Category Archives: Diet & Nutrition

Dhanvantari, deity for Ayurveda

Natural Healing According to a Nicaraguan Herbalist vs Ayurveda

To learn about natural healing, I choose a homestay with Dona Lucia in Nicaragua.  Call her a curandera, herbalist, or a campesina. Clearly, Lucia understands the value of nature as medicine. We relate. First, I believe in natural healing. For example, I have great respect for the Ayurvedic, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Indigenous teachings. 

homemade milk in NicaraguaPlant-based Organic Foods

Secondly, I am an advocate of plant-based diets. In these remote mountains, families eat mostly organic vegetarian foods. They aren’t following trends. Rather, they are self-sufficient.

They respect their farm animals. Actually, Lucia’s husband milks their cows daily. And, with the several buckets of milk they get, daily, they make their own cheese. Due to no refrigeration, cheese is consumed quickly.

As a result, Lucia’s typical plate has rice, beans, fresh tortillas, plantains and cheese. At times, she may add a bit of vegetables or chicken. What’s more, thermoses of coffee and herbal tea stay on the table all day. 

Their water comes from a well. Likewise, light comes from solar panels. These homes have no outlets. Nor, flush toilets. Yet, they have large rooms with beautiful plants and trees surrounding them. 

Natural Healing Tips from Nicaragua

natural healing in NicaraguaInterestingly, while Lucia and I come from different backgrounds, many of her natural healing recipes are similar to mine.

Spinach.  My body craves spinach. Lucia says that it’s good for the blood and circulation. I know I need circulation boosts.

Basil.  Lucia makes a compress out of basil. She adds cedar, basilica and garlic for bruises or body pains. Basilica, she says, is good for the nerves and low blood pressure/fainting.

Cilantro helps restore the levels of iron in the blood, she says. It’s also good for colic. Ayurvedically speaking, cilantro is a great balancer for the doshas. I add it to all my juices and smoothies.

natural healing in NicaraguaGinger. Hands down, this one of my favorites. I make fresh ginger lemon tea, daily.  In my book, it’s good for the thyroid and digestion. It’s also a good dosha balancer, particularly for those with tendencies for respiratory issues. Not surprisingly, Lucia uses it for digestion, plus coughs. 

Licorice. Ayurvedic wisdom says licorice pacifies vata and pitta. Among other things, it is an expectorant.  Lucia claims that it is good for the throat. In particular, for people that are feeling hoarse.

Absinth (Wormwood). Not as common as some of the other herbs, this is one Lucia likes for internal and external infections.

Lemongrass. I once interviewed someone about the healing qualities of lemongrass, according to traditional Thai beliefs.  While it tastes great in stir fry, the essential oil smells wonderful, too. In India, not unlike in Thailand, lemongrass is credited for healing many disorders. Lucia says it’s good for de-stressing. Once stress is managed, you can minimize other dis-eases.

Epazote. Native to Central America, this herb is believed to be beneficial in the treatment of parasites. Lucia says it’s also good for cramps. 

Altamisa/Mugwort. This is your PMS relief, according to Lucia. Similarly, Ayurveda says it’s good for the uterus, and hormonal cramping or discomfort. 

Valerian. Lately, valerian is popular in the Western world. Many enjoy valerian essential oil to help them sleep at night. Ayurvedic recommendations for valerian include to ease the nerves and promote blissful sleep. It’s also suggested to help skin, digestion, and balancing of the doshas. So, it’s not surprising that Lucia uses this herb for insomnia and nerves.

Waste Not, Want Not

In the mountains where Lucia lives, nothing is wasted. They buy their own rice and oil, but most everything else is from their farm.

Lucia and her husband give the bad corn kernels to the livestock to eat. The corn ears are used as firewood in their wood-burning stove. 

They use all parts of plants. For example, Lucia takes resin from the banana root and infuses it in hot water to treat diarrhea. The leaves of oranges, along with many other fruit leaves, are used to flavor herbal teas. Plus, they provide medicinal oomph.

Don’t Leave Out the Leaf

herbalists natural healing vs Ayurveda

Orange.  This one, according to Lucia, is good for balancing the nerves. She also says it’s good for pregnant women. 

Guarumo. Here’s another example of taking leaves of a Mesoamerican tree for medicinal uses. Lucia suggests soaking the guarumo leaves in hot water and making compresses. These are good for intestinal woes like colitis.

Dandelion. These nasty weeds are getting popular among the natural healing crowds.  Lucia recommends it for anemia. Not surprising, it is loaded with vitamins and minerals, including iron.  In Ayurveda, dandelion is said to help balance the liver and blood. Dandelion tea is especially appropriate for counteracting pitta imbalances. 

Mango. Lucia uses mango leaves for teas, compresses and bathing. She says it’s good for inflammation. I add fresh ginger to my home-made mango juice. With cilantro, it’s refreshing and balancing for the doshas.  

Guava used for natural healingGuava. I have an extreme dislike for cough syrups. Primarily because they have a high alcohol content. Fruit leaf tea seems more soothing. Lucia says it works, and that it’s also good for nausea and vomiting. According to, guava is good to reduce phlegm. And, “Since, 1950s the leaves of Guava tree is used as a potential medicine to cure many diseases like Diabetes, cholesterol and heart problems.”

Limonaria. Here’s another leaf that shouldn’t be discarded. Lucia says it can be used for toothaches. Of course, a dentist is the best fix. But, when you’re isolated in the mountains, you need first-respondent natural healing care even more. 

Jocote. This is a Central American fruit.  Lucia takes the leaf and grinds it up. Then, she adds it to the juice, with lemon, to soothe ulcers. 

Cinnamon. Beyond the sticks, Lucia says the leaves are good in tea for pregnant women. She often mixes them with fruit leaves.

Finally, read more about life in this remote agricultural community. Or, learn more about Ayurvedic diets, on one of my blog posts. 

Ayurvedic practices of abhyanga and sneha

Laura Plumb On Sneha: Self-Care with Oils

I’ve always hated perfume. My mom used to buy cheap “toilet water” and douse the toilet with it. With my keen sense of smell, I retreat when someone laden with perfume is near me. On the other hand, I relish the scents of aromatherapy and natural oils (like coconut). They feel nurturing and nourishing to me. That’s why I’m a fan of the Ayurvedic practices of sneha and abhyanga.

Sneha and Abhyanga

Sneha, and abhyanga, are Ayurvedic methods of massage. At last month’s Shakti Fest , I gravitated to two of Laura Plumb‘s workshops. One was a hands-on sneha session. We anointed ourselves, or others, with oils. She passed around her home-made sneha mixtures. She shared tips for selecting essential oils, herbs and spices.

Laura explained that the word sneha means both oil, and love. Likewise, I was taught abhyanga is self-care, to nurture love of self.

The Nityananda Times explains, “Abhyanga comes from two words, ‘abhi’ and ‘anga’, meaning gentle movements over body parts. Like the experience of being loved, abhyanga can give a deep feeling of stability and warmth. Sneha is subtle; this allows the oil/love to pass through minute channels in the body and penetrate deep layers of tissue.”

sneha, abhyanga and essential oilsLaura told us, “To caress the body is a form of love. Not only is your skin going to get better, but at the deepest level, who you are you can be restored. There’s nothing wrong with you. Love is the healer.” We are all capable of self-healing, and are natural born healers. In Laura’s words, “You are the infinite…the light of the divine.” 

