10 Vegetarian Protein Sources…and How to Eat Them

A recent market study found that American meat consumption has decreased 19% since 2004.1 Perhaps that’s because reducing intake of meat has been shown to lower cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and some cancers.2 If you’re someone who has been cutting back on meat lately––whether for health reasons, environment concerns, or animal rights––it’s still important to include protein in your diet.

Why? Because protein is the building block of muscles, bones, skin, and blood. It is required to make hormones and enzymes, and necessary for tissue repair. It is also a component of every cell in your body. Finally, protein helps promote fullness and should be included with every meal and snack.

Here are a few of my favorite non-meat protein sources along with ideas on how to include them in your diet.

1. Chia Seeds

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(image credit: The Pioneer Woman)

Chia seeds are known as a superfood because of their nutrient-rich profile which, in addition to protein, includes omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. One serving of chia seeds (about 2 tablespoons) contains 4.5 grams of protein and a whopping 10 grams of fiber. They are easy to eat and can be mixed into baked goods, added to smoothies, and are also the perfect topping for yogurt. There are many chia seed brands on the market; I like The Chia Company.

2. Lentils

lentils

(image credit: Italian Food Forever)

Lentils have been a staple to Middle Eastern and Indian cuisines for thousands of years. They are filled with fiber and protein and are a great substitute for meat. One ½-cup serving of lentils has 9 grams of protein. Lentils can be added to soups or tossed into salads like this one. You can even make vegetarian meatballs with them! For snacks, I love SimpleSuppleFoods crunchy roasted lentils.

3. Peanut Butter

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(image credit: Pixelated Crumb)

Peanuts are actually a legume (not a nut) and are filled with healthy fats and protein. Two tablespoons of peanut butter contain 8 grams of protein. If you’re tired of the traditional PB&J sandwich, try adding peanut butter to yogurt and smoothies, or even use it as a dip for carrots (trust me; it’s delicious). I like to keep these Justin’s single-serve peanut butter packets on me for a quick snack.

4. Greek Yogurt

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(image credit: Dr. Oz)

Greek yogurt is low in calories and loaded with protein and gut-healthy probiotics. One cup of plain Greek yogurt contains 17 grams of protein. While many people think of Greek yogurt as a breakfast or snack food, it’s actually very versatile. One of my favorite ways to use it is as a replacement for sour cream on tacos and quesadillas or as a dip for roasted vegetables. I also swap it for milk in pancake and smoothie recipes.

5. Quinoa

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(image credit: Genius Kitchen/DianaEatingRichly)

Quinoa is considered to be a grain, but technically speaking, it’s actually a seed. It cooks quickly, only taking about 10-15 minutes to prepare. One cup of cooked quinoa provides 8 grams of protein. Quinoa makes a great grain salad, can be stuffed in vegetables, or substituted for oatmeal at breakfast, with an egg on top for even more protein, or topped with fruits and nuts.

6. Chickpeas

chickpea

(image credit: Eat This Much)

Chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans) are a type of legume and are a complex carbohydrate, meaning they are digested slowly, giving sustained energy and thus preventing spikes in blood sugar. One ½-cup serving of chickpeas has over 19 grams of protein, which for many people is almost half of their daily protein needs! Chickpeas can be added to salads, soups, or made into hummus. There is even a brand called Banza that makes pasta out of chickpeas, and it is delicious!

7. Peas

fresh green pea in the pod isolated

(image credit: Backyard Gardening Blog)

Peas are part of the legume family and a one-cup serving contains about 9 grams of protein. Frozen peas can be added into rice, soups, and stews. Pea-based protein powder is becoming a widely available alternative to traditional whey-based powders. Bob’s Red Mill makes a version with 21 grams of protein per serving. Feel like a snack? Try Harvest Snaps for an on-the-go way to get your pea fix. Bonus: they taste like potato chips!

8. Eggs

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(image credit: Health.com)

Hard-boiled, soft-boiled, scrambled. or over easy, eggs are a quick, easy, and affordable protein source. They are also low in calories and a great source of fat-soluble vitamins. One egg contains 6 grams of protein. I suggest trying some non-traditional ways to eat eggs, such as over lentils (even more protein!) or baked eggs to change things up!

