A woman on a mission
Tuesday, January 31, 2017
2016….all I can say is "wow". What a year we just had. And if I am going to be completely honest, this last year pretty much put me on my heels. I guess that is not completely true, because even with all of the energy that made me want to hide in a cave, there certainly were some successes and forward motion. If you follow Numerology at all then you may already know that 2016 was a "9" year, which is about concluding cycles which make room made for new starts. It was also my personal "7" year which is all about reflection, learning and self analysis. Well believe me, I experienced all of it this past year.
If you follow my blog or Facebook page at all, then you may have noticed a distinct lack of blog posts and food pictures. I have to say that I felt very uninspired to write and post this last year. If you recall, I started out last year with a bit of revelation about my ongoing health and diet challenges. I guess I have now learned to not get feeling too smarty pants with the idea that I have obtained mastery over the infinitely nuanced inner workings of my own personal universe. After feeling that I was finally on the correct track to feeling good most of the time, New Year 2016 knocked me back to the ground in a big way. I was left feeling baffled, knowing that I was obeying doctor's orders, watching my diet carefully (or so I thought) and taking all of my prescribed medicine. I spent the first few months following up with my gastroenterologist and tried to be compliant, yet explore the idea that we may be barking up the wrong tree. I had become very frustrated because I found that even though I was doing everything "right", I had protracted periods where food began to feel like the enemy rather than my medicine. Now my love of cooking had a big shadow cast upon it. I found that I ended up just making what ever would please the audience I was cooking for. If it was the adults in my household, it was rather pedestrian (non-spicy) comfort food, which I would attempt to interject as big of healthful components as I could. If the children were home, my mission was to attempt child friendly - stealth vegetable concoctions. But about half of my time is spent alone and cooking for one. Normally, this is my time to experiment and use wild spices from all over the world. I am always gluten free and typically have a very low meat and dairy diet. I don't mind eating my own vegan experiments and inventive substitutions for meat and dairy. By partway in to last year, it almost didn't seem to matter what I ate - I felt rotten. I poured through my brain to figure out what was setting me so far backwards and decided to add oats to my eliminate list (for now), after realizing a big bowl of oatmeal had preceded my biggest flare up at the first of the year. I became a little disenchanted with the gastroenterologists recommendations and felt like there had to be more to the story.
I have always been interested in nutrition and health but I delved in even deeper and pursued all sorts of rabbit holes in effort to get some kind of answers. Fortunately, information about such subjects within the world wide web is vast, although, it is not lost on me what a sticky wicket it is. For every informative site I find in the ethers, there is another that would have us burying entrails every third cycle of the full moon… (just kidding). But you get the point: when you rely on your own research, you must attempt to vet your source as best you can. I am also a big believer in letting my "gut" weigh in on the veracity of the information. When it comes to herbal supplements, tinctures, homeopathic and mineral supplements, I treat them with the seriousness of a pharmaceutical. The reality is that any one of those things has the potential to be an effective treatment in health care if applied correctly. They also have the power to have undesired effects and / or interactions with pharmaceuticals. That is why my recommendation would be to always consult a professional- especially if you all ready take pharmaceuticals. I will say that I have added some supplements to my regimen which I have found to be beneficial. I also shared that information with my GP and GI docs, which was important since I was started on a new prescription medicine as well. However, I am a firm believer that you can not medicate or supplement yourself enough to replace good nutrition. I have discovered that some GI (gastrointestinal) systems are so sensitive that, even if you are eating a diet that would make a monk proud, you can still find yourself in a world of hurt (literally).
I made several discoveries that have improved my personal health including; the SIBO (Small Bowel Bacterial Overgrowth) diet, Lo FODMAP (Fermentable Oligo-,Di-, Mono-sacchrides and Polyols) and the GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) diet. It sounds complicated and it was to some extent. While each of these diets are intended for slightly different purposes, they had a lot of similarities. Sifting through all of the information to figure out what was applicable to me was very time consuming and there was a lot of trial and error. Ultimately I started to understand what worked best for me in acute phases and what helped maintain me once my intestines were healed. I gained a lot of knowledge about how intricately the digestive system is to every other system in our body. I had failed to appreciate the role that hormones and neurotransmitters, such a dopamine, have in the daily function of our digestive system. It turns out that our "guts" are so sophisticated, that some people are now referring to it as the "second brain".
