Sunday, November 16, 2014

Why sleep, when you can run?

To paraphrase Fatboy Slim: "eat, sleep, run, repeat."

(photo courtesy of ShokoPhoto)
I'm halfway through my half-marathon running schedule (so is that a quarter way through?), and it's getting to that time of year when it's cold outside (at least cold for Southern California). I like to do dawn runs to start my weekends, but this morning was particularly painful starting a run in 50 degree weather. Not to mention, doing it in shorts and a t-shirt.

I also have to play this compromise between getting enough sleep and getting in enough time to do a run before it gets too bright. And then there's the pre-run snack that helps provide fuel for a long run. People suggest eating a snack before running at least 30 minutes in advance, but if you're already waking up at 6 to do a run, you're looking at waking up at 5 in order to get something in the belly without running with the feeling of a brick in your stomach. I've found that a good snack for me is cold oatmeal. Simply mix equal amount of oatmeal, yogurt, and almond milk, and let sit in fridge overnight. Quick, easy, and good amount of protein and carbs to get you through the morning!

What if you have to make the choice between getting in a good run or getting in the full sleep? I was curious if there have been any research articles looking into this and there's quite a body of research known about this area. 

Sleep is a necessity for everyone, even cute koalas (photo courtesy of Alex P.)
It's well known that sleep deprivation isn't great. Your body needs a good amount of sleep to basically reset itself. Having a good night's sleep is especially important for maintaining good communication throughout your different brain regions. In both animals and humans, sleep deprivation often leads to memory impairments in working memory and the consolidation or strengthening of new information. But can exercise reverse these negative consequences? 

Exercise has been shown to be important for improving cognitive function and protecting new memory formation, but how effective would squeezing in some sweat do in a compromised situation like what happens during sleep deprivation? 

Turns out, providing consistent exercise to animals before sleep deprivation completely protects the animals from sleep deprivation-induced damage to the brain. In this study, rats were allowed a month of regular exercise on a treadmill before being sleep deprived for 24 hours. Sleep deprivation causes many detrimental consequences on the brain such as decrease in electrical activation of the brain and decreases in key proteins essential for memory formation*. Groups that had exercised before sleep deprivation overall had higher levels of electrical activity in the memory area of the brain and pro-memory proteins compared to the control groups. 

These findings point to how much exercise can benefit and even protect the body from injury. It also points to how sensitive our brains are. If we're super sleep deprived, several molecular changes are drastically being changed, having a detrimental impact on our cognitive function. However, fitting in some exercise (in this case leisure running or walking) can ameliorate the damage done to the body from continual stress. In a way, I think that's why so many of my mentors have stressed the importance of fitting in some time getting in physical activity. My undergraduate mentor's joke of what a Ph.D. stood for?

Permanent Health Disorder.

Maybe that's why she ran and hiked so much...

Happy November everyone! November is a great month for me. MOH's birthday just passed, and I'm getting one step closer to my dream job. More news to come at a later time.

Happy eating!

*Sleep deprivation has shown to cause a decrease in early long term potentiation and lead to decreases in CaMKII and BDNF protein levels within the dentate gyrus. 


Zagaar, M, Dao, A, Alhaider, I, and Alkadhi, K. Regular treadmill exercise prevents sleep deprivation-induced disruption of synaptic plasticity and associated signaling cascade in the dentate gyrus. 2013. Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Kabocha and Yams - roast fest!

The supermarket I normally go to has decided to embrace fall - squashes and yams are on SALE!

I love a good sale, but when that sale falls in with the season, you load up. So when I saw the sale sign up for Kabocha and Sweet Yams, I hauled home with a bunch of these little suckers.

As a child, Kabocha squash was a staple soup. Simmered in a light chicken broth with green onion garnish, this soup was the go-to for if you were ever feeling sick. And yams? My mom loved to just roast them or boil them and have us eat them as snacks. Yams are so sweet to begin with that there's no need for added sugar (although I do love caramelized yams with coconut).

