Archive for May, 2008

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Eating Vegan in Costa Rica

May 27, 2008

I am writing this from the beaches of Costa Rica.  Tough life, right? 

As great as the beach is, it was really hard to leave the mountains.  Waking up to the Arenal volcano and watching it erupt from my bed at night (every night!) was a nice departure from waking up to honking cars and a tiny Manhattan bedroom.  There were at least 10 hummingbirds outside my window every morning, plus giant hawks, yellow-tailed birds, blue birds, and parrots with curved beaks!  Every morning I took in the amazing view and meditated for an hour. 

The rainforest was amazing.  I took jungle walks almost every day, hiked to waterfalls, rode on horseback, and even trekked up to the lava flow.  You can actually see and hear the rocks crashing down.  Now that we’ve made it down to the beach, a few hours drive away, the surfing begins.

One thing people always want to know is how I eat when I’m on the road.  It depends quite a bit on the country.  In Mongolia, for example, it was really tough.  But here, in Costa Rica, the earth provides many amazing options. 

Along the road and in the towns, fruit stands are everywhere.  During the day I feast on freshly cut papaya, pineapple and watermelon.  I signal with my hands that I want the stand owner to cut my fruit up for me, since I know nada in Spanish.   Whenever possible, I eat the nutrient-filled coconut (pipa).  First, I drink out the water with a straw.  Then, I ask the stand owner to split open the shell and cut a sliver off the end for a spoon, so I can eat the wonderful meat inside. 

Now that I’m surfing a lot and doing yoga on the beach, I need more substantial food.  More coconuts!!  Just kidding.   I could get by on just fruit and coconuts, but I also like to experience the local food.  This is when being flexible is really important.  After all, I am in Costa Rica, and I’d like to see what Tico food is like. 

Big salads can be found everywhere, with tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower and topped off with a big avocado.  There are lots of different varieties of veggies in the cucumber family.  They crinkle cut the veggies, which reminds me of french fries from when I was a kid.   Since I don´t drink coffee, they have manzanilla tea, or herbal chamomile tea. 

I haven’t seen many lemons, so for a dressing I plop down a bit of vinegar.  I avoid the oil because I have no idea what kind of oil it is.  Here, I’m sure they use irradiated salt, so I avoid using it as much as possible, though I know it is probably in the food. 

I’ve even tried the vegetarian casados, which are a staple food.  They go great with a salad, vegetables, rice and black beans.  Since I’m not getting as many greens as I usually do, I am also taking a wholefood supplement of Greens.

So there you go- I’m not completely all raw at the moment, but I still feel great and have lots of energy to hike and surf and do all the other physically demanding things that I have been doing.  Proof yet again that you don’t have to leave your diet at home when you travel.

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Ch-ch-ch-CHIA

May 23, 2008

When you think of chia you probably think of Chia Pets. I never realized that chia seeds were edible until I became interested in reducing grains in my diet and seeking out new, healthy ingredients. It turns out they are an amazing food.

You can find chia seeds at health markets, online, or at Wholefoods. Make sure you get the ones that are raw, non-GMO, non-irradiated, and produced without pesticides.

So why are these tiny black seeds so great? To start off, they are extremely high in Omega 3 and are loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They feature a perfect balance of essential fatty acids: 30% of chia seed oil is Omega 3 oil and 40% is Omega 6 oil. Studies also show that eating chia seed slows down our bodies’ conversion of carbohydrate calories into simple sugars. This is great for preventing spikes in blood sugar, whether you are diabetic or not. Chia seeds are also highly hydrophilic, capable of absorbing 10 times their weight in water, and of great help in keeping bodies hydrated.

Chia seeds gel when wet and, when in our digestive systems, this gel prevents absorption of some of the food (and calories) that we eat. This makes the chia seed a great helper for those looking to lose weight! They also help by making you feel fuller faster so you will be less hungry.

Try this easy recipe as a great replacement for granola or cereal, or as a tasty desert!

