Autumn officially begins tomorrow (Sept. 22) and we can feel it in the cooler mornings and the less hot afternoons. Maybe I am fooling myself but it seems the weather is easing up on us a bit sooner than in previous years. And most everyone I speak with is ready for cooler weather. And some autumn cooking!

With cooler weather comes heartier meals. When it’s 112 degrees, light and cool foods are preferred. Since I am tired of coming up with fresh ideas for “light and cool” I am ready for soups and chili and casseroles. And since I’ve decided to adopt a whole food, plant-based (WFPB) way of eating I have some recipe ideas I’d like to share. (Yes, I’m doing this again, if you read previous posts [here, here, and here] from March, but for longer than the one month trial.) Even if you aren’t eating WFPB, these are good for your meatless Mondays, or Tuesdays, or Fridays…

I love a Tamale Pie! With that yummy cornbread topping, what’s not to like? There are probably as many versions of this dish as there are recipes for chili. Here’s the one I made this week; pretty doggone good!

First I sautéed some chopped onion, about ½ cup, for 4-5 minutes, just starting to brown a bit. Then I added about ½ cup each red and green bell pepper, chopped. Sauté a few minutes. Next added fresh corn cut from two smallish cobs, but you could use frozen corn. Gave that a few minutes in the pan. I had some roasted jalapenos and roasted Anaheim peppers. I chopped one of each and added to the pan. (Raw peppers could be used, just need longer in the pan so I would add with the bells in that case.) Then I added about 1 cup cooked quinoa, 1 ½ cups cooked pinto beans, and a can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes. Finally, some chili powder, salt, and pepper to taste. The jalapenos I had were hotter than some I’ve bought so the heat was just right for me. But a milder pepper or your personal taste might call for more spice. I let that mixture simmer on low while I prepared the topping.

I did not want a thick cornbread topping so I reduced my usual recipe by 1/2. I also modified it to be WFPB, or vegan.

Mix ½ cup cornmeal and ½ cup flour (unbleached white or whole wheat), 1 T. sugar, 2 t. baking powder, and ~1/2 t. salt together in a bowl. Separately, mix ½ cup plant milk, 1 T. ground flaxseed mixed with 2 ½ T. water (and allowed to stand about 15 minutes), and 2 T. neutral oil or melted vegan ‘butter’. Stir into dry mix just to blend.

I used an about 8×8” ceramic casserole dish that is maybe 2.5” tall. Poured the sautéed mixture into the dish and then spread the cornbread mix on top, spread to cover all the filling. Place in a 375° oven for about 30 minutes, until knife or toothpick inserted into crust comes out clean and edges of cornbread just start to pull away from sides. This provides four very generous servings, or six smaller servings.

 

Lasagna is next. WFPB lasagna? You bet! This dish is also great because I know it is too much for the two of us for dinner, so I know we will get 2-3 lunches from it too. Or, if company comes for dinner, this dish has us covered.

You will need – lasagna noodles, sauce, one package firm tofu (12-14 oz.), vegan ‘mozzarella’, spinach, kale, and/or Swiss chard. I have used both ‘no-cook’ lasagna noodles and regular cook-before-using lasagna noodles. I have used homemade sauce and carefully selected store-bought sauce. I have used fresh greens and frozen spinach.

I mix the tofu up until it is mostly smooth and added some salt and ground pepper. (I used to make this with an egg but no longer see the need for the egg.) This is the ‘ricotta’. If I have any I might add vegan ‘parmesan’ to this.

If using frozen spinach, I thaw it first and squeeze as much water from it as I can. You would need 2 10oz. packages. Fresh spinach or greens really shrink down so today I am using a large bag of spinach, plus one bunch of kale. I will wash and chop them a bit, then steam until limp. Drain and squeeze.

