Each year as Spring approaches, I review my nutritional health -- how I'm feeling, and the food choices and changes I've made during the last year. Perhaps I'm inspired by the anniversary of my cancer diagnosis nine years ago ... or maybe it's just the sense of new life bubbling all around me. If you're into juicing and cleansing, like me, now's a great time to re-calibrate after veering off course during winter and the holidaze.
As many of you know, I've been on a food adventure for the past ten years: awakening to the connection between what I eat and how I feel. While recovering from chemo and putting my cancer into remission, I learned that a vegan diet was the best way to fuel my personal "bubble of biology." For a couple of years, I held to a 100% raw food diet. Over time on an exclusively raw food diet, however, I began noticing that my biology was not bubbling as lustily as I wished: my post-chemo anemia worsened, I wasn't sleeping well, and I just wasn't thriving as I should. Apparently, I wasn't getting enough calories to keep weight on, which concerned everyone, particularly me. Were my nutritional needs evolving? Was it time to reconsider? I decided to add a bit of cooked foods back into my diet.
Adding cooked foods at first seemed to be going well, but fast weight gain and additional symptoms -- lethargy, bloating, sniffles, joint pain, brain fog, and still not sleeping were taking a toll and deeply concerning. I was eating plenty of calories, and was sure my diet was well balanced but I didn't seem to be digesting all things properly. When I eat grains (certainly wheat but even the gluten free darlings, spelt, kamut, rye, rice, and oats) I often awake during the night with joint inflammation that persists into the mornings, accompanied sometimes by sniffles and a stuffy head. I do better with quinoa. Packaged products, like vegan cheeses, bottled pasta sauces, boxed milks, all contain hidden ingredients of preservatives and stabilizers that give me brain fog and a host of other less obvious symptoms. Cumulatively, these things seem to aggravate my sleeplessness and depression.
A bout with depression during the holidaze really got me thinking. Not feeling my best, and suspecting that something was awry with my nutrition, I decided to get some testing and medical advice. Might I be experiencing gluten intolerance or other food allergies?
I know I don't have Celiac disease, but wondered if gluten intolerance was causing any of my malaise. I consulted a local Celiac specialist MD in January and during the same week had my annual visit with my oncologist and oncological nutritionist. Over the last years I have learned to consciously use these doctor visits to refine and adjust my own self-knowledge, and so I resolved to use these consultations opportunities to delve deeper and uncover some remedies.
Micro-Nutrient Testing (MNT) was suggested, and I decided to go ahead. By testing my blood, my docs and I got detailed interior insight yielding all sorts of information: levels of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, antioxidants and other important nutrient indicators. My most glaring (and unexpected) deficiency: vitamin B12. As a vegan, I KNOW about the challenges and symptoms associated with low B12 and I have taken B12 and D3 supplements for years. When I switched to a new B12 spray version this last time without carefully reading the label, I was only spritzing once a day (500mcg) when my body required at least 1,500mcg, three spritzes. Note to self: read labels more carefully, especially when changing brands or buying new types of supplements. Ensure proper dosage. Duh!
In addition to the MNT and routine blood tests, I did food sensitivity testing. My Celiac MD's recommendation: address gut health first before freaking out too much about possible food sensitivities. I thought I'd been taking good care of my gut microbiota (the term used to describe the complex community of micro-organisms that inhabit the intestines of healthy animals) by eating fermented foods, taking pro-biotics, and, periodically, digestive enzymes. But for many of us, especially those post-chemo folk like me, the bad bacteria in our guts can out-populate the good guys -- and that, apparently, was happening to me. Fermented foods and pro-biotics can help, but until we address potential imbalances in our gut, our bodies may not be able to absorb all the nutrients needed to maintain healthy internal ecology and fend off food sensitivities and allergies.
We've all heard that soy can be a problem, but since my cancer was not 'estrogen positive,' my docs said it would be okay for a bit of protein. Testing showed that my body is highly reactive to soy proteins, especially packaged ones. Interestingly, in Bali, where soy products are home-made and where Buddhists often substitute soy products like tempeh (originated in Indonesia) for meat, I get on fine with soy. There just isn't anything like the fresh, warm, homemade versions of tofu and tempeh. Once again, my main theme emerges: food that comes from our home garden and hearth by way of loving hands is more nutritious and body-friendly.
While that was all going on at a cellular level, the only thing I could be sure of: after eating certain things, I couldn't sleep, didn't feel well the next day, experienced the same symptoms, including depression. Not all at once or every day, but predictably. After awhile I could connect the dots and see the symptoms related to food I had eaten.
