Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Secret to Oatmeal (Who Knew There was a Secret?)

Before I give away the secret... let's rewind to the oat part. What kind of oats does one use to make awesome oatmeal? What are the different varieties? Who do the Irish think they are coming up with their own oat?

Here's the breakdown:
This is an oat groat, the grain's original state, before being processed into breakfast. Only the outer hull is removed. 
These are instant oats, AKA the worst. They're precooked, mushy, nutritionally depleted, and will not be considered food from this point forward.
These are rolled oats, also called oat flakes or old-fashioned oatmeal. They're nothing more than oat groats that have been steamed, rolled and flaked (in order to cook more quickly). While they do serve practical purpose in oatmeal cookies, pie crusts, and granola... I generally refuse to acknowledge their presence as a breakfast food. Textureless food is not fun food.
These are steel-cut oats! (applause) Sometimes they're referred to as Irish oats or Scotch oats, but all the title really means is that these oat groats that have been chopped into smaller pieces for easier eating. They're the healthiest, the tastiest, and the most satisfying of all oat breakfast options.
Now that you understand the ingredient... you're ready to learn the secret. Ready?

Don't use water. 

The secret is... almond milk.

If you cook oats in milk (in my case, almond milk... you could also use dairy milk or try another nut milk) they absorb the flavor and adopt a rich, creamy texture that would typically be attained with the addition of something blasphemous, like heavy cream. While using milk is obviously a better idea than using cream, taking it one step further with non-dairy milk slashes calories from sugar (91 cal/cup skim milk, or 40 cal/cup almond milk) and adds vitamins and minerals, without compromising calcium.

(Milk them.)
Both almond milk and skim milk contain 30% of one's daily recommended amount of calcium, but almond milk is sugar-free, while milk sneaks in 12 grams of sugar. That's two more grams than in a Pure White Fudge Covered Oreo, and the first ingredient on its nutrition label is, in fact, "sugar". Have I hammered that point in hard enough? No one needs the extra sugar. Next, milk offers negligible amounts of vitamins (4% vitamin C... that's it), while almond milk serves as an excellent source of vitamin A, D, and E. Plus, when it comes to cooking, baking, making pudding, hot chocolate or smoothies, almond milk and skim milk are interchangeable. Oh, and there's always the fact that almond milk is lactose-free, casein-free, and vegan... but on to the wonderful world of oats.

Spiced Apple Pie Oats!
Avena Sativa, or oats (I've typed the word 'oats' about 60 times now and it no longer looks like a word), contain a plethora health benefits, including manganese, selenium, vitamin B1, dietary fiber, magnesium, and protein. What are the benefits, you ask? Well, the beta-glucan (soluble fiber) found in oatmeal lowers cholesterol at least 8%, which translates to an at least 16% decrease in risk of contracting heart disease. Nothing like reducing your chances of coming face-to-face with the #1 cause of death in America, right? Beta-glucan also stabilizes blood sugar, which keeps you from craving a half a package of Chips Ahoy half way through your day. Magnesium, calcium, and whole grain foods in general consistently reduce risk of type-2 diabetes in medical studies, and I won't even get started with the anti-oxidant and anti-carcinogenic properties. Bottom line: as things with gluten in them go, oats are pretty good for you.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Oats!

Now what? Start with:

- 1/4 C steel cut oats
- 3/4 C almond milk

Add almond milk and oats to a small pot and leave in the refrigerator overnight. The next morning, cook oats on the stove over low for about 10 minutes. You can also cook them the morning of by boiling the almond milk and adding the oats, then simmering for about 30 minutes. Don't have time? Make a larger batch over the weekend and it'll keep in the fridge for the week, or use McCann's quick cooking steel cut oats.

Then choose your path of inspiration:

1. The Elvis
During the last 5 minutes of simmering your oatmeal, melt in one mashed banana and one tbsp nut butter, then sprinkle crushed nuts on top.

2. The Oatmeal Raisin Cookie
Add 2 tbsp raisins, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp vanilla and crushed pecans or walnuts

3. Trail Mix
Add a small handful of dried fruits and nuts of your choosing (and no one will judge you if there are chocolate chips involved).

4. Maple Walnut Crunch
Add 1 tbsp maple syrup, 2 tbsp walnuts, and a sprinkle of granola on top.

5. Spiced Apple Pie
Add 1 diced, peeled green apple, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp allspice, 1/4 tsp ginger and a dash of nutmeg, then simmer for 10 minutes.

6. Hot Cocoa
Add 1 tsp cocoa, an extra splash of sweetened milk + vegan mini marshmallows at the end of the simmer phase.

7. If you like PiƱa Coladas...
Add toasted coconut + diced pineapples. The rum is your call (don't do it)... and feel free to sub coconut milk beverage for almond milk!

8. Banana Cream Pie (favorite)
Stir in one mashed banana, chopped walnuts, and 1/2 tsp vanilla during the last five minutes of the simmer phase, then sprinkle cinnamon on top.