My homemade batch of sauce makes enough for this dish, maybe 2.5-3 cups. Or use your favorite prepared sauce that you have carefully vetted for ingredients. J

Now, I use a 2 qt., oblong glass baking dish, about 7×11”. Pour a bit of sauce in the bottom, enough to cover it well, and lay two noodles side-by-side. Spread ½ the tofu ‘ricotta’ over the noodles, then ½ the cooked, squeezed greens over that. I sometimes will add thinly sliced zucchini if I have a piece to use up. Sprinkle on some grated ‘mozzarella’. Pour about ½ cup sauce over top. Repeat this layer, starting with more noodles. Top the second layer with two more noodles and the rest of the sauce, and more shredded ‘cheese’. Bake at 350° for about 30-35 minutes or until sauce bubbles around edges. You could assemble the lasagna ahead of time and refrigerate, but it will take 45-50 minutes or longer in the oven to get hot through. Serve with some lightly steamed fresh veggies. Yum!

 

Potato Leek Soup is delicious and easy to make. Toss together a simple salad while this simmers and you’ll have a satisfying meal, in about 30 minutes.

Wash and slice two leeks. Chop 2-3 cloves of garlic. Cube 4 medium size Yukon Gold or red potatoes.

You’ll also need 4 cups vegetable broth, 1.5 cups cooked white beans, rosemary, oregano, salt, and pepper.

Heat a few tablespoons of broth in a large saucepan over medium heat. Sauté the leeks in the broth until softened. Add the garlic and sauté a few more minutes. Add a bit more broth if necessary to prevent sticking. Then add the potato cubes, the beans, the rest of the broth, and the spices. You will need 1 t. each of rosemary and oregano if dried, or about 1 T. of each if fresh. Salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer and cook about 15-20 minutes, until potatoes are cooked through.

Carefully pour into a blender jar and puree until smooth, or use an immersion blender if you have one. Add small quantity broth or water if needed to thin to preferred consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning.

 

If you try these, I hope you enjoy and let me know how they turned out!

 

Image courtesy of atibodyphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month and Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. The aim of these health month designations is to educate and bring awareness to diseases and the treatment of disease. According to the American Cancer Society, a woman’s risk of getting ovarian cancer during her lifetime is about 1 in 75. Her lifetime chance of dying from ovarian cancer is about 1 in 100. And for men, the American Cancer Society states that about 1 man in 7 will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime, and about 1 man in 39 will die of prostate cancer. Both of these cancers are more likely to develop in older women and men. You can go here and here to learn more about symptoms, risk, treatments, etc.

 

We all know how fast things change, and cancer care is changing too. The big “C” is less frequently a terminal illness than it was years ago. Yet, the worry that a possible or actual cancer diagnosis causes remains. I remember how scared I was when the mammography center called me once to say they needed me to come back for another, more thorough screening due to unclear “spots.” Yikes! Thankfully it was nothing. And many of us know the sinking feeling when told a family member or a friend gets a cancer diagnosis. While cancer is not a good or simple thing to face, the good news is that treatments are much more successful and may not be as awful as once upon a time, and hopefully will see even more progress soon. Because of the public’s complaints about how debilitating older treatments were, almost worse than the cancer itself, medical personnel and researchers have begun to focus on making cancer a manageable disease – looking at less aggressive treatment and paying more attention to the fears and concerns of the patient. The focus is moving more toward prevention, early diagnosis, and patient experience during and after treatment. While still scary, cancer does not need to be the scariest of diagnoses anymore.

 

Of course we all know there are certain risky behaviors that increase a person’s chances of getting cancer in their lifetime: smoking, years of breathing industrial dust without a mask, overexposure to the sun, etc. But it is also believed that nearly everyone has or will have some malignant cells in their body, and why some people develop cancer and some do not is unknown to date, outside of obvious factors. For instance, a smoker is more likely to develop lung cancer than his non-smoking sibling, but we’ve all heard of people who developed lung cancer with no obvious cause. So what can one do to lessen the risk? Aside from the obvious like not smoking, minimizing sun exposure, using protective gear at work or around chemicals, did you know that excess stress and a poor diet can also contribute to cancer risk?

 

Stress is a normal part of living and usually not a concern, but sometimes it gets too unmanageable and becomes a constant and unwelcome companion. People often deal with this by smoking a lot, drinking too much alcohol, or overeating. These behaviors all may increase one’s chances of developing cancer. Chronic stress is also harmful to overall health which may leave one vulnerable to growth of malignant cells. So it is important to deal with increasing stress in healthful ways. Look for ways to reduce stressful obligations, avoid stress-inducing situations, and/or delegate tasks that are overloading you. In addition, seek ways to get a handle on your stress about things you cannot change. Learn how to meditate, learn some calming yoga poses, spend time in contemplative prayer, or set aside time for a solo walk. Do this daily! Find 30 minutes in your day to do one or more of these practices. If necessary, get professional help in dealing with stress and anxiety that you cannot manage. Help your body by relieving it of some of the burden too much stress puts on it.