  • Soak a bowl of Chia Seeds (the suckers expand so put in about ½ inch to start) overnight, then rinse well
  • Add to a bowl of unsweetened almond milk, making sure the seeds are completely covered in the milk
  • Let stand 10-15 minutes. Magic! The seeds get huge.
  • Sweeten to taste with stevia or xyletol

Wow! Instead of heavily-refined grain cereal or highly-glycemic granola, you are eating a raw ‘seed’ cereal that is filling and satisfying. Ch-ch-ch-CHIA!

For more info check out this article, too:

http://healthinmotion.wordpress.com/2007/10/11/chia-seeds-loaded-with-omega-3s/489/

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Bienvenido a Costa Rica

May 22, 2008

Hola!  Here I am on my first day in Costa Rica.  Altogether, I’ve had quite an amazing day. It is hard to believe that I was in New York at 6 am this morning.  On the plane to San Juan I was stuck in the aisle row which at first seemed to be a sweet deal but turned out to be crappy since my seat wouldn’t recline at all!  I managed to sleep a tiny bit but kept waking up. 

Out of nowhere, I heard a voice behind me ask his friend if he wanted Goji Berries!!!  Hmm.  My ears perked up, since goji is not (yet) an everyday snack that people think to bring as plane food.  I started a conversation with the three friends behind me.  Their somewhat clichéd opening question was whether I am Costa Rican. I should be glad I blend in when I travel.  Once the conversation got going I couldn’t believe it — these three guys, Steve, Zach, and Jake, were not only from New York but two of them (one in particular) were aspiring raw foodists.  We spent the last 2 hours of the flight talking about Acai, raw tacos, salad dressings and natural health.

It impressed me immensely that they, like I, had researched sunscreen, and found many of the same studies that I had.  Sunscreen keeps the skin itself from getting red, but it is still chemical, is reactive and can still promote cancer from within.  The guys were facing the dilemma of how protect their skin while surfing, and settled on a zinc compound to put on their face, wearing a rag shirt to surf, and keeping out of the sun as much as possible when not in the water. 

Amazing!! I mean, what are the chances that I would sit on the plane right in front of 3 guys in their mid-20s that speak some of the same health language that I speak?!  I guarantee that no one else on the plane would have wanted to talk about raw apple cider vinegar and dinosaur kale.

Anyway, I of course referred them here.  I hope that this very minute they are reading this post at an internet cafe somewhere near the panama border and chuckling.

Right now I am in a small town named San Ramon, on my way to the mountains.  So far, Costa Rica has impressed me with its lush, incredibly diverse plants.  It reminds me of Laos in some ways, though it is also quite different.  The people have been awesome and friendly.  Its too bad that I speak hardly any Spanish.  Why did I pick to study French in school!?! 

It is the beginning of rainy season, so it sometimes rains in the afternoon.  I love watching the Costa Ricans walk around in the rain- some with umbrellas and some without.  Either way, they seem really happy and content in the warm rain, which doesn’t seem to bother them at all.  The people here seem pretty synced up with Mother Nature, at least in that way.  It is part of life.  It’s so green and full of life here that I think everyone is grateful for the rain. 

I am very grateful, on this first day of a new adventure, to be out of the city, in nature, not wearing any makeup, letting the rain come down on me and letting my hair be as curly and frizzy at it wants. 

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Feast on the Yeast

May 21, 2008

It is an unfortunate fact that many vegans suffer from deficiencies of key nutrients such as Vitamin B12. But that doesn’t mean that these nutrients and amino acids come only from meat. Introducing one of my favorite dietary supplements….Nutritional Yeast.

Nutritional yeast, unlike some other kinds of yeasts, is a primary product grown on mineral-enriched molasses. Do not confuse it with Brewer’s Yeast, a by-product of the beer brewing industry, which you may find in the same part of the health store. My absolute favorite brand is Kal.

