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Monday, August 1, 2011

The Vegan... who is ITALIAN (yikes!)

Hello all of my new followers/dreamers :)

I would like to start this blog off by thanking you for your support and kind words.  Having people like you who are like minded, motivated, and working towards becoming your best , is what drives me to my dreams.  Thank you, thank you, thank you! <3

This morning I called out of work because I was not feeling well... ever since giving up meat, dairy, and gluten, I rarely feel sick.  Regardless, I did this morning and I made a wonderful decision to listen to my body and go back to bed.  I woke up a couple hours later (yep, hours!) and was refreshed and ready for the day.  Isn't it amazing how sleep restores the body?  Anyway, I logged onto IIN (The Institute of Integrative Nutrition) where I am receiving my training to become a health counselor. I completed this week's module, and then lo and behold, the FIRST test posted.  Now, I have three weeks to complete the test... but I can be a tad impatient, and in situations like this I am grateful for the (sometimes annoying) quality I possess.  So, after doing two hours of work, I took the test and I passed! Well, I did more than just passing, I got a whopping 97%! It was almost like the Universe made me feel queazy this morning so that I could relax, kill it on my first test, and of course boost my confidence BIG time :)

So, onto my first official health and wellness topic: Veganism!  I will start by telling you a story, about why in the world I, an Italian-ravioli-meatball-semolina bread-loving girl, gave up cheese, meat, and gluten (which will be discussed in the following post). When I was a little girl, I was tiny... people would be in awe over the number of cheese ravioli's I could eat.  Usually followed by a big bowl of my favorite, chocolate chip mint ice cream (had to be the green kind!).  Sad part was, shortly after eating such high fat, dairy laden meals, I would get sick to my stomach.  Now as a child I was yet to have the understanding nor the self-control to never eat my beloved ravioli and chocolate chip mint again.  So, I went through my entire childhood being sick.  I just simply could not control myself.  I was a child, if my best friend Erica could eat it, why cant I?  I would not even think at the time about paying for these decisions later. It wasn't until I was a junior in high school, and I went to a gastroenterologist. After going through a few god awful tests, he told me that I do not have celiac disease, am not lactose intolerant, but do have a slight case of Irritable Bowl Syndrome and Acid Reflux.  So, he gave me a prescription for Zelnorm and a prescription for Prevacid.  Being a stubborn- know-it all 17 year old, and living with this my whole life, I could not imagine that my "attacks" were just slight cases of IBS, and that although every time I ate dairy I got sick, I didn't have a dairy allergy.  So I took the Zelnorm, skipped the Prevacid (didn't think my reflux was that bad), popped the pill 30 minutes before every meal, ate what I want, lost a TON of weight, looked pretty sick, and then bang-- two years later as a sophomore in college, Zelnorm was recalled.  I cried and cried! Was it because I was worried about being sick and not able to eat all the chocolate chip mint ice cream I wanted? Or was it that I really liked this miracle weight loss pill... hmmm, I'd say both.

So, once I stopped crying and being a ridiculous teenager, I spoke to my older sister, Lauren.  Now many of you reading this may already know, my sister has Crones Disease, and is maintaining her good health through a vegan, high raw diet.  Being my older sister who I always wanted to be just like, I took her advise which was simple: Eat flaxseed.  I was amazed how well my digestive system worked once I incorporated just 2 tbs. a day of ground flaxseed into my cereal.

Bob's Red Mill is my favorite, low in calories and price ($8.49 for this huge bag), high in fiber, Omega 3's and deliciousness!

Now, my digestive system was so much better, but not perfect.  Occasionally I would still get attacks. So about a year later I gave up meat. Meat is not easily digested by the body.  It can take days for it to become waste.  It contains no fiber, high in fat, dietary cholesterol, and makes us flat out sick.  Nutrients that meat does contain (amino acids, B12, protein) are easily supplemented by a whole food diet. Not to mention, unless organic (which is a better option, however can be very pricey), meat contains hormones, antibiotics, and other substances that we probably should not have in our bodies.  During this transformation for me, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Nearly every woman dead or living, in my family has had some form of cancer or disease.  Did you know that cancer cells can be manipulated with use of animal protein and vegetable protein?  In other words, animal protein turns cancer tumors on, while plant protein turns them off... more about this in my post on the viewing of Forks Over Knives. Thankfully my mother caught her cancer early, and was able to have a lumpectomy and radiation.  She will be two years cancer free this November.

