Friday, March 27, 2009

Worst Thing for Ya

My dad is known for many things, but one of his quirks that we love most involves frequent and arbitrary proclamations of which things are the "best" and "worst” for ya. Because he usually cites his sources as "They" (as in "They say"), we wonder whether "They" are just the voices in his head or if perhaps there really is truth to what we perceive as his made up musings. After all these years of speculation, I thought it would be fun to do some research and test out two of his most prominent and longstanding theories:

1. Walking = The Best Thing for Ya

2. Peanuts = The Worst Thing for Ya

This walking bit is particularly relevant as we near our annual vacation in Florida, which involves a great deal of glorious walking. Walking on the beach, walking in the morning, walking after dinner...the man will walk upwards of three to four times a day. Now, the rest of us are active and may even walk a few times each day, but when it comes to sheer volume of the activity, he does circles around us. I may just have to strap a pedometer on him this time to log his total mileage (what do you say, Pops, are you up for it? Think about the bragging rights it would give you!).

And as for the peanuts, that one cropped up when I was in high school, abiding by the current fad that all food must be fat free, low fat, low cal, synthetically enhanced with chemicals if necessary, etc. But when it came to indulging in a good old fashioned sundae, made of course with fat free ice cream and fudge, there was just no substitution for the peanuts. Which leant itself to Dad's now infamous proclamation one day as a friend and I were exiting the kitchen, about to enjoy our delicious treats. "You know what They say about peanuts, don't you? [pause for effect] Worst thing for ya." And then he wandered off to eat a rice cake, or perhaps take a walk.

1. Walking: Best Thing for Ya
Part of me would love to debunk this one just because "They've said" it so many times, but how could I possibly try? There's very little to debate when it comes to the health benefits of walking. The Surgeon General recommends at least 30 minutes of moderately vigorous activity a day, and research shows that regular exercise reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, injury, sleep apnea and osteoarthritis. And the list goes on. (Source: AARP) So we know that exercise is good for us.

Further research even suggests that regular cardiovascular exercise is good for the brain as well. As for walking in particular, two separate studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 2006 reported that walking regularly may help preserve mental sharpness (is it possible that Dad's six Florida walks a day are making him smarter than the rest of us who only walk once or twice a day???). Like other forms of exercise, walking has been shown to contribute to improved mood and sleep patterns and prevent depression. And unlike other high impact sports, walking is less likely to earn you a trip to the ER or require extensive knee or hip surgery down the line.

So, the verdict on walking? Walking is good - in fact great - for you. Is it the Best Thing for Ya? Well, that might depend on a variety of factors including how how regularly you walk, the duration and pace at which you do so, etc. But, yes, it appears that it's definitely up there in terms of the best things for ya. This one goes to you and the voices, Dad.

2. Peanuts: Worst Thing for Ya

Let’s ignore the recent product recall of certain peanut products and focus instead on the most obvious insults slung at this tiny but delicious legume. "Peanuts can kill you!" It's true that peanuts are tied to serious allergic reactions, which can even result in death for the most severely allergic. Peanut allergies certainly seem to be on the rise, and while it’s unknown yet exactly why, many schools, hospitals and other public institutions have banned all peanut products for safety reasons. But what does this mean for those of us who aren't allergic? Are there risks in our indulging in a few peanuts on our sundaes every once in a while? Which brings me to the second major allegation…

"Peanuts will make you fat!" Yes, peanuts are high in fat, but research seems to point to the fact that the kind of fat in peanuts may actually be good for you, in moderation of course. In fact, there is evidence that nuts may be useful in improving cardiovascular health, preventing cancer and providing essential nutrients. Because of their nutritional content, peanuts may even be a healthy choice because they offer a high percentage of monounsaturated fats (the good kind).

Research by the U.S. Department of Agriculture also shows that peanuts may help fight heart disease because they contain resveratrol, a chemical also found in red grapes that has been linked to lower blood sugar. Taking the list of potential health benefits one step further, peanuts can be a good source of energy. Their protein and calorie content - compared to other options - make it a reasonable choice for athletes. And many trainers and nutritionists recommend small amounts of peanut butter for appetite control under certain weight loss programs.