 

Doctors are more and more convinced of inflammation’s role in increasing cancer risk, as well as the risk of other serious ailments like heart disease and dementia. Stress, sedentary lifestyles, and poor diet contribute to chronic inflammation. I already mentioned reducing stress, and have many times recommended regular activity/movement/exercise. A healthful way of eating reduces the chances of chronic inflammation and will help eliminate inflammation that already exists. Also, a healthful way of eating helps with weight control. Obesity increases the risk of certain cancers. What does anti-inflammatory, healthful eating look like? It looks like lots of vegetables and fruits; whole grains (not ground into flour); beans and legumes; fats such as from nuts and avocados; small amounts of high-quality animal protein if desired; and limited amounts of natural sugars (honey or pure maple syrup, for instance). Omit highly processed foods, fried food, sweetened beverages, and so forth. Common sense eating really. This is not a fad diet meant to be followed for a few weeks or months. This is a lifestyle way of eating.

 

You are your own best defense against needing cancer treatment. Pay attention to your body and what it tells you. You will be the first to notice changes that warrant investigation. Take care of your body by feeding it well, getting regular exercise, avoiding known dangers, and maintaining calm and positive outlook, filled with gratitude for the gifts you have. And we all have gifts!

 

Last year about this time I offered a few salad recipes as a way to beat the hot, dog days of summer. That phrase, by the way, while it has come to mean the hottest, most humid part of summer in the northern hemisphere, actually originated with the ancient Greeks who saw the star Sirius (the dog star) rise around late July, at which point their summer was moving into its hottest phase. Nothing to do with dogs! Anyway, maybe I’ll make this an annual post, since salads seem to be the most popular dinner at my house this month. So here goes – some Cool Salads For Hot Days!

 

Quinoa Super Salad

My new favorite!

4-6 c. torn or chopped lettuce of your choice
3/4 cup dry white or red quinoa
1 15-ounce can black beans or 1 ½ c. cooked black beans
1-2 ears fresh corn, removed from cob, or 1 c. frozen corn, thawed
1 small zucchini or 3-4” of a medium zucchini
1 avocado
1 red bell pepper, roasted or raw

½ c. prepared salsa
½ c. mayonnaise (I use Just Mayo)
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, seeded and chopped
½ t. ground black pepper

Mix together last four ingredients for dressing, set aside.
Rinse the quinoa in a fine mesh strainer. Bring 1½ c. water to a boil, add the quinoa and stir. Bring back to boil, reduce heat to a simmer. Cook 15 minutes. Stir, cover, set aside. Any remaining water will be absorbed; plus the quinoa should be room temperature for the salad.
If using canned beans, drain them. Steam the corn very lightly, allow to cool. Cube the avocado. Slice the bell pepper thinly lengthwise, then cut the strips into 1” or so pieces.
When all this is ready, place ¼ of the lettuce on each of four plates. Top with ¼ of the quinoa, the beans, the corn, the avocado, and then the peppers. Drizzle each with the dressing. Serves 4. Enjoy!

 

Kale Salad with Cranberries and Pumpkin Seeds

This is a simple salad, a good one to accompany a simple pasta dish or light fish entrée. And it needs no cooking!

 1 large bunch kale, Tuscan or curly
1/3 c. raw pumpkin seeds
1/3 c. dried cranberries (I found apple juice sweetened at Natural Grocers)
1 lemon
¼ c. olive oil
1-2 t. honey
1 t. Dijon mustard
Pinch salt, dash black pepper
Remove large stems from kale, chop the leaves, and place in large bowl. Squeeze one half the lemon over the kale and massage it into the kale to soften the leaves. Allow to rest about 10 minutes.
Mix the oil with the juice from the other half lemon, the honey, mustard, and salt and pepper.
After the kale is relaxed, toss in the cranberries and pumpkin seeds. Pour the dressing over and mix well. Serves 4.

