Tuesday, April 20, 2010

nutrition evaluation

I've been having weird headaches lately. I think it started last week. They are not full-blown migraines (thank goodness), just slight nagging headaches. And the pain has been very tolerable - it's really been more a bother or an inconvenience rather than the kind of pain you get from a migraine. I try not to take any medicine for it except for this aromatherapy essential oil remedy that comes in a little roll-on bottle, which I bought from this vendor at a farmer's market in Cincinnati last year. (Since I have moved away from Cincy, I was happy to find out that I can order online!)

So this has prompted me to evaluate my everyday nutrition to see if there are certain kinds of food that have been triggering my headaches. It's been a while since I've taken stock of what I am eating. I think I have a fairly balanced diet of mostly whole, minimally processed foods (with exceptions, like soy milk and cheese) when I think about it over the course of a week -- of course it's not perfect, and I know I don't get everything I need in one day. So for me, thinking about it in a weekly time frame is a bit more forgiving than thinking about it on a per day basis. Because knowing my interest in all things food, I can easily get obsessive about this.

So here's my self-disclosure...

My vegetables throughout the week would be any one of these organic dark leafy greens: spinach, swiss chard, and kale. I eat dark leafy greens most days of the week, probably 5 out of 7 days on average.  I usually steam or lightly saute them in olive oil, season with salt and pepper, a squeeze of lemon, and sometimes a dusting of freshly grated parmigiano reggiano and/or a small handful of toasted pine nuts, walnuts, or almonds. Or I get my vegetable serving in a veggie soup, like lentil vegetable soup, spinach soup, red pepper soup, pea soup....

photo taken at the Reading Terminal Market, Philadelphia

So hopefully I have that area covered. For carbohydrates, it's usually a slice of bread (either my own, or this nine-grain bread from this place), or granola (my own) for breakfast. And for lunch or dinner it's either brown rice, whole wheat spaghetti, whole wheat couscous, or quinoa. Maybe about once a week or once every two weeks I would have white basmati rice just because it's SO GOOD with Indian food, which I love. Occasionally I have wheat or corn tortillas with a Mexican dish.

For protein, it's usually legumes. I love beans. It's got lots of plant-based protein, fiber, and folate. It's cheap and SO good for you. Cannellini beans for Italian-inspired dishes; black beans for Mexican or Cuban dishes; red kidney beans, yellow lentils, or red lentils for Indian dishes; regular brown lentils for lentil soup; French green lentils for cold lentil salad (because this kind holds its shape unlike other lentils, so they're great for salads); chickpeas, fava beans, or baby lima beans for Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes. Beans and beans and beans. Yum. I tell you, one of my simple pleasures in life is shopping at the bulk section of natural foods stores to get this stuff.

photo taken at my neighborhood natural foods store

I almost always start with dry beans instead of canned unless I'm pressed for time. A tip for non-seasoned bean eaters: Add digestive herbs or spices like epazote (for Mexican dishes), bay leaf, or add a small strip (about 2-3 inches) of kombu to the cooking water. Even if I am used to eating beans, I still cook it this way - the spices add flavor anyway. (Except for kombu, which has a mild, fairly neutral flavor, so it's good for pretty much any recipe or cuisine, I think). Just a side story, I once had some "omni" friends over for dinner, and I served them a Tuscan cannellini bean dip as an appetizer, then we had a chickpea stew. I think I ran out of kombu then. I tell you, I did not hear the end of it from my friends when they called me the next morning about their digestion issues. I still haven't heard the end of it to this very day. :) None of the food bothered me though, as I eat legumes several times a week.

I also get protein from nuts - I always have bags of raw nuts in my freezer: almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans, pine nuts. I also love natural nut butters -- peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter. Lately I've been stirring a little vanilla extract, maple syrup or honey, and ground cinnamon into almond butter. It's indulgent!

Fruits are usually the basics: bananas, apples, oranges, grapes. I also like Medjool dates and dried figs, but I don't really treat them as fruit but more as dessert! Fresh figs are awesome too, but they are not in season yet. Occasionally I would have papaya or kiwi if I find good ones. Now that spring is here, I'm excited about the strawberries and the summer berries. (Wish I could have Philippine mangoes which in my opinion are THE. BEST. MANGOES.)

Calcium. Yikes. This is what I might not be getting enough of. I do drink soy milk, but one 8-ounce cup only gives you 30% of daily calcium needs. And I don't think I even drink that much in a day unless I make a smoothie with it. I put a little bit in my Earl Grey tea every morning and afternoon, but not much more. Sometimes I'll switch it up with almond milk for a different flavor.

Every now and then I might have plain organic yogurt which I just sweeten myself with a little honey or agave nectar. Or I have a couple of slices of organic sharp cheddar with my toast in the morning. Occasionally I'll have grated parmigiano over my vegetables or pasta. Once in a while I'll have Greek feta (from sheep's milk). So I may not be getting enough calcium...But, calcium is also in green vegetables (I think??). I'll really have to think about my calcium intake because my genetics are not in my favor in terms of bone density.

Chocolate. Being in its own food group (in my world), of course this deserves mention. I usually get a dark chocolate bar (3-4 ounces) and make that last all week. I eat a square or two after lunch and dinner. Or I might have a dollop of this chocolate hazelnut spread with fruit for dessert. I will say that I usually have more chocolate on weekends ;-) Especially if I made a fancy dessert (my weekend food project).

Dark Chocolate Orange Pots de Creme

Sugar is usually from any one of these: demerara or turbinado sugar, local honey, or agave nectar. I try my best to avoid white refined sugar but of course there are many hidden and not-so-hidden sources of this kind of sugar, such as fruit preserves, which I have with toast in the morning. This "Four Fruits" one is my favorite. But I'll take the white sugar in here over aspartame or sucralose, or worse, high fructose corn syrup.

I don't really buy eggs much, unless they are organic or from a local farm. I eat it once a week on a weekend brunch (thanks to A's omelets).

The other thing I'll need to reconsider is my omega-3's intake. Fish is a good source of omega-3's, but since I don't eat seafood I'll have to up my intake of flax and chia seeds. Any other ideas?

Every once in a while (about once a month) I'll have this intense craving for these salt-and-vinegar flavored, kettle-cooked potato chips. There's just something about that salty and tangy flavor combination that hits the spot. Ugh. There. Confession done.

So overall I think my diet is...ok. Again, it's not perfect by any means, but I don't want to obsess about it too much.

This week I am cutting out dairy products to see if that is triggering my headaches. I have not been getting headaches since I eliminated dairy. Next week I might cut out chocolate (so if I'm grumpy you'll know why) for a few days and observe.

I'll just wait and see...

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Jen said...

Mia, I envy your diet -- so impressive! Thanks for the inspiration. I hope you find the cause of your headaches soon.

Mia said...

Hi Jen! That's what happens when you're on a student budget, heehee ;-) I had to re-think what was really necessary for me to be healthy! Now, I can't believe how much I used to spend on groceries before...

PS: On the headaches.... I'm thinking it's eyestrain from too much screen time. I'm on the computer pretty much ALL DAY.

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