Previously, I had thought of the digestive system kind of like a factory assembly line - step one, step two, etc.,etc. Now I get what an elegant and "intelligent" eco system it is. In this modern day, it is a system under duress. I personally believe, this is the system where much of human disease begins and potentially ends. I know that is a pretty big statement that I personally cannot back up with scientific fact. Let's just call it more of an observation and "gut" instinct…pun intended. I have made some of these observation in my thirty five years (Good Lord that makes me feel old) working in health care and I have seen diet impacted health problems in my own family.
In my own personal health, I now realize that while some of my symptoms have been directly caused by food allergies, another big component was unchecked inflammation from other causes. As I learned more about which internal environment wreckers can instigate and exacerbate inflammation, I also learned how to relieve the symptoms by creating a friendly environment so the system can run correctly. I still have flare ups from time to time and have to remind myself to tune in to see where I am out of whack. The benefits are not just with an improvement of belly pain but also with energy levels, joints, skin and mental clarity. It is an on-going daily juggle but I believe the good I am doing for my body today is preventing the environment that could host disease later. Our family got some first hand experience of disease and nutrition in 2016 when my mother had a heart attack after years of fairly good (or seemingly so) health.
One of the things that has always concerned me as a practicing paramedic, is having to respond to one of my own family members. I have actually had to take care of several family members over the years but that fear was realized yet again this last spring, with a call that came in around 4:30 in the morning. It didn't take very long to diagnose that my mother was in the middle of having a heart attack and had to be rushed to the nearest cardiac cath lab, about an hour drive away. She did well with the procedure that stopped her heart attack and placed a cardiac stent in the offending artery. Learning about the heart disease was one thing, but with all the standard medical testing that done, the hit list just kept on coming; Type II Diabetes, Hypertension, Thyroid disease, High Cholesterol, and Peripheral Artery disease, all of which were unknown to her. My mother had led a generally very healthy and active life for many years. Her diet had been fairly healthy, with farm fresh produce, meats and eggs being available for several decades. What I didn't realize was that over the last number of years, after her partner Jon had passed away, she really lost an interest in cooking and even food to some extent. I do get that cooking for one can often be uninspiring and she resorted to doing what a lot of seniors do and bought pre-packaged microwave meals. I also did not realize that she also developed a taste for soda. This really never occurred to me because I don't drink soda and typically do not offer it at my house during family gatherings. It just wasn't on my radar. Over time, the sugar in soda can have a profound impact on the body. Now I can not prove that it was the primary suspect in the development of the list of diseases. There is a family history of heart disease which does factor in. But soda and sugary drinks really is on the "most wanted" list as far as I am concerned. Well, I am happy to report that with medications and a large diet restructure, Mom is doing very well. I felt a little bad for her when the dietician was telling her that she needed to be on a diabetic, heart healthy and low sodium diet. Wow! Now that is a big change all at once. But she did it by first cutting out all of the soda and sugar drinks. Learning to really monitor the carbs has got to be one of the hardest things about a diabetic diet. It's only when you become restricted in what you can eat that suddenly the enormity of all the "bad" foods that surround you, become so apparent. A little cookie here, a chip there…it all seems so innocent. How can something that looks so good, smells so good, and TASTES so good, be so bad? It takes some real dedication to completely change up your eating habits and create new habits, or in her case, re-establish good habits. She has lost over 20 pounds and seems much more energetic. I truly believe that had she just taken the meds but not changed the diet, there would not have been such a rapid improvement. Of course diet is only one component of one's health. The preponderance of your day to day mental attitude can help or hinder overall health as well. I know I personally have been affected, as well as some of my family, with the overall angst in our country this past year.
