Monday, October 27, 2014

Riding on the runner's high

Ever get "runner's high?"

That feeling where you feel like your body is numb to any soreness or pain you may be feeling on those last miles? Or that euphoric feeling that all is well in the world (I mean, who cares if there's that looming deadline?).

Alone to your thoughts (photo courtesy of Alias0591)
Whether you just ran a massively long distance, hiked up a tall hill, or have been biking a long stretch, long endurance exercise has a way of producing this great boost of energy that many categorize as "runner's high." It doesn't happen all the time, but when it does, you feel on top of the world. I call it "second wind" or "autopilot," because my runner's high entails either feeling a speed of energy or just going through the motions.

It turns out there's an actual scientific reason why you're feeling so good during your runner's high - your body is releasing lots of feel-good hormones that are triggering pleasure centers in your brain. Specifically, chemical compounds called endocannibinoids (eCBs) are released in your brain, which act to relieve inhibition of the hormone dopamine. In doing so, more dopamine can be released to have an effect on different brain regions, giving you that fuzzy, happy-go-lucky, not-a-care-in-the-world feeling!

Endurance exercise stimulates release of eCBs that eventually lead to release of happy-go-lucky dopamine
But human aren't the only ones who run for leisure - some other animals do long distance running as well (known as cursorial animals). In a study conducted in 2011, researchers found that other animals that do endurance activities (dogs, horses, etc.), also have the same physiological after-effects. In this study, blood levels compared eCB from treadmill runners versus treadmill walkers within three groups (people, dogs, and ferrets). Researchers found that while dogs and humans both had increased levels of eCB in their blood, the non cursorial ferret (animals that do not do long distance running) did not have eCB release.

This study shows the physiological rewards that humans and other animals have when they engage in endurance exercise and points to why certain animals are willing to do more high risk, injury-prone exercise (running) over the safer, less injury-prone exercise (walking). There's just something so addicting about getting out there and going on a run. The day may have been long, your legs might be too tired to hold your body up, and the sun might just be a little too bright for your liking, but nothing can beat the chance to hit that rush. You just hit the pavement running, leaving everything behind.


References:

Raichlen DA, Foster AD, Gerdeman GL, Seillier A and Giuffrida A. Wired to run: exercise-induces endocannabinoid signaling in humans and cursorial mammals with implications for the 'runner's high'. 2011. Journal of Experimental Biology.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Vegan gluten free energy bars for half-marathon training

It's October, meaning it's pumpkin season AND my half marathon training commences! It's something I've had on my to-do list so I finally signed up for Surf City in February! I've been mulling over signing up for a race, but finally bit the bullet and signed up. Most people train for 2-3 months, but being the slow-bro runner I am, I'm going to ease it into it. Needless to say, there may be a few more posts related to food/health/running/half-marathon training from now until February. But I promise that February will be dedicated to indulgence!

What's also great about October? Enjoying beautiful runs at dawn.

Beautiful view of my mornings - if it gets any darker, I'm going to have to wear a headlight

Nothing beats having the chance to start a run in the dark and end with the sun just peeking out. I like to run either in the dark or early day just because there's so little people around. It's like you have the whole world to yourself, get to have your thoughts to yourself, and just reflect. Much of my reflecting is thinking about what I'm going to eat after the run, but it's still deep thoughts!

My morning runs have been great, but I keep forgetting to prep my tummy and then halfway through I'm low on energy. While there are many options to choose from (gels, dried fruit, nuts, or bars), I've found eating a little peanut butter ball to be helpful prior to a run. But for those days where I'm aiming for long runs, or for packing something along the run, little energy bars go a long way.

Enter these little lovelies...


These energy bars are inspired from some energy bars I saw on Runner's World and are super easy to prepare. They combine my love for almonds, coconuts, dates, and most of all, simplicity. You don't need to bake these guys - just throw everything into a blender, spread out onto a baking sheet, and freeze. Simple, right?

Ingredients:
- 1 medium ripe banana
- 3/4 cup of chopped toasted almonds
- 1 cup of dates soaked
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1/2 cup of shredded coconut
- 1/2 cup of oats
- 6 tbsp of coconut oil

Protocol:
1. Soak dates to get them softened
2. Throw all ingredients (except coconut oil) and blend using a food processor - you want everything to be chopped into very small pieces
3. Top off with coconut oil that will bind all the ingredients together
4. Spread mixture across baking sheet lined with parchment paper
5. Place in freezer for a couple of hours until firm
6. Cut into designated sizes (squares for energy bar size, small balls for popping into your mouth, whatever you like) and place in fridge until ready to eat

I was a bit skeptical about experimenting with the banana, but these dates are soft, not-to-sweet, and pretty healthy. Needless to say, I'm not too worried about having much left by the end of the week - MOH has been "testing" these babies out throughout the day as well.