While it is technically not “raw” (the yeast is not living anymore by the time we get it) nutritional yeast is generally accepted by raw foodists. Check out some of its benefits:

  • It is a complete protein and contains more protein than even meat;
  • It has 18 amino acids (forming the complete protein) and 15 minerals;
  • It is rich in the B-complex vitamins and that elusive B12, which is vital in many ways and particularly good for stress reduction;
  • In 3 Tbs. you get 150% of your Daily Value of Vitamin B12, 560% of Vitamin B6, 820% of Vitamin B1, 9 grams of protein, and 40% of the beautifying mineral Selenium;
  • One element of yeast is the trace mineral chromium, also known as the Glucose Tolerance Factor (GTF), which is necessary to regulate blood sugar and is important for diabetics and people with a tendency toward low blood sugar; and
  • It enhances the flavor of many recipes.

I put a scoop of Nutritional Yeast in my Green Smoothie or green juice every day. I also sneak it into salads all the time (check out my Kale Salad recipe) and tons of other recipes. Lately I’ve been using it to replace parmesan cheese.

I think you’ll be surprised how good nutritional yeast smells and tastes, and you can be really creative with the different ways you can use it. Let me know if you discover a great way new way to use it!

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Pranayama Saves The Day

May 20, 2008

Last Friday, pranayama (controlled breathing) saved my day.

I was invited to visit a movie set that afternoon to meet with the film’s producer, stars (including an Academy Award winner that I’m a huge fan of!) and makeup artists to discuss natural health and raw food. My excitement turned to stress as my plans appeared to disintegrate before my eyes. An hour before the meeting I stepped out of my apartment to torrential rain. It was the kind of rain that blows sideways (I’m sure you’ve had it happen to you), and my umbrella was painfully inadequate. To make matters worse, I was dressed in a nice outfit, complete with high heels. Not good!

In case you have never tried to hail a New York City taxi in the rain, suffice to say it’s no easy task. As I was about to find out, convincing a cabbie to take me to a movie set in Brooklyn wasn’t going to be much easier!

After some searching I was lucky enough to find an open cab. I had only an address, not directions. The driver pulled over, ‘tried to call his boss’ for directions, and ended up wasting 10 min. before telling me he couldn’t get there. So, I headed back into the rain in search of a driver who could. A cabbie with a grey beard down to his belt solemnly shook his head no. A dude with a moustache laughed at me and rolled past, then another gave me a blank look.

It was now 1:00, I was supposed to already be at the set, I was soaking wet, and I had been in the rain for almost an hour. Dammit! My wavy hair was turning into a frizz-mess – not exactly the kind of ‘do you want to see on a person you are trusting for beauty advice. I and my partner Adam even tried calling several car services, but none were available until 7:00.

I could feel the panic rising inside me and my breath was getting faster- a sure sign that I was losing my equilibrium. I started thinking irrationally- that I would not go to the meeting, that I would stay home and miss out.

I was still only a few blocks from my apartment so I walked home and sat down on a chair for a minute. I took off my heels and my wet coat. Then I closed my eyes, and did some of the simple pranayama exercises that I teach in my yoga classes- breathing for 4, holding for 4, and exhaling out for 4. I let my breath slow down, then did the same exercises but exhaling out of my left nostril only (Yogi Purifier Pranayama), since negativity more easily flushes out your left side.

I changed my clothes, redid my makeup and fixed my hair. I went online, got directions to the set and wrote them down. As I left my apt. I was breathing much more calmly, and what do you know! A cab pulled up to the corner with a smiling, happy driver from Morocco, where I’ve been. He gladly followed my directions, we had a smooth ride over, and I arrived composed and calm.

It turned out to be an amazing day!! The actors, makeup artists and other people were fantastic and more receptive than I even imagined. Pranayama really saved the day!

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The Hidden Cost of Commercial Produce

May 19, 2008

You might have heard that buying organic food is better for the planet, which is entirely true. Organic foods don’t use the harsh chemical pesticides (the equivalent of chemical fillers and preservatives in a face cream!), herbicides, hormones, and genetic tampering and nitrates that unfortunately pervade most commercially grown crops. But let’s face it, sometimes you may not want to pay the extra moolah for organic produce just to help out Mother Earth. Before you decide to save those few cents, consider the hidden cost of un-organic produce: the more toxic foods you eat, the more toxic your body becomes- resulting in dull skin, weight gain, reduced energy, and other negatives. When theses real costs are factored in, un-organic food doesn’t seem like much of a bargain.