A BIG part of me did not just give up meat for my health, but for my love of animals and our planet (warning: this paragraph is a bit of a rant! Never the less, it is super informative!).  I have a maltese, she is the cutest thing in the world to me! I could never imagine eating another animal! If you love animals, why do you eat them? Would they eat you?  Maybe some would, but usually not. The animals we usually eat are docile, think the little chicken, the cow, the dirty pig.  They have feelings too.  In addition, all this talk about global warming and hunger: Did you know that most water pollution is the result of run off from cattle? Those antibiotics that go into the cattle run off into our water system, therefore affecting our crops, OUR BODIES!  If Americans just slightly reduced our consumption of meat, the grain fed to the cattle could feed 60 million starving people in the world. Giving up just 1lb. of meat a year could conserve as much water as not showering for SIX months.  Do you know what the leading cause of deforestation in the Amazon is from? You guessed it, cattle ranching (who needs those trees anyway? :/ ).

A year after I gave up meat through crowding out by using vegetables like legumes, whole grains, and protein powder, I finally gave up my beloved ravioli, mozzarella cheese, and chocolate chip mint ice cream.  This decision drove my Italian family wild, they could not understand how me, who does not have Crones disease like my sister, would give up cheese.  Aside from my biggest critics, just weeks after eating my last Pastagina (a yummy cheese filled dish my grandmother makes every New Years Day), my skin cleared, my eyes whitened, my energy soared, and my digestive system hummed.  I was not perfect in giving up dairy, it took me about 6 months until I completely rid it out of my diet.  However, I know if I didn't allow the imperfection then I may not have been successful. Today, I am going on 3 years of no meat, two years of no diary, and two years of no IBS or Acid Reflux.  While in Paris last year, I had one attack, after eating fish that was cooked in butter... no Zelnorm necessary, just get rid of the dairy and add flaxseeds. (How do I possibly get my calcium, you ask? Stay tuned... that will certainly be a post)

My favorite (not green) Coconut Milk Mint Chip Ice Cream.  This dairy free ice cream is sure to make a vegan out of a dairy queen :)

I am not 100% vegan.  I know some vegans would be up in arms if they knew that I call myself a vegan, and then eat fish, bee pollen (in smoothies-- more on that!), and wear my leather Frye boots when I go to the Farmers Market in the Autumn (I bought these before this journey began!)... However, if I were to give it a number, I would say that I am about 95% vegan.  Occasionally, I will eat fish, usually when visiting my boyfriend's mother in the Virgin Islands, where the fish is fresh, the water is clean, and my body is craving it.  You need to listen to your body, and if it is craving something, it probably means you are missing something.  For me, when I crave fish I believe it means that I need the protein and the Omaga's.  I never get sick after eating it (unless it is cooked in butter), so, a few times a year I allow myself to not be a perfect Vegan, and enjoy some fresh fish. I understand that small amounts of animal protein will most likely not give me cancer.

Going vegan may not be for everyone.  Through my education at IIN, I am learning how we are all what they call "bioindividuals".  What works for me, may not always work for you.  However, with that said, I do think it is important that we listen to our bodies.  If you are having digestive issues, are chronically ill, what have you, then it may be a good idea to try and crowd out dairy and meat, eat less of both, see how you feel.  If you feel wonderful-- awesome, if you don't, adjust for your individual needs. Do what makes YOU feel GOOD.

I would love to hear some vegan substitutions.  In the future I will be sharing many of my favorite items and recipes, and would love to hear what your favorites are. Until then, here are two garden fresh vegan meals I made this past week using Vegan Pesto Sauce:
Gluten Free Quinoa Pasta with Vegan Pesto Sauce.  I also made this recipe (picture not shown) with Vegan Ravioli from Whole Foods.
Basil from my schools garden: Joseph M. Ferraina Early Childhood Center's Organic Garden

Pesto Recipe (adopted and adjusted from, recipe of the week):
3 cups of tightly packed fresh basil leaves (recipe originally called for 2, I like more basil)
1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 c. toasted pine nuts
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 tsp. of blond or miso chickpea paste
1/4 Red Star Nutritional Yeast Flakes (Recipe called for a 1/3 c. I felt the too much of the yeast flakes too away from the delicious basil taste)

Directions: Toast pine nuts in a pan until lightly brown and releasing their delicious smell.  Place all ingredients in a food processor and process until creamy.  You may want to add a little bit more olive oil.  Delizioso! No cheese necessary :)

Pesto is easy to freeze, scoop spoonfuls into an ice tray, freeze, then transfer pesto cubes to baggie. Enjoy on many vegan dishes!

Garden Veggies with Quinoa GF Spaghetti and Pesto Sauce
Pick veggies from the garden (Eggplant, Peppers, Red Onion), toss with light Olive Oil and a dash of Himalayan Sea Salt. Heat Cast Iron Skillet, saute until slightly brown and soft. Add Frozen Pesto Cube....
 Prepare pasta according to package (Gluten free pasta should be rinsed after cooking), and ENJOY! An easy, low budget, vegan DELICIOUS meal packed with local organic produce :)

My next post is about continuing this journey, and why and how  this Italian-bread-lover is giving up gluten.

Ciao belle!

1 comment:

  1. You rinse before cooking? I rinse after. I'll have to try your way! Great post, thanks for the shout out! Haha