Sneha, and abhyanga are Ancient healing practices. The sages respected our planet’s energies essential for well being. For example, Ayurveda teaches us that faux foods and lab-made pills are not sattvic (calming/harmonious). Rather, one should look to nature for nutrition and optimizing wellness. 

Consider, Frankincense and myrrh were gifts of the Three Wise Men. Laura quoted Jesus, “Take down the best of our oils.” 

“Oil is thicker than water. Oil is everywhere. Internally and externally,” she explained. Therefore, sneha frequently. My Ayurvedic schooling urged daily oiling of hair, body and mouth. Nowadays, oil is getting its due respect. Even my dentist endorses “oil pulling.”

Personalized Sneha and Abhyanga

sneha, abhyanga and essential oilsIt should be noted that Ayurveda prescribes different oils, depending on one’s dosha.  For example, I offset my cold/dry vata tendencies with sesame oil. That’s because sesame is considering heating, whereas coconut oil is better suited for  hotter pitta types.

Additionally, one’s constitution changes throughout the day, season, and lifespan. Pre-adolescents tend to be in kapha (growth) cycles. Conversely, mature people are in their vata (air/ether) days. Hence, I learned in India that dry massage (with triphala) is an option for oilier kapha people, or seasons. But, as we age, we require more oil, internally and externally.

“After 40, it’s oleation, oleation, oleation.” Sesame oil is full of anti-oxidants and is an anti-inflammatory, Laura said. That makes it very good, even for for Alzheimer’s. The oil penetrates the skin, into the brain. Not surprisingly, another form of Indian massage is champi.  This traditional head massage gave way shampoo.

Speaking of which, I make my own. My essential oils are part of all my personal care products. No toxic ingredients. And, mine smell great, and do my body — and hair— good. Essential oils have multiple benefits. In fact, geranium, rosemary, citronella and eucalyptus, repel insects. 

Which essential oils are best for you? That depends on your constitution. 

First of all, vata types should use sesame oil as the carrier. Pitta (warm-natured) people do better with coconut or sunflower oil. Because sesame is anti-inflammatory, it’s the preferred oil for kapha.  Laura recommended any flowers and sandalwood for pitta. For vata, lavender (which I use nightly), rose or geranium (two other of my favorites). Other options: clary sage or jatamansi (which my Ayurvedic doctor prescribed for me).  Frankincense, which is considered good for everything, is suggested for the joints. Furthermore, brahmi is cooling, and beneficial to the nervous system.  

Under the Moonlight

Ayurvedic practices of abhyanga and snehaAs a student of Vedic astrology, Laura suggested mixing oils in a glass jar, on a full moon. Then, let the moon “bathe” the oils, outside. Actually, that’s how I treated my crystals recently.  

Speaking of gem stones, Laura says pearls are best during a moon period, versus rubies in a sun period. The sun is connected to the heart, or atma (soul).

Consequently, in a full moon, your true self shines. Creativity is a key word here. On the other hand, during a waning moon, one has less energy.  This is a time for going inward.  Reflection.

From another perspective, the moon is maternal. However, Venus is the sister, or princess, reflective of beauty, arts and all that inspires.

Vedic astrology, she said, is a moon-based system that shows us patterns in the universe. It takes the judgement out, but puts back responsibility, and gives us remedies. In a sense, it is the understanding of self.  “Each planet is like a deity.”  Goddesses Lakshmi and Saraswati are personifications of Venus. 

Similarly, from the Yin/Yang perspective, the moon is yin. Rather, yin is cooling and feminine. The sun is yang: masculine and hot.  Read more of my articles about the Yin Yoga and Ayurveda, or check out Laura’s tips.

Making Healthy Choices: It’s Time Texas

me and fredAs I passed the five decades marker, I decided to step up my fairly decent health and fitness regime.  I upped the ante on healthy choices, making diet and fitness a priority in my life. (Scroll down, to read about my personal path.)

Fortunately, as I stepped up my commitment to good health, I saw parallels in the city of San Antonio.

When I moved here in 1998, we were not a healthy city.

Today, in part, thanks to The Mayor’s Fitness Council, we can brag about many awards for our initiatives.  Free or low cost fitness activities are everywhere, as are farmers’ markets. San Antonio now offers bike paths, and low cost bike rentals. The parks have miles and miles of beautiful paths for skateboarding, biking, jogging, or just hiking. There are even fitness centers in some of the parks. People are embracing healthy lifestyles and healthy choices.

I’m no longer the oddball health food nut. People get it. They may not adopt the same healthy choices that I do, but there’s an understanding, respect and more and more, a desire to improve one’s health, and that of the community.

But, there’s still a long road ahead to erase past ingrained patterns of consuming junk food and television watching.

Welcome: It’s Time Texas.

healthy choicesHealthy choices, especially eating habits, develop over time, so changing them also requires time.

It’s Time Texas, for a decade, has advocated for a community-based holistic approach to well being, and a “culture of health.” The non-profit interviewed community stakeholders recently, and concluded that the current culture in Texas is “toxic” to health. Much of the blame has to go to the mass marketing and product placement of non-healthy items in grocery stores.

U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy stated that health has a branding problem. How can natural, nutritious foods go to bat against the billions of dollars spent by the fast food, beer, soda and processed food makers.

Poor health behaviors proliferate across all segments of the population, according to It’s Time Texas. Healthy behaviors can be complex, and motivations vary.

Former prosecutor, Susan Combs, sits on the board of It’s Time Texas. She says it’s not always easy for people to maintain a healthy diet and exercise plan.  “We are bombarded with options that can derail good intentions. All too often, making a healthy choice means going against the grain.”

Combs, and a host of others at a recent summit in San Antonio, said it’s time for Texas to change. That’s why It’s Time Texas is focused on encouraging people to embrace better eating habits, and active lifestyles.  The impact of a healthy community touches many areas, including our economy.

Statistics are Staggering

Obesity in TexasAlso at the summit was Dr. David Lakey, responsible for Population Health at UT Systems. Taking about the chronic illnesses facing our community, he said, “This is a huge problem.  One third of the population is obese, and one third is overweight.  We are spending over $9 billion a year.”

These levels are staggering, causing a health crisis in our state. Since 1980, obesity has doubled among adults in Texas, and tripled among children. As obesity contributes to many chronic diseases, these are also on the rise in the state where everything’s bigger.

Combs says the cost to those with lifestyle-related chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, is enormous. Patterns must shift, but there also needs to be access to affordable nutritious foods and fitness options. Choosing to be healthy requires an investment of time, and money.

“Every single one of us has to care,” (about the wellbeing of our community).

Healthy Habits Need to Start Early

Visiting a school a number of years ago, the alarm rang in Comb’s head. She watched an obese fourth grader insert his money in a vending machine. Right there, in the middle of the school day, on campus, he was feeding his unhealthy habits, and the school was silently endorsing this. It dawned on her that the schools were profiting from children making poor choices. Multinationals found loopholes to sell sugary non-nutritious food and drinks in the hallways. Schools even had agreed to exclusive beverage contracts with soda companies.

healthy choices“We were essentially treating the kids like ATM machines,” she said. “There’s an insidious failure to feed correctly. I never believed, then, that children could get type 2 diabetes. It was happening on our watch. Candy was sold in trolley cars to our kids.”