That un-organic apple you are eating is making you fat. Up to 40 different toxins can be embedded in the wax on the surface of a commercially-grown, pesticide-sprayed apple. Your liver –the main fat-burning organ in your body — has to take time off its job processing fat to focus on a new project: processing all the toxins and pesticides you’ve just flooded it with.

You are robbing yourself of extra, skin-beautifying Vitamin C by not reaching for that organic orange. Organic farming utilizes crop rotation to prevent soil depletion. This translates directly to the nutritional content of organic produce because we literally consume minerals from the soil through what we eat. Commercially grown produce, on the other hand, is often grown in soil where the naturally occurring nutrients have been depleted. These plants are frequently sprayed with chemicals just to keep them alive, even though in nature the plant would not have been healthy enough to survive. Commercial bananas and other fruits are also picked way before they ripen on the vine, a process which allows them to achieve their full vitamin range. They are then shipped across the world for consumption. No wonder un-organic fruit tastes so well….tasteless compared to organic fruit. Beyond taste, the consequence of eating weak, unhealthy plants is that they become part of our being.

Organic products, grown in accordance with nature and in good soil, yield healthy, vitamin-packed fruits and vegetables. Even though it might be half the size, an organic orange has 30% more Vitamin C than a non-organic orange. Organic spinach has twice the calcium, 3 times and potassium, 32 times the iron, and 117 times the manganese of commercially grown spinach!

When we choose to buy organic, we are supporting our soil and our planet. We are also making the most naturally supportive, beautifying choice for our own bodies and complexions. When you consider the real costs, buying non-organic produce doesn’t seem like such a great value after all.

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The Deal with Raw Food

May 18, 2008

‘Raw food’ simply means fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts in their natural state, the way nature intended for you to enjoy them. Raw food is increasingly relevant, as people are consuming less and less fresh foods and turning instead to processed, microwaved, fried and pre-packaged food.

People sometimes tell me that they think raw food or raw foodism is an extreme or ‘hippy’ ways of eating. Some even think it’s a kind of religion. Of course, it is nothing of the sort and I certainly do not insist that you be 100% raw foodist. I sometimes eat cooked food, thought it no longer tastes as good to me as fresh, natural ingredients that burst with flavor.

When preparing raw foods, nothing is heated above the temperature where enzymes — the life force of a food – die (118 degrees F). Enzymes keep the food ‘alive’ by helping to break it down your digestion. If you eat an organic apple, for example, the intact enzymes will help break down the apple in your body, helping you to absorb its nutrients.

Raw food — LIFE food — is very healing:

  • It will give you more energy;
  • It can be completely utilized by the body;
  • Its intact vitamins and proteins can help build beautiful new skin cells;
  • It does not cause toxins to accumulate in the body;
  • It practically digests itself,
  • It can clean your liver by reducing the deluge of toxins from cooked foods, which results in cleaner blood.

Now, consider how COOKING your food could seem extreme:

Eating a diet high in cooked, dead foods decreases your vitality and can be a major cause of visible ageing. Lets say you cook that apple. The heat kills the apple’s enzymes, forcing your body to use its own enzymes to break down the food and taking a precious resource away from your blood, bone, or body tissue. Cooking also denatures proteins, making food more difficult for the body to assimilate. This leaves residue and toxins in the blood and along the digestive tract. It should be no wonder why you probably feel a little tired after eating a heavy, cooked meal – your own energy has been depleted to digest the food.

Worse, cooking food at high temperatures can also destroy up to 99% of its vitamins. The last time you ate spinach, did you eat it as a salad, rich in digesting enzymes, or sautéed, where at least 80% of its vitamins were gone??

You don’t have to eat all raw food, but everyone would benefit from eating 1 or 2 raw or mostly raw meals a day. I made the change and it has changed my life for the better.

