What You Need To Know about Vitamin B-12, Especially if You’re Vegan

It’s funny. When people find out you’re vegan or vegetarian, suddenly everyone and their mother becomes your nutritionist, wondering if you get enough protein, if you take supplements and get enough Vitamin B-12, and if you’re malnourished and falling over yet, etc.

No one bats at eye or comments at people who sustain themselves off pizza, burgers, fries, and chips, but so many feel entitled to scrutinize the nutrient-content of plant-based diets.

But I digress. This post is about the main nutrient of concern for vegetarians and vegans. No, it’s not protein (which in fact, most people over-consume). It’s Vitamin B-12. If you’re vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, have chronic bowel issues, and/or are over the age of 50, you should assess and consider if you are getting enough vitamin B-12.

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I don’t very often flex my MS in nutrition muscles on the blog. I always intend to, but I find my brain so exhausted of academic/science writing from school that much of the time the blog is filled with recipe and lifestyle posts because those are fun and relaxing to write.

But I really do want to make an effort to communicate more nutrition info here on kbaked.com. Let me know if you like this kind of content and/or what other topics you’d like to see covered! Without further adieu…here’s what you need to know about Vitamin B-12.

What is Vitamin B-12?

Vitamin B-12 (also known as cobalamin) is a water-soluble vitamin and was the last vitamin discovered. It’s found in various forms, including cyanocobalamin (often found in supplements and fortified food), as well as methylcoablamin (a methylated form) found in animal products.

Cyanocobalamin needs to me methylated for your body to make use of it. Both are well-absorbed, and it’s currently unknown if there’s a “better” or more bioavailable form to consume.

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Why Counting Calories/Macros is Worthless

One of my least favorite trends right now / ever is counting calories and macros. It’s right up there with juice cleanses and detox latte potions (but that’s another article currently in the works). These things are very trendy right now on blogs and by those self-proclaimed ‘wellness experts’ and ‘wholistic healers/nutritionists’ on Insta, and while some people devote themselves to such regimes religiously, I am going to share with you why I think for most people it does more harm than good.

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Now. I’m not here to tell you it’s wrong to care about the food you eat. But if you’re hyper-focused on numbers, you may be missing the point of what it means to be actually be healthy.

Below are just a few of the reasons I advise against counting calories, carbs, or macros. I hope you enjoy and feel free to leave thoughts in the comments.

Disclaimer: Dietitian-guided meal planning and food tracking may be appropriate for those in the early stages of recovering from eating disorders or disordered eating until proper self-feeding is reestablished.

1. You don’t really know exactly how much you need, and a lot of different sources will give you different answers.

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While it’s true formulas exist to guide health professionals to estimate how much of certain macronutrients or calories a person needs for various life stages and health conditions, unless there is a case of enteral feeding, these are approximate values.

It’s highly unlikely that the calculations you compute at home or find on the internet are precise enough to match your exact needs. Moreover, you probably have varying levels of activity and sleep every day, which these formulas will not reflect.

If you don’t believe me, try googling “calorie calculator.” Type your info into a few different ones on the internet. See what happens. When I did it, I got a different value from every single website, proving a lack of validity for these values.

2. Not every item of food you eat has the exact same caloric content every time.

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Think about when you eat out. Let’s say, for example, I get a you pick two at panera. A go-to order for me is the garden veggie soup with pesto, a salad with avocado added, and a side of bread. Sometimes my soup has like, a bucket of oily pesto on it. Sometimes there’s barely any. Same with the amount of avocado, nuts, and tomatoes in the salad. It’s slight different every single time.

The bread that comes with it is sometimes a tiny nub, while other times I get a big round end piece. On lucky days I beg two pieces. You get the idea…all this to say that unless you eat nothing but perfect former and processed packaged foods (which I hope you don’t think is s way to get healthy), knowing the exact caloric and macro values of your food is nearly impossible, and studies have shown most people are pretty terrible at accurately tracking food and caloric intake.