9. Almonds

almonds

(image credit: Nuts.com)

Almonds are one of the highest protein-containing nuts with 22 almonds providing about 6 grams of protein. Almonds are a great snack option. They can also be added to salads for a nice crunch. Most recently, a new company called Noosh has made a line of almond-based protein powder, nut butter. and even almond oil that can be used for cooking.

10. Edamame

edamame

(image credit: Organic Facts)

Edamame (soybeans) contain all 9 essential aminos acids, meaning they are a complete protein source. A ½-cup serving of edamame contains 11 grams of protein making them a great substitute for meat-based dishes. Try this Asian quinoa edamame salad for a double dose of plant-based protein!

So, now that you’re an expert on protein sources, you may be wondering how much protein you need. The average protein requirements of a healthy adult are between 46-56 grams per day (or 0.8g/kg body weight).3 However, protein needs depend on age, gender, and activity level, so consider working with a Registered Dietitian (like DishWithDina) to learn more.

What are your go-to protein sources? Has the list above given you any creative ideas on how to incorporate vegetarian protein options into your usual meals or recipes? Comment below!

References:

  1.  Strom, Stephanie. Americans Ate 19% Less Beef From ’05 to ’14, Report SaysThe New York Times, 21 Mar 2017.
  2. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets. Eat Right.org website.12 Dec 2016.
  3. National Academy of Sciences. Dietary Reference Intakes Tables and Application. 2 Jan 2018.

bertolami

Guest post by Isabelle Bertolami, MS, Dietetic Intern

Worth Your Salt

I recently divulged on social media that my blood pressure (BP) had been consistently quite high, to the point where I thought I’d either soon be hospitalized or have to start taking meds. While I’m not opposed to conventional pharmaceutical methods to manage a particular health condition, I was adamant that I would be able to resolve this issue on my own, so I worked with my doctor and tracked my blood pressure multiple times over the course of about two weeks, while paying closer attention to my food intake and physical activity to see if any lifestyle adjustments would be able to correct this issue.

BP Before

Before I share the outcome of my story, let’s first discuss what may or may not be known about sodium and high blood pressure.

Sodium is both an electrolyte and a mineral and is found in about a 40:60 ratio in table salt, aka sodium chloride (or, scientifically, NaCl). Sodium plays a role in what’s called the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system, where it helps maintain our body’s fluid balance and nerve and muscle function. People with a high-sodium diet, suffering from dehydration, or diagnosed with Cushing’s syndrome among other conditions can become hypernatremic while anyone experiencing excessive sweating, severe vomiting or diarrhea, recovering from burns, or diagnosed with underactive adrenal glands, thyroid gland, or other illnesses can become hyponatremic.

Salt shakerAccording to the USDA, one teaspoon (about 4g) of salt provides an entire day’s worth of sodium for a healthy adult at about 2,300mg; and, even then, this is considered an upper safe limit, not a recommended daily allowance. The average daily sodium intake of Americans is actually 3,400mg, or nearly 50% more than the limit. Higher-than-recommended intakes of sodium are known to raise blood pressure and may pose other health risks like heart disease and stroke, the first and sixth leading causes of death in NYC, respectively.1 Interestingly (or maybe not so interesting if you’ve heard me say this before), over 75% of American sodium consumption comes from “outside” foods: packaged, processed, and take-out/dine-in items.2 Salt added during cooking at home doesn’t factor in nearly as much, so if you’re considering cutting back on the sodium intake, re-assess your sources before taking away that salt shaker.

(image credit: Harvard Health Publishing)

When it comes to high blood pressure (or hypertension), the kidneys are unable to filter extra sodium in the body. As the sodium collects, the body holds onto its water content (fluid retention) to try and dilute the salt, thereby increasing both the amount of salt and the amount of water in the body. This results in increased blood volume, which means the heart has to pump harder and puts more pressure on the blood vessels. This situation is no joke and why hypertension has been coined “The Silent Killer.” Over time, if the high-sodium effect becomes the norm in your body, and you end up with chronic hypertension, you may, ultimately, suffer a heart attack, stroke, or worse.

