A lot of intuitive eating bloggers, coaches, etc. believe we can’t do anything to influence our “natural weight” that we’ll maintain at with intuitive eating. They tell people who are overweight that they should just accept that that’s their natural weight and not even try to aim for a healthy weight. But based on the research, I disagree.
(I do, however, 100% agree with self-acceptance and self-love at every weight, and that you shouldn’t have to aim for a healthy weight if you don’t want to.)
Today I’m sharing something a little closer to my personal research interests (given that I’m getting my PhD in psychology/neuroscience): how your diet can affect your mood! In the video I quickly cover tryptophan, the amino acid that has antidepressant-like effects, and go over a study directly looking at how people’s symptoms of depression, anxiety, and overall mood are affected by being put on a high vs low tryptophan diet.
And the list of high-tryptophan foods from the study is below!
The media LOVES to talk about how great the Mediterranean diet is for health, weight loss, etc. compared to the standard American diet.
But honestly, pretty much anything is better than the standard American diet (aka the Western diet).
Very few studies have looked at the Mediterranean diet compared to other non-Western diets, but a new study came out recently comparing the Mediterranean diet to a low-ish fat vegan diet for health and weight loss. In this video, I go over the weight loss aspects; specifically, how much people lost in 16 weeks on each diet, without eating less or exercising more.
As life gets busier (between quarantine ending and closing on a house), my BIGGEST cooking goal these days is to come up with super simple recipes that are both healthy and easy to make in bulk. And my latest favorite creation that fits the bill is this super simple tofu & pea curry!
It has all the creamy, comforting goodness of the authentic Indian version (called Matar or Mutter Paneer), but without any of the cheese, cream or oil. The only source of fat in this recipe, in fact, are cashews! (And if you want to get fat free with it, you could omit the cashew cream. But then… it wouldn’t be creamy anymore. 😉 )
And bonus, this version is high in protein!
This recipe is super simple, because the ONLY chopping required is cubing the tofu–everything else is just chucked into the blender.
I also cook this in bulk by doubling the recipe below (cooking times are the same)–it takes me about 30 mins of prep time for 8 meals’ worth of food!
1 – 16oz block super firm tofu, cubed
1.5 cups frozen peas
1 white or yellow onion
5 cloves garlic
1 green chili pepper (can also use ~1 tbsp canned)
3/8 cup water
1 tsp cumin seeds (or sub powder)
Half a 15oz can tomato sauce (or pureed fresh tomato)
1 + 1/4 tsp coriander
Heaping 1/4 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt, more to taste
1 tsp cayenne powder, or to taste*
2/3 cup raw cashews, soaked
1/2 cup water
*This will depend on the chili you use. When I use my spicier homegrown chilis, I omit the cayenne. If you use canned mild chilis, you’ll probably want to keep the cayenne in.
Add the onion, ginger, garlic, chili pepper, and 3/8c water to your blender, and blend until smooth. Let sit for a minute or two before opening it, as the chili will be airborne for a moment!
Meanwhile, saute the cumin seeds with a splash of water until they start to turn brown, 1-2 minutes. Add the pureed onion mixture, and boil for 5 minutes.
Stir in the tomato sauce, coriander, turmeric, and salt, and boil for another ~5 minutes.
Add the cubed tofu and peas and stir them in gently, just as much as needed to combine everything, so as not to break the tofu.
Set the Instant Pot to cook on high pressure for 2 mins, and let it release naturally for 10-15 minutes. (For stovetop version: simmer, covered, for 15 minutes, or until the peas are tender but not mushy. Stir it occasionally.)
While the curry is cooking, blend the cashew cream ingredients, and set aside. Once the curry is done cooking, gently stir in the cashew cream.
I got a good question on a recent video, asking where the line is between intuitive eating and overeating. Given that intuitive eating involves eating whatever you want, whenever you want, as much as you want, I can see how from the outside, it would just seem like constant overeating!
