Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Modified Lunch: Fruit & Salmon Salad

Tuesdays are my busy days; I usually am on campus from 8am to at least 7pm. I don't always want to buy lunch on campus, but there aren't too many substantial gluten-free options to bring from the dorms.

One salad I can bring to campus from the dorms is the Mixed Field Greens with Apples and Berries Salad.

This salad looks and sounds pretty good, and it is! It has cranberries and sunflower seeds as well as the fruit and greens, which makes a nice touch.'s not very filling at all. There's no way I can survive on just greens and what's equivalent to 1/2 an apple and a couple strawberries, especially on such a busy day when I'm running around between class and meetings. To make it more substantial, I like to add......


This can from Trader Joe's is great. I don't need a can opener to get at it--there's a little pop-top like what is on a soda can (what are those things called anyways!?) Salmon is full of protein, iron, calcium, vitamins A, B, and D, and most notably, Omega-3 fatty acids. Our body cannot synthesize Omega-3 fatty acids, so we must get them from our diet. Fish oil specifically contains DHA and EPA forms of Omega-3 fats, which are considered to have stronger health benefits than the ALA form found in seeds, veggies, and nuts. There is so much literature on the benefits of Omega-3's, but some of their notable properties include:
-reducing inflammation, especially in blood vessels and joints, which may lower the risk of heart disease
-lowering triglyceride levels. Triglycerides are a type of blood fat that is linked to heart disease.
-working with other compounds such as vitamin D and selenium to increase sugar absorption to lower blood sugar level. This in turn reduces the risk of type II diabetes.
-lowering blood pressure. (but it's not enough to just eat fish and expect chronically high blood pressure to suddenly go down...that requires lifestyle modification!)
-helping to reduce macular degeneration--aging processes such as vision damage.
-Omega-3's appear to be highly concentrated in the brain, and are important to cognitive function. They may help improve your memory, slow aging effects, and keep you awake...all things I wouldn't mind an extra boost of, especially between classes!
(sources: webmd, the AHA,

Saturday, February 25, 2012

No-Bake Bites!

I love cookies, especially freshly-baked, homemade ones! Unfortunately, I don't have an oven and can't bake cookies while I'm at school.

So I compensate; enter these No-Bake bites, as seen on Smashed Peas & Carrots. I was a little skeptical at first as to how these would taste, but trust me, they're delicious. These are sweet, dense, and strangely addicting. They don't have the exact texture of a cookie...think of them as denser than an oatmeal bar, chewier than a granola bar, and more crumbly than an average cookie. Whatever you classify these bites as, I can almost guarantee that you can't just eat one! The oats, nut butter, and flax make these substantial--they're loaded with fiber and good fats that will give you a huge boost of sustaining energy as either a snack or dessert.

I actually made two versions, one chocolate flavored and one apricot/banana flavored. See below for instructions for both!

Chocolate No-Bake Bites, for when you're really craving that chocolate
Here's the recipe, modified a bit from the original:
1 part oatmeal
1/2 parts nut butter (you can use any type--I used roasted almond butter with flax seeds from Trader Joe's)
1/3 part honey
1/4 part flaxseed
1/4 part dark chocolate chips

Mix everything together in a bowl, making sure it's well incorporated. Chill in the refrigerator for 1/2 hour, then form into ball shapes. You can eat them right away or store them in the fridge (for up to about 5 days) for later!

I actually don't have a set of measuring cups, so I used just a random glass cup I had lying around in my room (I counted one full cup as one "part"; everything can be converted via proportions!):
oats: I used raw old-fashioned ones.

This almond butter is absolutely amazing. I can eat it by the spoonful! The toasted flavor really came through in the bites and added a more complex flavor to them.

My packets of honey--I used 3 packs for a small batch that made around 8 bites. The honey is the ingredient that really causes the balls to stick together.

I mixed the core ingredients together first (oats, nut butter, and honey)

Then I added dark chocolate--I found these mini pieces at Trader Joe's near the checkout line!

This is what it looks like when you're mixing it all together. Chill this for 1/2 hour.