While I did roast some whole yams (I like to bring one to work to snack on when I get the munchies), I tried to do some yam fries. Super simple, super flavorful. I never noticed it before, but sweet potato fries and yam fries have this extra bite to them. It's a little sweeter, but there's something about tasting a natural caramelization that you get from the sugars of the potato. What's even better? MOH is all for it. Both of us are from the camp that french fries should be just potatoes, but with the rise of sweet potato fries and now yam fries, there's room for everyone.

Easy fries - toss with olive oil, garlic salt and pepper (roast 15 minutes on each side at 400 degrees F)
And if the yam fries weren't enough - I decided to do roasted kabocha squash slices for breakfast. Kabocha is really creamy and decadent. The taste reminds me of acorn squash, but creamier. I've done an acorn squash roast with shredded coconut (I like to make it during Thanksgiving time), so this time, I decided to roast kabocha with some coconut oil and a little salt and pepper. Again, very simple, but really tasty! The outside of the squash is firm (slightly burnt is my preference), but the interior is really creamy. This heats well too! If I had planned better, I would have eaten this with a side of eggs.

Same prep as yam fries only use coconut oil for extra flavor! Keep rind on if you like, or peel off
I think that next on our list is to do a squash risotto. Another time!

Until next time, happy eating all!!!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Coconut milk Clam chowder - belated welcome to Fall

It's FINALLY starting to get cold in Irvine. MOH and I were so excited to to see rain last night - yes, the rain lasted five minutes, but the cold breeze and light rain just made it "Fall" for us. The days get darker faster, there's this nice chilly wind in the air when you go running in the evening, and clouds hang in the sky to shade the sun. It's like fall just arrived!

As the weather gets cooler, MOH and I shift our eating habits from salads/stir fries to more hearty soups. MOH has this fascination with creamy soups. He loves pot pie, potato leek soup, and clam chowder, especially San Francisco clam chowder.

So when he asked me to try to make clam chowder, but a dairy free version, I was super hesitant. It's always hard to try to recreate a recipe of something that's really beloved. Most chowder recipes call for heavy cream or half-and-half, and lots of butter and all purpose flour, but none of these options were good. But after looking around at some great sites, there are some tricks - people have tried different milk alternatives like coconut milk. The results? Creamy decadence without the heavy caloric burden. Win win.

Chowder is super simple to make - you just need to make sure the bottom of your soup pot isn't burning. I like to make my chowder reminiscent of "new england" style, which has a thickened broth thanks to potatoes other starch components (other variants of clam chowder include tomatoes, red broth, asparagus, etc.).

All in all, the chowder took less than 40 minutes to make including prep time. To get it gluten free, I relied on the starch from the potatoes (I like russet, but I've heard that red potatoes might be more soft) and a little bit of cornstarch to thicken the soup (what I use for sup mang cua, a crab asparagus soup).

I was a bit hesitant to have MOH try it - he's been spoiled by clam chowder by SF and Monterey, but he liked the funky chowder and ate it happily with two slices of bread. I say "funky" only because I added in some unlikely chowder ingredients like carrots, corn, and green onions. The chowder turned out to be a cute mash-up of clam and corn chowder components and tasted super creamy and delicious!

If you like creamy, chunky soups, definitely give this recipe a shot!

Until next time, happy eating!

Ingredients (enough to serve 2): 
2 tbsp butter
1/2 onion chopped
2 celery stalks chopped
1/2 cup carrots chopped
1 cup of water 
2 cups of potatoes (or 1-2 potatoes, depending on size) cubed
1 1/2 cups of coconut milk (more or less half a can)
1 6.5oz can of clams
1/2 can corn
Garlic salt to taste
Green onions as garnish

1. In a soup pot, add butter and turn up heat to medium
2. Throw in onions, celery and carrots and sautee until browned
3. Once browned, add water and potatoes and simmer with lid partially closed for about 10-15 minutes (I check on them every so often - the water will get absorbed by potatoes and the potatoes will become very soft)
4. Once potatoes softened, add in milk and canned clams (include the juice!)
5. Finish off soup with adding corn and do last minute seasoning with garlic salt and pepper (dill and a dash of tabasco can be added for extra flavor)
6. Garnish with green onions and enjoy!

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.


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?

- 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

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)

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.

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

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.