But in fact, intuitive eating is one of the BEST ways to prevent overeating, and there’s a lot of great research backing it up. (See my how-to guide for more details, and to start eating intuitively)
In today’s video, I go over why overeating and intuitive eating are completely different.
Did you know that about 20% of women in the US are iron deficient? (Thanks largely to Aunt Flo)
I know I’ve been slacking on making sure I’m getting enough, so I’ve been researching the iron content of a ton of different ingredients, and coming up with recipes that are super high in iron.
I figured my high-iron recipes wouldn’t necessarily be the next great taste sensation given my main focus is on their nutrient content, but on day 2 of my new iron-finding kick, these bars proved me oh so wrong. They are incredibly delicious–for breakfast, snacks, or even dessert.
Just 100 calories of them provides 13% of your recommended daily intake of iron, and a breakfast-sized amount (let’s say 500 calories), satisfies a whopping 65% of your daily iron needs. (See below for more nutrition notes)
To put it in more exciting terms… calorie for calorie, these bars have 4x as much iron as chicken, and twice as much iron as STEAK!
In good news, my husband tried them and loves them so much that he keeps asking for them, and has even dubbed them “the perfect breakfast.” In bad news, a batch doesn’t last me nearly as long as I thought it would, because I had originally expected to be the only one eating them… 😛
Makes 16 bars; each 100-calorie bar has 13% of the female RDA for iron (26% of the male RDA).
2 cups puffed amaranth (requires about 2/3-1 cup dry amaranth)
1/2 cup tahini
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp molasses
2 tbsp maple syrup*
1/8 tsp salt (optional)
*You can sub out the maple syrup for agave, or more molasses
Preheat a pot over medium-high heat for 5 minutes. Make sure the bottom of the pot is the same size or smaller than your burner.
Pop the amaranth: add one tablespoon of dry amaranth to the pot; it should start popping almost immediately (it looks like mini popcorn). Shake or stir the pot consistently while the amaranth pops. Once most of the grains have popped, or once the remaining unpopped ones starts to get a darker brown, pour out the amaranth into a separate bowl. Then repeat the process with the rest of the dried amaranth until you have 1 cup. It sounds difficult, but once you get the hang of it, it’s easy and honestly pretty fun. I found this video to be useful! (but no need to sieve it)
Once cooled, add the popped amaranth to a 9″ square (or round) pan, and add all the other ingredients. Stir until well combined. (If it seems dry/crumbly, add more molasses–the consistency will depend on what % of your amaranth ended up being puffed.)
Press mixture into pan, refrigerate, cut into bars, and enjoy!
Extra nutrition notes:
With the ingredients I use, the entire recipe contains 36mg of iron; a premenopausal woman’s daily RDA of iron is 18mg! For men and postmenopausal women, the RDA is 8mg.
For my tahini, I use Artisana Tahini. I’ve noticed that the iron content of tahini can vary somewhat, and Artisana is one of the highest iron contents I’ve found.
For most of my life, I HATED vegetables. But over the last few years, I’ve turned into a vegetable enthusiast. I often even enjoy them raw with nothing on them. (I can be seen biting into a plain beet or cauliflower, and even having plain arugula, on a regular basis…)
In today’s video, I go over how I went from hating to loving vegetables, and how you can too! Featuring the results of scientific studies (citations below).
As a kid, I HATED vegetables. My parents wouldn’t let me leave the dinner table until I finished my meals, and I often opted to sit for hours rather than eat my salad.
I only started eating vegetables in my undergrad years out of desperate attempts to lose weight, and even then I still didn’t actually like them. They felt more like a punishment.
I started to somewhat enjoy them about 6 years ago when I started eating a high carb low fat diet, and noticed that some foods (like sushi bowls) just happened to taste better with vegetables. And then ~5 years ago I magically started to find salads somewhat enjoyable rather than boring torture. (It also helped that I learned how to make vegetables more exciting with better recipes!)