I like to think I am a positive person. I tried really hard to not let the negativity and contention our country is engaged in, seep in to my psyche. But seep it did. I really hate to admit that I let the collective teeth gnashing get to me. It is a helpless feeling to watch strife take on a life of its own and collect such momentum. I felt like such a tiny speck in the grand scheme of the storm with little ability to impact anything in a positive way. The result was kind of a depression and "grey" kind of feeling that dulled my enthusiasm for my passions. I am shaking this off now and doing my level best to step back, think positive, act when I am moved to do so and ignore what I don't want to give energy to. I know that hand wringing does nothing positive and that each of us can be the change by living it. I also know (or re-remembered) that every individual part adds to the whole. It may be tiny but damn it, I am going to be all Miss Sunshine Happy Pants! Bring on 2017! Bring on the food pics! Onward and upward, yayyyyy!
May you and yours have a happy, healthy and delicious 2017 - A "1" year of new beginnings. Never be afraid to pursue great health and live your passions.
Friday, March 25, 2016
My daily life is pretty average: I work, take care of family, household chores, garden and spend a lot of time thinking about and cooking healthy food. Not only is cooking a life long habit / hobby of mine, it has been ever evolving as I learn new techniques, cuisines and most importantly…nutrition-centric ideas. As you can imagine, my media tastes tend to have a heavy dose of food and cooking programing. One of my favorites and a "must hear" for me is the show Seattle Kitchen, which airs weekends on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM in Seattle, Washington. The show is hosted by celebrity chefs, Tom Douglas and Theirry Rautureu as well as hostess, Katie Okamura. Every weekend, their show covers food and cooking topics, hot trends, upgrading the old and boring, and interviews with restaurateurs, producers of craft foods, spirits, and produce. I always enjoy the show and if I cannot catch the broadcast, I catch up via podcast.
Recently, they put out the call to have listeners come to their kitchen / studio and cook for their team. I jumped on the opportunity before I gave myself too much time to think about how crazy it would be for me to cook for actual chefs. Next thing I knew, I was corresponding with Tina Nole, the show's producer. So….on Tuesday, March 22nd, I ventured to Seattle, to have a cooking adventure with the cast of Seattle Kitchen.
Before my trek to Seattle, there were a few days of planning and preparation. Tina asked that I cook something that is meaningful to me. That was a quick decision for me because I love nothing more than to cook with seasonal and local ingredients. I decided to do what I do every spring, go foraging. Always on my gathering list, nettles. Typically, I cook them as greens, but I wanted to made something lighter and more appropriate for lunch fare. My choice was to make either a pesto or pistou. Next, my absolute favorite mushroom - morel. Alas, the timing was a little off. I had to rely on rehydrated morels, which can still be tasty. The last forage item I chose can be a little trickier. I gathered some fiddlehead fern fronds to add to my dish. In retrospect, I wish I would have skipped these. When they are picked just at the right time, they can be quite good. But they can also be a little tough and bitter in flavor. Mine were the later and I should have just skipped them. Good thing the markets are full of tender spring vegetables right now. As far as a protein, I will always choose local and sustainable. Skagit's Own Fish Market in Burlington had beautiful troll caught Washington Steelhead. With packed up ingredients and a dish in mind, I headed off to Seattle.
For those of you who know where I live, "traffic Jam" is not a term that is often uttered. Knowing this, I added extra time for slowdowns. I made it through the slowdowns but was unprepared for the absolute stop that happened as soon as I was within a mile of my destination - Arrrgggg! It's a good thing I'm not a city girl. Once we finally moved again, I found the location fairly easy. The show is taped at Tom Douglas's cooking school called, the Hot Stove Society. It is located in the "Hotel Andra", which is a boutique hotel in the Westlake area.