As a Registered Dietitian, my approach to helping people with any of the issues noted above usually involves teaching them how to read the Nutrition Facts label on the back of packaged foods and introducing them to the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet, which, contrary to popular belief, is NOT a reduced-sodium diet, but instead focuses on nutrient-dense foods that are rich in protein, fiber, potassium, magnesium, and encourages whole foods over processed ones. This shift alone brings with it options that are naturally low in saturated fat, sugar, and salt––a win-win even for those not necessarily dealing with hypertension.3

In my case, I had to admit I was eating out way more often than I was cooking at home and, even though I was ordering from “healthy” or “natural” restaurants, I was not in control of my sodium intake and we all know that the way eateries make foods palatable is by adding fat, sugar, or salt. Since that revelation, I’ve switched back to eating more at-home meals and, when I do eat out, I ask for a low-sodium version of whatever I order or put in a special request in hopes the restaurant would so graciously accommodate me (which it usually does). With my doctor’s approval, I also added regular physical activity to my daily routine––I tend to be quite desk-ridden––and started noticing improvements in my blood pressure readings in just a few weeks.

BP After

My suggestion to you is to put this information into action ASAP:

  • Purchase an affordable blood pressure monitor and check your BP a few times a day for about a week to get an average reading for yourself. (NOTE: New blood pressure guidelines were released in November 2017 and are reflected below. What once used to be “normal” is now listed as “elevated.”)
  • Keep a log of meals during that same time period so you can cross-check if there’s a correlation if and when you get an uptick, especially if you often eat outside or packaged foods.
  • Consult with your doctor if you skew higher than normal more often than not during that test period.
  • Work with a Registered Dietitian (like me!) to help get you back on track, give you recipes to try at home, and/or teach you basic cooking skills to prepare healthier meals.

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(image credit: American Heart Association)

References:

  1. Health Department Announces 5 Year Results of National Salt Reduction Initiative. New York City Department of Health.
  2. Use the Nutrition Facts Label to Reduce Your Intake of Sodium in Your Diet. FDA website.
  3. Soltani, S.,Chitsazi, M.J., Salehi-Abargouei, A. (2017). The effect of dietary approaches to stop hypertension (DASH) on serum inflammatory markers: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials. Clinical Nutrition; S0261-5614(17).

Think Outside the Cereal Box

When it comes to the first meal of the day, it seems the easiest go-to food, especially if you’ve inadvertently smacked the snooze button one too many times, is cereal or a muffin…unless you’re one of those people who skips breakfast altogether (in which case, please come see me after class). Instead of reaching for a plain bowl of whatever’s in the cabinet, consider first food that will nourish you and set the tone for the rest of your day.

Scramble2_Veg

Recent studies have shown that regular breakfast consumption can have an impact on overall health, specifically decreasing the risk of type 2 diabetes––since insulin sensitivity appears to be higher in the morning than other times of day––and conditions associated with metabolic syndrome (increased blood pressure, excess body fat, abnormal cholesterol).Additionally, since protein increases satiety, starting your day only with carbs––especially if high in simple sugars––may work to your disadvantage, leaving you ravenous before you even get to the office or run your first errand.2,3

Add in some healthy fats and even a very busy and important person like yourself can begin the day with a high-quality, protein-rich, nutrient-dense meal. To start, let’s review protein foods:

  • Animal-based protein includes eggs, yogurt/dairy, meat, poultry, fish.
  • Plant-based protein includes legumes/pulses (e.g., beans, chickpeas, lentils, peas), nuts, seeds, soy meats/products (like tempeh), seitan. Keep in mind that all veggies and grains have some protein in them.