Licking the spoon!

of course, I had to make use of the 1/2 hour fridge time and studied some physics!

what the batter looks like after 1/2 hour in the fridge.

shaping the batter into balls! I found it easiest to just grab the right amount in your palm and squish it together till a ball shape forms rather than trying to roll it out.

the finished products! Although they don't look too fancy or appetizing, they are good. I swear. My roommate approved and asked for the recipe!

Apricot-Banana No-Bake Bites, for when you want something sweet and fruity
I actually made this modification after I realized I didn't have that much more honey left, and doubted that the balls would stick together as they should without the appropriate amount. To compensate, I added mashed banana, which helped make the entire mixture cohesive when I microwaved it. In addition to helping hold the bites together, the banana changed the entire flavor and consistency of the bites.

1 part oatmeal
1/2 part nut butter
1/6 part honey
1/3 part mashed banana
1/3 part chopped dried apricots
flax and cinnamon sprinkled to taste

Combine the oatmeal, nut butter, honey, and mashed banana in a bowl. Microwave this mixture for 1 minute to really incorporate the banana and nut butter. Mix in the apricots, flax, and cinnamon, then refrigerate for at least 1/2 hour (I left for a meeting and took out the mixture 4 hours later and it was fine to work with!) Then form the balls, and you're ready to eat them!

after microwaving and before mixing in most of the apricots.

after refrigerating, when you're ready to make the balls.

finished! These had a pretty strong fruity flavor from the bananas and apricots. I'd say these were actually sweeter than the chocolate bites!

mmm....these barely lasted over a day! Note: ****The recipes are very flexible and you can really use whatever you have in your pantry! I'm considering making a more savory one with sunflower seeds, as well as a raisin/cinnamon version. Other ideas: coconut flakes, cashews, vanilla, cocoa powder, granola, goji berries, cranberries....what would you include??

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Clean Breakfast

During midterms, I tend to treat my body pretty poorly--eating way too much late at night.

This is my attempt to start of this day clean.
kale, oatmeal, flax, and blueberries, with an apple & green tea.

Will update for real when things cool down a bit!

Friday, February 17, 2012


Westwood Village has a Trader Joe's and a Whole Foods.

I don't know what I would do without those stores walking distance away!

Went shopping this afternoon because I had literally nothing left in my room to eat (sigh...what midterms does to me!). This is what I ended up with:

Food!! I'm excited to use all this and try out some recipes/ideas that I've been dreamin' up. Stay posted, they're coming soon!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Healthy Alternatives: Cereals Edition

I'd guess that most Americans have a bowl of cereal in the morning for breakfast. Cereals is the quintessential breakfast food--it's quick, easy, and tastes pretty darn good. Unfortunately, many of the mainstream brands are loaded with refined carbs and sugars! 

I write for a student-run magazine called Total Wellness. The new issue, "Doctor Yourself," was just released; check it out here in e-mag form! (yay for going green!) In my article, I take a look at a few popular cereals and offer healthier alternatives. Here's the rundown:

Research shows again and again that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Nevertheless, your choice of breakfast food is important; while a healthy meal can kick-start your metabolism and give you energy for the rest of the day, an unhealthy breakfast leave you hungry by mid-morning. Cereal is a quick and convenient option for many students, but selecting a nutritious cereal is not a straightforward process.

One way to determine the healthiness of a cereal, and of food in general, is to consider its glycemic index. The glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how quickly carbohydrates break down into sugar and raise blood glucose levels. High GI foods result in spikes in blood sugar levels that are linked to conditions such as type II diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. In addition, profuse consumption of high GI foods increases body fat and decreases metabolic rate. Thus, it is wise to limit the amount of high GI foods you eat. In contrast, low GI foods tend to be higher in fiber and protein and take longer to digest than high GI foods, which keeps you fuller longer.

Some breakfast cereals you may have loved as a child are notorious for being high GI foods, loaded with added sugars and low in fiber. Luckily, there are many options and alternatives in the aisles of supermarkets and health stores alike.