Hope everyone is having a great Fall season - for people who live where there are seasons, I'm incredibly jealous. Weather here in Southern California is incredibly beautiful, but I miss the leaves changing colors.

Until next time, happy eating all!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Muffin madness - B.A.B. gluten free muffins

I had a super bad craving for muffins. Maybe it's the weather cooling down. Or maybe it was seeing MOH eat a donut the other day - something triggered in my head that I wanted a muffin. A sweet, moist, pseudo-healthy muffin (if that even exists).

My compromise? Banana-almond-blueberry (BAB) muffins. The muffins are loaded with nutrients, such as protein and antioxidants - what more could you ask for?

These muffins are everything you can ask for in a muffin. Deliciously easy so anyone can make it. Simple and quick enough for anyone to eat it within 30 minutes of prep. 


This recipe contains the backbone of a regular muffin recipe, but relies on the brown rice flour/millet flour for an extra bite to the muffin. These muffins have some extra oomph to them.Sometimes muffins are way too soft that it's similar to eating white bread - you get the soft bread mixture stuck on the roof of your mouth and have to spend a couple minutes using your tongue to pry it off. 

Feel free to modify what you want. At the last minute, I decided to add blueberries and just sprinkled them on top. This method allows for each muffin to get a good amount of blueberries, and gave me the added bonus for seeing blue streaks inside my muffins from the exploded blueberries. 

Ingredients (makes 9 muffins in a 12-tin tray) inspired by this awesome blog:
- 1/2 cup brown rice flour
- 1/2 cup millet flour
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup of spreadable butter
- 1/2 cup of brown sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 ripened banana
- 1/4 cup of almond milk 
- 1/4 cup of almonds, chopped
- blueberries (enough for putting 3-4 blueberries on each muffin)

Protocol:
1. Preheat oven to 325 deg F
2. Mix together flour, baking soda, salt, sugar and butter
3. Add in eggs, mashed banana and vanilla. Then add in almond milk and mix thoroughly
4. Add in almonds and if desired, any berries or dried fruit
5. Grease muffin pans and evenly distribute batter across muffins (for this amount, I had enough for 9 muffins). 
6. Top off with fruit if haven't done so already
7. Bake for 18 minutes or until done
8. Take off muffin tray and enjoy!

Until next time, happy eating everyone! 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Just keep it cumin!

I think there's a love hate relationship for cumin. It's this under appreciated spice that either people love to use or absolutely HATE. I think that it's the potential "feet" smell that sometimes comes about when you use too much of it. It's like perfume - just the slightest concentration brings this really nice smell. But try walking past someone in the perfume counter with three sprays of perfume, and it's overkill.

I love cumin. It's got this very earthy smell and has great sharp flavor. Put it on fajitas, falafel, curry, or burgers and you've got a hit.

One way I like to highlight cumin is with lentils.



I like to use lentils for a hearty soup or for wraps. I first tried a lentil wrap from Trader Joe's and it was so delicious. It was my first time having lentils and I couldn't figure out if it was a bean, grain, or weird soft fungus thing. Turns out, it's in the bean family. Lentils are super versatile and can be used as a staple ingredient in any dish. This time, I decided to try it as a filling for either a wrap or tacos (I used corn tortillas this time, so it's in the taco form).



After looking at different recipes online, I found that making the filling isn't that bad. Counting for one hour of solid prep, assembling the wraps or tacos themselves is less than 5 minutes. Many sites called for use of bulgur as a stiffening ingredient, but I didn't have any on hand to use (nor am I familiar with using it). Instead, I slightly modified a recipe from another website that had a really simple prep with mixing lentils with quinoa - a great idea!



You can make this over the weekend and have it ready to go throughout the week for a lunch. I found myself playing with the spices a little - I tried to up the ante with the cumin. Luckily, I didn't go too far because I think I was dancing the fine line between great spicy aroma and post-run feet aroma... No worries - this recipe is particularly easy to do, with little prep (I left my lentil/quinoa mix just simmering on the pot for past the cook time because I got caught up on some reading).