So the verdict on peanuts? Given all of these benefits, can it be possible that the Worst Thing for Ya is actually one of the best things for ya? It seems so. Wouldn’t it just boggle “Their” minds if They knew!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Recipes: Homemade Catsup, Heaven in a Cookie and Oat Pancakes

As I mentioned, some of the recipes I stumbled upon while abiding by the allergy diets are still among favorites in our house. Here are a few completely unrelated such recipes:

Homemade Catsup
Not your average bottled catsup - it has a little more kick and "flair"

6 oz. can tomato paste
1/4 tsp dry mustard
1/4 cup sucanut sugar (you can use white sugar)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup water
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/8 ts allspice
2 tbs apple cider vinegar

Mix all ingredients in bowl and store in the fridge for up to 1 month.

Heaven in a Cookie
Adapted from The Gluten-Free Gourmet Cooks Comfort Food
This has been a hit with non-allergic folks as well. Note that the naming credit for this recipe actually goes to my friend Dan, who has added the "heaven in a ..." nomenclature to my vernacular. This designation is also used to refer to really comfy pants and other such wonderful inventions.

1 cup brown sugar
1 cup peanut butter
2 eggs
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease cookie sheet or line with parchment paper.

In the bowl of your mixer combine brown sugar and peanut butter (If you have a standing mixer, you'll definitely want to use it for this one. I actually broke a handmixer on this recipe - the peanut butter makes the dough very thick!). Add eggs and mix to blend. Add baking soda and vanilla and mix for 1 minute. Pour in chips and combine by hand.

Drop cookies on baking sheet 1 tbs at a time, allowing for spreading. Bake 8-10 minutes.

Notes: You can make these fluffy or mushy, depending on how you like your cookies. I like mine slightly mushy, and use older baking soda. For fluffy cookies, make sure it's fresh.

Nutrients per cookie: Cal. 80, Fat 5 g, Cholesterol 35 mg, Sodium 25 mg, Carbs 8 , Fiber 1 g

Oat Pancakes
Adapted from Carbs from Heaven, Carbs from Hell
High in fiber, with a great texture, these pancakes are a fun take the the usual flap jacks

2 cups rolled oats
1 cup soy or rice milk (you can use cow too)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp pumpkin spice (optional)
1/8 tsp sea salt
1 individual sized carton of natural applesauce (about 2 -3 tbs)
1 tbs cold/expeller pressed canola oil (or one spray of aerosol version)

1. Grind oats in electric grinder or blender until well ground, but not pulverized.
2. Combine oats, cinnamon, pumpkin, salt, milk and applesauce.
3. Spray griddle pan and preheat over medium temp.
4. Pour about 1/3 cup batter for each pancake. Cook about 1 minute, or until the tops are bubbly and the edges are dry. Flip and cook other side for an additional minute or until brown.

Serve with your favorite toppings.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Food Allergies Cured!

One of the reasons I originally wanted to start this blog was to share recipes, restaurant and product recommendations for those also living with wheat and dairy allergies. Well, life got crazy and by the time I was able to set up this site, my allergies were cured. However, some of what I'll likely share here will be at least rooted in my "allergy journey," so I'll go ahead and give you the story.

I have been plagued by ear, nose and throat issues my whole life. As a baby, my parents suffered through numerous ear infections and the corresponding howling that went with them. By elementary school, strep throat was my sickness du jour. After I graduated high school, I also graduated to the ultimate knock-you-on-your-butt supremacy of the mighty sinus infection. In my late 20's, it seemed I was always sick and I would get a sinus infection at least once a month.

At about this time, my mom was battling fibromyalgia, a debilitating chronic pain disorder, and was at her wits end. The drugs just weren't working anymore and she didn't want to be medicated for the rest of her life. She tried a new holistic doctor recommended by a friend, and within several months, her pain was dramatically reduced. While she'd previously been unable to get out of bed, sleep through the night or even take a walk around the block, she now can do all those things and more. All of this was accomplished through chiropractic adjustments, holistic remedies vs. drugs and an allergy elimination process.

The theory is that many people are allergic to foods to which they'd never expect, usually the foods they most commonly consume. And unlike allergies that are recognizable because they create life-threatening reactions such as anaphylactic shock, most allergies do much quieter damage over time. When I finally decided that I'd had enough of living with the sinus pain and visited this doctor, I learned that my allergies - most significantly to wheat and dairy - had been the culprit of my ENT issues most likely from a very young age. And my favorite foods were behind it all.

So, once I cleansed my system of all wheat and dairy based products as instructed (you'd be AMAZED at how much of what we eat contains at least one derivative of wheat or dairy), there was a very clear correlation: If I ate wheat or dairy, the result was always a sinus infection; if I didn't, I was sinus infection free.