Choosing a healthy cereal can be a difficult task. In the cereal aisle with hundreds of colorfully packaged products, it can be confusing and overwhelming to find a healthful choice. As a guideline, look for:
- whole grains: like oats, whole wheat, brown rice, and rye at the top of the ingredients list
-high fiber content: preferably at least 5 grams per serving
-no more than 10 grams of added sugar. Watch for sugar’s many names including the following: high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, fructose, sucrose, malt flavoring, cane syrup, corn sweetener, agave nectar, cane juice, dextrose, molasses, and fruit juice concentrate.

Make sure to keep in mind that the nutrition facts are for one serving size, and what you consume for breakfast might constitute more than ¾ to 1 cup of cereal. Denser, heavier cereals tend to be more calorie-heavy but more filling than puffs, so also factor that in to your choice.

Nutritional value is not the only thing to consider when searching for a cereal. In addition, keep an eye out for non-food ingredients such as preservatives and artificial colors, as some can be hazardous to your health. Here we’ve taken a look at some of the most popular children’s cereals and how you can find healthier alternatives to mix with your milk in the morning.

Reese’s Puffs
Nutrition Facts: in ¾ cup: 22 g carbohydrates, 12 g sugar, 3.5 g fat, 1 g fiber, 2 g protein
The Lowdown: As to be expected of a cereal made to taste like its namesake candy, Reese’s Puffs contains a high amount of sugar, is made from no whole grains, and a quarter of its calories are from fat.

Alternative: Envirokidz Leapin’ Lemurs Cereal, made by Nature’s Path Organics has the same peanut butter and cocoa flavors as Reese’s Puffs, but is made with all organic ingredients and has no artificial coloring. It has eight grams of sugar compared to the 12 grams in Reese’s Puffs, and has only a total of one and a half grams of fat. The puffs are made from whole grain corn meal, which provides more fiber than the conventional Reese’s Puffs. In addition, it uses natural vitamin E rather than chemical preservatives to prolong its shelf life.

Lucky Charms
Nutrition Facts: in ¾ cup: 22 g carbohydrates, 10 g sugar, 2 g fiber, 2 g protein
The Lowdown: The largest health concern with Lucky Charms deals with the characteristic marshmallows that give the cereal its unique shapes and colors. The marshmallows contain the synthetic colors Yellows 5 and 6, Blue 1, and Red 40, and artificial flavors. The CSPI’s findings suggest that Yellow 5, Yellow 6, and Red 40 contain contaminants that are carcinogenic and may cause hyperactivity in children, and is currently calling on the FDA to ban these dyes. Whether or not they actually do cause cancer, these artificial colors are common allergens and give many people adverse effects. While this issue is far from being resolved, artificial coloring is something many people are concerned about when buying processed foods. Nutritionally, Lucky Charms are sugar-heavy and full of refined carbohydrates.

Alternative: The marshmallows of Three Sisters Marshmallow Oaties may not have colors that are quite as vibrant as those of Lucky Charms, but they do not contain any artificial colors. Instead, they are dyed with blueberry, pumpkin, and carrot concentrates. Regardless, both types of marshmallows are high in sugar making them high GI foods, and do not constitute a very sustaining or healthy breakfast. It’s wise to limit the amount of high GI food you consume; instead, fill up with fiber-rich and whole-grain fare. The main difference between this Lucky Charms and this product is the presence or absence of artificial ingredients. As an added bonus, however, Three Sisters cereals come in bags rather than boxes, which is a greener packaging method for the environmentally friendly consumer.

Cinnamon Toast Crunch
Nutrition Facts: in ¾ cup: 25 g carbohydrates, 10 g sugar, 2 g fiber, 1.6 g protein
The Lowdown: Although Cinnamon Toast Crunch is not the worst in terms of nutrition among these conventional cereals, it makes a significant dent into the recommended daily allowances set by the American Heart Association (AHA). The AHA recommends only six teaspoons of added sugar per day for women, nine teaspoons for men, and four teaspoons for children ages four to eight; just one serving of Cinnamon Toast Crunch contains about two and a half teaspoons of simple sugars. It also contains 15% of the recommended daily sodium intake, a significant portion for only ¾ cup of cereal. According to Time Magazine, this cereal has the most television advertisements aimed at children out of a group of ten evaluated cereals, with six 11 year-olds seeing an average of 82 commercials for Cinnamon Toast Crunch throughout a 15-month study. It is no wonder that unhealthy habits start early, and the effects of those choices can carry on to adult life.

