A year ago, I was living with arthritis. For three weeks last January, I experienced intense migratory joint pain that would subside only briefly — and never completely — after taking a couple of Aleve, which I was doing every 12 hours.

This is what’s happened since.

First, the diet.

For 60 days, I stuck to a strict elimination/provocation protocol — I started with a version of the Autoimmune Paleo and modified it based on my body’s feedback.

The diet implied a lot of no’s:

  • No grains, beans, nuts, or ANY other kind of seeds, including coffee and chocolate — yes, those are seeds — or spices used in their seed form — i.e., mustard, coriander, cumin, caraway, etc. I eliminated black pepper the first week only. Gluten is of course, excluded by default.
  • No dairy, though I reintroduced butter after the first week.
  • No nightshades — the family of vegetables that includes tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and potatoes.
  • No eggs.
  • No coconut products. Whereas the Autoimmune Paleo protocol allows coconut, I identified I was reacting to it in the first week of the diet.

On the other hand, the diet emphasizes the use of very nutrient dense foods like organ meats, oysters, shellfish and bone broths. I made an effort to introduce more of those into my diet.

In lieu of my usual spices, I rediscovered aromatic herbs, lemon, ginger and turmeric, to flavor my food. I completely let go of the ‘breakfast foods’ concept. My meals started to look a lot like each other. Since I had to cook every single meal, keeping meal preparation very simple made the adaptation possible for me.

The diet, though difficult to follow, was a roaring success: By Day 15, I had stopped taking Aleve. At the end of the first month I had enough strength to take a yoga class. I kept improving until I reached my “zero triggers diet”, meaning, I was virtually asymptomatic. I knew then that to the best of my ability, I wasn’t eating anything that could trigger an autoimmune reaction.

At the 60-day mark, I started to reintroduce foods — slowly and in a very systematic way in order to minimize the number of factors involved in a potential reaction. I successfully reintroduced all spice seeds — yay for cumin! — except for mustard, which caused me wild sinuses pains followed by dull muscle aches. I was experiencing in my own body something I had observed in some of my clients: many times, reactions to food just can’t be explained. Why in heaven would I react to mustard and not to other similar foods? Who knows!

I then proceeded to reintroduce some seeds I use frequently: pumpkin, sunflower and sesame. No problem there. Win!

Nuts followed: almonds, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts and pistachios. I was relieved to be able to reintroduce seeds and nuts because, well, I really like them! Besides, it’s just so much easier to plan a snack if you can carry some trail mix with you. However, the experience of removing them from my diet and reintroducing them taught me that there was a time when I was eating simply way too many seeds and nuts. They are, after all, very nutrient dense foods which means that a little bit goes a long way.

The next month I focused on carbohydrates. My unintended weight loss, a sudden obsession with food that would not subside no matter how much I ate, and the fact that my stools were getting looser, propelled me to tinker with the amounts and kinds of starches I was eating. Because of my background and upbringing, I figured I’d do well to add more of the heavy starches present in plantains and roots like yuca and taro. I was right: daily rations of yellow and green plantain, cassava bread and yucca really satisfied me and my stools regained the appropriate consistency. Win!

In May (the 5th month) I started to reintroduce dairy products. To my delight, my tolerance widened compared to before I went through the elimination process. I can eat yogurt, cream and cheese with no ill effects. However, I do have a tolerance point, at which I start getting skin rashes and post nasal drip.

In June I successfully reintroduced white rice which I enjoy occasionally. I also started to experiment with coconut products: oil first, then the flakes, milk and, finally, the flour. I learned that I have a distinctive tolerance point for coconut products. I can do them on occasion, but not too frequently. I get stomach cramps and stools showing partially undigested food when I overdo them.

I took a month off of reintroductions in July, and in August I tried one I was really looking forward — chocolate. My first attempt was unsuccessful; I immediately felt heaviness in my stomach and I got uncomfortably “high” from it. I tried again a week later, and that went a little better. I now know that chocolate is a food I can’t tolerate as frequently as I want to eat it, i.e. every day. Whereas the symptoms of excess dairy or coconut are digestive, it is different with chocolate. The dull body aches return if I overdo it.

The last food I tried in this round of reintroductions was peanut butter. Yes, I know peanuts are a “bean” not a “nut;” I know that they’re decisively not “Paleo” or “GAPS;” and I know that I could use almond butter or sunflower butter instead, but I love peanut butter! I don’t eat a lot of it and it doesn’t have negative effects. It’s a keeper.