The fact that I got to go to the Hot Stove Society was an real bonus for me. It is a beautiful set up with multiple work stations and a gorgeous demonstration area, which happens to be where they tape the show. I was immediately set up with a work area and stove. There was a small audience watching quietly but interacting with the cast during breaks. Theirry was off on vacation, so Tom was handling the chef part solo. Katie is also off on a fantastic trip so….super bonus for me….Rachel Belle was standing in. Rachel is one of my KIRO favorites and does a segment called "Ring my Belle with Rachel Belle". Also at work, were producer, Tina Nole and sound engineer, Sean DeTore.
If there is one major take-away from this experience it is this: The Seattle Kitchen family are all such lovely people! They really put me at ease and were so welcoming. The show was being taped while I was prepping and cooking. They would have me come on at intervals and answer questions about what I was making. At some point we stopped and I plated up the food for everyone to try. Then we went back on air, where Chef Douglas gave me the critic of my dish. I have no idea how much of the conversation gets on the air after editing. I really hope they edit out the part when my mind went blank and I had a seriously "senior" moment, hahaha.
Looking back at this experience, I relize what made it so special for me was to connect my very real world of food and cooking, with the virtual world of media, which fuels my imagination and the expansion of my skill. To physically connect these things, even for the brief time, just makes my passion a little brighter. Who knows where my interest in food and cooking can take me next and the fantastic people I will meet along the way.
If you would like to know what they thought of my dish…..well, you will just have to listen to KIRO Radio, 97.3FM at 4:00 - 6:00 on Saturday March 26th or 10:00-12:00 on Sunday the 27th. You can also listen to it on demand via the KIRO Radio app, MyNorthwest.com or Stitcher.
I would love to give a huge "thank you" to Tom Douglas, Rachel Belle, Tina Nole, Sean DeTore, and the staff person at the Hot Stove Society, who helped me find everything I needed while in your kitchen. It was a fantastic experience and I am so glad you made it possible for me.
Nettle Pesto Steelhead with Spring Vegetables and Rhubarb Vinaigrette dressed Greens
By Valerie Harris, The Foodie Medic
Stinging Nettles are plentiful and nutritious but a little tricky to harvest. If you have ever come in contact with nettle leaves, then you know about the nasty little souvenir you will get, for your trouble. You can work around this by wearing non-penetrable gloves. I use latex type of gloves, but even better is to wear those under garden gloves. Be sure to cover arms, legs and feet as well. They need to be collected early in spring, preferably after they first pop up. It is best to use the tender, top cluster of leaves. As the plants grow and the leaves age, they develop compounds that can sometimes cause kidney problems. Keep your nettle leaves in plastic storage bags in the fridge until ready to use. Do not forget the sting is still active until the leaves are blanched or cook.
Approximately 3-4 cups of freshly harvested nettles
Pot of salted water for blanching
1/2+ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup soaked raw cashews (this was just my choice but pine nuts or walnuts are more traditional)
1 loose cup of fresh flat leaf parsley
2 Tbs dried dill
4 large toes of fresh garlic
Juice of 1 lemon
1 Tbs mild vinegar of choice (I used white wine vinegar)
Salt to taste
Place your raw cashews in a bowl and add enough boiling water to cover. Allow them to sit for 20-30 minutes while you prepare the nettles.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a low boil and prepare an ice bath in a nearby bowl. Using your gloves, rinse your nettles and then add to the pot of hot water. Let them steep just long enough that they look wilted and the color has brightened slightly. Use a slotted utensil to remove them from the water and in to the ice water bath. Once they are cool, drain thoroughly and press out any excess water until they are quite dry.
Place your drained nettles, garlic cloves, heavy sprinkle of Kosher salt, pepper and a swirl of olive oil in your food processor and pulse until they nettles are fairly chopped up. Add the flat leaf parsley and dried dill and add another swirl of olive oil. Pulse again until no whole leaves are left visible.
Drain the cashews and add to the processor bowl and continue to pulse.
Now add the cheese, lemon juice, and vinegar plus another swirl of olive oil. Now blitz the mixture until it looks smooth and consistent in color with no chunks. If it is looking too dry or pasty, add small amounts of oil until the consistency looks right. Taste and add more salt and pepper as needed. Store in a covered container in the fridge for immediate use or
freeze any extra for future use.