The vast majority of obese children will remain obese for the rest of their lives. What’s more, they will have a shorter lifespan than their parents. On the academic scale, research has proven that nutritious food and ample physical activity, leads to better test scores.

Healthy Choices are Wise Choices

Wise choices always make a difference. Pastor Carlos Ming, of Breath of Life Ministries, at the summit, acknowledged what yogis and researchers know. “People who practice (healthy/moral) life laws live longer…10-15 years longer.”

My Choices — Do You Remember TV Dinners and Tang?

nuts-237055_640As a kid, my mom baked sugar-free, bran-loaded homemade “cookies.”  She joked that they were more like hockey pucks. I don’t think any kid I knew would have gone beyond one bite of those “treats,” which I gobbled up appreciatively.  Our dinners began with salad every night, and the only peanut butter in the house was freshly ground at the local health food store.

I  went meat-free before I had head the word vegetarian. From the time I was 16, I went on what my mother called a meatless “phase.” That folly has progressed for 42 years. Now, I am vegan, sugar-free, peanut-free, corn-free and gluten free.

Nearly three decades ago, I perplexed family members in South America by refusing to give my child candy or soda.

In 1998, when I relocated to San Antonio, I wanted to be surrounded by Mexican food. Although I ate nutritious Mexican food most my life, Tejano style not on my radar.  I ended up passing up pretty much anything in Mexican-style businesses except guacamole (no chips).

Healthy Habits — Do You Remember Smoking in the Workplace?

Back in the day, I stood out like a spotted zebra beyond my food choices.

Nearly 30 years ago, I made my home a smoke-free zone.  Sounds normal. Except that I was living in South America, where cigarettes, at the time, were passed around like candy or water at business meetings.

Throughout my marketing communications career, I found it challenging to balance the love of my work with the knowledge that I was representing unhealthy products.  In 2011, I finally said basta ya, when I chose to open The Write Counsel, dedicated to positive transformations in our community.  Now, my conscious is clean, as I work considerably within the health/fitness/nutrition arena. I feel a sense of fulfillment when I support initiatives like the Mayor’s Fitness Council, San Antonio’s push for tobacco-free public areas, and It’s Time Texas. We can change ourselves, and our community. Take the first step to healthy choices by starting with yourself.



San Antonio Vegan Options at Munch On and Beyond

San Antonio Vegan Options

In 1998, when I arrived in Texas, there were no San Antonio vegan options. If I wanted to eat out, I typically went to Whole Foods. Today, there’s a great assortment of San Antonio vegan options, plus vegetarian, kosher and gluten free dining spots. Now, a new “multi-plex” or food court of gluten free plant-based food and drinks is opening on the northeast side of San Antonio, off Thousand Oaks on Wetmore.  Munch On and Beyond is now offering more San Antonio vegan options. 

Munch On’s unveiling is Sunday afternoon, July 17, where guests can sample items from all of the shops. Thereafter, operating hours will be 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.

Munch On and Beyond is the brainchild of Chris Sauve. “I came up with the concept of multiple businesses under one roof for a few reasons.  I have worked with these folks in the past and knew their work ethic and I love the concept of pop-up markets with multiple vendors.  We just decided to make it a permanent indoor market,” explains Chris.

She chose plant-based because she is vegan and against inhumane treatment of all animals.  Understanding that so many people have problems with gluten, she wanted more San Antonio vegan options to be gluten-free.  “Seeing people’s faces light up when faced with being able to eat anything on the menu, not having to pick and choose, is a delight.”

San Antonio Vegan Options at Munch On and BeyondFor many years, Chris worked for Vegeria, the city’s first vegan gluten-free restaurant. She worked in the kitchen, and waited on tables. More recently, she began preparing her own snack foods under the Munch On label that were sold at Vegeria.

Chris’ personal favorites that she’ll be selling at Munch On and Beyond are a trail mix, and stuffed dates. The dates are filled with Brazil nuts, then dipped in dairy-free dark chocolate and sprinkled with unsweetened coconut flakes.  “They taste like mini candy bars,” she says.

Michael Evans has known Chris for many years. He and his wife, Paloma, are owners of Enlighten Veggie Food To Go, one of the co-ventures within Munch On and Beyond. Enlighten will offer up traditional foods, like burgers, wings and tacos, made without any animal products.

I can attest to Mike’s skills with food. I’ve eaten many dishes prepared by him when he worked at Vegeria, and also at the local Krishna temple. I’ve seen him at work stirring the pots, and selecting spices without any recipes. Vegetarian cooking is a passion for him, so he’s always interested in learning new dishes.

San Antonio Vegan Options at Munch On and Beyond“I first started cooking vegetarian food by asking other cooks to share with me recipes of theirs that I liked, especially from Paloma who has traveled all over Latin America.” he says. “If you have the desire to do it, it will happen for sure. For my cooking, I love to keep my eye out for good cookbooks, especially at secondhand stores. I have a library of about 20 vegetarian cookbooks, two of which I probably bought new. I try to make myself cook something new from a cookbook once a week. An important aspect for me is making sure to cook, and eat, balanced. Make sure to eat some of grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, and nuts, and you will be good.”

For Mike, as with many vegetarians, eating plant-based is for health reasons, among others.

“When people ask me why I am vegetarian, or why they shouldn’t eat meat, I like to say all reasons: ecological, economical, spiritual, health, and for the treatment of the animals. Personally, I began eliminating certain meat out of my diet after studying the effects it has on your body and how your body actually processes and breaks down meat, causing many of the health problems most prevalent today. From there, I began to study the effects on the environment, the global economy, the karmic repercussions, the life of an animal in a slaughterhouse, etc. It is a lot.”

San Antonio Vegan Options at Munch On and BeyondMy Tea Soul is run by a mother/daughter pair that also is connected to Chris through Vegeria and the old Viva bookstore. My Tea Soul will have a variety of fair-trade teas and baked goods. “Tea can be relaxing. Tea can empower. Tea can be inviting,” says Michele Hernandez, My Tea’s mom about why they were inspired to focus on tea and desserts.

San Antonio Vegan Options at Munch On and BeyondVegeria will sell a variety of tamales to mix and match, and paletas. Before Vegeria opened its doors, I was buying tamales from the chef. I remember one day, it was almost like a drug sale. We met in a parking lot. I handed over the cash, and they gave me my fix: vegan stuffed tamales.  I’m not a tamale fan, but FredAnthony Garza is so creative in his tamal-making. He can blend a touch of India, Thailand, California and of course Mexico — without any lard, maggi cubes or other undesired ingredients. Pure taste and texture. I buy them by the dozen and keep them in my freezer. Great heat-and-serve meal or snack.

His paletas are new to San Antonio. Rather than your traditional sugar drenched paletas, FredAnthony’s are made with low-glycemic agave. “This is an amazing incubator to see a dream become a reality. We will offer seven different flavors. The line will tap into San Antonio culture with flavors named, SanAnto, la Chingona, La llorona, and Dulce De Piñata.