First, be sure to soak your quinoa and lentils (this cleans it up before cooking, makes the cooking time quicker, and improves gas, or so I've read). Once soaked, throw it into a pot and once you get a boil, simmer it for 20 minutes along with your spices of choice. The end result should be this creamy pseudo-mash potato looking brown mixture that's your filling!


The filling is honestly the hardest part, if you were to try to identify a part that may give you problems. And if you're not a fan of wraps or tacos, you can eat this filling with a side salad or with a tahini dipping sauce as well!

Now you can do the fun part. Most lentil wraps are eaten with a cabbage slaw mixture. I don't really like cabbage, so I had shredded romaine lettuce (MOH's favorite salad type) and mixed greens (my favorite). Depending on preference you can go for whatever taste you like, although if you consider crunch factor, romaine or cabbage is probably the better bet.

You can dress your wrap any way you want, but be sure to have a type of dipping sauce. It can be tahini (simple tahini paste with some water, lemon, and chopped cilantro), or a chili sauce (I used sriracha).

Either way, you can't go wrong with lentil wraps!

Until next time, happy eating everyone.

Ingredients:
For lentil mix:
- 1/2 cup lentils
- 1/2 cup quinoa
- 1 3/4 cup of water
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 3 tbsp of cumin
- 1 tbsp of garlic salt
- 1 1/2 tsp of onion powder
- 1 tsp of cayenne

For tahini sauce:
- equal ratio of tahini paste to water (try 1/2 cup first)
- 1/2 lime
- salt to taste
- 3 tsp of chopped cilantro

For greens:
- shredded lettuce of your choice

Protocol:
1. Boil soaked lentils and quinoa, simmering for 20 minutes after initial boil. Include spices when simmering.
2. Let mixture cool.
3. Prepare tahini sauce (be careful - tahini paste is extremely liquidy with the oily layer on top. When first opening your container, use a spoon to mix the tahini paste into a homogenous mixture)
4. Create your wrap or tacos and enjoy.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Things I can't get enough of...

MOH and I are engaged!

It was a beautiful evening and MOH and I went to Corona del Mar and watched the sunset. In a perfect moment, MOH popped the question and we enjoyed the sunset as a newly engaged couple.


We've come a long way. We met fresh out of high school, in a dorm hall. I was an obnoxious asian girl running my mouth about, he was into gaming (still is) and tried to brag about being a black belt and playing Thai music for the King. I thought he was full of poop (turns out he was not lying), but loved his candid personality and charm. I think what made our relationship work so well was how carefree and lighthearted we could be with each other. He's so goofy, but I can't stay away from him. Even in the most annoying hour, he still makes me smile.


Over eight years later, we're still together. Love ya, MOH.

Some things you just cannot say no to. Some foods I can't live without?

- Yogurt (I can eat this everyday. Really. I can eat it sweet (with honey, granola, fruit) or savory (on top of a baked potato with all the fixings!)

Plain yogurt with honey = DELICIOUS (photo courtesy of ProjectManhattan)

- Fish sauce. It's probably a cultural thing, but fish sauce is one of those essential pantry ingredients that can make or break a dish.

Sweet and salty nuoc mam (photo courtesy of John)

- Eggs. I think I go through egg withdrawal if a couple days go by and I haven't eaten eggs. Lately it's been egg whites - they're healthier, and they don't attribute to gas!



- Rice. More as a staple, but a big part of my diet. Some people can live off salads or bread - I need rice. Sometimes I do a triple-whammy delight by eating eggs and rice with fish sauce. I'm still working on how to incorporate all four. It's a work in progress.

Photo courtesy of Zane80

Until next time, happy eating all! The weather is ridiculously hot and humid, so hopefully by next week I'll try up new recipes for the blog.


Sunday, September 7, 2014

More bacteria please!

I think everyone is a germophobe on some scale. We're taught at a young age that bacteria is bad, deadly, blah blah. While this concern is certainly valid (like washing your hands after using the restroom, especially if you're finishing your last shift at the restaurant), bacteria can be extremely helpful, such as in potentially combating food allergies.

According to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), more than 15 million people are affected by food allergies of some sort, with a fifty percent increase in occurrence since the late 90s.