Rhubarb Vinaigrette dressed Greens (for topping the fish)
2 - slender rhubarb stalks with the leaves and base removed
1 tsp - butter or oil
1/4 cup - dry white wine
1/4 + 1/4 cup - sweet, flavored vinegar such as a white balsamic (option would be a flavored vinegar and dollop of honey)
Squeeze of lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
1 handful of tender spring greens such as watercress, pea shoots, arugula, etc.
Wash and slice the rhubarb in small slices. If the rhubarb is young and tender, leave the skin in tact. If the skin is tough, peel the red skin away.
Heat and small sauté pan over medium heat and add a small amount of oil or butter and add the rhubarb slices. Let them cook gently until just tender.
Deglaze the pan with a little white whine and half of the vinegar. Add salt and pepper and allow to cook off and thicken a little. Remove from heat and allow to cool and steep.
When you are ready to make the vinaigrette, pour off the steeping juice in to a bowl and add the lemon juice, optional honey and whisk in enough olive oil to achieve the thickness you desire. Check for seasoning and adjust as needed.
Add back the rhubarb slices and just before serving pour over greens and toss.
Nettle Pesto Steelhead (or salmon)
1.5 - 2 lbs fresh steelhead fillet
Olive or avocado oil for pan
Small pat of butter
Salt and pepper
Prepare the fish by removing (pulling) and bones that may remain and scrape scales from the skin if, you plan on eating the skin. Rinse and pat dry and allow to air dry while coming up to room temperature. Portion the fillet in to equal portions of your choice. With skin side down, slice a shallow vertical pocket in the middle of each portion. Fill the slice with a bead of pesto and then continue to butter the flesh in pesto. Place skin side up and sprinkle with salt. Set aside while the vegetables are being prepared. Cook the fish last.
When you are ready to cook the fish, place a large non-stick or cast iron pan over medium-high heat. Add the oil and butter to the pan. When the oil shimmers in the pan, place the fish in the pan skin side down with care not to crowd the pan. If necessary, gently press the fish with a spatula so all of the skin makes contact with the pan. Reduce the heat slightly for maximum skin to pan time to crisp the skin. Watch the sides of the fillet to observe the cooked line (color change). When the line is about 3/4 up, flip the fish over. Turn off the burner and let the fish finish in the pan for another minute or two. Test the fish for doneness by gently lifting up a flake on the side and checking to color to be opaque in the middle but no longer raw - or - use a meat thermometer and shoot for 145 F after resting. Remove from pan to a cool surface to rest for several minutes before plating. If you developed a crispy skin, serve skin side up. If you would rather not have skin, remove skin and flip over to the pesto side.
Spring Vegetable Medley
Any spring vegetables that are available can be used.
1 lb - asparagus tips
1 cup - sweet peas, trimmed
Approximately 12 - baby potatoes (depending on size) cut in to halves or quarters
Mushrooms - you choice but Morel mushrooms become available in the spring and have wonderful flavor
Fern fronds (optional - available in early spring from farmers markets)
2 - baby leeks
1- large shallot
1-2 tsp - olive oil for pan
1-2 pats butter
1/2 cup dry white wine
Juice of one lemon
1 Tbs - the nettle pesto
Salt and pepper to taste
Minced flat leaf parsley to finish
Pan of salted water for blanching vegetables
Bowl of ice water
Begin by trimming and chopping all of the vegetables in advance.
Bring your pot of salted water to a boil and blanche your longer cooking vegetables such as the peas, asparagus, fern fronds and any other firmer veggies you may choose to use like carrots, fennel, etc.) Blanche in batches and move from hot water to ice bath to colander to tray. Pat dry if they are still really wet.
The potatoes can be handled a couple of ways. Option one is to trim them, toss them in a little oil and salt and let them begin to pan roast in a 400 F oven, if you want them to have some color. Option two would be to parboil them in your blanching water, just until tender. Drain them and let them cool.