FredAnthony is another one of those guys who’s filled with passion. He does what he loves, and it comes across in what he serves, and how he serves it. Both Michael and Chris worked with him when he first opened his restaurant. “Both are amazing compassionate hard working individuals,” says Fred. “They brought so much to our team. When this opportunity came along along I was hesitant to say yes because of all my commitments but their ideals and passion inspired and motivated me to partner with them. It’s an amazing experience to see people this motivated and inspired to create change in SanAnto.

The final spark in the five-pointed star is Golden Horn of Plenty. It’s owner, Kaz Sephton is loved in San Antonio’s vegan community. Her love for all living things, and translating that to others, is her dharma. Her part in Munch On is a mini-resale shop, where some of the proceeds will benefit rescued dogs. Kaz, previously, was the very successful manager of several resale shops that benefitted animals.

For the love of animals, for the love of good food, for the love of supporting small businesses, for the love of San Antonio vegan options, check out Munch On and Beyond.

Vegan Yogi in New Orleans

The yoga that I follow isn’t just about the postures. Yoga goes beyond breath and body work. It’s a lifestyle. That’s why I’m a vegan yogi. I stopped eating animals 40 years ago, after visiting a slaughterhouse in Mexico. I said no to dairy and eggs once I realized the inhumane treatment that factory farming produces.

A Sattvic Vegan Yogi Lifestyle

While everyone chooses how to incorporate yoga into their lives, even if it’s watching a video once a week, or going to the gym for a workout, I try to take in the whole enchilada. That means that I refrain from consuming alcohol, caffeine, or animal products. Nixing of alcohol and caffeine is part of the Ayurvedic sattvic (clean and balanced) practice. I’m just as passionate about that part of my life, as I am the on the mat component.  So I’m a teetotaling, caffeine-free vegan yogi.

ahimsa, the first sutraThe foundation for yoga are the ancient teachings from the Indian subcontinent. The very first tenet is Ahimsa: do no harm/non-violence. That means to all beings, and oneself. That living of the first sutra goes with me everywhere.

I recently went to New Orleans for an Rx Road Trip. I filled up on kirtan, yoga, gong baths, meditation, and vegan food.

Yes, New Orleans is known for its seafood, pork and boos. However, there’s always a strong circle of like-minded passionate people I seem to encounter. We’re like magnets attracted to the same places and environments.

Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu

A vegan yogi lifestyleOne of my favorite mantras is Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu which speaks to ahimsa. Sukhino refers to free from suffering, and samastah is all beings. The mantra is frequently translated, and sung in English, as “may all beings be happy and free.”

Edgar Cooper owns Seed, an all vegan restaurant in a boho type neighborhood. Inside is a quote on the wall, “May all beings everywhere be happy and free.” Cooper says, “I really believe that humans are no different than any animal and we should respect them.  There is a natural Darwinian aspect to survival in the animal world, but I feel that humans have/should evolve and we should make compassionate choices.”

He sees meat-free eating has been on the rise since Katrina. In part, from transplants that want vegan food in New Orleans.

NOLA's Seed serves vegan jambalaya

NOLA style for the vegan yogi at Seed

For those yearning for a real taste of N’awlins, Seed tries to be “garden-based, NOLA taste.” They serve Cajun inspired dishes like Southern Fried Nuggets, Chili Cheese Fries, Creole Zucchini Wraps, Po Boys, Gumbo and the only vegan beignets in town.

Cooper has been vegan since 1995. “What started as 100 percent animal related has grown into more environmental and health.” Seed tries to ensure 100 percent non-GMO at Seed.  “A trip to Malaysia in 2013 really triggered a desire to make a difference and a number of things aligned so that I could start Seed.  Our dietary choices are creating a huge impact on the rest of the world.  The planet can’t sustain the farming required to feed farm animals to then feed humans,” he says.

Cooper is also concerned with all the hormones that are in today’s food chain. “I think that the hormones in meat products are well documented and causing significant changes in how children grow/develop.  The more whole and natural/organic foods that you can eat the better.”

Good Karma Cafe for the vegan yogiVegan New Orleans  agrees that the tide is turning. “Veganism is definitely growing in New Orleans, with more vegan businesses, groups, events and interest than ever before.” But, NOLA still has a ways to go, especially compared to places like Southern California or Austin, Texas. “Seafood and butter seem to be in just about everything,” adds Vegan New Orleans. “I’m trying to change that with this (Facebook) page. If people see what vegan options are out there, going vegan seems possible.”

Good Karma Cafe in New Orleans

Cabbage kofta plate at Good Karma Cafe in New Orleans

As a vegan yogi, I believe in Good Karma. There’s a 100 percent vegan restaurant with that name, underneath the Swan River Yoga Studio in NOLA.  The Good Karma Cafe is owned by life-long vegetarians. Open for breakfast, every day but Sunday, if I were in NOLA for a week, I could eat something different here for three meals a day. Good diverse selection of Southern Traditional cooking, Indian, Mexican, and modern fusion.  Great smoothies, juices, salads and bowls.

For more information on vegan NOLA, go to, the Vegan New Orleans Facebook page or read my article in the Houston Chronicle.

Vegan sag at Good Karma

Ayurvedic Diets and Food Journaling

In my Tummy Bust, Sugar Drop, and Gutsy Yoga signature workshop series, I stress Ayurvedic diets. Not calories, but what is appropriate for you based on learnings from Ayurveda, as well as a myriad of modern nutritionists and integrative doctors.

In Ayurveda, each person is unique. FThe Tummy Bust therapeutic yogaurthermore, what might be appropriate for you to eat when you’re eight, isn’t necessarily what you should be eating when you’re 80. Likewise, with Ayurvedic diets you need to alter your intake based on the weather, and other external conditions.

One thing is for sure. The Standard American Diet is SAD. Processed foods are made with so many artificial flavorings and additives, that they don’t resemble much anything grown in the earth. Over time, our tastebuds get used to what may be harmful.  Thriving on routines, some wake up daily to savor eggs and bacon, while others scarf down coffee and a bagel with cream cheese on the go.  Lunchtime favorites may be a sandwich and chips, or burger and fries. After all the carbs, fats and sodium, some may hunger for pizza and beer, or pasta and wine, for dinner.

vegetables high in pranaThe yogic or Ayurvedic diets are based on consuming foods high in prana (life source) and sattvic (neutral, non-mood altering).  So a box of cereal that’s been sitting in the cupboard for a year or so has little prana, hence, isn’t going to give you much fuel.

Ayurvedic diets frequently use herbs and spices to balance the doshasAyurvedic diets seek balance, in part, based on herbs and spices. For example, making your own tea with fennel, coriander and cumin seeds can be very soothing for many people. In the summer time, you may want to add fresh mint to your green juices or smoothies, whereas in the winter, cinnamon, black pepper, ginger and turmeric tea or golden milk may be more appropriate.

At the same time, we need to realize that there are more and more food allergies and intolerances, most of which are to a few food groups, which are easy to avoid, especially if you’re following a yogic or vegan diet.

cinnamon ayurvedic spiceUsually, food allergies present with “normal” responses such as gas, bloating, itchiness, cravings, headaches, fatigue, irritability, or dark circles under the eyes.  However, some can be fatal. Food sensitivities, i.e. gluten intolerance, are harder to diagnose.