 

Roasted Beet Salad with Walnuts and Cheese

3 medium beets, washed and trimmed
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
2 T. sherry vinegar
1 T. honey
1 T. minced onions
1/2 t. Dijon mustard
4-6 c. baby spinach
1/2 c. crumbled goat cheese or bleu cheese
3/4 c. chopped walnuts, or halves

Preheat the oven to 400° F.
In a lidded jar add the olive oil, vinegar, honey, onions and Dijon and shake well.
I prefer to cube the beets and roast the chunks – doesn’t take as long. Peel the beets and cut into 3/4” cubes. (Yes, this can be messy!) Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and shake to lightly coat. Place on a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer. Bake about 15 minutes, then remove from oven and turn them over. Return to oven another 15 minutes and check for doneness. When a knife slips in easily, remove the beets from the oven to cool.
Place the spinach in a bowl, add the beets and dressing and toss to coat. Top with the cheese and walnuts. Serves 4.

Adapted from http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/nancy-fuller/roasted-beet-salad-with-walnuts-and-goat-cheese-2383008

 

Chicken Fajita Salad

This salad does require a bit more cooking. If you use forethought and are grilling on a weekend, you could grill some extra chicken and grill the onion and peppers in a grill basket at the same time. I use the stove because I don’t usually think about it when grilling something else!

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken, or equivalent cooked chicken of your choice
1 med-large sweet onion, sliced 1/4” thick and into half circles
1 medium red bell pepper
1 medium green bell pepper
1 medium yellow or orange bell pepper
2 jalapeno peppers
20 or so grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
6-8 c. torn or chopped lettuce of your choice
2 T. chopped cilantro
Oil for sautéing

2 T. organic canola oil or EVOO
1 T. red wine vinegar
1 T. balsamic vinegar
2 T. prepared salsa

Mix the last four ingredients together for the dressing. Set aside.
Slice the onion into 1/4” thick slices and then cut slices into quarters. Remove tops of bell peppers, remove seeds and membranes, slice about ¼” thick, and cut slices into quarters. Remove seeds and membranes from the jalapenos (unless you like it hot!) and slice thinly. Slice chicken thinly.
Put a small amount of oil in a skillet large enough to cook the onion and peppers, not all at once unless you have a really large skillet. Heat the oil over medium-high heat, then add the onion quarters, spread them out and sauté until translucent and a little browned. Remove from skillet to a dish to cool. Repeat with the bell peppers, I usually do one color at a time, adding the jalapeno slices near the end of the last batch. Last, add the chicken to the skillet if not using already-cooked chicken. Cook thoroughly, set aside to cool. Add more oil as needed as you go through this process.
Place the prepared lettuce and the tomatoes in a salad bowl. When onions, peppers, and chicken are warm but no longer hot, add to bowl and toss with dressing to coat. Serves 4.

 

I would love to know if you try any of these, and what you think of them!  Post a comment!

Summertime! For those of us who don’t get to spend the whole summer on a beach being lazy, especially those who have kiddos who are bored even though they don’t want to be in school, I’d thought I’d write about cool things to make for lunches. It’s too hot to eat heavy and who wants to heat up the kitchen with a lot of stove use? But, we also don’t want to eat out all the time – at least, I hope you don’t! And, getting the kids involved is a good way to teach them about where food comes from and how it gets from farms to your table, not to mention instilling a practical skill they will have for life.

Moving past PB&J or cheese sandwiches or hotdogs, what are some interesting and fun lunch ideas that don’t need a lot of heat? Wraps. Rollups. Pasta salads. Sloppy Joes. Kabobs. Tostadas. Salad-in-a-jar. Tacos. Zucchini pizzas. Panini. Keeping in mind what foods your kids like and what you think they might try if presented with a fun chance, all of these ideas could work well. You’ll want to keep these ideas in mind as you prepare for other meals and shop for ingredients. I also will make lunch out of unexpected leftover bits and bites, and many of these ideas lend themselves well to that. Will some of the lunches for the week need beans? Cook extra or make sure to have canned ones on hand. Making mini-pizzas? Be sure you have extra of your favorite marinara – homemade or bought – and cheese. Tortillas? Check. Fresh carrots and cucumbers and lettuce and other veggies? Check. Cooked chicken, either leftover from a dinner or rotisserie chicken from the store makes it easy? Check. As with planning dinner menus, it helps to have all the ingredients available. Then all ya gotta do is prep and eat!