If you are using dried mushrooms, rehydrate them in hot water well in advance (1+ hours) and allow to drain well before patting dry. If you are using fresh mushrooms, make sure they are brushed free of all debris and wash and dry only if necessary. Slice in to the shape desired. If you are collecting your own wild mushrooms, please consult appropriate experts and manuals.
Place a large sauté or wok over med to medium high heat, depending on your stove. Place a small amount of oil in the pan to lightly coat. When oil shimmers, add the small diced shallot and sliced leeks and lightly sprinkle with salt. When the onions and shallots are soft and beginning to brown slightly, add the mushrooms. Continue to sauté until mushrooms are done. By now, your contents should be getting a bit dry and cooked through. Add the wine and lemon and allow that to sit and cook off the alcohol. After several minutes, add a small amount of butter and the glob of nettle pesto. Stir in until smooth and add salt and pepper to taste. Keeping the heat up, add the blanched vegetables and toss until all the vegetables are coated and heated through. Watch this process closely so the vegetables do not over cook. Check seasoning one more time and remove from heat. Toss in the parsley and turn out in to serving dish. Sprinkle a little more parsley or whichever fresh herb you would like to dress with. Fennel fronds or fresh dill would be great too.
Assembling the dish
Plate your vegetables and top with a slice of fish. If you are serving crispy skin up then place fish slightly to side and top the vegetables with a small bit of the dressed greens. If you are forgoing skin, turn to the pesto side up and dress the top of the fish with the salad and a drizzle of the rhubarb studded vinaigrette.
Hello friends and happy 2016! I hope everyone had a great 2015 and are looking forward to new and wonderful things in the new year. Last year was a year of changes and beginnings for me, including this blog. Like many start up years, it took me a bit to find a rhythm. One of my biggest struggles last year was the worsening of my digestive problems and frustrating failure to get them under control. That is part of the reason that I have not posted for the last few months. Now in 2016, I am trying some new tactics to correct my issues and have great hope that by this time next year, I will be feeling completely different . I can not really call it a new year resolution, but rather a convenient intersection of test results, "ah ha" realizations and the determination to change what needs happen to make a course correction. I am sharing my struggle with the hope that I can pass along what I have learned and glean tips and ideas from all of you who have dealt with similar problems.
Anyone who has read my blog or sees my Facebook page, knows that I am all about healthy cooking and eating. It has been a passion of mine for quite a long time. However, my style of cooking has evolved through the years as I became more educated in nutrition and as popular notions about diets changed. Sorting out the facts from the fads has been a bit tricky over the years. I still remember vividly the eighties, when popular diet books were touting a low fat diet was the way to a healthy weight and sugar was a low calorie "quick energy" booster . Can you imagine? They advocated for sugar in our diets! But over the years, I learned more and more about dietary pitfalls. I learned how to eliminate many of the harmful additives and harmful cooking practices. Lucky for me, I am fond of vegetables, don't have much of a sweet tooth, and tend to prefer less refined foods. Plus I love to cook and experiment with creating dishes, so I know exactly what is in most of my food. With all of that going for me, you would think I would be the picture of health. Unfortunately, not so much.
When I think back, I probably have had digestive problems my whole life. As a child, I often had stomach aches, joint pains and was always prone to constipation. I frequently had esophageal spasms with food obstructions and would vomit easily. My first inkling that my problems are related to food was the reaction that happened every time I baked with wheat flour. I always knew that as soon as I dipped in to the flour canister, the very next thing was sneezing fits, itchy eyes and throat. Then if I tasted the raw batter or dough, my throat would swell and tongue would itch. In my child's mind, I rationalized that my problem was with the raw flour and stopped sampling the uncooked product, but continued to eat the baked goods. I never understood that my stomachaches were most likely an inside reaction to the ingestion of an allergen. Flash forward many years and my digestive system problems had become ten times worse. As far as the wheat flour went, I had cut way back on using it because my reaction to even touching it had gotten to the point that I would break out in hives. I still didn't make the connection. I still ate store bought bread and other wheat based products. My abdominal pain, fatigue and constant bloating finally got bad enough that I was referred to a gastroenterologist. After many tests, a whole host of medical problems were found. However, Celiac Disease (for more information https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coeliac_disease ) was not one of them. But the most profound and simple solution that came from the consultation was the recommendation to eliminate wheat from my diet. So simple but so effective. To be clear, I did have other issues that had to be treated with medications, but I suspect those problems may have been able to proliferate due to my body's constant allergy induced inflammation . Within weeks of going gluten free and completing my course of medications, I felt so much better. I dropped ten pounds without even trying, which was probably due to the reduction in inflammation. That was about eleven years ago and I wish I could say that everything is yippee skippie today. Alas, things have changed again.
