For the Love of Dark Chocolate

When we first met, Ash told me how much he loved dark chocolate.

Me: Dark Chocolate? Really?
Ash: Yeah. It’s great. It’s delicious.
M: It’s gross. Ugh. So bitter. How can you like the stuff?
A: Well, I don’t like all dark chocolate. I like specifically 82% dark chocolate. My friend from college – his dad was a Swiss chocolatier and introduced me to that percentage. It’s not too bitter, not too sweet, but it’s the perfect balance of the two for me.

I tried it and rejected it for my milk chocolate love because it was too bitter to get around the flavor. Yet, when I quit sugar it meant I had to quit chocolate. This was devastating because chocolate is delicious and I am addicted to that endorphin release.

I was able to last a month without chocolate at first and focused on fruits as a means to satisfy my sweet tooth. But soon I started craving chocolate again. I looked around and found that there are several options available for those trying to get a chocolate fix without added cane sugar. (These are not sponsored links, but I do recommend them)

Ash saw me unwrapping a candy bar one day and wanted to know what I was eating:

A:What’s that?
Me: Chocolate. Why?
A: Can I see the wrapper?
M: Yes… (I hand him the wrapper)
A: You know this is dark chocolate right? You always said you hated the stuff.
M: (My mouth full)…so?
A: I TOLD you it was delicious.

He caught me. I found that by dropping sugar I was more receptive (desperate?) to dark chocolate. It was a good thing doing so because I was starting to get the actual health benefits from eating dark chocolate that’s on the news.

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Drinking Probiotics

This post is timely for me: as I mentioned in my health check-in last week, I am fighting a nasty gut infection from infected tap water. When treating an H.pylori infection it is necessary to take two different antibiotics at the same time to ensure the eradication of the bad bacteria. Both of these antibiotics are strong and the ones I’ve been taking have caused insomnia, an inability to run due to joint concerns, and stomach problems.

With any antibiotic regimen, especially for women, it destroys bacteria indiscriminately. It is killing the H.pylori and all my beneficial bacteria with it. My gut biome that I’ve been trying to nurture these past 8 months or so is currently being destroyed because of these strong antibiotics.

Don’t get me wrong – I am a strong proponent of responsible antibiotic use. I am just mildly annoyed that I need to start over and be particularly mindful of my intake to help nurture a healthy gut biome again.

As a woman, antibiotics are particularly problematic because they also affect the vaginal biome balance. Women report higher levels of yeast infections during or after taking antibiotics because the pH balance gets out of whack. For men (and women), there is an increased chance of getting oral thrush, a form of yeast infection.

That is why it is important for people taking antibiotics find ways to replenish the good bacteria either during the antibiotic regimen or immediately afterward. Probiotics are a great way to get started and there are several ways to painlessly consume them.

What are Probiotics?

In short, they are healthy living bacteria that are meant to keep your gut healthy. They naturally occur in yogurt and fermented foods like sauerkraut or kimchi, so inevitably at some point, you may have consumed them.

There are various ways to consume them, but before adding them to your diet, make sure to consult with a healthcare professional to be sure they are safe for your health. Certain medical conditions may make probiotic consumption unsafe for immune health so always take the necessary precautions.

My favorite way to increase my probiotic intake during this antibiotic regimen is to drink a bottle of Kombucha a day. Before I started my diet shift I was always wary and slightly grossed out by the stuff, but I’ve since converted to the dark side.

Let me be upfront: this is in no way a sponsored post. I am going to be talking a lot about my favorite brand of Kombucha, GT’s, because I love it that much. This particular brand may not be for you, but don’t worry, there are plenty of other brands that are just as delicious. Read More


“Leftover” Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

Quinoa is a power-protein seed and a favorite in our household.  But with any sort of “grain,” you can make too much of it by accident for a recipe or find that you have boring leftovers that need sprucing up.

I am a person that can’t have the same thing too many nights in a row, so when I have extra quinoa in the refrigerator, something needs to be done with it to make it interesting again.

With that in mind, below is a delicious vegan recipe I came up with to handle extra cooked quinoa. It’s also a fantastic make on its own – no need to wait for leftover quinoa.

Leave a comment with your thoughts and modifications to the recipe below.