What about a muffin your sister made? Or a latte at your local coffee shop? Even the USDA database has food values that don’t always reflect the actual food you eat (ie, they list 60 calories per slice of bread…the bread I eat has 80 calories per slide according to the label).

Are you going to neglect these foods because you don’t know how precisely they fit into your eating pattern?

Don’t! Free yourself! For the work involved, there is little to no benefit to tracking your calories or macros. If anything, it invites obsessing and micromanaging which can do more harm than good (see below).

3. It causes stress, and stress really mess with your physical and mental health.

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Keeping track of calories, carbs, etc requires a decent amount of attention and brain space on a daily basis. Perhaps you have plans to go out to dinner later but are worrying all day about the meal not fitting into your shiny perfect numerical nutrition boxes. Or maybe your coworker spontaneously suggests happy hour drinks or a classmate offers to share some birthday cupcakes in class. Cue stress, panic, anxiety, and loss of control taking over.

Eating the same amounts every day isn’t healthy, nor realistic. Life has ebbs and flows and is meant to be enjoyed spontaneously at times. Subjecting yourself to deprivation or hyper rigidity will likely cause you stress and anxiety, both of which can impact your hunger hormones and mess not only with your hunger and fullness cues, but also with your sleep schedule and mental health, cultivating a path away from optimal functioning, instead of one towards it.

Moreover, think of all the brain space you must devote to tracking your intake. Now imagine what else you could fill that brain space with: creative thoughts, fulfilling activities, or more time to spend with family and friends or spent cooking yummy nourishing meals. Sound better than counting carbs? I thought so.

4. It doesn’t take into account how hungry you are.

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: your body is not a calculator, so it shouldn’t be treated as such. Unless you sleep, move, think and breathe the exact same amount every single day, you shouldn’t eat as if you do.

One of my biggest issues with calorie and macro counting is that it teaches you to disengage with your inherent hunger and fullness cues. Once you lose touch with them, it can be quite difficult to remember how to self-regulate.

Some days you’re just extra hungry for no reason. That is okay. And other days you may not feel as hungry as usual. That’s also normal. But you should eat according to what your body wants and needs given the situation. This means listening to hunger and fullness rather than a chart full of numbers.

5. It sucks the fun out of eating and eating out.

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Per the reasons mentioned above, calorie and macro counting suck joy out of life. Don’t do this to yourself. Food and eating are meant to be pleasurable. They’re intended to be shared, joyful experiences, or at the very least, fulfilling nourishment to cary out the rest of your life’s passions without being distracted by hunger or stressed by food charts.

This evening, for example, I overheard two well-intentioned females picking items off a menu based on what would fit their macro plans based on what else they had eaten that day. It made me so sad. You are meant to enjoy the food you consume, not micromanage it.

Imagine instead if these girls ordered what they had wanted instead of what they did order, and satisfied the craving their body had, nourished mind body and spirit, and moved on with life. What struck me the most was that the concern was not on the healthfulness of the varied food options, but rather, a game of numbers and macros. I almost wanted to butt-in from my table and tell them that their original order was actually highly nutrient-dense and would likely keep them satisfied for hours. But I held back…

Well there you have it: the reasons I advise against counting calories and macros.

If you are looking to improve your health, my best advice is always the same and relatively simple: fill up on plant-based foods (fruits, veg, beans, nuts, seeds, etc). Moderate the rest. Eat what you want when you want it, and stop when you’re satisfied. Listen to your body. They’re smarter than we give them credit for. And don’t forget to prioritize sleep an stress reduction, both of which may be compromised by rigid dieting.

Cheers to a happy, healthy 2018, free from self-inflicted diet stress.

10 Phrases to Remove from Your Food/Exercise Vocabulary

Greetings! Just have some things on my mind I wanted to share over here on this blog thing.

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This is a post I’ve been wanting to write for a while, but after traveling and listening to the way some friends talk about food/eating/working out, and the way the Real Housewives of Orange County (side note:why is it this group that does it the most? Real Housewives of NY seem to eat normally…) talk about food/eating/working out, and the way some of my fitness-hyped friends/gyms talk about food/eating/working out, I’m at my breaking point. Time to write!