A journal can help you identify what culprits are in your pantry, and what makes you lethargic or cranky.

Oprah’s longtime coach, Bob Greene is an author of several bestsellers. He recommends journaling as a powerful way to combat food addictions. In “The Life You Want,” he writes “…certain foods set off an explosion of feel-good brain chemicals, so you go back for more…the pathway in the brain from trigger to treat is well worn…breaking the habit may prove tough…Addictive foods tend to have pumped-up flavors, tastes and textures…It’s hard for your average blueberry or compete.”

coffee-1105112__180People joke about their morning coffee, or how candy wires the kids. Yet, because caffeine and sugar are part of the Standard American Diet, many accept these mood altering foods as normal.

Joel Fuhrman, M.D. says the drug of choice for most Americans is food. The father of the nutritarian eating explains that when our bodies absorb toxins routinely, we rely on them. We are addicted to them, and have a hard time not consuming them. Giving up sweets, java, bread, cheese or even processed foods can cause irritability, cramping, low fever and spasms, as you go through withdrawal.

JJ Virgin, author of “The Virgin Diet,” recommends a 21-day detox to monitor your reactions.  JJ recommends eliminating sugar and artificial sweeteners, soy, gluten, eggs, peanuts, dairy, and corn from the get go. After three weeks, you can re-integrate one food at a time, monitoring your reactions.

Deepak Chopra, M.D., in “Grow Younger, Live Longer,” suggests a log to identify toxic emotions and toxic foods. “Studies have shown that journaling about upsetting emotional experiences can improve your immune function, as well as help you gain clarity and insight. Toxins must be identified and eliminated from your body, mind and soul.”

Bob Greene adds that people should identify emotional triggers. It may be a time of day, such as when you’re cooking in the kitchen, or when the kids are asleep. Or, maybe it’s when you’re on deadline.

food diaryWhether it’s a computer spreadsheet, a spiral notebook or a hard bound journal, I encourage my yoga therapy clients to record the following for at least a month.

  1. Sankalpa. Start with a positive intent related to diet and health.
  2. Digestion. Note any discomfort, gas, bloating, etc. List frequency of bowel movements, size and shape, and any abnormalities.
  3. Liquid intake. How many cups of water or herbal teas did you consume, daily? How many carbonated or caffeinated drinks? Sugary drinks/juices?
  4. Food intake. List details, based on your personal health needs. Charts can include food items, portions and times consumed, calories, carbs and sugar loads.
  5. Exercise. What physical activity did you do each day, for how long, and what level of exertion?
  6. Meditation and/or breathwork. Both are important for lifestyle change. Note what practices you did, and for how long, each day.
  7. Sleep. Include the number of hours, and quality of your sleep, each night.
  8. Weight. Weigh yourself once a week, upon rising.
  9. Blood pressure/blood sugar. If you have high blood pressure or blood sugar, conduct frequent self checks to notice spikes or dips.
  10. Energy level and mood. Did you feel energetic after eating that piece of chocolate? Were you depressed the first week? Release your feelings here.

Whether you want to settle your tummy, lose a few pounds, or better regulate your blood sugar, food journaling is an essential piece, along with attention to principles of Ayurvedic diets. Contact me for more information or to register in one of my therapeutic workshops.

Note: Another version of this article originally appeared in Yoganonymous on January 13, 2016. 


Engine 2 Diet by Rip Esselstyn

Plant Based Diets in 2016

Plant-Strong by Rip EsselstynWe are in a new era. 2016. 

That’s what Rip Esselstyn, author of “The Engine 2 Diet”  and “Plant-Strong” says about nixing blood, pus and guts on your plate, in favor of plant based diets. “Meat consumption is something we need to say goodbye to,” he adds.

Globally, there are 375 million vegetarians. The Humane Society confirms that veganism is becoming mainstream, as the percentage of meat consumed, yearly, continues to slide downhill.  While the vast majority of our population does not identify with being vegetarian or vegan, more than one third of Americans buy meat alternatives, and dairy-free milks and cheeses are also getting more and more popular. This month, a vegan butcher shop will open in Minneapolis, with more than 35 vegan cheeses, meats and butters.

Perhaps one of the biggest indicators is the Barnard Medical Center, in Washington, D.C.  Opening this month under the vision and guidance of Dr. Neal Barnard, its mission is to combat disease through plant-based diets. “By comparing disease rates in vegetarians vs. meat-eaters, it is clear that a meaty diet is responsible for hundreds of billions of dollars in medical costs annually,” he says.

Esselstyn has long been a proponent of vegan lifestyles. His father, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, was one of the lead researchers in “The China Study” and the documentary, “Forks Over Knives,” both of which gave startling documentation as to the health benefits of no burgers or milkshakes. Both Dr. Barnard and Dr. Mehmet Oz have been enthusiastic supporters of father and son’s declarations. Dr. Oz, a cardiothoracic surgeon applauds the film, “I need all of you to see it… This could be the Hail Mary of medicine.”

Rip Esselstyn of Engine 2 DietAfter the elder Esselstyn’s groundbreaking studies proved the health benefits of foregoing junk food, meat, dairy and fats, Rip tested the diet among his fellow fire fighters in Austin, Texas.  These are the kinds of guys that pose with their hose, to show off their six-pack abs, divine delts and buff behinds. They are uber macho men that thrive on meat and potatoes.  So they think.

Rip, himself a consummate athlete, proved real men prefer spinach. Raised a vegetarian, he tried to dispel stereotypes and myths. “I used to shake men and say, ‘Dude, you do not need meat.’”

Rip convinced them that plant based diets was the way to go. He started his 28-day challenge with the guys in the firehouse, one of whom was on track for an early heart attack. All benefited. Then, in 2006, 58 people took the Engine 2 challenge. The participants lowered their cholesterol levels by 40 points, on average.

Now Rip is somewhat of a celebrity. With two books, and an array of healthy foods with the Engine 2 Diet labeling, he’s also a Whole Foods ambassador. At the San Antonio original Whole Foods store, Rip recently talked about why plants are the ultimate strong food.

Rip Esselstyn of Engine 2 Diet, proponent of plant based dietsAngela was in the crowd to welcome Rip. She was diagnosed four years ago with a trifecta of Type 2 Diabetes, hypertension and depression. Her doctor steered her to a high protein diet, and meds. That didn’t sit right with her or her husband, so they jointly began Rip’s diet. After three months, Angela lost 25 pounds. She’s no longer on any medication for diabetes or hypertension. To top it off, she kicked depression out of her life. She’s eating the right carbs, and cutting out all animal proteins and fats.  Her husband lost 60 pounds, and is on track to lose a few more. His side effect? He said goodbye to depression and anxiety.

She admits it wasn’t easy to go full force at first. In fact, she tried a few times, before she got comfortable with it. Now, Angela is a big advocate of The Engine 2 Diet.

“Doctors have no background in nutrition,” says Rip. A thought that has been echoed by many. They are swayed by big Pharma, and the promises made by the sales reps.

About half of Americans are at risk for heart disease.  “It’s not because we have bad genes, but because we eat bad food,” says Rip. “Statin drugs hasn’t made a dent.”