“Leftover” Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

MM-Closeup-Stuffed-Red-Bell-Peppers-with-Spinach

Serving Size: 6

Ingredients
3 large red peppers, sliced lengthwise and de-seeded
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 small white onion, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt (omit if you are making low sodium)
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 (14.5 ounces) can diced tomatoes, drained and juice reserved
1 Cup vegetable broth
1/2 Cup cooked quinoa
1 (16 ounces) can vegetarian refried beans
Large handful from 1 (5 ounces) package fresh spinach
1/4 Cup Nutritional Yeast (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Using 1 Tablespoon of olive oil, coat the bottom of a 9 x 13-in glass baking dish and arrange the peppers with the skin down.
  2. Roast peppers in the preheated oven until tender for about 30 minutes. Dab the excess liquid that collects in the peppers with a paper towel. Leave the oven on.
  3. While the peppers are roasting, use the remaining olive oil, heat skillet over medium heat and cook the onion until translucent and softened. Add garlic, cumin, salt, black pepper, and chili powder to the onion; cook and stir until fragrant (about 1 minute).
  4. Mix in tomatoes, vegetable broth, and cooked quinoa to the onion mixture; stirring occasionally. Cook until everything is heated through (about 6 minutes) and some of the liquid has cooked off.
  5. Stir in refried beans and cook until the beans incorporated into the mixture (about 3 minutes). You want this to have a thick consistency (not too soupy), but you also don’t want it to be too dry, so allow to simmer for a few minutes or add in reserved tomato juice to get the desired consistency.
  6. Add in spinach, stir until it just wilts. Remove from heat.
  7. Spoon the mixture into the roasted red peppers, top with nutritional yeast.
  8. Bake in the oven until the pepper gets crispy around the cut portions, about 20 minutes.

 

Notes

  • To reduce the spice level, use only 1/4 teaspoon of chili powder.
  • To increase the spice level, add a chopped, deseeded jalapeno to Step 4.
  • Add in 1 Cup of frozen sweet corn to step 5 with the refried beans to get a sweet contrast.
  • To make non-vegan version: substitute chicken broth and a shredded Mexican cheese blend for the vegetable broth and nutritional yeast respectively. Add any chopped leftover chicken as well.
  • Leftover white or brown rice will work as a nice substitute for the quinoa.

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1 pepper half
1 Serving: 170 Calories; Fat: 6 g; Sat. Fat: 1 g; Protein: 7 g; Fiber: 7 g

Bonus Recipe – Vegan Nachos

This recipe will leave you extra filling for 3 more peppers. If you don’t want to make another batch:

Ingredients
Leftover quinoa stuffing
1 (4.5 ounces) chopped green chilies, drained
Tortilla Chips
Vegan cheese good for melting (or shredded Mexican cheese blend)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking pan with parchment paper and top with a layer of tortilla chips.
  2. Mix in green chilies to the quinoa mixture.  Just before putting into the oven, sprinkle a layer of the stuffing and top with your favorite vegan cheese.
  3. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the cheese has melted. Serve with your favorite salsa.

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Checking In: Adapting Eating Habits

One of the primary goals of this blog was to track my eating and exercise habits and see how it would help me manage my MS. I have found that some of the adjustments were easier to make, but there were other adjustments that were harder to maintain because of temptation or certain physical needs not being met.

I am still struggling with certain aspects of my diet, but after doing some research, I realized that it is more important to listen to my needs in a modified way than deny my body something it needs to refuel or heal from training.

Original Eating Intentions & What Worked

My overall intention was to drop all meats, dairy, gluten, sugar, and alcohol while maintaining a clean eating diet. The hope was it would manage my MS symptoms until I restarted my medication within the next year.

I started off strong, finding I had no problem dropping each food group week-by-week. I found that my weight would also drop because I was making healthier choices, and I was feeling somewhat better overall. MS symptoms abated and my neurologist was happy with the changes.

What worked best was dropping sugar, dairy (milk), and gluten; I found that I have issues whenever one of those items sneaks into my diet, intentionally or not. If I have cane sugar, my neck seizes up and I get a massive headache for the duration of the day; if I have milk/cheese, I find that I feel bloated and get a stiff neck; and if I have gluten, I find that my joints pop more and another stiff neck.