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I wanted to discuss a few things that I continually hear that are NOT HEALTHY behaviors. Sadly, society has made them ‘normal,’ so I can’t classify them as NOT HEALTHY NORMAL behaviors. Maybe some day.

Anyways, society has warped people’s ideas of what it means to be healthy. Even in the nutrition world, I see people I know take it too far. Nutritionists I follow on Instagram post their daily workouts and show all their pristinely healthy foods.

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I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with regular exercise or black bean brownies, but like, it’s okay (actually, healthy) to have a bit of flexibility in your diet. Eating too healthy  and working out rigorously all the time isn’t healthy; in fact, it’s quite the opposite.

It can cause stress, anxiety, food-fear, guilt, and tumultuous relationships with food that can spiral into an eating disorder, or cause people to flirt with disordered eating thoughts and behaviors for years.

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Admittedly, this is a lesson I learned with time. We all make mistakes, grow, and learn. So here are phrases I have banned from my vocabulary, or, at the very least, phrases or thoughts that I recognize as unhealthy if they creep up in my brain or in conversation. I encourage you to read them and assess your relationship with food:

1. ‘I’m banning sugar/fruit/carbs from my diet.’

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Are you? That sounds difficult, sad, and downright impractical. Glucose is your body’s preferred source of energy, and it needs it!

I have no idea who decided bread and pasta are like, the worst thing ever, OR who decided that that the only ‘acceptable,’ sources of carbohydrates are quinoa and sweet potatoes, but it’s time to recognize that carbs are an important part of a healthy diet, as are sources of fat and protein.

So important, in fact, that it’s recommended you eat a majority of your calories from carbohydrates. So embrace that bread baby! And the fruit. All the fruit. And unfollow anyone on Instagram who tells you fruit is bad for you. They are bad for your mental health.

2. ‘I feel so guilty if I eat ____.’

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Eating should never make you feel guilty. You are a freaking living organism for crying out loud. Do you feel guilty drinking water if you’re thirsty? No, you probably don’t.

So why on earth would you feel guilty giving your body fuel when you are hungry? Eating when you are hungry is the same as drinking when you are thirsty. Give. Your. Body. What. It. Needs.

And if you have guilt or anxiety around certain foods, perhaps you need to assess your relationship with eating. Food is just food. If you want an apple, eat an apple. If you want a cupcake, have a cupcake. Your body will break it down, digest it, and give you energy. So eat food. Enjoy it. And move on with life.

3. ‘No food after XX:00pm.’

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Hey just another reminder that your body is a living organism, not a clock or a machine. You should eat when you are hungry. Period. Want lunch at 10:00am? Eat it. Want it at 2:00pm? Also cool.

Clocks don’t always match up with your hunger cycle, and every day is different. Instead of judging when you want to eat, or setting up windows when you can, start listening to your hunger/fullness cues instead of eating on a schedule.

4. ‘I didn’t work out today, so I can’t eat any __________ or go out to dinner/dessert.’

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That sounds like a rigid, unhealthy relationship with food and movement. If you’re moving your body with the sole intention to burn calories, OR you feel you do not ‘deserve’ certain foods if you haven’t worked out enough, you may have an unhealthy relationship with exercise.

Here’s a fun fact: you burn calories all the time. When you’re sleeping, when you’re digesting food, when you go to the bathroom, even when you think – all of those things burn calories.

The human brain consumes roughly 420 calories per day, so you should be eating enough to fuel your brain, organs, and body enough to live through each day with ample energy and mental clarity.

Exercise should make you feel good; it should make you feel stronger. It isn’t a box you have to check off your list every day in order to eat appropriate amounts of food.

I don’t want to look back on my life and regret missing fun dinners or desserts out because I didn’t work out enough that day.

5. ‘Never miss a workout! #Noexcuses! #MotivationMonday.’

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No excuses? What if you’re sick, tired, sore, or having a really stressful day where adding exercise to your routine will greatly increases your stress level? Those sound like darn good excuses to me…

Exercise should enhance you, not stress you out. And you should be able to ride with the ebs and flows of life and skip exercise when you aren’t feeling it or it isn’t convenient and not feel guilty or anxious about it.