After religiously following a gluten free diet for a number of years, I really thought I had found my key to feeling good. Occasionally I would have an accidental exposure to wheat and the ensuing symptoms would remind me what I used to feel on a daily basis. Then about five years ago, I began to have the same old symptoms, plus a host of new symptoms. Suddenly, I gained 10 pounds even though nothing changed in my diet or life style. At first I just chalked it all up to work stress. Eventually I figured out much of the changes were coinciding with menopause. I took steps to relieve symptoms from both of those issues. But the familiar old digestive symptoms seem to be back with a vengeance, even with the gluten free diet. Clearly there is something else or multiple something's in my diet that are an issue. To top it off, I have been seeing changes in my annual lab values, such as my cholesterol, triglycerides, and liver enzymes. Considering that healthy eating is a daily practice for me, I am more than a little annoyed that this is happening! Apparently, a generally healthy diet and active lifestyle is not enough. It is time for me to "double down" and whoop this thing in the butt.
To keep all of this in perspective, reaching the age of menopause and having a duel family history of atherosclerosis and heart disease, these developments shouldn't be too much of a surprise. My genetic body type may just be one of those that is more prone to laying down visceral fat and producing excess cholesterol in the blood. But that does not mean that I have to just accept it and wonder when my first heart attack will be. I am also at risk for other long term problems if the inflammation in my body continues. While I can not control my genetics, I can control what I put in to my body every day. Figuring out the perfect diet for my specific needs has been a bit of a challenge…even for a heath food geek, hahaha.
Where to start? I actually started with my doctors. Once again, I found myself undergoing several tests and procedures. What this did, was help identify what is and what is not a problem within my body. And once again, I am on some new medications. When it comes to my dietary changes, I looked in to what will be the most beneficial to reach my goal of normal lipid levels, normal liver levels, and reduce inflammation. It can be a little confusing when comparing different diet types. Sorting out conflicting claims about the "healthiest" eating modes can be maddening. I do not plan on following a prescribed diet. My plan is customized by me to reach specific goals. At my next blood test I will evaluate how effective the diet has been and adjust accordingly. So here is how I plan on addressing my medical issues.
Allergens - This is actually the toughie. I have been paying close attention to what may have proceeded each flare up. Right now, Xanthan gum ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xanthan_gum ) is high on my list of suspects of my allergens. Xanthan gum is often an ingredient in commercial gluten free products. For now I am avoiding it. There may be other things that I am reacting to and I plan to visit an allergist soon.
Vegetables - Lucky for me, I already am a big veggie fan and they are the bulk of what is my diet base. Some anti-inflammation diets recommend avoiding nightshades, but at this point I am not avoiding them. I am careful about the amount of potatoes I consume due to the carb load. I have added a powdered green drink in addition to the mounds of fresh greens I already eat. As always, I insist on organic.
Fruit - If I am guilty of slacking in a food group, this is it. I tend to forget about fruit except when they are in season and abundant. Currently, I am consciously making an effort to eat more fresh fruit but taking it easy on juicing fruits. If I add any fruit to a smoothie, it might be some frozen blueberries. I do add a lot of fresh citrus juice to water and dishes.