The key food in the protocol intended to clear the bad gut bacteria: 100% garlic supplements! Who knew? (Well, actually, garlic has been offered as a sovereign remedy by many cultures going back into prehistory. There's an example of how the Standard American Diet has thrown the baby out with the bath water, for sure! I'm taking Allimax, which consists of 100% allicin, the antibacterial in garlic. Two weeks into the new regime ... is it working? No clear answers yet, but I am recovering my joie de vivre, feeling enthusiastic. Having a road map to follow makes a big difference.
I'm committed to veganism, predominantly raw with some nutrient-dense cooked foods added in. Those of you who have been reading me for awhile won't be surprised that sometimes, I'm tempted to describe myself as "Food Obsessive." I have been, for years. I have learned to accept that this is who I am. I use this focus on nutrition to keep myself always learning, ever-evolving, mostly by being the guinea pig for my own experiments. This food journey fascinates me. It's taught me that what we put in our mouths is one of the only things we can control completely.
Every one of us takes a nutritional journey, and we all differ, even if the food originally on offer varies culturally and by family as well as geographically. As grown-ups, we have the option of making every bite count (including occasional indulgences, of course) so our food fuels us as well as possible. We all want to be healthy for a good long time. What I know about myself, and suspect for many others, is that good food, locally grown can help us do just that.
Along with new raw recipes, from time to time I am going to include some cooked recipes in my newsletter (with apologies to any raw food purists reading -- remember, Encourage Diversity is one of our prime directives). I never learned to cook growing up, so I'm taking classes, and it's a blast. I suspect that even accomplished chefs benefit from being students from time to time.
I love soups and Asian flavors and this Thai Inspired Squash Soup from my good friend Chef Jenni, has become a staple in my kitchen. Before starting to make it, be sure to get your More than a Nut Milk Bag out (or get a new one) for the lemongrass. Using the nut milk bag to hold the lemongrass, keeping it separate from other ingredients while the soup cooks, saves you from fishing out lemongrass pieces before serving. Get the recipe.
"Breakfast is the most important meal of your day." I'm sure you've heard that old chestnut. I certainly have and try to keep this in mind. One thing I do know, when I take time for breakfast, my energy level sustains itself through most of my day. I have a few quick, go-to breakfast ideas that fit really well into my busy schedule. I'm adding them to the recipe collection on the Rawsome Creations website.
When I began adding cooked foods back into my menu, I researched cookware and found some scary stuff. I landed on what I believe is, hands down, the most healthy cookware available today. American made and sold only through consultants, Saladmaster cookware has been around since the 1940's. Carefully designed to retain maximum nutrition while cooking at the lowest possible temperatures, my Saladmaster gets my food prepped, cooked and to the table quickly.
Saladmaster's waterless vegetable cooking is a great example: I rinse broccoli and place it in a Saladmaster 3 quart pot. The rinse water droplets are enough to gently cook the broccoli in 15 minutes, retaining all the nutrition and bright green color from farm to my mouth, sometimes skipping the plate. I got my Saladmaster -- my kitchen's most valuable cookers -- from my local Saladmaster consultant, M. Isis Israel, who, as a presenter, matches me in enthusiasm. I love the cookery; I love to watch Isis produce a four course meal in 25 minutes using the Saladmaster waterless cooking techniques, and I love her informative website www.vegansaladmaster.com, that's bursting with recipes and videos. Saladmaster offers free demos available nation wide. For any of you in Northern California let me know if you are interested and I'll put you in touch with our local representatives.
My hero Ibu Robin has just posted a wonderful video of their new clinic a-building! As I plan for the Fall trip to Bali to visit our friends and production team, I am especially excited to be there for the annual Galungan and Kunigan celebrations in September. I'm hoping the grand opening celebration of the new Bumi Sehat Clinic coincides with my visit and look forward to all the moving-in excitement. Thank you to each and every one of you for your purchases throughout the years. Ibu Robin and the Bumi Sehat clinic have been receiving a share of Rawsome Creations sales for eight years now, and we could not be prouder of the way their project is developing.
As Winter relents and hints of Spring burst forth everywhere here in Northern California -- we (and I am including all species of flora and fauna) are so grateful for this years rain! -- thoughts of my summer garden vegetables begin. For now, I'm enjoying the bursting color, spring flowers, and grape vine buds as the cycle starts anew.
I have a few moments before my kitchen calls me back to wish you, valued reader, a Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving....
Harvest is happening all around us here in the valley and leaves are beginning to brighten the landscape in all sorts of colorful hues....
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