Overexercising can increase stress hormones like cortisol, and cause all sorts of nasty impacts on your body/health. Making overexercise unhealthy.

If you think it’s more important to burn calories every day than to maintain your health, you should seriously check your relationship with food/eating.

6.  ‘I was so bad last night….I ate  _____.’

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If you are labeling eating behavior as ‘good,’ and ‘bad,’ you may be flirting with (or have a full blown) disordered relationship with food.

People ask me all the time “Is X food or Y food better?” To which, I always respond, “Foods are very complex and everyone is different and in need of different things, so that’s a very complicated question.”

Try not to view foods as ‘good,’ and ‘bad.’ Sure, there are foods that have more fiber or protein or vitamin whatever than other foods, but just because a food is high in sugar or lacking trace minerals doesn’t make it ‘bad.’

Sometimes you gotta eat for your mental health or to enjoy social experiences. For example, if you choose not to eat cake on your friend’s birthday even though you want to eat it, simply because you think it’s ‘unhealthy,’ you are doing yourself more harm than good. And sometimes you just need a damn cookie after a long day because you are craving it.

Same goes with travel. Tasting new foods while traveling should enhance your travel experience, not cause anxiety. EMBRACE IT.

7. ‘I feel insane if I don’t workout every day.’

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Do you? Because that is a little insane, and sounds a bit like exercise addiction, especially if missing exercise causes you to have anxiety. See numbers 4 and 5.

8. ‘I’m at my calorie limit for the day, so I can’t have any.’

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If you count calories or track macros, I urge you to stop.

Can I ask you a question? Is your body a calculator? No. No it is not. So why are your treating it like a math equation. Every single day is different, so your needs are different each and every day to reflect that.

Some days you may be crazy hungry and need 5 meals and 4 snacks. Other days you may have less of an appetite. Both are totally normal. So why would you try to achieve a specific number each day, you’re actively disengaging from your hunger/fullness cues and REALLY messing with your body’s ability to naturally maintain homeostasis and body weight.

Do yourself a giant favor, and skip the counting. You’ll feel free, and more in tune to what your body wants, and what it actually needs.

9. ‘Earn/Sculpt Your Body.’

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This is something I often hear at gyms or boutique fitness studios. Even at a boutique fitness studio I really love and have a membership to, I see/hear this all the time and it bothers me.

Here’s why: I just don’t think you should feel like you have to treat your body like it’s a goddamn piece of clay for some art show or something. Your body breathes. It digests food. Your brain thinks. It helps you learn, create, share information, and interact with others. It also helps you be able to exercise, and do all other amazing tasks you may need to do throughout the day.

Your body is FREAKIN’ AMAZING. So instead of viewing it as something to manipulate, how about showing it some gosh darn well-deserved appreciation?!

10. ‘I’m on a cleanse/doing a non-toxic lifestyle thing.’

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Lol…I have no idea what people mean by ‘cleansing’ or ‘detoxifying foods.’ These are sexy phrases that have no scientific backing/evidence. No food has shown significant evidence to cleanse or detoxify you…your liver and kidney remove any real toxins so you can consider yourself all good on that front.

All of these cleanses and detoxifying powders and pills and potions and are simply a way for unregulated supplement companies and the ‘health influencer’ Instagram stars who promote them to make money off vulnerable people who are innocently looking to improve their health. Which is pretty shitty and irresponsible of them, if you ask me.

Same with ‘giving your digestive system a break.’ Hey guess what, you still digest things like juice. And your digestive system is designed to digest food on the regular. Like I said in #9, your body is FREAKIN’ AMAZING.

Would you put your pet on a cleanse? No, you probably wouldn’t. Because you’d think to yourself “No, that’s not normal. My dog is supposed to eat every day and would be grumpy if they didn’t.” Well then. Same goes to YOU!

So skip that cleanse, and buy some delicious groceries and EAT. Because eating is satisfying, delicious and fun.