Grains - My personal habit with grains has been to lean toward whole grains and limit refined grains. That is fine for me but the family is not so fond of things like brown rice. So I used to compromise once and awhile cook up some fragrant Jasmin rice, then try to not over indulge. Considering refined grains like white rice can raise your blood sugar and triglycerides, they are a no-no for me right now. For the past couple of years, I have been doing a lot of experimentation with replacing grains and grain flours with alternatives like seeds (quinoa, buckwheat, etc.), tubers (sweet potato, cassava, etc.) nuts and nut like (almond flour, peanut flour, coconut flour) and vegetables or legumes (cauliflower, sweet potatoes, lentils). There are so many different ways to approach a familiar dish.
Meat - Here is the biggest area of change. I have been practicing meat reduction for some time and what I did consume was limited to high quality, local and as humanely produced as possible. I am choosing now to go virtually meat free. The rest of my family may not necessarily follow this but I will abstain at least 6 out of 7 days. When I do choose to consume meat or seafood, I will continue to hold my standards of sourcing.
Eggs - I will continue to consume eggs and am lucky to have locally produced "happy chicken" eggs.
Dairy - I am saying no to dairy. Luckily, I switched to non-dairy milks quite awhile ago but cheese, sour cream and butter was a little harder. Due to the high saturated fat in those products, I tried to tread lightly. Eating these things sparingly just isn't enough, not to mention my personal feelings about the main stream dairy industry. Switching to non-dairy cheeses and butter alternatives is not all that new to me because I have been experimenting for a couple of years. Now I am committing to it.
Beverages - More water! Luckily, I like water. In fact, I don't drink sodas and rarely drink juices. I just forget to drink enough water. I don't know why that has been a trip up. I also am abstaining from alcohol for the time being. Even though my typical intake fell far below the USDA guidelines of safe consumption for a woman, I am cutting it to zero until my liver enzymes are back to normal. The same goes for medications like acetaminophen or anything that is harsh for the liver to metabolize.
Sugar - No big changes for me here. I have practiced very minimal sugar use and stay away from refined sugar. What I have noticed over the years is that when your taste buds get used to less sweetness , it becomes the norm. If I do indulge in something sweet, it doesn't take much before I've had enough. Typically I go to natural sugars like date or coconut. Stevia seems to be the sugar replacer that has the least amount of after taste.
Fats - Eliminating butter is the biggest change. Vegan "butter" will replace dairy butter on those occasions where it is needed for flavor or that silky touch in a sauce or gravy. I use a lot of coconut oil, olive and avocado oil. On the rare occasion that I fry I use peanut oil. One thing I can be better at is replacing fats (in baking) with fruit and veggie options like applesauce, bananas and avocados.
Soy - I am on the fence with soy. There are reported health benefits from soy but also concerns about possible health risks. I am keeping it in my diet in moderation but make sure it is always organic and non GMO. Lately I have been finding sprouted tofu and was recently given a method to make my own. I am looking forward to giving that a try.
So there it is - There are no drastic changes but I am very hopeful that these tweaks in my diet will get me back to feeling like myself and all systems working at their best. This does not mean that I will never deviate from the plan. There will be parties, special occasions and holidays. As long as I don't drastically deviate and get right back on the path, I am not too worried. I purposely glossed over the list of symptoms that I have been experiencing for several reasons, but if you have questions I would be happy to discuss details further via email. The changes I am making in my diet is based on my circumstance alone and am not suggesting that anyone else follow my lead. Diagnosing abdominal and / or epigastric pain can be quite complex. There are so many different causes for abdominal pain but can have similar symptoms. What I will say is, if you are having any chronic symptoms that are interfering with your daily life, consider starting with your doctor. Even if the causes are not immediately discovered, there is value in finding out what is not wrong. I am also a fan of a multidimensional approach to health care and find value in a number of "alternative" practices. Sometimes, the state of our bodies is a tangled little knot that must be teased apart to root out the issues. We live in a complex world and are exposed to a multitude of outside substances every day. My goal is to enhance the helpful exposures and mitigate as many of the harmful exposures as I can.
I hope you all have a very healthy and happy 2016