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Jed’s Deliciously Easy Watermelon Smoothie

May 16, 2008

Summer is upon us, and along with it comes one of its greatest joys: the delicious, juicy watermelon! You probably don’t need me to tell you that watermelon has great cooling properties, is hydrating and is low in calories. What you might not already know is that watermelon also has amazing cleansing and detoxifying effects.

I recommend organic watermelon with seeds intact, the way nature made them. Seedless fruits are hybridized by man to make them sterile and often are also sprayed with chemicals. Sterile fruit has a lower vibration than naturally grown fruit. By eating more fertile foods, you will absorb that energy to be more fertile and magnetic yourself!

My love of smoothies is no secret, and watermelon is one of my favorite seasonal ingredients. This AMAZING smoothie makes me love watermelon even more. It tastes great and is so filling and satisfying that sometimes it even replaces a meal for me (when I’m too tired or lazy to make a salad). You can’t get any more simple than this recipe:

  • 3 cups watermelon
  • 2.5 cups unsweetened almond milk

Prep: Cut the watermelon into small chunks. Freeze the chunks overnight in a Tupperware container.

Simply blend the frozen watermelon and the almond milk. That’s it!!! Try it for yourself and see the magical summer treat that is created from such a simple recipe.

Let me know how you do.

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My (Formerly) Secret Raw Fudge Recipe

May 15, 2008

Chocolate has gotten a bad rap- associated with weight gain and acne. That’s because most people consume milk chocolate, which has high levels of pasteurized dairy and processed sugar.

The base of chocolate, cacao, has wonderful health properties, particularly when raw in its natural state. It is high in antioxidants and flavenoids, which help fight free radical damage- a major cause of aging. Many people seek out dark chocolate to get these benefits in a fairly tasty package.

I am going to share with you my (formerly) secret recipe for raw fudge, which will amaze you with both its taste and its surprising ingredients:

  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 cup organic raisins
  • 1 avocado (to give the fudge a wonderful fluffy texture without the use of cream and other beauty-squashing ingredients)
  • Stevia as needed, to sweeten
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup raw cacao nibs (you can add a bit more, depending how thick you like your fudge.) Cacao nibs are sold at Whole Foods, health food markets and online.

Simply combine all the ingredients in a blender and blend until you achieve the desired consistency.

Trust me, this fudge is delicious! It will satisfy your sweet tooth after you’ve eaten a healthy salad for dinner, and keep you from reaching for ice cream (even soy ice cream is highly glycemic) or a candy bar.

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Mario Lopez: Yogavangelist

May 15, 2008

I was honored to be the yoga consultant to Mario Lopez for his new fitness book, Mario Lopez Knockout Fitness (Rodale).

It’s great that Mario is open to using yoga in his workout program, which also includes boxing, weightlifting, and cardio routines. Having a muscular, masculine man like Mario advocate yoga is wonderful, since he will undoubtedly bring it to a new and diverse audience.

When I teach yoga, I notice that my students that engage in boxing and weightlifting tend to have extra tightness in their backs, shoulders, and legs. If these parts of the body are not stretched out and the tension released, over time this constant cramping and constriction can lead to serious joint problems.

As Mario himself points out, yoga helps you become more limber and more flexible. A greater range of motion can translate to better performance in lots of different sports and physical activities. That benefit should be attractive to men in particular.

My teacher, Dharma, teaches that any time your body is in an asana (yoga pose), it puts your mind into a specific state of consciousness. The corresponding mental state is different for every pose. As practitioners become able to hold their poses longer, they can practice slowing their pranayama (conscious breath), causing stress levels to decrease. This technique helps their minds stop darting one way or another (mind fluctuations= chittas), leading them to be more mindful, present and calm. After practitioners leave the studio, this inspired calmness continues to level their reactions, helping them to not get angry or stressed quickly.

Drawing more people to practice yoga asanas will be hugely beneficial to them, especially if yoga is not something they would have previously considered. Even someone who comes to yoga for physical reasons alone will, consciously or unconsciously, receive mental and deeper benefits. Who knows, they might just learn to really like yoga and be inspired to explore its philosophy and other branches more deeply.

Om Shanti (peace) to Mario Lopez for helping to bring the benefits of yoga to a new audience!