Depending on the ages of the children, if you have any around, they can be assigned various tasks to help. Older kids may want to help plan or even dream up their own ideas, and certainly help with prep and any cooking. Younger kids can help assemble and even chop and slice – good way to teach safe knife handling. Little ones can help add ingredients you have prepped and measured, stir, and help assemble. The results may not be as pretty as the pictures but will taste just as good!

Most kids like pasta, and a cold pasta salad can be a fun dish to prepare, and a good way to get some veggies in their mouth they may think they don’t like. It seems raw veggies, especially cut into fun shapes, are more tolerable to reluctant tasters. Italian-style dressing is common but may not be to kids’ tastes – maybe a creamy, ranch type dressing would be better liked. Sure, pasta has to be cooked but it’s minimal and if you plan extra when making another meal, you’ll have it ready to mix.

Skewers (cold kabobs) of favorite and not so familiar items are fun. Roll up sliced turkey or ham and cut into 1” pieces, do the same with soft cheese slices like provolone or cut small cubes of some cheddar or Monterey jack. Prep items the eaters will like or you think they might like, such as cucumber or zucchini slices, grape tomatoes, folded up lettuce leaves, pitted olives, and even grapes or strawberries. Choose foods that will slide onto a wooden skewer easily. Put these in small bowls and let the kids build-your-own-kabob, no cooking needed! You can turn wraps into rollups if you layer the contents well, using hummus or similar consistency spread as first layer. Once you’ve layered the wrap, roll it tightly, and then cut into 1” wide slices. So maybe hummus, slice of turkey or ham, slice of cheese or shredded cheese, maybe young spinach leaves or some shredded lettuce, a bit of shredded carrot or other veg. Just don’t use large chunks – they don’t roll well or stay rolled up well.

Tacos and pizzas don’t have to be hot, or have meat that requires cooking. These pizzas will be a little messy to eat but fun. Slice a day-old, whole-grain baguette or a medium zucchini into 1/4-3/8” slices. Top each slice with a bit of marinara, a bit of shredded cheese, and maybe an olive or halved cherry tomato. You could add some finely chopped herbs, like basil or oregano too. Pizza! Tacos could be fresh (less crumbly) or dried small tortillas, with maybe some cold leftover chicken or leftover beans and rice, some salsa, and other taco toppings of diner’s choice. Again, put the toppings in small bowls and let the kids build-your-own-taco, no cooking needed!

If the children are salad eaters it can be fun to make a salad in a jar (or one pint translucent plastic tub for picnics). Put the dressing in first, then layer the preferred fixin’s in, with the first one being something that can touch the dressing without damage. (So I wouldn’t start with lettuce.) Use lots of colorful veggies is various shapes  – orange carrots cut in tiny cubes, purple cabbage thinly sliced to show off its curls, dark green spinach to contrast with lighter green lettuce, red bells in skinny strips, etc. Put the lid on, store in fridge until lunchtime. Shake the jar to mix the dressing around, and now all that’s needed is a fork.

Here’s a vegetarian ‘sloppy joe’ recipe. Requires little cooking, and does well in a crockpot. In addition to being different from what a sloppy joe usually consists of, serve this mix in a pita pocket to make it even more interesting. Also, it makes a lot as written, so maybe this helps out for a pool party.

Vegetarian Sloppy Joes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large white onion, sliced
2 medium carrots, or 1 large, shredded
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 cups cooked pinto beans
1 large red bell pepper, diced
1 8-ounce can no-salt-added tomato sauce
2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce or tamari, or Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2-1 cup water
2-3 cups very thinly sliced green or purple cabbage
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 cup corn, fresh or frozen (optional, I omit this)
3 tablespoons mustard of choice, or to taste
Salt, black pepper to taste

Preparation
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion; cook, stirring occasionally, until starting to
brown, about 8 minutes. Stir in carrots and garlic and chili powder; cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 15-30 seconds. Remove from heat; stir in vinegar and scrape up any browned bits.
Coat a 6-quart slow cooker with cooking spray, if desired. Mix the tomato paste with 1/2 cup water until smooth; add remaining water a bit at a time if mixture is too thick. Add this mixture and the rest of the ingredients to the slow cooker. Stir to combine.
Cover and cook on High for 1 hour or Low for 2-3 hours. The cabbage should be well cooked. When done to your liking turn the cooker off. Check the seasoning, adjust to taste.
Serve on buns or in pita pocket bread.