Clearly, my body does not like these food groups and so continuing to keep them out of my diet is to my benefit. I don’t know if it is an allergy per se, but there is a definite sensitivity correlation.

I am also happy to keep fried foods out of my diet as well, but this is mostly because of health reasons. I am still concerned about keeping high-cholesterol foods out of my diet and fried foods are unnecessary. I want to walk into my yearly physical with a low blood cholesterol level this year.

What Didn’t Work & Adaptations

I am in desperate need of protein.

I liked the idea of being plant-based for ethical and health reasons, but it was easier to maintain a vegan diet before Jai. When I was younger, I could spend a lot of time preparing high-protein foods that checked off all my nutritional needs, but between chasing Jai around the house and coping with fatigue, I really don’t have the time or energy to spend hours in the kitchen.

I found that I was sneaking meat-based proteins into my diet and when I “cheated” I didn’t cheat with “good” foods. It would be a high-fat beef dish or chicken that was smothered in salt/ high-calorie sauces.

So to stop this trend of making unhealthy choices, I’ve decided to reincorporate certain types of fish, chicken, and egg dishes back into my diet. Salmon is high in Omega-3 Fatty Acids which is good for brain health and chicken/eggs for running proteins.

I have decided not to re-incorporate any red meats, beef or otherwise. I will have the occasional “cheat” day, but by removing red meat from my diet I am eliminating a major inflammatory source that could affect my MS exacerbations.

Future Eating Habits

My diet will still be mostly plant-based, but once a week I will incorporate some sort of meat-based protein that will help satisfy any nutritional cravings I am feeling and prevent me from lapsing into unhealthy choices.

I have also hit a bit of a weight plateau and I suspect not being kind to myself with my eating habits is a source of sabotage. While I am a normal weight by BMI standards, I want to lose a little more to be solidly within the normal BMI range. By being more honest and adapting my diet to my individual needs I should start seeing my weight starting to drop again to a satisfactory number.

So while I had grand intentions to be gluten-free, sugar-free vegan, I am at this point a clean eating pescapollotarian that is gluten, dairy, and sugar-free.

I definitely recommend trying the diet shift, especially going slow through it so it isn’t a complete shock, but I am finding that it didn’t work as well for me at this point in time. I think once Jai is a little older I may have more time to focus solely on a plant-based diet again.

I don’t consider this giving up or losing – I consider this a win because I am accepting myself in this moment of time and doing what works best for my current needs.


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Chocolate Power Protein N’ice Cream

Whether you have a picky eater or an under-eater, it is sometimes important for your child to pack on some weight. That’s when we, as parents, turn to supplemental nutritional drinks and foods that are high in calories that will help them gain weight faster.

Jai recently had a nasty cold which suppressed his appetite and caused him to lose about one pound. At his age, this weight loss was less concerning, but he was already on the low end for his age range, thus causing him to be underweight. During the cold, he was only consuming liquids like breastmilk and water, so I wasn’t worried about him being dehydrated, but I wanted to make sure he was getting all the important nutrients he needed and his daily caloric requirements. I also wanted to help him quickly add that pound back on and maybe an extra one for good measure.

I went out and bought a name-brand nutritional drink for toddlers. I looked at the label and was not happy with how much sugar the product contained. He hadn’t had that much sugar up to this point in his life, but I was concerned about his need to gain weight so I bought the stuff.

He seemed to like it at first, but after a few sips, he rejected drinking more. I suspect it was too sweet for him. I couldn’t try it myself, but even Ash was unimpressed with the flavor.

We put him to bed several hours later. I had thought the drink had left his system, but the sugar and chemicals caused him to be a light sleeper and he woke up around 1am and screamed uncontrollably for about an hour (we tried to console him as much as we could). The only thing different about his eating habits that day was this drink.

We vowed never to do that again.

That didn’t solve my concern regarding his weight and need for nutrients and calories. I decided to experiment with what I had in the house.

I came up with a dense ice “cream” that uses fruit and maple syrup to sweeten it but has avocados and peanut butter as a means to heft up the calories and protein.

Because it doesn’t contain any dairy, this will be okay for your little one while they have a cold, the frozen nature of the treat will soothe throats but not increase mucus production. It is also a tasty snack, so it shouldn’t be hard to get them to eat it if you have a picky eater. You can find the recipe after the cut.

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