Engine 2 Diet by Rip Esselstyn, about plant based dietsBeyond fostering healthier hearts with plant based diets, “We can slow down, halt and even reverse, in some cases, cancer. This is the cutting edge.  Putting the responsibility on your shoulders,” he says about lifestyle management and change in diets.

For those that think you need your seafood for Omega 3s, Rip says just one teaspoon, daily, of hemp, flax or chia is a much better source.  The problem goes far beyond big Pharma and doctors who are not nutritionists. Habit is hard to break. We are conditioned by our culture to see meat and dairy as fundamental, when, in fact, the cow’s milk is for calves, and eating the flesh of animals requires 90 percent more resources than eating plant proteins.

“We have to be de-programmed. (Good) Carbs are not a bad thing. Dairy is the most insidious thing out there now. All of it is loaded with casein, the number one tumor promoting ingredient.”

For those wanting to go deeper than the books or movie, Rip, his father, and other colleagues run five weekend immersion programs every year, along with a one-week full immersion in Sedona, Arizona. They claim that after one week on The Engine 2 Diet, participants can see that they CAN reverse diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Learn more about Rip’s recipes and FAQ about plant based diets, or join the Forks Over Knives Facebook page.

vegetarian in mexico city

Vegetarian in Mexico City

Vegetarian food in Mexico City

Mexico, yoga, and vegetarianism are probably three things in my life that I’m most passionate about.  The link between vegetarianism and yoga should be obvious (read my other blogs on ahimsa), but I opted for a cruelty-free diet when I was only 16 years old, a few years before my yoga journey began.

I have practiced yoga in Mexico for decades, earned my teacher training certificate in Mexico, and have led therapeutic yoga workshops in Mexico. I feel a very deep connection to yoga and spirituality when I’m in the land of the Maya and Aztecs.

So what’s the link between giving up meat and Mexico? I became a vegetarian in Mexico City 40 years ago. I often opted for atole in the morning, maybe quesadillas con rajas at lunchtime and mole for dinner as a treat.

This year’s Thanksgiving dinner for me was in Mexico City, and I relished flor de calabaza quesadillas, my all-time favorite.

Over the years, I’ve gotten stricter with my diet. As is the norm among vegetarians in India, I don’t touch eggs. For many years, I had a distaste for them. I don’t eat anything white, except an occasional tofu dish. Dairy is off limits, as are simple carbs. Stateside, about the only thing I’ll order in a Mexican restaurant is guacamole with corn tortillas. But in Mexico, there are always great choices for vegetarians, and even vegans, as long as you aren’t looking for a fancy six-course meal, which I don’t condone, ever.

Flor de calabaza

Flor de calabaza

Traditional Mexican restaurants will often have nopales, flor de calabaza, huitlacoche or champinones as part of their offerings, and of course rice, beans and tortillas are good protein sources for those that eat them.

While being vegetarian in Mexico City isn’t like Austin or Southern California where vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free options are frequently noted on the menu, I’ve found it usually easy to request no meat, dairy, sugar or wheat.

Nopal salad at Villa Maria in Polanco

Nopal salad

However, watch out for hidden animal products.  Ask if the beans are made with lard, or if the rice, or mole, is made with chicken stock, Maggi or Knorr. And stress no cheese on anything, as white cheese crumbles commonly adorn vegetable dishes.

Spinach and rajas on the brasero Speaking of cheese, I’m big on quesadillas from street vendors. Although quesadillas may connote they’re made with cheese, there are dozens of options for quesadillas, many of which are vegan. I love street food, in part, because I can see what I’m going to eat, and how it’s being prepared.

The street side braseros have always been a favorite for me.  I like to see what my food looks like before it’s hidden by the tortilla or masa. One morning, I found a very clean stand with two women patting tlacoyos and quesadillas into shape.  When I inquired about animal-product-free choices, they named too many for me to remember. They prepared me a tlacoyo filled with pureed fava beans and topped with nopales. As that was being cooked, they made me a quesadilla filled with red peppers and spinach. It may have been my favorite meal during this trip, and only cost 26 pesos (about $1.50).

Fresh mango with chili and lime in Mexico City

Fresh mango with chili and lime

Another made-to-order street side favorite are fresh coconuts, fruit cups or jugos. I found juicing kiosks everywhere in my last trip to Mexico City. The most common green drink recipe was celery, parsley, nopales and grapefruit. One added chia. Another sprouts. All are made on the spot, so you can control exactly what goes in, and how much of each ingredient.

If street food isn’t your cup of tea, special order wherever you go. Just be sure you have a good command of the language, or a translator.  Villa Maria, for example, is a large established Mexican restaurant in the Polanco neighborhood. The menu has a number of salads which are vegetarian and gluten free. Among the botanas are several vegetarian options.

Of course there are plenty of Asian bistros where meatless meals are easy to find. Plus, there are falafel fast food places sprouting up throughout the city.

El Rey del Falafel is both vegan and kosher/parve. Since kosher rules don’t allow mixing of meat and dairy, parve means neither milk nor meat based foods.

A vegan or vegetarian diet often goes far beyond ahimsa. It can be a moral, political or health-conscious affirmation, as well. For some people, whether they are kosher, or vegetarian/vegan, they want to avoid cross contamination and prefer separate grills and utensils for meat and dairy. That’s just one reason why many vegans prefer to frequent vegan establishments, so that you know that no pepperoni or cheese will fall into your salad, and that the cutting board and knife have not been slicing ham or chorizo.

La Maison Organique in Colonia Condesa, Mexico City

Olga Lisbona is the owner of La Maison Organique in the trendy Condesa neighborhood. She became a vegan after she learned about the treatment of dairy animals and chickens, and the negative impact on our health. Her personal commitment to a chemical- and pesticide-free plant-based diet led her to open La Maison as a vegan restaurant and boutique.

“I think that Mexico is still a difficult place for vegans,” she said. “Most restaurants have vegetarian options,” she acknowledges.  For vegans, choices are more limited, and she feels vegan restaurants are the best bet. “Besides our concern for good flavor, we add the best ingredients to our juices, smoothies and dishes, such as super foods that have a positive impact on maintaining health and staving off illnesses for those with a vegan diet.”

Vegan breakfast of caffeine-free chai and quinoa oatmeal at Forever Vegano in Mexico City

Vegan breakfast of caffeine-free chai and quinoa oatmeal

No more pbj sandwiches at every meal. La Maison offers matcha cupcakes, goji berry pancakes or edamame burgers. And, you can buy quinoa bars, sweet potato chips fried in coconut oil, hemp seeds and chai super food protein powder to go.

La Maison’s clientele is a mix of strict vegans and those that may be a bit uncomfortable pouring coconut or almond milk in their coffee. “I think there’s still a lot more to do in the area of education and consciousness. It can be hard for people to change their habits.”

Forever Vegano is another vegan spot, on the other side of Insurgentes, in Colonia Roma. Forever serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Their caffeine-free chai was delicious, as was the oatmeal made with quinoa. They have several soups, salads and  desserts and make their own plant-based cheeses and faux meats.  The menu has standard Mexican and American fare like a reuben sandwich or mac and cheese. Some of the dishes are flavored with a bit of an Indian or Asian flair, as seen in their Baja Califlower tacos or Quinoameshi bowl made with soy sauce, peanuts and ginger.