Peanut allergies affect more than 3 million people (according to AAAI, photo courtesy of Atoz) 

A recent article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) has offered some insight into the rise of allergy ocurrences, and has shown that a gut bacteria (Clostridia-type) found in both rodents and humans is important for providing allergen protection*. Researchers induced a "peanut-like" allergic reaction in mice and found a higher immune response in bacteria-free or antibiotic-treated mice, compared to control mice. The authors show that the bacteria help prevent the uptake of allergen into the bloodstream through switching immune responses within the gut. In addition, treating mice with antibiotics caused a change in the bacterial gut environment, increasing the response to a food allergen. This finding suggests a new role for bacteria in curbing allergens and also serves to potentially explain the increase in food allergy incidences - with the advent of better medical advances such as the use of antibiotics early in development, our gut micro-environment (our whole body, actually) has drastically changed from what it used to be way, WAY back in the day.

Nonetheless, this interesting finding provides a link between bacteria and food allergens, and provides a promising way to potentially eliminate food allergies. Think of a magical pill that could alleviate your allergies. In an ideal world, you'd treat allergies like how people with lactose intolerance safely venture eating cheesy pizzas. Want to eat peanut brittle? Easy - just pop in your magic pill of bacteria, and voila, crunch down on that candy like no tomorrow.

Hopefully everyone's enjoying this beautiful Sunday, whether it's watching football on the TV, sun bathing at the beach, or lazily hanging at home. Whatever way you spend your day, have a great one.

Until next time, happy eating.



*
Clostridia helps to induce the innate immune response system in the gut, triggering IL-22 production, a cytokine important for reducing uptake of food antigen into the bloodstream.


References:

Stefka AT et al., 2014. Commensal bacteria protect against food allergen sensitization. PNAS.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Laughing in the face of danger: Parasitic infection causes hard-wired fear to disappear in mice

I've been watching The Strain on FX, a vampire/virus show that is directed by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan (based off their novel series) and the show is starting to pick up. Set in New York, an ancient vampiric disease spreads throughout New York, while an unlikely team set off to try to find the cure and save the people from becoming infected. Infected individuals have little parasitic worms that travel through their body, latch onto the brainstem and slowly take over the host. Eventually, the infected humans shed all their humanistic qualities, only to becoming vampiric monsters whose main mission is to infect those they care for most. 

What sets this show apart from the other vampiric shows out there is the parallel references with likening a viral outbreak with vampires (one of the main characters in the show is an epidemiologist who is trying to find a cure for the vampire outbreak). It's entertaining to watch, the suspense builds up well, and it's starting to pick up, thankfully (previous episodes drew too much on unnecessary drama).

Watching this show, seeing how resilient this "virus" is to infecting as much individuals as possible, as well as the smart way the virus continues to infect hosts, reminds me of the amazing strategies nature uses to survive... such as how the parasite toxoplasma gondii, or T. gondii, infects its host. T. gondii's host is the cat and disease is often transmitted through contact with feline feces, or contaminated by-products. Recent work has identified a unique way the parasite ensures a sure-fire way to get into its host - by creating fearless mice.

T. gondii fluorescent image (photo courtesy of AJ Cann)

In a paper published back in 2013, researchers studying T. gondii found that mice infected with different types of the parasite exhibited decreased fear levels compared to their control counterparts, even showing a slight attraction to the cat scent (think Tom and Jerry, only this time Jerry running circles around Tom, baiting Tom to eat him!). These experiments placed mice in an enclosed chamber with a petri dish of either rabbit urine (non-predatory) or cat urine (predatory), and measured the level of exploration of the mice. Infected mice lost all their fears, often found exploring the cat scented urine, laughing in the face of danger! When the infection was cleared, mice STILL showed a lack of fear when presented with predatory smells. The parasite has identified a smart strategy to infect mice and make them lose their natural fear of predators like cats. This allows cats to more readily eat the mice, making it easy as can be for the parasite to infect its host. One thing that would be interesting is to see if the parasitic infection causes mice to all around be fearless of any predator, or just felines (their host).

Either way, T. gondii has adapted such a fail-proof way to infect its host. The infected mice seem to have permanently altered brain function (not quite zombie-like, but fearless risk-takers!), despite treatment against the parasite. Scrappy and resilent!

Eye of the tiger, right? (photo courtesy of Rama)

Until next time! I don't want to say happy eating because this post isn't meant to entice anyone to eat... hopefully.



References:

Ingram WM, Goodrich LM, Robey EA, Eisen MB. Mice infected with low-virulence strains of Toxoplasma gondii lose their innate aversion to cat urine, even after extensive parasite clearace. 2013. PLoS One.