By late fall I had reintroduced most of the foods I was eating before I developed the joint pain, except for coffee, eggs and nightshades. I was able to reintroduce mustard as if nothing had ever happened — again, who knows why that would be.

I planned to spend a month in Colombia during the holidays so in October and November, I didn’t attempt any more reintroductions. I focused my attention on other lifestyle factors and supplementation, which I’ll tell you about in another post.

In Colombia, obviously things changed. For a couple of weeks, I had hot chocolate, eggs, cheese and arepas — a corn-based bread similar to a pita — for breakfast virtually every morning. I didn’t notice any reactions to these foods. I was on vacation and getting plenty of movement: hiking, swimming in open water, playing around.

Even though I did my best to avoid them, there were a few times during my trip when I had a meal containing nightshades — a tomato based sauce or a soup with white potato in it. I didn’t make a fuss about it, but tried to breathe deeply and take in all the goodness of the moment along with the food. I got tired and I got some of that dull aching that showed I’m still better off avoiding the nightshades, but I don’t regret the experiments. Incidentally, I did eat “criolla” — a small, yellow potato — twice, which didn’t seem to cause any negative reaction. It’s a shame I can’t get that in New York, or I’d do a systematic reintroduction to confirm.

I also gave myself the pleasure of one delicious, aromatic coffee in Bogota. I enjoyed it thoroughly but I got confirmation that coffee is off-limits for me: my knees were aching within 20 minutes of having it.

Many of the clients I’ve worked with must keep very strict dietary restrictions once they’ve figured out their triggers if they want to stay asymptomatic. Veering away often means dramatic regression. I am fortunate to have a little more room for experimentation, probably due to the fact that I caught the migratory joint pain very early and that my diet was very healthy to start with.

I am now back to my almost-paleo-sans-coffee-or-nightshades diet. For now I’m eating eggs only on rare occasions. I plan to go through another cycle of elimination with the support of the regenerative supplements I used the first time around. I’ll tell you about those next time.

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Playing with Winter Squashes

by Andrea on October 22, 2014

in Food,Nutrition,Recipes

Winter squash — the friendliest source of carbohydrates. The one we can all agree on. No matter if Paleo, GAPS, Autoimmune Paleo, or simply looking to eat clean and healthy food, winter squashes have flavor, nutrients, and high quality sugars to offer you. Even for the most sensitive person, during the strictest of elimination protocols, the chances of a negative reaction to squash are low. And that’s not something that can be said about many foods.

I will always love me some butternut or spaghetti squash but lately I’ve been having lots of fun playing with the smaller members of winter squash team —Delicata, Sweet Dumpling, Acorn, Carnival, etc. My favorite thing about these guys? Making them into boats! You can stuff them with any and all sorts of foods that result in easy to make and healthy meals that are also awfully good looking.

Here are some ideas to get your imagination going:

Acorn squash with shredded brisket and sage

Acorn squash with shredded brisket and sage

 

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Sweet Dumpling squash with chard and pinenuts. That on the side, is a lamb shoulder blade chop. Sexy, yes? All ready to go!

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Delicata squash stuffed with ground meat and radish greens

SquashBoatDelight

Delicata again, stuffed with apples rubbed with the classic fall spices — cinnamon, nutmeg, clove — and pecans

How do you go about it without a recipe?

Simply preheat the oven at 400 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut your chosen squashes in half from pole to pole, scoop the seeds out and place in the baking sheet skin side up — this will help keep the squash from getting dry without using a water bath. The squash will be cooked through when it gives as you poke the skin, which takes about 45 minutes, but varies with the size of the squash. You then have the option to stuff the squashes just as so, or to scoop some of the flesh out and make that part of your stuffing — the latter is my favorite method.

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Sweet Dumpling Squashes ready to play!

My favorite combinations include some sort of meat — ground, or cut in small pieces — plus a dark leafy green plus some other vegetable — mushrooms or peppers. Keep in mind that  all your ingredients need to be cooked before stuffing, for maximum versatility. Starting with raw ingredients is a different project all together — it’s not as flexible since you need to be mindful of timing and the whole mixing squash pulp into the stuffing concept doesn’t apply in that case.

What kinds of squash boats do you make?

 

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A Self-Care Manifesto

by Andrea on October 3, 2014

in Wellness

A Self-Care Manifesto

A Self-Care Manifesto

1. Every time I don’t take care of myself, I’m expecting someone else to do it for me.

This doesn’t happen consciously, but it is the beginning of disappointment — and resentment. Do your best to take care of yourself and you’ll free up your attention to serve the world as you intend.

