“A Journey of a Thousand Mile Begins With the First Step” –Lao Tzu
I frequently get the question from friends, family members, and blog visitors—“Alana, I’m ready to get healthy. Tell me how to eat like you.” The truth is, I would never advise anyone to switch immediately from the typical American diet to my diet— a nearly raw, vegan, no refined sugar, and gluten-free lifestyle. Getting there takes time, and transitioning too abruptly can have serious side effects on your body. But what I can recommend is that you take five easy steps to getting there. Perhaps these steps will lead you to an even greater dietary change, or maybe this will define your new lifestyle. Either way, it’s all about what feels right for you. Here are the first steps I took when transitioning my diet.
Listen to Your Body
Everyone’s body is different. The only way you can know what you should be eating is by listening to yours. Eat your meals very slowly, chewing each piece with intention, that way you can notice how it makes you feel and you can truly recognize when you are full. When you are done, set a one-hour timer on your phone reminding yourself to assess how you feel once you have fully digested. Once the timer goes off, do a personal inventory of your body. Do you feel tired? Gassy? Bloated? Energized? You will be surprised at the things that make your body tick, and be more inclined to get rid of them once you are more aware.
Slowly Replace Processed Sugar
In my ideal world, processed sugar would be thrown into a pit to be used to make punching bags! Processed sugar has been proven to cause diabetes, candida, and a myriad of other health conditions. To make things worse, it has addictive qualities similar to those of tobacco. However, getting rid of processed sugar altogether–particularly given its addictive qualities–can be extremely difficult and lead to withdrawal (I experienced it myself when first transitioning). I recommend spending one day counting the amount of sugar you eat normally. Track it on the website myfitnesspal.com if that makes it easier. Then, try cutting that number in half, or even by a fourth if that’s too difficult. Stock up on stevia, which is a low glycemic natural sweetener made from the stevia leaf, and start using it as your go-to sweetener for teas, drinks, coffee, etc. Keep some in your bag in case of emergencies. Look for products in the grocery store that use coconut nectar, stevia, or dates as their base for sweetness instead.
Don’t Drink During Meals
While water is extremely important, you should be using your time in between meals to drink as much water as you can. During meals, you should minimize your water intake so as not to dilute the production of digestive enzymes. You want multiple enzymes to be produced while you are eating so that you can fully digest your food, feel full, and reap all of the nutritious benefits of your food. So keep the water intake to a sip or two during meals and save your big gulps for afterwards.
Monitor Your Meat Consumption
Several studies have proven the harmful effects of meat—acidity, heart disease, obesity, cancer—the list goes on. While I understand that a completely vegetarian diet is not feasible for everyone, I recommend taking at least one day a week to eat vegetarian. On that day, try a new vegetarian restaurant. Some great restaurants in the NYC area include Quintessence, Caravan of Dreams, Blossom, and Peacefood, among others.
Read and Research
When I first decided to change my diet, I became largely inspired by the writings of nutritionists who were able to teach me how to do it safely. These nutritionists taught me that a proper diet is not only a cure for weight-gain, but also for skin-diseases, aging,cancer, and fatigue. Check out Kimberly Snyder’s the Beauty Detox Solution and Alejandro Junger’s Clean Program. Also check out some blogs filled with recipes and transitioning tips, such as living maxwell, food babe, and kimberly snyder.
I hope this helps you on your journey towards getting your body on track!
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been coming to Puerto Rico to visit my family for years. Although the island is known for not being vegetarian-friendly, I’ve found ways to keep my diet–even when I’m surrounded by meat eaters! Here’s how I do it.
Keep Your Eyes Out for Health Food Stores
Surprisingly, there are tons of health food stores in Puerto Rico. If you’re staying in Dorado, I can recommend three that exist within a 10 mile radius, including Verde Natura, Essential Organics, and Armonia. They tend to be tucked away, however, so you need to keep your eyes peeled. My favorite health food store in Puerto Rico is Dora’s in Manati–although I know this is a bit far for most who visit and stay in San Juan. If you’re staying in San Juan, however, check out Superfoods in Condado or La Buena Mesa de Oscar in Rio Piedras, which also has a vegetarian cafe right next to it!
Stock up on These Puerto Rican Treats
Plantains: Sorry, I’m not talking about fried plantains or plantain chips (that’s not to say I didn’t have one during my trip…uh oh!) I’m talking about boiled plantains with no grease added. Plantains not only help with digestion, they also are high in calcium and have been proven to help improve brain functioning. Try blending some into Abuela’s plantain soup!
