s just me. You might be a glutton for punishment…have at it.

Either way, if you are looking for a mid-morning snack to get you to lunch, or a quick filler between work and practice, going Greek can help.

Enjoy!