Alternative: Cascadian Farm Organic Cinnamon Crunch has the same flavors as Cinnamon Toast Crunch but is made of whole grain wheat, rice, and oat fibers, which adds some variety to the corn and wheat-heavy American diet. Although it is still coated with sugar, it has a few less grams of sugar and carbohydrates than the amount present in Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

Rice Krispies
Nutrition Facts: in 1 ¼ cup: 29 g carbohydrates, 4 g sugar, 0.3 g fiber, 2.6 g protein
The Lowdown: Although this cereal is not very sweet relative to others, three out of the five ingredients in Rice Krispies are sugar: sugar, malt flavoring, and high-fructose corn syrup. High-fructose corn syrup is of particular concern. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that a diet rich in high-fructose corn syrup drinks significantly increased cardiovascular disease risk factors in young adults as opposed to normal glucose. Although Rice Krispies is fortified with vitamins and minerals like many other cereals, fortification should not take the place of a well-balanced diet. In addition, it is deficient in fiber.

Alternative: The Whole Foods Brand 365 Organic Brown Rice Crisps is sweetened with organic cane syrup, which is, although still a type of sugar, less processed than high-fructose corn syrup. More notably, however, this cereal is made of popped whole grain brown rice rather than white rice, which provides 2 grams of fiber compared to negligible amount in Rice Krispies. Its greater fiber content makes it a slightly better choice, although it lacks in significant vitamins and minerals.

Cap’n Crunch
Nutrition Facts: in ¾ cup: 23 g carbohydrates, 12 g sugar, 0.7 g fiber, 1.2 g protein
The Lowdown: Although it claims to be a “nutritious and easy-to-prepare breakfast,” Cap’n Crunch is made with only refined, not whole, grains. This is a marker of a high GI food, as the refined grains are simple carbohydrates. Combined with the high sugar and low fiber content, a breakfast of Cap’n Crunch will digest quickly and although it may give you an initial boost of energy, it will likely leave you hungry within a few hours.

Alternative: Kashi Squares in the Honey Sunshine provide a light, honey-flavored option to the classic Cap’n Crunch. Most notably, it incorporates a wide variety of grains including whole grain corn meal, wheat, barley, oats, rye, brown rice, triticale, buckwheat, and sunflower seeds. These whole grains introduce diversity into your breakfast, and fill the cereal with more than 21% of one’s daily value of fiber compared to the 3% offered by refined flours. It also has half the amount of sugar present in Cap’n Crunch.

Of course, each cereal has its own unique, distinctive texture and sugar content. If you are looking for an option with minimal added sugars and artificial colors and high fiber content, then there are many healthier alternatives to choose from. You can also make your cereal bowl healthier by using low-fat or skim milk and topping it with fruit or nuts.

I used to eat cereal all the time, but have since realized that a bowl of cereal is not too substantial! I tend to eat oatmeal or eggs more often for breakfast nowadays. (see my "quickie oatcakes" post) However, these above-mentioned cereals are a bit healthier than the mainstream brands; try something new if cereal is your go-to breakfast!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Check & Grill

Most UCLA students have a "bucket list" of things to do before they graduate. Most of them include hiking to the Hollywood sign, those iconic letters perched atop and overlooking the city of angels.

I crossed that one off my bucket list yesterday! Check!

