Category Archives: om nom nom

The four pillars of health: food

We’ve been sitting at home for over a year now, and I know many feel like they haven’t been living a healthy lifestyle during quarantine. With a global pandemic, and many people forced into quarantine, daily routines have been disrupted, gyms have been closed, and eating habits have changed.

So what is a healthy lifestyle? I like to think of this as the four pillars of health, almost like supports that hold up a building. The first one is food. You can probably guess the second, but the final two might surprise some – I’ll talk about all these in future posts, so look for those coming soon!

I chose to name the first pillar food rather than diet for several reasons. First off, the word diet has multiple meanings. I want to discuss, in the most general sense, what healthy foods and healthy eating habits look like. If I say diet, many people will initially think about methods for losing (or gaining!) weight such as macro or calorie counting, calorie limitations, and so forth. This is not my focus.

Here in the US, the joke is our diet is SAD – standard American diet. This is the fast food, high fat, high carb/sugar, too large portions, and almost entirely processed foods diet that has become mainstream. This is not healthy eating.

So what does healthy eating look like? First off, I don’t think there’s one specific magic diet and I don’t think the same things work for everyone for weight control or weight loss. What I want to talk about instead is general healthy eating.

Plants. Ok, yes, I’m a vegetarian. Still! Everyone should be eating plants, specifically vegetables, and fruits. There’s a saying I’ve heard “eat the rainbow”. This is great advice. Different colored fruits and veggies have different benefits, mainly in the form of vitamins and minerals.

carrot salad
carrot salad with tofu, peanuts, mint, and bean sprouts

I’m a firm believer that sugar, specifically processed or refined sugar, is the worse thing for us, health-wise. There’s a lot of evidence it causes obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and many other “diseases of western civilization.” I will admit that I am a little teeny teeny tiny bit addicted to high sugar content drinks. I am REALLY trying to kick this habit, because I feel this the number one thing that I personally could do to be healthier. (If you’re interested in more on this topic please go read this book, it might change your life!)

So…eat lots of plants of various colors, and avoid refined or added sugars. I could go on to say eat low carb, or keto, or do intermittent fasting, but those don’t work for everyone, they aren’t necessary for healthy eating, and I’m sticking with the pillars, the basics, for this post.

Also, I’d like to add that I don’t think there’s anything that you should never, ever, eat. (Well maybe not cyanide, or dog poop, or … you get what I mean…). Honestly, I think moderation is everything, but also that moderation doesn’t work for everyone. So if you love ice cream, HAVE ICE CREAM. Just don’t eat a gallon of it at a time, every day. But if having a little bit of ice cream, occasionally is hard for you, if you’re like me and you’ll go nuts having it in the house, then maybe being more restrictive is better. I’m not really a fan of cheat days, because I feel often that’s just an excuse to overindulge and eat really poorly. Rather than shoveling a huge amount of unhealthy food into your mouth on a cheat day, why not allow yourself small amounts of these things when you want them? Again moderation is not for everyone, however, if it works, you may find that you actually eat healthier food in general, overall with this approach.

Drop a comment if you have questions or thoughts on what I’ve said. Any guesses on what the other 3 pillars are?

Spicy peanut tofu with veggies

Tofu with peanut sauce is one of my all time favorite dishes to make at home. This recipe is based on a lot of other recipes, stealing the bits that I like best from each.

For years, I’ve baked my tofu and I’m happy to say I think this recipe is an improvement, and it’s also faster!

You can substitute pretty much any veggies you want in this recipe, just adjust the cooking times. Broccoli, carrots, bok choy would all work well.

Also, I think this would be delicious with a can of coconut milk and a splash of lime juice. These can be added at the end, and you can simmer a bit to reduce the sauce. If going this route, cook the veggies less, or take them out before putting the tofu back into the pan to avoid overcooking.

Ingredients

Peanut Sauce:
1 1/2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1/4 cup soy sauce 
1/4 cup light brown sugar 
1 tbsp sriracha (less if you're not a fan of spicy)
2 1/2 tbsp peanut butter (dark roasted, crunchy is my favorite!)

Tofu - firm or extra firm
Peanuts - 1/2 cup or more
1 can water chestnuts
Snap Peas
Oil - I use avocado oil with a dash of toasted sesame oil for the frying in this recipe

Optional:
1 can coconut milk
lime juice
cilantro

Steps:

Press the tofu.

Slice the tofu into slabs.

Add 1-2 tbsp of oil to the pan and heat it up.

Fry tofu 4-6 minutes per side until nicely browned.

While the tofu is cooking, mix all ingredients for the peanut sauce in a shallow dish.

Marinate the tofu 10 minutes (or more) per side.

Heat more oil, and cook your veggies, being careful not to overcook.

Cut or break tofu into bite size pieces. I use pizza scissors for this!