For more vegetarian restaurants in Mexico City, consult Happy Cow,, or

Enmoladas at the all vegan Noveno Elefante in Monterrey

Plant-based Mexican Food

Leonardo Da Vinci, vegetarianFor more than 40 years, I’ve been going back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico. When I was 16, I visited a meat packing plant in the state of Zacatecas. From then on, I vowed not to contribute to the slaughter of animals.

Back in 1971, the book Diet for a Small Planet touted complementing amino acids to boost the protein content of plant-based foods. I was pleased to learn that the traditional foods of Mexico, and many other cultures, routinely combine rice, beans and corn or dairy to aid the animo acid balance.

Most Mexican traditional foods are packed with protein, and today we know it’s not necessary to complement those amino acids. When I lived in Mexico I ate a lot of plant-based Mexican food: beans, mole, nopales, flor de calabaza, masa and salsa.  My favorite breakfast pick-me-up, as a college student in Mexico City, was a licuado de mamey, with cinnamon. Today, cinnamon is one of those wonder spices that I tell my clients to consume.

Of course with the modernization and Americanization of Mexican foods, protein and nutrients are often lost.  So it’s not surprising that Mexico is now one of the countries with the highest rates of obesity and diabetes related deaths in the world.

In 2014, junk food expenditures in Mexico were 30 percent of the household budget.  Much of that money was spent at corner tiendas de abarrotes which is where most of the Pepsi and Coca Cola profits come from, too.  According to Global Research, the soft drink industries have taken over the corner stores. Approximately 90 percent of their sales, in the last ten years, are from tiendas de abarrotes. That doesn’t mean Mexicans are just spending money on soda. Remember, the big manufacturers of empty caloric drinks are also suppliers of other junk foods, including sweet and salty packaged snacks.

plato buen comer alimentación sugerida en MexicoIt’s hard to butt heads against big bucks, but the Mexican government has public information campaigns aimed to redirect people’s palates back to where they once were. The new Plato Buen Comer, is pretty much a plant-based Mexican food dish. People are encouraged to eat primarily fruit and vegetables, combine grains with legumes, and limit animal products to only 10-15 percent of the diet.

This summer, I spent time in a very remote part of Baja, far from any major grocery store or mercado. Yet, I was still able to order hand-made vegan sopes made with cabbage, or gorditas made with nopalitos. At one restaurant, the chef made me tacos with rajas and mango, a beautiful and tasty combination. During the hot sunny days, nothing was better than a green drink made out of nopales, alfalfa, oranges, celery and parsley.

Vegetarians, vegans, or people following a kosher diet, in Mexico, should be sure be on the lookout for invisible animal products like lard, Maggi or Knorr. For those that are concerned about cross-contamination, juice bars and vegetarian restaurants are not as uncommon as they were when I first went on my veggy kick, four decades ago.

Take Monterrey, the third largest city in Mexico with four million residents. There are now about 15 plant-based Mexican food options.  Following is a rundown, of places I recently visited, for karma-free food a lo Regio.  Check out their Facebook pages, or call, before you go.

Vegan chilaquiles at NutriSano in Monterrey

Vegan chilaquiles at NutriSano in Monterrey

  • Smack dab in the middle of the historic district, on Galeana 1018, is Nutrisano. This is one of the few places that serves coffee with soy, I’m told. It’s open for breakfast, primarily serving egg dishes. I special requested vegan migas. At lunchtime, they have a full buffet. Nutrisano prepares fajitas, picadillo or milanesa using soy or gluten. Kids can choose from vegetarian nuggets, pizza or burgers.
  • The Barrio Antiguo is one of my favorite areas in Monterrey, just east of the MacroPlaza. Abasolo Street is veggie heaven. Trece Lunas is a very hippy style, comfy espacio multicultural. They boast a daily vegan special, and are planning a wider variety of vegan offerings.
  • Across the street, there is a doorway with a barber shop on the left, and a cafe on the right. The unmarked Los Falafel at Abasolo 853 has enclosed and open-air sitting areas. The menu is very limited, but it’s all vegan. Falafel in pita. Falafel in a flour tortilla. Falafel burger. Falafel with hummus. All, modestly priced, open from 1-10 p.m.
  • Pick from dozens of pure-veg items at the Hare Krishna buffet in Monterrey

    Pick from dozens of pure-veg items at the Hare Krishna buffet in Monterrey

    Hare Krishna, is one of the many restaurants, around the world, run by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Just a few blocks west of the MARCO museum, on Abasolo #916, it’s open for lunch and dinner, Tuesdays through Sundays, and has indoor and outdoor eating areas. Hare Krishna is 100 percent vegetarian and egg-free. Some of the dishes are made with butter or milk, but there’s a good enough selection for even the pickiest of eaters, like me. There were no soy or gluten-based dishes when I visited, which I see as a plus. I’m not a fan of green beans, but I ate every one that was prepared with a rich peanut sauce.  I don’t eat or drink anything sweetened, so the server offered me a freshly-made lemonade, without sugar.

  • Around the corner, on Diego de Montemayor 1120, is a vegetarian cafe call Teshanta. It’s a comfortable tea and coffee house with several mediterranean and Mexican favorites made with soy or other meat-free ingredients. The tabouli, made with red cabbage, was better than most I’ve had, and the falafel balls were served with an avocado dressing. Teshanta is open Tuesdays through Sundays until 10 or 11 p.m. and also has an outdoor patio.
Vegan mediterranean food with a Mexican twist at Teshanta in Monterrey

Mediterranean food with a Mexican twist at Teshanta in Monterrey

  • On that same block is Spiral Radiante. Anga is a graphic designer who relishes the foods, cultures and spirituality of her native Mexico, and India. She’s been a vegan for more than a decade and is intent on eating pure, organic kosher grade foods. She’s also a great cook, so opened Monterrey’s only vegan sattvic restaurant, serving daily specials or menu items Tuesdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. She’s using her tiny space to have events, does henna tattoos and sells herbal analgesic pomades, spiritual books and Indian textiles. Of course her food is the core business. Her kitchen is a fusion of India and “Meshico.” For a very low price, she’ll serve you a good sized salad peppered with kale, carrots and more, a soup, main meal, drink and dessert.
  • Just north of the Barrio Antiguo is the Santa Lucia river walk. Another Krishna run restaurant is in this neighborhood, immediately behind the MUNE museum complex, on Jose Ignacio Ramon 820.  Govinda serves a buffet from noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sundays. Eat as much as you like for only 79 pesos, or 120 for two on Wednesdays. The offerings switch frequently, but there are always salads, a dal-like soup, rice, pasta and samosas. My favorite was what looked like falafel patties, made from cabbage. I ate jicama slices for dessert, though there’s plenty with more sugar content.
  • Enmoladas at the all Plant-based Mexican Food restaurant, Noveno Elefante in Monterrey

    Enmoladas at the all vegan Noveno Elefante in Monterrey

    A bit farther north of the Santa Lucia area, on Rafael Platon Sanchez 226, is an incognito vegan heaven. Noveno Elefante is a comfortable place with three tiny sitting rooms, and bench like tables and chairs. Alberto Cepeda opened the restaurant after nine years of dreaming about it. He didn’t want a commercial feel, but a homey look, which is one reason why there’s no sign in the door or on the front of the building. He chose the elephant to represent his business because “It’s the largest animal on earth, is very peaceful, and has a lot of contact with the herd.” When they die, he explains, they gather together for a ritualistic goodbye. Alberto was also intent on creating homage to his beloved traditional cuisine, without using any animal products.  “The best way to respect them (animals) is by not eating them,” he says. He acknowledges that most his customers eat meat, but feels that any reduction in slaughter is helpful. Once they try his dishes, they come back, refer others, and realize there are alternatives to good healthy and filling meals. I had the best vegan enmoladas, ever. Alberto’s sister is a server, and mom and dad are in the kitchen, working to serve guests from noon to 10 p.m. Plus, his mother opened a vegan bakery, Atanor, around the corner.