And then, about 2 years ago, I started completely focusing on intuitive eating instead of following any diet. I stopped caring about weight loss, and started caring about having a healthy relationship with food. I just ate whatever I craved, whenever I wanted to.
And inexplicably, a huge chunk of the time, what I naturally craved was (and is)… VEGETABLES!
Now that I was fully eating according to my cravings, I could see just how much I craved healthy food. And I noticed I naturally stopped liking sugary or hyperpalatable things as much.
So how did I have such a dramatic shift in tastes?
Based on all the studies I’ve read on diet science, I have a feeling that it was because of gut bacteria.
First, we know that what we eat changes our gut microbiome, by changing the types and relative quantities of different types of bacteria. And those bacteria do a lot of our digesting for us. For example, studies show that eating more plants changes our gut microbiome to have more plant-digesting bacteria, which then makes us more efficient at digesting plants1.
Second, there is evidence that our gut microbiome can actually influence what we crave2, and even how much we eat3.
So what we end up with is a feedback loop where eating more vegetables changes your gut microbiome to have more veggie-loving bacteria, and those bacteria then make you crave more vegetables.
On the flip side, it can also be a vicious cycle, depending on the food: if you eat a lot of processed food, you get a gut full of processed-food-loving bacteria, which then makes you crave more of it.
The key is to get yourself into the cycle you WANT to be in. And to get into a vegetable-craving cycle, the first step is to just eat more vegetables. (A mix of both raw and cooked, ideally!)
I suggest doing this in the most palatable ways you can manage so that you’re not having to force yourself to eat them. You don’t want to associate vegetables with torture. For example, you can try hiding vegetables in other foods: add spinach to your smoothies, riced cauliflower to your normal rice, and greens in your chili. (If you want to get extra creative, you can add pureed mushrooms to soups, chilis, pasta, etc… that’s how I get my husband to eat them, since he hates their texture!) I have more suggestions in the video too.
And at some point, I bet you’ll naturally find yourself naturally liking vegetables even without having to hide or disguise them.
(Another tip: if you fall in love with vegetable gardening as much as I have, you’ll discover that vegetables are actually pretty magical 😛 )
In my neverending quest to find recipes that are quick & easy to make, super healthy, AND also budget-friendly, I’ve found that lentil-based recipes often check all those boxes. Especially for bulk cooking, which really cuts down on the time needed per meal.
These lentils may be one of my easiest recipes yet… especially considering how flavorful they are. I know it sounds unusual to use Thai curry paste with lentils, but they taste really good together. These lentils work well on their own as a stew, or paired with rice to make them last even longer.
(I will admit, I have made even faster meals on occasion: when I needed a 5-minute lunch to bring to work on especially busy weeks, I used to just toss lentils and rice in my rice cooker, and add frozen spinach and seasoning salt. But that’s not delicious enough to write a whole post about 😉 )
2 cups dry brown or red lentils, washed
5 cups water
15oz can coconut milk
10oz bag frozen spinach
10oz sliced mushrooms; I used frozen
4 tbsp red curry paste (make sure it’s vegan–I use this kind)
2 tbsp tomato paste
Salt to taste
Add the lentils and water to a large pot and bring to a boil. Let simmer until the lentils are soft and most of the water is absorbed, about 20-25 minutes.
Optional: sauté mushrooms in a separate pan with a splash of soy sauce (or water + salt) until they start to get tender. (If you don’t feel like sautéing them, you can just add the mushrooms raw in the next step)
Stir in the coconut milk, frozen spinach, mushrooms, curry paste, and tomato paste to the pot with the lentils. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid is absorbed and it’s a curry-like texture, for about 20 minutes.
I’m working on building a repertoire of recipes that my more junk-food-vegan leaning husband loves and that fit in with my unprocessed preferences. They tend to take a little more effort, but are as delicious as junk food while also being healthy.