9. Savory
Add salt to taste. It may sound weird, but it's not. It's awesome.

10. Berry Scone
Stir in dried cherries, fresh strawberries, blueberries + 1/2 tsp vanilla.

Banana Cream Pie Oats!

Feel free to invent your own breakfast creations and combinations, and don't hesitate to share. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

So how do you, like, get protein and stuff? Cookies, of course.

That's really my favorite response to "No thanks, I don't eat meat." Okay, not really. But, how do I, (and the other 15% of students who don't consume animals), like, get protein and stuff? Now, this may come as a shock to those who's only source of dietary understanding can be traced back to Oscar Meyer and Tyson campaigns, but.... meat is not the only source of protein available to human beings. (Muscle Milk is not the only alternative, either. Sorry, bro.)

They're even going veg in Seoul!
Crash course on protein: The human body requires protein. Protein is made up of amino acids. There are 20 different kinds of amino acids found in humans, and adults actually can synthesize a lot of them internally. Yes, we make protein (actually, we recycle our old body tissue... and now that we know we're kind of eating ourselves, who needs an outside source, anyway?) Eight of these 20 amino acids are considered "essential" to humans, because we can't synthesize them and must obtain them from food sources.

Here's the Tyson factory where a deadly chemical accident landed 173 workers in the hospital. Yay, protein!
What foods actually contain all eight of these essential amino acids, aside from animal products? Quinoa, soy beans, hempseed, and spirulina do (those hippie vegans are onto something.) But here's the catch: The human body doesn't need to obtain a complete protein from one food source. Incomplete protein sources, missing one or more essential amino acid, can be combined, or even consumed separately throughout the day to yield the same benefit as the complete protein found in a steak. What combinations could possibly do that? Any combination of a legume, grain, or nuts and seeds.

Terminology for Dummies Regular People:
Legumes - beans, lentils, peas, peanuts, chickpeas, and soy products
Grains - barley, bulgur, cornmeal, oats, buckwheat, rice, pasta, rye, wheat
Nuts/Seeds - sesame, sunflower, walnuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, almonds, pecans, etc.

Now, let's apply that to foods you'd actually eat. Rice and beans is a simple one... yes, that Chipotle burrito was a complete source of protein before you added the carnitas. Legumes + wheat are another popular complete protein lunch choice, since in layman's terms, a that's a PB&J on whole wheat bread. Middle Eastern food is also an excellent source of a meatless protein, just dig in to a dish made with rice and lentils (legume + grain), or dip anything in hummus (legume + seeds). For breakfast, make this, or toss some walnuts in your oatmeal. Even vegetarian chili and a piece of cornbread satisfies the complete protein requirement. In fact, there are even more foods that contain essential amino acids. Chocolate, oats, bananas, dried dates all contain Tryptophan. Green beans, spinach, and amaranth contain Lysine. Valine is present in mushrooms, and Phenylalanine can be found in avocados and lima beans.

Nope, that's not chicken. Some Chipotles carry Garden Blend vegan protein... double the awesome.
To be fair, meat contains the most concentrated amount of protein, but who said unlimited protein was a good idea to begin with? Excess consumption of protein causes nitrogen to be excreted in the urine, which is linked to reduced kidney function. Studies show that reducing protein intake in subjects with impaired kidney function slows the organ's rate of decline. Additionally, too much protein increases calcium excretion, and calcium exiting through the urinary system can produce kidney stones (as in, you might pee blood.)

So where is the perfect equilibrium of protein intake in a human diet? Our ability to metabolize so many different foods makes it impossible to tell, but this much I do know: everyone likes cookies. Here's a recipe for a vegan, protein-packed cookies that are as rich and delicious as any cookie could be, but substantial enough to fill up on for dinner (tested and confirmed). They're much higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates than any "normal" cookie. Why? Flour has been traded out for chickpeas. I know. It sounds weird. However, I just watched a bunch of unsuspecting dinner guests wolf these down without hesitation. I mean, I didn't mention that they were made from legumes, but no one inquired in the first place...

High Protein Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies:
- 1 can chickpeas 
- 2 tbsp peanut butter
- 2 tbsp almond milk (any kind of milk will work)
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 1/4 C brown sugar*
- 1/8 tsp stevia, optional
- 3 oz dark chocolate, chopped in chunks

*You can fully or partially substitute one ripe banana in place of brown sugar to eliminate refined sugar, add nutrients and an extra gram of protein, and change up the flavor. (Note: if you don't like banana, don't do this.)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Drain and rinse chickpeas well, then soak them in water with 1 tbsp baking powder. Allow to sit for at least half an hour, preferably longer. In a food processor, puree chickpeas, almond milk, and peanut butter until smooth and creamy. Add all other ingredients, except for chocolate, and blend until smooth. Stir in chocolate chunks. Spoon cookies onto a greased baking sheet or parchment paper, then bake for about 20-25 minutes.  Let cool and serve with any milk (excluding muscle milk.) This recipe yields 6 servings of 2 cookies at 100 calories each, with 6 grams of protein per serving. Enjoy guiltlessly. 

(Piles of cookies.... the new cover girl of good health.)