I organized a joint social between SWC's Health, Nutrition, & Fitness Committee and CPR to hike up HollyRidge trail together. The trail itself wasn't too glamourous...the beginning section was littered with horse droppings! However, things improved and there were some nice views looking out on the city along the way. The trail to the front of the sign was closed, so we took the alternative route that brought us right up to the back of the Hollywood sign:

It was a pretty clear day by Los Angeles standards, and we enjoyed the view of the city from atop the windy hill!
On the way down, we stopped to take pictures in front of the sign as well:

After the hike, which took around 2 hours in total (with picture-taking time!) there was a general consensus of "We're hungry...FOOD!" One of the commissioners suggested Veggie Grill, a vegan restaurant chain with locations in Southern California and Oregon. I'd never heard of it before but was down to try it!

The staff was very accommodating for people with food allergies. They have separate menus of gluten-free, soy-free, and nut-free options that made deciphering the menu really easy! I decided to get the "All Hail Kale" entree salad, which the menu described as "marinated kale and red cabbage, roasted corn salsa, agave-roasted walnuts (I ordered without the walnuts because many times walnuts have peanut traces!) with a ginger-papaya vinagrette." The salad was also mixed in with a bit of quinoa.

It was delicious! The kale was cooked perfectly, and wasn't too hard or crunchy. My favorite part was the dressing--it was sweet but not overpowering, and gave the salad a nice flair! The stringy carrots were quite the novelty too! My only request would have been for more quinoa in the salad. Although delicious, it wasn't enough for a post-hike meal, and I ended up going back to campus and getting southwest wrap before studying the night away! Overall, though, VeggieGrill was a good experience and I'd definitely go back. I want to try their sweet potato fries, which the Irvine News claims to be "the best fries in the OC."

What is your favorite post-hike food?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Quickie: Microwave Blueberry Oat Cakes

I do yoga three times a week in the mornings, and I don't like to eat much beforehand or else I start to feel queasy during downward dog! On those days, I want to bring a substantial post-yoga breakfast to campus to eat after yoga but before my next class. I need something that is portable and doesn't spoil, something filling but won't make me feel guilty, especially right after exercising.

Enter, these amazing microwave blueberry banana oat cakes,
as I first saw on

(my version)

These were an amazing discovery. I can literally whip them together in less than 5 minutes in the morning. They remind me of the baked oatmeal blueberry bars that my mom sometimes makes at home...only these are quick and easy! You can make these oat cakes as a fast breakfast or a portable snack bar.

So, here it goes:
(adapted from

Microwave Blueberry Oat Cakes
1 medium banana
~ 1/2 a cup of raw oats
cinnamon to taste (I used around 1 tsp)
~ 1 tsp of flax seeds (optional, for additional fiber)
~ 1/2 cup of frozen blueberries

**you can also add brown sugar, honey, raisins, cubed creative! I've even substituted about 1/2 the oats for quinoa flakes before, just to vary it up a bit.**

All measurements are approximate; I just eye it!

1. Mash up the banana.
2. Mix in the oats, cinnamon, and flax. Make sure all the oats are covered.
3. Fold in the blueberries.
4. Microwave for 3-4 minutes. You'll know it's done when the top is no longer bubbly and it's a solid-looking cake.
5. Let cool; cut around the edges and wiggle it out. Eat immediately or bag it up for a snack!

My raw ingredients. All of these are easy to store in my desk's drawer and have multiple uses.
 After mashing the banana and starting to mix in the oats. It's best to do this in the bowl that you're going to microwave in, so you save yourself from washing extra dishes!
 Adding in the cinnamon...
 ...and blueberries. I keep a tupperware of frozen blueberries in my freezer. I used to buy fresh ones, but I found that sometimes they'd go bad before I could finish them! The frozen ones are also great to throw in oatmeal, yogurt, or salads. The dining halls almost never have berries, so I make sure to buy some as a source of antioxidants.
 All mixed up, after microwaving for 3.5 minutes. It doesn't look too appealing in the bowl, but I promise, it tastes good!
 Let it cool, then cut into slices:
Then bag them up! You can even make them the night before to save even more time. Hey, as a college student I value every minute of sleep!
 I take them on the go. They're pretty sturdy and don't break up when I throw a bag into my backpack.
 Tea + oat cakes for breakfast!

There you have it! Quick, clean, healthy--and so easy to make in a dorm room! Have fun with different flavor combos :)

What do you do for breakfasts on the go?