For busy mornings or if you have less than 10 minutes to get your breakfast act together, the following might be your best bets:

  • Oatmeal (or another grain, like quinoa) with 1 T peanut butter or 1/4 c nuts and 1/4 c fruit
  • Avocado toast

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Avo Bagel_Veg

If you have some time the night before, consider these make-ahead options:

  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Smoothies (click here for a mix-and-match guide to help you balance the right ratio of fruit:veg:protein:fat)
  • Overnight oats

HB eggs_Veg

Smoothie_V

If you have about 20-30 minutes:

  • French toast with 1 T real maple syrup, 1/4 c nuts and 1/4 c fruit
  • Pancakes with 1 T real maple syrup, 1 T peanut butter and 1/4 c cottage cheese
  • Veggie omelet or scramble

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Pancakes2_Veg

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Note: When preparing meals, a good rule of thumb is that 100 calories should give you enough energy to last about an hour. In the case of breakfast, for example, something like a bowl of oatmeal with a tablespoon of peanut butter added will total approximately 300 cals, so you shouldn’t feel yourself getting hungry again until about three hours later; a single hard-boiled egg, on the other hand, will only provide you with 70 cals and might be better as a grab-and-go snack until you can eat something heartier.

Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Please feel free to add below.

References:

  1. Maki, K.C., Phillips-Eakley, A.K., & Smith, K.N. (2016). The Effects of Breakfast Consumption and Composition on Metabolic Wellness with a Focus on Carbohydrate MetabolismAdvances in Nutrition, 7(3): 613S–621S.
  2. Missimer, A., DiMarco, D.M., Andersen, C.J., Murillo, A.G., Vergara-Jimenez, M., & Fernandez, M.L. (2017). Consuming Two Eggs per Day, as Compared to an Oatmeal Breakfast, Decreases Plasma Ghrelin while Maintaining the LDL/HDL RatioNutrients, 9(2): 89.
  3. Chandler-Laney, P.C., Morrison, S.A., Goree, L.L.T., Ellis, A.C., Casazza, K., Desmond, R. & Gower, B.A. (2014). Return of hunger following a relatively high carbohydrate breakfast is associated with earlier recorded glucose peak and nadir. Appetite, 80: 236–241.

Ding! Dong! Dieting Is Dead

The field of dietetics is either getting trickier or simpler by the minute, depending on how you look at it. The profession itself includes the word “diet,” but many Registered Dietitians are trying to promote overall health versus a focus on the number on a scale, taking into account the true definition of diet is merely the types of food that an individual regularly consumes and not meant to denote a restriction of calories.

Yes, there are benefits of managing one’s weight. During my schooling, we learned of certain increased risks for people with a high body mass index (BMI) and/or a specific waist-to-hip circumference; but, we also learned that every body is different and many people can be healthy at any size.

When meeting with clients looking to lose weight, the first thing I ask is, “Why?” Sometimes, it’s about body image, sometimes, it’s about managing a health condition where weight loss may benefit them; but, more often than not, it’s about establishing healthier eating and other lifestyle habits, like home-cooking or exercising or wanting to include vegetables in as many meals as possible. In my practice, when I work with clients like this, I always encourage them to continue eating whatever makes them happy and to also focus on foods that will give them the most nutrient-dense, health-supportive bang for their buck.

While some of my clients enjoy tracking food and calories to be sure they’re getting an overall variety of foods throughout the day and adhering to a specific daily caloric requirement (based on their height, weight, and physical activity level), they know there’s no pressure to be “perfect” in their eating habits. We discuss moving away from depriving themselves of foods they enjoy and stop using words like “good/bad” or “clean/dirty” regardless of what they’re eating. In fact, in a recent study, it was found that all foods serve a purpose, be it providing enjoyment, energy, or something in between.1 On a related note, we continue to gain more information of the relationships between certain foods and their health benefits, like dietary fats, which help migrate us into realizing that all foods really do fit.

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What a Registered Dietitian eats.

Unless there is a clinical condition where certain foods may exacerbate certain symptoms or do further harm (e.g., diabetes, kidney diseases), we should ease off restricting our diets; that is, the foods we eat regularly. If you find yourself in a rut or obsessing about being “perfect” in your eating habits or otherwise, or generally want to incorporate healthier habits in your lifestyle, I encourage you to work with a Registered Dietitian and other health provider or counselor, if needed, to help rearrange—not change—your habits in a way that supports your overall health and wellbeing.

