Monday, August 20, 2012

Food Restrictions and Local Foods (and a little history)

Back in the olden days, when I was young, I ate just about anything I wanted to. In my late teens, lunch was a 10 cent packet of dried soup (calories about 3, nutrition 0). Married at eighteen, pregnant at nineteen, knowing nothing about nutrition or caring for myself, stick-thin, miscarriage at 5 months.

In my early twenties, glazed donuts for lunch, dummie me! I got on a fiber kick and ate cracked grains cooked in a thermos every day for a year. At the same time I made bran crackers and ate them every day (read the wrong book!). Intestinal explosions were common. Keep that in mind, #1.

I once went on a diet of only hardboiled eggs (3 per day) and vegetables (low-calorie variety). I lost 30 pounds in 30 days. I Do Not Recommend This. I was weak, tired, and cold. Those 30 pounds came flying back as soon as I stopped. Keep this in mind too, #2.

I tried macrobiotic diets, without the optional fish, in my 30s, and could NOT force myself to stay on them for more than a couple of weeks. Cravings ate me alive. At least with a growing interest in nutrition I stopped drinking sodas. Hypoglycemia was a big problem for me, from age twenty onwards. I taught myself to stay away from juice, fruit, and cereal in the morning, and soda at all times.

After I turned 40, all the dietary sins of my youth came back to haunt me. The weight I had been keeping at bay with frequent crash diets came back to stay. My body strictly refused to eat more than a few eggs per week (#1).

In graduate school (around 40 years old), I ate my way through a bag of corn chips Every Day, putting on the weight as you can imagine, developing arthritis in my knees, not able to go jogging or hiking any more. Keep this in mind, #2.

And probably the most serious, I started working my way toward celiac disease (gluten intolerance causing serious digestive problems). Here is #1, back at me. The "low-fat vegetarian diet" was the last straw for my insulted gut. My hypoglycemia got more and more serious; I was eating constantly, Snack-Wells, fat-free cookies, pretzels, bread, pasta pasta pasta, and still hungry every minute of the day. Loose stools a dozen times a day. Tired, muscles aching, depressed. It worked its way to a crescendo after a business trip, and finally the light-bulb went on. "It's the gluten." By that time I actually knew what gluten was at least.

I went gluten-free, absolutely, for 3 weeks. Symptoms went away very nicely. I challenged with a pasta meal. All back, first the depression, then the intestinal upsets. Repeat. That was enough. The rigors of staying vegetarian and gluten-free were too much for me, so I started eating chicken and fish, and eventually red meat. I had been semi-vegetarian for two decades, and full-on vegetarian for three years, so it was a big change both nutritionally and culturally for me.

I later realized I had probably compromised my gut with the bran crackers and the cracked-grain lunches, years earlier. The cheap processed foods, and my high-stress job at the time, just finished the job. I do realize there are more intelligent ways to be vegetarian. But for me, starting with nice healthy starches promotes the roller coaster of hypoglycemia crashes and constant hunger, and ends with caramel corn, candy, cookies, and tears.

So, my first really serious dietary restriction is gluten-free. This means no wheat, rye, and barley; no spelt, no kamut, no seitan. No wheat-containing pasta, cookies, pies, cakes, breads, muffins, pancakes, breaded foods, meatloaf, croutons in my salad. The list can be pretty intimidating. Some celiac sufferers can't eat oats either, without repercussions, and I found that I fell in that category.

So, still not getting the picture about the starches, I turned to rice and corn. Weight kept climbing, hunger kept increasing. I hit my all-time high weight. Gluten-free junk food is STILL JUNK FOOD. Too much popcorn, too many GF crackers, too much ice cream, too much taffy. Too many colds, too many attacks of the flu.

It was just too hard to do gluten-free and low-fat vegetarian. I hit my all-time high weight. Something had to give. I rethought, researched, and found books by Ray Audette, Loren Cordain, and Boyd Eaton, on paleo eating. Fifty pounds came off, and I had more energy and far better health.