While it was life-changing to take control of whether or not I got sick, you can imagine that avoiding all wheat and dairy products is not easy. It means no bread, no pizza, no ice cream (Oh, the horror!), etc. and makes eating out very challenging. I found a number of great wheat and dairy free products and learned to make my own versions of old favorites, and some of them were even quite good. But, still, it's just not the same. (As a point of clarity, I did not have Celiac disease, which is a much more serious intolerance to all gluten that requires a diligent avoidance of any contact with gluten-containing food.)

I lived life virtually wheat and dairy free for almost two years, at which time my aunt, a nurse, recommended another holistic doctor she knew had cured her friend of allergies. As anyone who loves bread and cheese knows, you will consider just about anything to get them back in your life. So I made an appointment.

As they described the process, I had to admit it sounded out there - the concept is that the things you're allergic to (allergens) set your body's energy out of whack, creating any number of reactions. The healing process involves the combination of three techniques: kinesiology (muscle testing), homeopathy and acupuncture/acupressure to determine which allergen you are sensitive to, identify the organ or meridian system involved and introduce what the body needs to recognize the allergen as normal vs. foreign. The analogy they used was this: In order to read a pdf file, your computer needs to download Adobe Acrobat Reader. What they do is "download the right program" to allow your body to accept the allergen, and therefore end the reactions.

Sound like voodoo witchery? I thought so too, and I'm actually a believer in holistic medicine. But all I could think about was the fact that maybe, just maybe, I'd be able to eat pizza and ice cream again one day, so I figured I'd go for it. The treatments are painless, and are actually very relaxing. I am now officially a fan of acupuncture - I love it! But still, at the end of each treatment I'd report home to my hubby and we'd marvel at whether any of this could work.

Well, it did. I can now eat anything I want with no reactions. Even now, a year later, it is sublime every time I eat a "real" bread product. Pizza and ice cream and pretzels, oh my!

Now that I'm back on wheat and dairy, life is much easier. Eating out no longer involves a complex questioning process about the menu ingredients with an unwitting server, and my fabulous friends and family don't have to create alternative dishes for me at gatherings. But I have stuck to the concepts I learned along the journey: eating whole grains, healthy oils and lots of veggies, avoiding highly processed or synthetic ingredients, and using holistic remedies instead of taking medications. And I continue to make many of my former allergy-free recipes, some of which are still my hubby's favorites, so I'll share those here.

Now, I recognize that holistic medicine isn't for everyone, and for many, allergies are just a minor annoyance in their lives. But for anyone suffering from chronic conditions, these treatments can make a huge difference in quality of life. Just make sure you do the research, ask for referrals and ensure the provider is reputable. And then, keep an open mind...and have a little faith.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Welcome to my blog! I'm new at this, but wanted a place to share ideas, thoughts and resources for others looking to live a healthy lifestyle, or those who are already enjoying one.

So, let me start with this: While I like to consider myself a fairly healthy individual, I'm by no means a health nut, compulsive exerciser, vegan or vegetarian. I've just always loved to eat well - I love my fruits and veggies - and live a fairly active lifestyle. That doesn't mean I don't eat junk food or have to force myself to work out sometimes! I'm just as challenged to do all the good things you're supposed to do as anyone else. But I love how empowering it is when you know you're doing the right thing for your body, mind and spirit and you get to share with others who do too.

A few years ago, I learned I had food allergies to wheat and dairy, which explained my near constant state of ear, nose and throat discomfort. I had the good fortune to find some wonderful holistic doctors who gave me great advice and survival tools, and ultimately, cured my allergies. But more about that later.

Along the way, I discovered a love of cooking (you pretty much have to make your own food when you're allergic to wheat and dairy), and learned how to cook with different whole grains and substitute healthy alternatives. In the process, I came up with some decent wheat-free recipes that I always planned on sharing, so you will see a few of those here.

I also plan to share links to helpful information from other like-minded friends on how to live healthy and "green." And I can't promise not to share a few random thoughts, rants and shout outs as I go.

A few disclaimers: I am in no way qualified to give medical or nutrition advice. I am not a doctor, homeopath, nutritionist, trainer or any other form of reputable health or diet information provider. All I have to go on are my own past experiences and the wonderful expert sources I've found along the way. I hope some of them are interesting to any readers who may find their way here. And let's face it, it's probably going to be just my friends and family reading this anyway, which is completely fine with me!