Consider the following:

  • The scale is one of many numbers. Depending on fluid shifts (water retention after eating an overly salty meal, for example), body fat percentage, and muscle mass, that number you see in front of you can vary greatly day by day. There can be two people with the same weight whose overall body composition is much different from each other, so try not to be too influenced by your scale.
  • Focus on progress, not perfection. If you’re starting out learning new habits of any kind, be patient with yourself. Set small daily or weekly goals and celebrate the little victories to keep you motivated. The overall balance and variety of your habits have to be realistic for you in order to lead to long-term results.
  • Dig deep or learn to let go. What’s really motivating you? If that number on the scale elates or depresses you, find out why. Same thing with calorie counting. Specific numbers can sometimes feel restrictive whereas healthy behaviors can be liberating.

References:

  1. Linardon, J. & Mitchell, S. (2017). Rigid dietary control, flexible dietary control, and intuitive eating: Evidence for their differential relationship to disordered eating and body image concerns. Eating Behaviors, 26: 16–22.

Fending off the “Freshman Fifteen”

For most Americans, this week (or next) marks the beginning of a new school year even though TV commercials for sales on notebooks, backpacks, and other school supplies started airing months ago. If you’re an adult returning to school, like I was back in 2013, there could be a whole slew of emotions about re-integrating into that lifestyle, both academically and otherwise; but, there’s something about setting foot on campus that puts students of any age in a whole different frame of mind. Homework deadlines seem to pile up before the first week has even begun, sleep becomes non-existent leading up to midterms and finals, and healthful eating habits go right out the window before the first semester is over.

During my dietetic internship at Lehman College two years ago, I was assigned a group presentation where we reported on research findings about how college students tend to gain weight over the 6- to 8-week span of the winter holiday season (Thanksgiving through the New Year). Interestingly, though, the study participants weren’t “traditional” college students, i.e., 18- to 22-year-olds. In fact, the age span included grad students, some well into their 30s.

The study showed that, as seasons change and colder weather approaches, students are more likely to change their food, mood, and physical activity for the worse. Ongoing indulgences over the fall semester and into the holiday season can cause a significant increase in the percentage of body fat and fat mass, leaving students vulnerable to obesity development from those unhealthful holiday habits that may carry on further into their adulthood and passed onto their children or other family members. Increases in body fat are a major factor in morbidity and mortality which is why it is important to strategize ways to maintain healthful eating and other lifestyle habits during stressful times.

If you start paying attention to your habits at the beginning of the school year, committing to choosing a lifestyle that supports healthy eating and physical activity, and recruiting your friends and classmates to get on board with you, you may find it easier to carry that mindset over through the semester, the holidays, into the next year, and every year after that.

LCNC

Consider the following:

  • Head to class prepared. To avoid excess hunger and grabbing something not-so-great at the campus cafeteria or out of one of the many vending machines outside your classroom, pack yourself a bunch of healthy, satisfying snacks (e.g., apple with peanut butter or veggies with hummus) at the beginning of each week, then take one or a few of them with you when you head to campus for the day.
  • Cut out sweetened beverages. Added sugar and calories will do you no favors in keeping you fit, healthy, and energized. Keep a water bottle with you at all times and drink from it regularly. Take advantage of getting free refills from campus water fountains.
  • Read the Nutrition Facts Label. If you do ending up grabbing a packaged food or snack, be a savvy consumer and compare the sodium, calories, fats, and sugars in these items. Some vending machines have started incorporating a grading system to help you make healthier choices.
  • Go play outside. Even if you’re cramming in a study session on your own or with some classmates, you deserve to take a break. Go for walk or toss a frisbee to each other for at least 10 minutes. Spending time away from the books and engaged in physical activity is a great way to give your tired brain and eyeballs a break and quality time with your friends.
  • Join your campus’ nutrition club. A great way to stay committed to health and eating well during the school year is to get involved in activities that will guide those habits by default. Don’t have a nutrition club at your school? Start one!
  • Be compassionate with yourself. If you do overindulge, try to keep your focus on the goal of long-term wellness. Remember your health is determined more by what you do on average most days than what you eat during any one meal.

References:

  1. Díaz-Zavala, R., Castro-Cantú, M., Valencia, M., Álvarez-Hernández, G., Haby, M., & Esparza-Romero, J. (2017). Effect of the Holiday Season on Weight Gain: A Narrative Review. Journal of Obesity, 2017:1-13.
  2. Hull, H.R., Hester, C.N., & Fields, D.A. (2006). The effect of the holiday season on body weight and composition in college students. Nutrition & Metabolism, 3:44-61.
  3. U.S. Department of Agriculture Center for Nutrition on Policy and Promotion. (2013). MyPlate On Campus Toolkit. USDA: Alexandria, VA.