This recipe is our favorite hybrid so far. (In case you can’t tell, I generally only share my favorite recipes with y’all!)
It’s a southern-inspired feast that has 3 parts, and they go SO well together. It takes me about two hours to make, which isn’t bad given it results in 5 nights’ worth of dinner for two–and given it tastes as good as our favorite restaurant food and is packed full of veggies & beans. It also happens to be low fat, with the only overt fat being some cashews in the sauce.
Want to make it fat-free, and skip the macaroni? Try the baked beans + kale over a baked potato. That was actually the original version of this recipe for us!
(This recipe is for a bulk amount because feeding my 6’6″ bodybuilding husband with low-calorie-density food requires a LOT of food.)
1 medium-large yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves minced garlic
3/4 cup ketchup
1/2 cup molasses
1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp soy sauce
Pinch of allspice
4 cans navy beans, rinsed
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add onion to a pot over medium-high heat, and saute for a few minutes until they start to get translucent. Add garlic and saute for a few more minutes.
Turn off the heat, and add the rest of the ingredients to the pot and stir until well combined. Pour mixture into a 13×9″ pan, cover with tinfoil, and bake for 45 minutes.
2 cups roughly chopped gold potatoes
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup raw cashews
1/2 cup unsweetened nondairy milk (I use soy)
1 cup water
2 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1.5 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
Dash of cayenne (optional)
Boil the potatoes, carrots, and onion until tender.
Combine all the ingredients in a blender, and blend until smooth. Add more salt and lemon to taste.
Pasta & Kale
24oz dry macaroni, cooked according to package directions
32oz frozen kale (or use raw kale that is about 32oz when cooked)
5 large cloves garlic
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp salt, to taste
Add the kale and garlic to a pot over medium heat. Saute, stirring regularly, until the kale is tender. Add lemon juice and salt to taste.
Make the final bowl: put the macaroni in a bowl, top with cheese sauce, then baked beans, then kale, and enjoy! (And, possibly, become as addicted to it as we are)
Confession time: I’ve never been a fan of veggie burgers. Especially grain or bean-based burgers.
When I first went vegetarian 15 years ago, vegetarian burgers weren’t anything like they are today. Having to eat them at every school function or barbecue got a bit tiring, and I never found a very satisfying recipe for veggie burgers. Then the Beyond and Impossible burgers came on the scene, and since then I’ve pretty much just eaten those whenever I have a burger craving.
But, I love to eat whole food plant based (aka unprocessed food) most of the time. So I decided to try coming up with my own recipe that would be good and unique enough that it could have its own role at the table, besides just trying to replace a burger.
I went with a Caribbean vibe, and was inspired by empanadas since black bean & plantain are a match made in heaven when used in empanadas… so why not burgers? I also made an avocado lime spread for it, and the combo is so good that I actually enjoy just having the patty + spread at times, without a bun or anything.
Makes 4-6 patties
1 can black beans
1 cup red onion, diced
1 ripe plantain, sliced
6 tbsp corn grits (or cornmeal)
6 heaping tbsp whole cilantro leaves
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne
Sauté plantain and red onion together over medium-low heat until plantain turns golden brown and onion begins to turn translucent.
In a food processor, add all the ingredients and process until the mixture still has some small pieces remaining, but holds together well. If it is too dry to stick together easily (if you’re using more absorbent cornmeal, for instance), add a tbsp of water at a time until it sticks together.
Form mixture into 4-6 patties about 1” thick. Sauté over medium-low heat for 5-8 minutes per side, until they are lightly browned. Alternatively, you can put them in the oven at 375 degrees: bake 10 mins, then flip, then bake another 10 minutes, or until both sides are crispy.
Top with avocado lime spread and your favorite burger toppings, and enjoy!
Avocado lime spread:
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/4 tsp dried chipotle powder
1/8 tsp salt
Mash together all the ingredients until it has a guacamole-like texture.