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I challenge you to recognize when these phrases come up in conversation, on TV, on a magazine cover, on an Instagram ‘health influencer,’ star’s stories, or on the wall at a fitness boutique and ignore them. You have the power to do so and it is oh so very freeing.

This takes time and practice to do so be patient and forgiving with yourself. But your brain and body will thank you!

Thoughts on Exercise, Calories, and Intuitive Eating

Kbaked.com formerly focused on recipes, but I’m hoping to change that moving forward and get a lil more real. Today I wanted to share some reflections I’ve had recently and give a general life update. Are you buckled in? Brevity isn’t my strong suit, and I have no editorial team on this blog to tell me I’m talking too much, so I feel like this is going to be a long one…Soba Noodle Salad Edamame Vegan

First, let’s back up a few months. Or more like 8 months. Let’s go back to August of 2016. After completing my master’s degree in nutrition at Columbia University, I traded two job offers and a life in the city I knew and loved for what I thought was an opportunity of a lifetime.

I wish not to go into detail in the interest of being respectful and aware that my experience was highly personal, but what I’ll say is that I quickly realized I had traded a lot of what I’d worked so hard for, for what felt like a series of never-ending empty promises, disappointment, and most importantly, for something I realized my heart wasn’t in.

When I left what I was leaving, I left something certain that made me miserable to move home at age 26 without a job or a solidified future, feeling like a complete loser.

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I’d be lying if I were to say the past few months have been easy; they have not been. But something good has come out of them: during the past few months of unemployment/feeling frustrated and angry at the world, I actually finally feel in tune with my body, maybe for the first time since childhood.

After a lot of emotional stress and constantly feeling like I had totally ruined my life/was a giant failure/that I’d generally fucked up big time, I slowly but surely somehow decided I needed to stop holding myself hostage.  I started really getting into self-care, and not even intentionally.

This is going to sound cheesy, and I hate to sound like one of those cliche fitness-saved-me people, but I really think getting into barre helped kick me in the right direction.

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After weeks of debating if I should or not, I tried a class at my local The Barre Code. I loved it. The atmosphere was so positive, and the whole class was about challenging yourself, taking time for yourself, and getting stronger, physically and mentally.

I almost immediately signed up for a month unlimited deal, and started going regularly.

This was the first workout I’ve genuinely adored and looked forward to since my competitive dance days in high school. The more I went, the more I wanted to go back.

All the instructors were kind, and the strength focused movement was really great for working out lingering aggression.

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A funny thing happened when I started going to barre regularly: I also started eating more based on hunger/fullness cues, and less according to clocks/schedules/what and when I normally eat. I also started letting myself sleep – like actually rest and sleep – for a full 7-8 hours a night, for the first time in years.

In grad school, even though I was studying nutrition, I look back and realize I was really unhealthy. Between the rigor of school and research, working two jobs, and my anxiety, I was averaging 5-6 hours of sleep on a good night, and I was constantly so wound up that I actually induced terrible migraines and muscle spasms in my shoulders, neck, and back, all of which lead me to countless doctors appointments, physical therapy, and therapy therapy.

When it came to eating last year, I’d like to say I was healthy – and generally speaking, my diet probably looked healthy to an outsider. But I look back and realize how planned everything was. I was on a tight budget and would grocery shop once a week, buying basically the exact same shit every time, perfectly calculated to get me through the week ahead.baker_katherine_chocolate_chip_single_serve_vegan_dip

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this; I hate food waste and think it’s good to plan ahead so you don’t end up with lots of spoiled food, BUT the way I was eating was very structured, based on routine, and didn’t really allow for too much flexibility. My eating routine became a habit: just another thing I had to get out of the way to move on and focus on other things, not really checking in with what I wanted and needed as much as I probably should have.

Occasional dinners and desserts out aside, I ate mostly the same things almost every day, at almost the same times, for a year.  Didn’t matter if I wasn’t as hungry one day, or if I was famished another. I somehow became a highly routine eater, probably as a result of my insane schedule and tight budget, and also probably because I was too exhausted to take care of myself.