[A version of this article appeared on this blog on December 9, 2015.]

EVENT: Summer CSA Food Demo

REMINDER! If you’re in the East Village today, Tuesday, 8/22/17, we invite you to join us from 6:00 – 8:00 pm for our bi-monthly food demonstration at the Sixth Street Community Center located at 638 E. 6th Street, between Avenues B and C.

Watch us prepare quick, easy recipes using the fresh produce from the weekly Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm delivery. Grab a sample on-site and let us know what you think!

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We hope to see you there!

Eating That Makes Sense

The sights, smells, and even sounds of food can be quite tempting—not surprising, considering our senses play an enormous part in our overall pleasure in what we eat. By considering the visual, aromatic, and auditory components of food, you can smartly strategize a way to accommodate and satiate your hunger without compromising your waistline. Preparing or selecting meals and snacks that satisfy your senses will increase your enjoyment without carrying additional calories.

Veggies in water

(image credit: Shutterstock)

Your eyes receive the initial impression of food, so a visually interesting and stimulating plate is especially important to your eating experience. Include at least three different colors and shapes in your meal to enhance its visual appeal. A plate filled with plump red beets, fluffy green kale, and an orange smashed sweet potato provides visual interest and a colorful pop. Luckily, colorful fruits and vegetables add key vitamins and nutrients to your plate. Beets, kale, and sweet potatoes add folate to support red blood cell production, vitamin K for blood and bone health, and the anti-inflammatory vitamin A, to name a few.

When evaluating a food’s desirability and quality, smell is nearly as important as taste, and in fact, may increase your pleasure in eating that food. Enhancing the smell of food is as easy as adding herbs and spices to your cooking. Concentrate on herbs and spices that bring flowery, fruity, or fragrant scents to your dishes. Stock your pantry with everything from cinnamon to curry powder, and sprinkle at whim!

“Mouthfeel,” that physical sensation you get when taking your first bite, is built on both the taste and texture of the food. Taste refers to the sweet, salty, sour, bitter, or umami nature of the food. To enhance your pleasure in a meal, add foods based on the tastes you enjoy. For example, if you enjoy bitter foods, add fennel to your meal. Fennel not only contributes a slightly bitter taste but also a cool, bright essence, and the antioxidant vitamin C.

Turgidity, the amount of water in a plant’s cells, lends itself to the crisp texture of food—which also appeals to the auditory senses. Select meals based on your affinity toward smooth or crunchy foods, or combine the two if you enjoy both. You may choose hummus (made of garbanzo beans, a manganese and folate champion) for its smooth texture, or yogurt topped with walnuts for a combination of smooth and crunchy.

Consider the following:

  • Create an overall ambience. The environment in which you eat further enhances your experience. Light a candle or two (unscented, so as not to compete with your meal) and set your table to enhance your eating experience.
  • Smell with your mouth. There are receptors for olfaction (sense of smell) in the back of your oral cavity that detect aromas just as much as your nose does. When you lean in to take your first bite, breathe in the delicious scents first through your mouth to enhance your overall enjoyment of the meal.
  • Savor your food. Before you begin eating, take a moment to be grateful for the food before you. Chew slowly, sipping water between bites. Embrace the flavors and textures in your mouth before swallowing.

Eating healthfully does not mean you have to sacrifice enjoyment. Understanding your sensory preferences and identifying your preferences in relation to healthy foods makes the act of eating all the more pleasurable.

[A version of this article was written for and published on YoffieLife.com on November 22, 2014.]

EVENT: Summer CSA Food Demos

Starting today, Tuesday, 8/8/17, we invite you to join us for our bi-monthly, on-site food demonstrations at the Sixth Street Community Center in the East Village, NYC.

Learn and sample quick, easy recipes using the fresh produce from the weekly Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm delivery.

SSCC CSA DWD Food Demo IMAGE_Aug 8

We hope to see you there!