Note: If you sauté the onion/carrot/garlic in a large stove top pot, you could add the rest of the ingredients to it instead of a crockpot. Heat to low simmer for 30-40 minutes and check for consistency. This method may require a little additional water.

[Modified from http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes/vegetarian_pinto_bean_sloppy_joes.html]

 

Now I was saying how kids like pasta. Disclaimer here – I have not tried this! But it seems so easy I thought I’d add it.

5 Minute Homemade Mac and Cheese
1/2 pound cooked pasta of choice (we used small shells)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup whole milk
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Place pasta, cheese, milk, salt and pepper into a microwave safe bowl. Stir to mix. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and microwave for 3 minutes. Stir and microwave for an additional 2 minutes. Stir until creamy and smooth. Serve immediately.
Makes 4 servings

[http://picky-palate.com/2012/02/20/5-minute-homemade-mac-and-cheese/]

 

Anyway, I hope this gave you some creative ideas for cool, easy lunches, whether you are feeding kids this summer or not!

Do you get cravings? I do! In fact, right now I am diving in to a bag of my favorite tortilla chips – Late July Sea Salt by the Seashore multigrain tortilla chips. It’s been a long day at the computer, writing my newsletter for July which is due out the end of this week. Yikes! I needed some easy energy and the brand new bag was calling my name. Does that ever happen to you?

What else do I crave, food-wise? Well, I was craving green veggies this week. I had been out of town and meals were – light, scattered, and not full of green stuff. So I wanted salads! Besides, it’s hot and salads make a cool, no cook meal often in our house. Sometimes I crave chocolate – just a piece of a good quality, dark chocolate bar. Wine – I sometimes crave a nice glass of red wine with pasta, or while I’m cooking. (I have a small poster of Maxine saying “I love to cook with wine, sometimes I even put it in the food” hanging on my refrigerator!) About four or five times a year I crave a good burger – usually I avoid beef but when this one hits, it’s pretty strong. Peanut butter calls me at lunch now and then – a good PB&J never hurt anyone, right? Soups when it’s chilly or I’m not feeling well. Cheese is another food I usually avoid but sometimes I’m driven to buy a hunk of cheddar and dig in. Not to say I don’t eat these foods other times, just that sometimes the pull is strong.

Do I indulge? Normally, yes, for two reasons. One, I feel like my body knows better than my mind at times, and I should listen to it. Maybe I’ve been unknowingly short-changing some nutrient element of food or using it up more than usual, so my body says “get some of this.” Two, I believe moderation is best in most things, so a little treat of chocolate or a burger is good for the soul. Asceticism generally leads to even stronger cravings. We always want what we ‘can’t’ have, right? It’s why so many ‘diets’ fail – they are too restrictive and often not right for the person trying the diet.

That said, these cravings don’t rule my life, they don’t cause guilt – because they are not constant, overwhelming, and harmful. When people have any kind of addiction, it can be so powerful they give over control of their life to the addiction. The cravings of which I speak are not addiction-related. If you crave something now and then and aren’t restricted medically, then go ahead and indulge! If the craving begins to rule your life, that’s another matter. But an occasional splurge is harmless and only you can decide the degree of its strength. Mostly, I think you’ll feel pretty darn good and move on with life.

So what if you have cravings for something you should not eat due to a medical condition? Like diabetics who crave dessert after every meal, or lactose intolerant individuals who really want some cheese or a glass of milk? Or what if you swore off alcohol (not addiction related) and really want to join a friend in a glass of wine, or you decided to switch to a plant based diet but that burger smells so good?