  • A large vegetarian buffet is at Trigo Limpio in Monterrey

    A large vegetarian buffet is at Trigo Limpio in Monterrey

    Head north a few more blocks, and west to Trigo Limpio at 339 N. Zaragoza. From the outside, this looks like any other large, clean, bakery. But it’s all vegetarian and they sell an assortment of health food products, too. Upstairs, is a large cafeteria. Fill a plate for 89 pesos, or pay 118 for all you can eat.  There’s a salad bar, dessert, and plenty of Mexican style entrees, many of which are made with seitan or soy.  Trigo Limpio has several styles of tamales, and hot foods, however, much of what they serve is vegetarian versus vegan, and gluten-free folks will need to be careful. Nonetheless, it’s a large, clean place, with loads of offerings.

  • Finally, if you can’t find what you’re looking for, maybe the vendor will find you. Pachamama is one of many food trucks that are starting to park at different locations throughout Monterrey. Pachamama is all vegan, offering ceviche tostadas made with mango and corn, smoked portabella burgers, taquitos or gyros.

Buen provecho.


Vegan sag at Good Karma

Good Karma-Free Food in Utah

carrotsMy zen-like attitude almost disappeared in Salt Lake City. Two servers, in two days, responded to my request for a vegan meal by saying, “We have chicken piccata.” The third said, “Do you eat meat?”

In search of good karma-free food, I found establishments in Utah with great names like Good Karma, Buds, Zest and Sage. Certainly better than In-N-Out, Dirty Dicks, or, I kid you not, La Majada (look up the meaning) which was a popular place in my hometown.

I’ve been meat-free since before the term vegan became common. So, I cut people some slack. But when the former president of the United States gives up animal products in his diet, and Los Angeles adopts Meatless Mondays, you’d think we’re getting closer to mainstreaming it.

Yoga is pretty much on every Main Street in America, but the vegetarian lifestyle that traditionally is a part of yogic practices, (for many) was left in India along with meditation, breath work and the other branches of yoga.

I believe yoga must be a personal practice. For some, their bodies may ask for hot yoga. Others, meditation or mantras. Many seem to be attracted to flow. Everyone is different. Likewise, the diet must be a personal choice. Go with the flow, of your inner senses to nourish yourself with what’s best for you.

hominyFor me, my pathway to yoga began as a young teen, and included the vegetarian lifestyle. I felt almost like the Kaitlyn Jenner in my circles. No one understood me.  People thought I was “going through a phase.”  I was influenced by absolutely no one in my path, except my inner voice.  I chose to forego many meals, and fast, rather than eat what everyone else chose, or was served.

I was the brunt of many jokes. In the 1970s and 80s, I lived in Mexico and Latin America, rather than California where healthy and plant-based foods were gaining momentum. In Ecuador, a typical lunch for me was homemade corn nuts or hominy I bought from street vendors.

My diet, over the years, has not always been healthy, or varied. Choices were not always available. Just like at the Salt Lake City Convention Center, where two days in a row, I couldn’t get a plant-based meal. Sometimes, I’ll just ask for an apple. But the ignorant responses from the wait staff sent me to search, and support, vegan establishments.

Just like pretty much every major city nowadays, vegans have a choice in Salt Lake. What may be surprising is that one place, Buds, is on BuzzFeed’s 24 Vegan Restaurants That Belong On Your Culinary Bucket List.

Salt Lake was number seven on PETA’s Top Vegan-Friendly Cities of 2013. One year prior, VegNews named Salt Lake “The Next Great Vegan City,” beating Austin, Texas, in the magazine’s first “Vegan City Showdown. I think Austin’s pretty hard to beat. It’s a vegan’s wonderland, with most mainstream restaurants offering veggie or vegan items.

Zest's Thai Sunrise

Zest’s Thai Sunrise

Getting back to Salt Lake, in the heart of downtown, Zest is 100 percent vegetarian, gluten-free and 90 percent vegan restaurant. Zest has a wide assortment of dishes with an international flair. There is a curry dish. A flatbread pizza. Cuban black bean soup. Pasta-free manicotti.  A Moroccan bowl. Brussels sprouts to die for, and the healthiest dairy-free, gluten-free cheese bites.

Sage first opened as a food cart in 1998, but relocated to the Central 9th business district. Sage’s Cafe offers a variety of bowls and salads, along with add-ons like blackened tempeh or tofu. Sage’s also serves up several gluten-free desserts including almond flour bars or chocolate peanut butter brownies. Sage’s Cafe is run by the same person who owns Vertical Diner, Cafe SuperNatural and Cali’s Natural Foods. Both Sage’s and Vertical Diner list when dishes are gluten free or can be gluten free (CGF). Back in 2009, Vertical was on PETA’s Top 10 list for best Faux Chicken Sandwiches.

Quinoa a la huancaina at Sage's

Quinoa a la huancaina at Sage’s

For those who are headed to Park City, while there are no official vegan diners, there are vegan and vegetarian-friendly options. In addition to the ample selections at Whole Foods, there is a Fairweather Natural Foods community market and cafe. Beyond the non-perishables at Fairweather, there are healthy soups and salads, plus organic fruit and green juices, made to order. In the refrigerator section, there are small kale salads, sprouted garbanzo hummus and plenty of coconut milk or other healthy drink options. Fairweather also has a variety of gluten free, sugar free and/or vegan bakery items including cheese scones, zucchini chocolate chip bars, brownies and muffins.

Vegan sag at Good Karma

Vegan sag at Good Karma

Half a mile up from Fairweather is Good Karma with an outdoor seating area. The Sunday brunch menu offers baked challah french toast, huevos rancheros, salmon omelets and oatmeal or granola bowls. But the standard daily Indo-Persian menu is always available. Vegans may want to take advantage of the sag and korma, both of which are dairy-free.

Good Karma’s owner, Houman Ghohary, has been featured on Rachael Raye and will be on the Food Network’s Beat Bobby Flay.

“One of the reasons we chose the name Good Karma, was we try to impact the world one day and one customer at a time,” said Ghohary who is an advocate of healthy eating and healthy habits. The restaurant is a farm to market vendor with a personal connection with the farmers’ community.  “Our eggs are cage free. All of our curries are gluten-free, and all our vegetarian curry is vegan. We cook everything with grapeseed or coconut oil,” notes Ghohary who opened his Park City spot in 2006 after working all over the world.