Add the tofu to the hot pan with the veggies, a spoonful of sauce, and the peanuts. 

Add coconut milk now if using (and add ALL the peanut sauce), simmer until sauce is desired consistency.

Add a splash of lime juice to taste.

Serve with rice, quinoa, or additional veggies.

Elimination diet take 2

Last year, my doctor recommended an elimination and challenge diet. The idea is to elimination a bunch of stuff for 3-4 weeks, and see if you feel better. If you do, then you “challenge” one item at a time to see if your symptoms come back. This is mostly for digestive issues.

The first time around, I figured, let’s do the whole list, that way I don’t have to do it again if I do only the top 5.

This is the list:

  • gluten
  • corn or corn products
  • eggs
  • soy
  • dairy
  • alcohol
  • caffeine
  • refined fats and oils
  • sugar, HFCS, artificial sweeteners
  • nightshades
    • tomatoes
    • potatoes
    • peppers
    • eggplant
    • cayenne
    • paprika

Let me tell you, that was a hard 3 weeks. But I felt a lot better! Then, as I added things back, well, once you add certain things, that opens up a lot of options for eating out. And I went from eating a very healthy diet of veggies and lentils, rice, beans, to eating nachos, pizza, etc.

The conclusion? I felt yucky again, but didn’t know for sure what it was, except maybe the overall quality of what I was eating post elimination. I felt sure it was gluten or dairy, and thought about a repeat for just those two.

However, my doctor feels strongly that there’s often more than one cause, and that at a minimum, the top 5 should be eliminated and challenged.

So, I was going to do it earlier this year, but got sidetracked, then it was vacation time. Not wanting to be on a restrictive diet during my vacation, I thought I’d do it when I got back. Then came the quarantine, and I thought “no, no no, I don’t want to do that NOW.”

I’ve been putting it off for too long. So starting this week (yesterday actually), no gluten, corn, eggs (which I already don’t eat), soy, or dairy. I’m stocked up on lots of fresh veggies, lentils, beans, quinoa, corn AND gluten free taco shells….

The problem? It’s 100 degrees. No way am I going to be roasting veggies or cooking stir fry. I’ve been living on carrots and smoothies. The smoothies are great, don’t get me wrong, but I’m sooooo craving some chips or cheese and crackers. Thankfully, I ate most of the off limits foods before starting so there wouldn’t be temptations in the house.

2 days down, 19 to go. Wish me luck!

Tonight’s dinner – mango banana protein smoothie bowl topped with coconut

Day 60 – Spicy Tofu Salad

This “salad” is a favorite of mine from Zanotto’s. I love it because it’s a great grab and go lunch, and it’s packed with protein, and super tasty with a nice mix of spicy, sweet, and tangy.

This is my attempt to recreate it, ymmv.

Ingredients —

  • extra firm or firm tofu
  • oil for cooking tofu (I prefer avocado oil for high heat cooking)
  • toppings
    • peanuts
    • green onions, chopped
    • garlic, minced
  • marinade/sauce
    • soy sauce
    • maple syrup
    • hot chili oil
    • rice vinegar

Directions —

  1. Press your tofu!
  2. While the tofu is pressing, chop your green onions and mince your garlic. For 8-10oz of tofu, I used 2-3 green onions and about 3 cloves of garlic.
  3. Cut tofu into bite size pieces, I like mine small, but you can do bigger, it’s your choice.
  4. Pan fry the tofu with a touch of oil until brown (on all sides as much as possible)
  5. Add tofu and toppings to bowl/container. You may have noticed by now that there’s no quantities listed next to the ingredients. This is a totally customizable recipe, so I’ve left it very open. Add a few peanuts or a lot. I like peanuts, and I put about a ratio of 3:1 (tofu:peanuts).
  6. Make the marinade. If you’re nervous, make it in a separate bowl. If you’re adventurous, put it directly in with the tofu. You’ll want enough total volume to coat with some left over.

Here are some tips on how I make the marinade. I start with the soy sauce, this is my primary ingredient. Then a splash of maple syrup for sweetness. Hot chili oil — add to your tolerance. I don’t like it to overpower the other flavors, so I used just a dash or two. For the rice vinegar, again, just a dash or two. I add very small amounts of everything and then add more to adjust the spicy, sweetness, tangy as desired.

Other tips — I completely forgot about lime juice, but usually I use lime juice and not rice vinegar. You can also add fresh diced or sliced chili peppers, like jalapeño or serrano peppers. For sweetness, if you don’t like maple syrup, you can use brown sugar or agave. I actually think brown sugar works best flavor-wise but maple syrup is easier. Other options to add would include ginger (grated) and rice noodles.

I usually eat this as-is or chilled, but you can throw it on top of rice, noodles, or on some greens to make an actual salad.