  • Willpower is essential. Many people believe they don’t have any but really what is often lacking is conviction, not willpower. If you don’t really believe in the reason you are avoiding a food it will be harder to pass on the craving.
  • Substitute something else. I might go for peanut butter on crackers when a cheese craving hits, or a handful of fresh or frozen berries instead of that ice cream dessert.
  • Distract yourself. When I am staying away from wine but feel the urge, I will make a cup of tea. The preparation occupies my mind – filling tea kettle with fresh water, getting the mug out, choosing a flavor of tea. Then I can peacefully sip the tea and no longer care about the wine.
  • Support and accountability are helpful. Maybe your friend will agree to help you by not having dessert when dining with you, and will remind you why you aren’t eating sweets.
  • Know your limits – can you have a little bit or none at all? If none, don’t keep any of the food or beverage you need to avoid nearby, and try to steer clear of places it is featured. If you are diabetic and absolutely love ice cream, don’t keep any at home and stay out of ice cream parlors! If you are refraining from alcohol, stay out of bars.

Mostly, just don’t let a craving make you feel like a failure, even if you give in to it. It’s normal! You’re human! Let it go and carry on.

Today I’d like to explore food allergies vs. intolerance vs. sensitivity. I think there is a lot of confusion around these terms and how, even if, they differ. The words are bandied about the news and Internet, along with fear-inducing warnings and questionable information. It seems more and more people have problems with certain foods, or claim they do, and it’s hard to know when the claims are serious. You may have been on an airplane where they announced “No peanuts today as there is a passenger with a peanut allergy on board.” Or maybe your child’s school sent a note prohibiting peanut-containing snacks or lunches. “Wow,” you may think, “is it really that dangerous?” For some people the answer is yes. So let’s outline the differences and similarities.

          An actual allergy to a food causes the body’s immune system to react, sometimes aggressively. The body views a protein in the food as an invader and attacks the invader with antibodies. You may be familiar with people taking an anti-histamine medicine when they have hives or itchy seasonal allergy symptoms – the histamine produced by the body in this fight against invaders causes those symptoms. However, a true food allergy can be much more serious, causing anaphylactic shock in some people. Other symptoms are less serious but can increase in severity if exposure continues. These could be skin reactions, like hives, swelling, and itching or digestive symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, and stomach pain.

          A food intolerance does not involve the immune system. Intolerance most often means your body cannot break the food down properly in your digestive track. Milk intolerance is the most common, and is due to lack of the enzyme lactase needed to break down the lactose in the milk. Other causes of intolerance are certain food additives like sulfites or nitrites; extreme aversion to a certain food; and intolerance of naturally occurring substances like histamines. Generally the symptoms of food intolerance are gastrointestinal-related. Some blog articles point to skin disorders from intolerances but the medical sites did not list skin problems as related to food intolerance. Food intolerance will not cause anaphylactic shock.

          Food sensitivity is sometimes the term used for food intolerances, but where it is distinguished it refers more to the    discomfort some people may experience after eating spicy foods or acidic foods, or the faint mouth itchiness some people get after eating a banana but with no other symptoms. Food sensitivities also do not involve the immune system.

While allergies and intolerances share some symptoms, the main difference is the involvement of the immune system. Also, reactions from a food allergy generally begin immediately or within a short time of eating the food, where reaction from a food intolerance may not show up for hours or even a few days. An allergy causes a reaction from even a small amount of the food but intolerance usually flares up after eating a lot of the problem food. I am lactose intolerant but find I can have a small amount of cheese, for instance, without symptoms, especially if I indulge only on occasion. My experience highlights another difference – an allergy causes the reactions every time the offending food is eaten but a food intolerance often only flares up if the food is eaten often. Allergies can be life-threatening but intolerances are not.

Just as food allergies and intolerances can be outgrown or fade, we can also develop an allergy or intolerance as adults, even after eating the food for years without problems. This is very common for milk intolerance. Children with food allergies often outgrow them, especially milk, egg, and soy allergies, usually by age 6 or 10. It is less likely they will outgrow peanut, tree nut, or shellfish allergies.[1] The most common allergens, accounting for about 90% of food allergies, are: milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, and soybeans. [Note that gluten is not listed here, even though it seems to be such a huge topic. You may think people with celiac disease(~ 1% of the US population) are allergic to gluten but it is not an allergy, rather it’s an autoimmune disease.  ‘Non-celiac gluten sensitivity’ is a fairly new disorder and one that is difficult to diagnose, as there is no test for it and removing gluten from the diet may also remove other causes of the symptoms.]