Avocados: Avocados in Puerto Rico are so delicious. They tend to be bigger and juicier than the avocados you find in the States. Not only that, you can find them anywhere. My aunt has a tree full of avocados that has been growing for years—talk about local! They’re also sold at about every fruit stand that you can find. This made eating very easy for me. Whenever my family planned to go to a place that I knew wasn’t vegetarian-friendly, I would always sneak in an avocado to add to a bed of lettuce and tomatoes. And with all the essential fatty acids, half an avocado was just enough to make me feel full and satisfied.
Cold Coconuts (Cocos Frios): It’s not rare in Puerto Rico to see a coconut stand while driving on the local roads. These are as fresh as they can get! Open one up and you’ll get a great dose of coconut water to keep you hydrated on a hot caribbean day.
Check out Places with Vegetarian Options
Casa Lola, Condado: Being that I have the most awesome family in the world, my cousin picked this place out with me in mind when he invited my family out to dinner. In addition to the normal Puerto Rican foods (fritters, pork, seafood, etc.) this restaurant offered some great salads and vegetarian options. I started my meal off with a salad and had a vegetarian platter with chard, asparagus, mushrooms, and vegetarian beans. Yum!
Café Berlin, Old San Juan: Although a little bit tofu-heavy for my taste, this little gem in Old San Juan has a full vegetarian menu with gluten-free options along with fish and meat options. I had the vegan “meatloaf” (made with rice, beans, and vegetables) and a house salad. Perfect for ending a night of strolling the cobble stone streets of the historic neighborhood.
There are so many places to get your sweat on in Puerto Rico. I definitely recommend taking classes atIt’s Yoga Puerto Rico in Condado. The studio is better than any New York studio I’ve been to and is just a walk away from the beach! You can also experience the beautiful scenery of the island either by running or hiking outside. On the days where I didn’t practice yoga, I would either hike or run in the nearby neighborhood, where I would frequently see reptiles, coquis, and beautiful greenery. Some great places to go hiking include el Yunque Rainforest and El Torro Negro State Forest.
I hope this helps you on your next trip to La Isla del Encanto!
Smelling the flowers at el Torro Negro. Such beautiful greenery!
Greetings from up in the sky!
I’m currently on my way to San Juan, Puerto Rico and am so excited to get some sun, family time, and relaxation before the new school year starts. My mother was born and raised in Puerto Rico, so I try to go there with my family every chance I get. While I love it there, the food options for me are not too plentiful—especially in comparison to New York City. In New York, I’m one of hundreds of highly health conscious individuals. In Puerto Rico, I’m one of the few health freaks on the island! But I embrace my title with pride. Here’s is how this health freak keeps her habits in a land full of platanos and lechon (fried plantains and pork).
A true health freak knows that intense packing and packaging (like here at http://rtgpkg.com/) is essential, unless you know you are going somewhere that has lots of options. Whenever I go to Puerto Rico, I come equipped with the following:
Dark Chocolate: So that I’m not tempted by flan and tres leches! My favorite brand is Lulu’s, which is made up of nothing more than cacao, coconut crystals, and vanilla bean.
Portable blender: I have a small portable blender (it’s the size of a travel mug) that I always bring with me when I travel. Even if I’m on the road, I can stop at a fruit stand and blend up a shake super easily.
Green vibrance packets: a mixed blend of different greens that replaces the green juices that I normally drink at home. Warning: These taste really bad. But they make you feel great once you’re finished drinking and are essential if you are in a place where there is a dearth of leafy greens. I usually cover up the bad taste by mixing them into a smoothie with almond milk, almond butter, chia seeds, and fruit.
Gluten-Free Rolled Oats: A quick and easy meal that can be mixed with hot water anywhere!
Digestive Support: I always bring extra reinforcements for digestion—swiss kriss herbal tablets, “eater’s digest” tea, tons of digestive enzymes, cape aloe, aloe juice, and natural calm magnesium formula. Digestion is going to be harder when you’re out of your comfort zone, so it’s better to over-prepare!
Double Supplements: When I’m on vacation, my body needs time to adjust—not only to different eating habits, but also to different time zones, sleep schedules, climates, and environmental pollutants. Although your regular supplement plan may protect you at home, you may need extra protection while you’re away. Take double the amount of supplements that you normally would take. Some essential supplements to have when you’re away from home include probiotics, glutamine, chlorella, and NAC.
Do Your Research
Believe it or not, there are food options out there for you. Even Puerto Rico has a few great spots for vegans, celiacs, and even raw foodists. If you’re travelling with meat/wheat eaters, make sure to note down where all of the essential health food stores and restaurants are located beforehand. That way, when you happen to be the area, you won’t be interrupting your friends’ day by going to those places. If you’re in Puerto Rico, the iphone Sal app is great for this purpose and will tell you which vegetarian restaurants are closest to you. More generally, happycow.com is a good resource for vegetarians, celiacs, and raw foodists anywhere. It allows you to check out all the nearby health restaurants in your area, along with reviews from other users on the website.