Over the last few months, however, I started eating more based on intuition, and less based on what the clock said. And I stopped pre-planning my meals. Granted, this is much easier now that I live a 2 minute drive from an amazing grocery store with good prices and my schedule is currently WAY more flexible, but still, it’s been a really awakening experience.Screen Shot 2017-04-17 at 11.37.38 PM

Somedays I eat lunch at 11am. Somedays it’s at 2:30pm. And sometimes lunch is a giant plate of snack foods like veggies, dips, avocado, and crackers, other times it’s nut-butter slathered waffles and fruit, and sometimes it’s lunch that actually looks like a ‘lunch’ like salad or sandwich. Some days I eat a lot more than other days. I’ve learned my body has ebbs and flows with when it’s hungry and that’s okay.

I’ve also finally gotten a handle on stress eating. Stress eating is something that has been an issue for me in the past. I am generally a healthy eater, but could get out of control around sweets when I was overtired or stressed. I used to inhale entire pints of ice cream or packages of cookies in a single night and feel like total garbage after. Sometimes it wasn’t even because I was craving sweets. I think, honestly, I was craving the rush.

Now I can have some ice cream or a cookie or a chocolate bar and not feel crazy. Some days I want a lot of sweets so I eat a lot of sweets, and other days I can eat half a cookie and be done with it (minus chocolate, chocolate is an everyday food to me). But it’s so nice to not feel like food is a coping mechanism.Screen Shot 2017-04-17 at 11.38.01 PM

So my food habits have shaped up, not necessarily in terms of nutrition, but in terms of intuition, which is something I believe I have lacked since probably high school, and something I believe is overlooked in terms of importance when it comes to food. I just feel so much more sane now.

And sleep: SLEEP. Sleep is the best. I can’t say enough how much sleep has helped me mend my overall frame of mind on a daily basis. I just feel so much better when I get enough, and would 10/10 recommend you prioritize you do the same. I’m going to post more about this in the future.

As mentioned above, much of the positive shifting in my life in terms of being more in tune with my body was unintentional; I was actually awakened to just how much progress I’ve made with I attended a free Orange Theory Fitness class last week.peach

I’m going to preface this by saying I have nothing against OTF, but it simply wasn’t a positive experience for me. Besides having an instructor who wasn’t my style, shall we say, I didn’t like how the entire workout and OTF concept is so heavily focused on numbers: how many minutes you spend at your max heart rate and how many calories you burn seem to be what’s prioritized in an OTF class.

I didn’t want to wear a heart-rate monitor, because personally I don’t think it’s healthy to focus on how many calories you burn while exercising (any anyways, those monitors are notoriously inaccurate). When I asked if I could NOT wear the heart rate band, I was told that that was “the point,” of the workout.

And it made me reflect: at barre, I don’t focus on calories or numbers or my max heart rate. I focus on releasing stress, turning the anxious part of my brain off (temporarily), and getting stronger, not smaller.Vegan Miso Hummus

These two very different exercise experiences and my recent shift towards self-care have reminded me of the following things:

  1. Your body is not a calculator. You’re not meant to live your life crunching numbers (calories, macros, etc). This is stressful and puts you out of tune with your body.
  2. Your body is not a machine. You cannot run around ignoring it’s needs forever. You are a living organism. Just like your dog needs sleep, water, and plenty of healthy food, so do you.
  3. Exercise can be wonderful: it can make you feel stronger physically and mentally, relive stress, and improve your mood and confidence,
  4. Exercise can also be not so wonderful: it can make you feel inadequate, weak, and anxious about if you burned enough calories or fat.
  5. You have the right to choose your exercise. I suggest going with #3 instead of #4.
  6. Eat what you crave when you are hungry. Stop when you are full. This may or may not happen at the same time every day, and may or may not involve the same foods two days in a row.
  7. Sleep is the best thing ever.
  8. Sleep is the best thing ever, except for maybe dogs.

That’s all for me today on this long rambling post. Hope y’all have a restful, delicious, happy, wonderful, productive day.

More food for thought: Thinking Out Loud – Running with Spoons