If you suspect you have an allergy to a food, you should avoid the food and seek testing to be sure. If it proves you are allergic you will need to continue to avoid the food, and other foods that may include it. If your symptoms are severe you should carry an epinephrine pen at all times.  If you suspect you have a food intolerance, the best way to be sure is to track what you’ve eaten when you experience the symptoms, and then try an elimination diet on the most likely culprits. This should tell you if you can eat a little on occasion or should just eliminate it for good. Remember to check on preparation when eating out – was the sauce made with shrimp stock and you are allergic to shrimp? I have a friend who is allergic to potatoes and has to be careful of fried foods, soups, breads, and sauces because they often have potato or potato starch, or were cooked alongside potatoes. Read labels, ask questions, and protect your health.

[1] http://blog.foodallergy.org/2013/09/13/who-is-likely-to-outgrow-a-food-allergy/

 

Most of us shy away from discussing bowel habits outside the doctor’s office; for some people even inside the doctor’s office is off limits for this topic. Yet, we all poop and most people suffer from constipation at some time or another, so why all the secrecy and reluctance to talk about it? Not good dinner table conversation perhaps, but there’s no reason not to talk about a common problem with a natural function. There’d be less suffering if people shared tips on how to get past constipation.

What is constipation? It is when the solid waste material doesn’t move through and out of the body in a timely manner, or is dry and hard to excrete. Other symptoms include gas, painful bloating, and straining to go or feeling that the bowel movement is not complete. Constipation that lasts for an extended period may lead to hemorrhoids, diverticulosis, or impacted bowels among other risks. Obviously, sudden and severe onset of constipation, especially if blood is present in the stool, or constipation that is not relieved by the usual remedies should be discussed with your medical professional without delay.

I admit to suffering from occasional constipation throughout my life, sometimes worse than others. It can really make a person cranky, to just not feel tip-top because a function that should just happen isn’t working. Speaking of normal, we are unique individuals and our bodies work within the rhythm that is right for each. Other peoples’ natural schedule of bowel movements may not be your natural rhythm. There is no “right” timing or amount; you should respect the signals from your body. That said, not having a bowel movement for a week or even for 4-5 days is a concern and you should be looking into what is going on.

What are some of the causes of occasional episodes of constipation?

  • Overuse of antacid medicines containing calcium or aluminum
  • Changes in your usual diet or activities, like when on vacation or change in job
  • Consuming a lot of dairy products
  • Eating disorders
  • Not being active
  • Not enough water or fiber in your diet
  • Overuse of laxatives (creates a dependency)
  • Pregnancy
  • Too often ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement
  • Some medications (especially strong pain drugs, antidepressants, or iron pills)
  • Excess stress

To avoid occasional bout of constipation, the general recommendations are simple lifestyle changes:

  • Exercise daily, for about 30 minutes. Exercise is essential to regular bowel movements. I find Hatha yoga especially helpful as it massages your internal organs, but a good walk helps too.
  • Drink plenty of water – 1 ½ – 2 quarts per day.
  • Eat plenty of fiber from whole fruits and vegetables, legumes, and whole-grain bread and cereal.
  • Cut back on milk and cheeses. Dairy products are constipating for some people, maybe for you.
  • If you take calcium supplements, be sure to get half as much magnesium to counter the sometimes constipating effects of calcium.
  • To relieve stress use a relaxation technique daily, especially meditation or breathing exercises. Stress interferes with relaxation of the whole body, including the bowels.
  • Don’t ignore the urge to go. Peristalsis of the bowel is the movements that trigger a bowel movement. If you ignore the urge, the opportunity may pass and lead to stool backing up
  • Do not use caffeine as a laxative. While coffee and other forms of caffeine may work as laxatives when used occasionally, when used regularly for this purpose caffeine, like the constant use of laxatives, prevents the bowels from following their own natural rhythm.
  • Don’t smoke. Nicotine affects the bowel in the same manner as caffeine.
  • Avoid constipating drugs if you can. The most common are opiates, diuretics, anti-depressants, and anti-histamines, among others.

There now, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Simple talk about what is often a simple problem with easy solutions. Hopefully you do not need this information often; if you do a health coach may be able to help reduce that need.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net