You’re on vacation. It’s okay to eat things that you normally would not eat. I certainly plan to eat a few tostones (fried plaintains) while staying with my grandparents. My grandmother makes them better than anyone else! However, you will not see me using this vacation as a free-for-all, where I all of a sudden down all the candy and greasy food in sight. Stick to those food items that are unique to the place that you are visiting—whether it’s your mother’s special lasagna or a French delicacy—and fill the rest of your diet with whatever nutrient-rich foods you can find.
Since you’re probably going to be eating some bad things, you may as well use some exercise to burn off those extra calories. Use the extra eating as an incentive to participate in some fun local activities. Rent a bike and use it travel to all the tourist sights, take a yoga class in a new language, or go on a hike where you can experience the local scenery.
Compliment Local Food
When I am on vacation, I normally find more pressure to eat things that I normally would never touch. Often I fear offending chefs or well-intentioned friends trying to show me their favorite food or favorite spot to eat. While my family is 100% understanding of my eating habits (my abuela even experimented to create a healthy plantain soup for when I visit—recipe coming soon!) in many cultures it is considered rude to turn down food. Although I want to express my appreciation, eating certain foods wreaks havoc on my stomach. White sugar is probably the biggest irritant for me. So rather than stuffing my face with flan, I’ll take one bite before spending the rest of my time gloating over its taste or presentation. I grab my camera and take multiple pictures. I tell my friends at the table that they must try some, and continually compliment the chef. Make the center of focus on the food, rather than on your choice to exercise restraint.
I hope these tips help you on your next vacation. !Buen provecho!
Taking some chlorella on my way to the airport. Chlorella is a great detoxifier because of the similarity of its composition to human blood and because of its unique ability to bind to and sweep out heavy metals from our system.
Vegan, gluten-free, raw agave sweetened cupcakes from Babycakes
Last week was my birthday and I had an absolutely fabulous day! Living in New York is really a luxury because there’s a treat for everyone here. So as a gift to myself, I decided to explore a ton of amazing vegan and gluten-free places in the city. I don’t go out to vegetarian/gluten free places too often, mostly because they are pretty expensive and I tend to eat…a little bit too much . But, hey, it was my birthday! Here are some of the places I checked out.
Maimonides of Brooklyn (MOB), 525 Atlantic Ave.
This was definitely my favorite place. I had a birthday dinner here with some close friends (only two other vegetarians) and everyone loved it. Instead of greeting you with several helpings of starchy, gluten-filled bread, they provided kale chips. And even my carnivorous friends thought the kale chips were DELICIOUS. I had a quinoa salad with scallion, mint, and pumpkin seeds along with a gluten free flatbread (they call it the signature “MOB”). Yum yum yum….
The restaurant also had a really welcoming vibe. They have a DJ who places reggae-style music, high ceilings decorated with musical instruments and magazines that you can read if you want, and service that is warm and friendly. I definitely will be back!
Siggy’s Good Food, 76 Henry Street
I’ve been going to this place for awhile (it’s super close to where I go to school) and I always enjoy whatever I eat. I love that they have a full juice bar—I always get the “megagreens” with green leaves, cucumber, celery, and lemon. My friend Priya and I each had one of these during lunch. They also have some amazing gluten-free veggie burgers, quinoa cakes, and salads. And if you feel like treating yourself—which of course, I did —they have a full bakery with some gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan options.
V-Note, 1522 First Ave.
I ventured way out to the Upper East Side for this one, and it was worth it. I ate here with my family; they’re all meat-eaters, but even they were pleased. We started out with some organic wine. If I ever drink alcohol, I make sure that I am drinking wine because although it is high in sugar, it has a ton of antioxidants that help prevent heart disease. I had the barbeque tempeh with the organic avocado southwest salad. It was delicious!
Babycakes, 248 Broome Street
A birthday with no cake? NEVER! Babycakes came to the rescue with vegan, gluten-free, raw agave sweetened cupcakes. I don’t eat agave too often because it is made up of concentrated fructose, which coverts to fat if eaten in excess. If it’s a special occasion, however, an agave-sweetened cupcake is much better than a white-sugar cupcake, especially if the agave is raw and unrefined because less of it is needed to make it taste sweet. I had a red-velvet cupcake and it was creamy, sweet, and decadent. Felt like I was eating the real thing!
My brother (above) and I went out for drinks with friends after dinner at an awesome outdoor/arcade bar in Brooklyn called Cherry Tree. We stayed out till 3AM! Guess that’s what you can do with the abundant energy that delicious food gives you….
Overall, I had an amazing day. I may have splurged a little bit though, so it’s time to start cooking for myself for awhile. But don’t worry, that won’t stop me from posting in the “Eating Out” Series!