The years since then, about 1999, have seen much improved health, though if I ever get off into starchland, especially with corn, weight comes back on and my food choices deteriorate again. Before long, I was eating only starches and a little fat, and giving protein a miss. I also was getting increasing fibromyalgia, with depression, fibro-fog, continual muscle and joint pain. Troubled sleep, unable to stand more than a few minutes at a time, unable to walk or hike for pleasure. Just a misery. Pain-killers really don't touch fibromyalgia pain.

I started with local foods in Fall of 2007. I had no problems satisfying the demands of gluten-free eating, and it allowed me to find really high-quality humanely-raised meat and eggs, so it actually helped.

In 2010, I learned about dietary oxalates. Oxalate is a dietary poison, not a sensitivity. Plants express oxalates to discourage plant-eaters, 2-legged, 4-legged, and 6-legged. Most people's bodies have techniques to tie up the oxalate with calcium or magnesium and excrete it before it causes a problem. But some people, and celiacs are particularly prone to the problem, can't excrete enough of it, so it gets stored in the body. In the muscles, in the endocrine glands, in the bones and teeth, in the kidneys (kidney stones, anyone?), in the mucous membranes (such as vulvodynia). For more information, see website. I joined the Yahoo! forum Trying_Low_Oxalates, and read about list members with fibromyalgia, vulvodynia, interstitial cystitis, irritable bowel, kidney stones, and autistic children, who had been helped by a low-oxalate diet. For a recent article from Britain, see The GP Who Gave Up Fruit and Veg.

You don't have to give up ALL fruit and veg, but there is a long list of high-oxalate foods to stay away from. We can start with spinach and chard, rhubarb, starfruit, chocolate (sigh!), whole wheat, brown rice, most alternate grains, beets, carrots, potatoes and sweet potatoes, dried beans, nuts.... the list goes on. I gave up my CSA membership, since I was giving away more than half of my share every week. I gave away a lot of my stored staples to friends who could use them.

Net result: my fibromyalgia is down by 90% in pain and distress. Others have had similar results. By any objective measure, I just don't have it any more. Is it worth it, all the restrictions? You bet!

Summary up to this point: no wheat, rye, barley, oats, few eggs, half the veggies prohibited, half the fruits, no nuts in any but minute quantities, no dried beans except for split and fresh peas, potatoes, chocolate, carob, no buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth, teff, etc.. Can I still eat locally? Yes, for the most part. In fact, I grow a lot of veggies in my garden, the ones that I can eat, and eat fruit from our own trees, which is as local as you can get. Local humanely-raised meat, eggs. Do I still enjoy my foods? Yes. Do I still enjoy good nutrition? Yes, far better than in the olden days.

Last step: Moving into my late 60s, insulin resistance was rearing its ugly head, and weight was still a problem. I went on Jack Kruse's Leptin Reset diet, starting Jan 1, 2012. For this I removed all sugars, honey, and artificial sweeteners, as well as the rest of the grains and starches. Seven months later, down 27 pounds, fasting blood glucose back to normal, blood pressure back to normal, energy back to normal. Another 20 pounds would do it. Dr. Kruse suggests seafood, which was a big change for me, and pretty much not local (except for the trout raised in Boulder County).

Summing up: I'm working with celiac disease, oxalate problems, and staying low-carb. 90% of the foods in the grocery stores are off-limits to me. Maybe 95%. Most of the shelves are full of packaged processed high-carb foods. Just don't go there. I eat local veggies and fruits, local meat and eggs, local cheeses. Not so local: some seafood, some tea, a bit of coffee, olive oil, coconut. I'm still running our local food cooperative, which supplies most of the foods I eat except for what I get in my front yard. So, the answer is yes, you CAN eat local foods and work with food restrictions.

I wish I could go back and undo some of the really stupid food things I have done in the past. But at least I feel that I'm on the right track now.

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