2. My only concern at any given moment needs be to feel good.

Feelings are powerful. SO very powerful they control our actions whether we want them or not. Learn to REALLY feel your feelings and then make feeling good your priority.

3. I’m awfully needy. That’s a good thing.

We’re ALL needy. We need water, food, security, love… The list of things we need is never ending. More than anything, we need each other. Self-sufficiency is a painful illusion. Acknowledge your needs and address them. Not only will you be embracing your humanness but you’ll give others the opportunity to do the same.

4. My highest good is THE highest good.

This truth is sometimes apparent and many times it’s not, but it is always the case. What’s truly best for you — and getting to know THAT is a journey in itself — is, by law of nature, the best for everyone else.

5. This body is my vehicle to experience life.

This is so obvious that it is easy to forget. Don’t take your body for granted. Take care of it the best you can. You don’t get to have another one. At least not in this lifetime.

6. Sleep and poop are not negotiable.

Do whatever is necessary to sleep enough and poop regularly. These two things constitute a strong foundation for health and wellness.

7. I’m not here to be liked. I’m here to serve.

If you look for everyone’s approval, you will end up sacrificing yourself. Keep the focus on you — your vision, your talents, your joy. Expressing the highest possible version of yourself is the highest service you can offer.

8. I have no control over most things, but I can change the way I feel about them.

In truth, there’s very little you have control over and plenty of things that go against your will. But that is the case for everyone and no reason to duel in frustration and suffering. Find tools and resources to train yourself to see situations from different perspectives. It’s all about learning your lessons more effectively.

9. Movement is the language of my body.

Your body expresses itself through movement. If you don’t move your body, you will not only get sick but you will also go insane.

10. My ache is my teacher.

Every pain and ache is there to teach you something. If you’re dealing with physical illness, try meditating on this question: what do I need to let go off? Do it once and again, and again. It’s always about letting go of something.

11. Sunlight is sacred.

Sunlight is the life force of plants and hence, without sunlight there is no life. Get outside in the sunlight as frequently as you can and eat lots of green leaves. They’re packets of sunlight!

12. There’s nothing I can do to not deserve to be loved

I believe this is all we are trying to learn. You are loved only because you ARE. You don’t need to “earn” love nor can anyone take it from you. Just like sea waves, or flowers, or cute kitties, love is given.

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Sunrise Salad

by Andrea on September 2, 2014

in Recipes

I love this salad! I love its simplicity, its elegance, its taste. Everyone who’s tasted it, has given it thumbs up. Believe me, its a winner. Give it a shot!

Sunrise Salad

The Sunrise Salad, as seen in the Red and Green Dinner

Sunrise Salad

Prep time: 20 min

Ingredients:

For the dressing

  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar — apple cider vinegar works in a pinch
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons fresh minced tarragon — depending on how fragrant you want it
  • 1/2 tablespoon mustard — if you tolerate it. I don’t, which makes for a less emulsified dressing, but it still works
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the salad

  • 1 medium size jicama, peeled
  • 1 medium size golden beet, peeled
  • 2 small or one really large carrot, peeled
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds — omit for AIP

Directions:

  1. Make your dressing. My favorite method at present is to throw everything — minus the minced herbs — in a mason jar and blend with a hand blender. Add half of the tarragon, and salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Let’s talk about the cutting. These three vegetables have similar texture, so just do the same thing with all of them. I like spirilizing them, but can also slice them thin or julienne them in a mandoline, or simply shred them.
  3. Toast the pumpkin seeds for a few minutes in a thick bottom skilled, or in the oven
  4. Toss the vegetables and dress them. Add the pumpkin seeds, correct the seasoning and finish with fresh tarragon, if you’d like.

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Symptoms ARE the new diagnosis

by Andrea on August 13, 2014

in Healing,Wellness

This past January, I was sick. I had migratory joint pain and it was scary. The question I get often is, how did I know what was happening.

The answer — by traditional medicine guidelines — is not clear cut. I didn’t get a diagnosis.

I tried. I went to the doctor, told her what I was feeling — intense pain traveling through to all the major joints in my body — and she prescribed a series of tests. The results showed no signs of inflammation in my joints. According to the tests, I was fine.

Except I wasn’t. Because I’m lucky enough to have witnessed similar situations with several clients, I knew I was facing a hard decision: do I allow the damage to get bad enough to (hopefully) get a diagnosis — rheumatoid arthritis? fibromyalgia? something in between? — or do I drop out from the system and take it from there?

Diagnoses are the entry point to the modern health care — damage control? — system. But for patients, waiting for a diagnosis often means wasting precious time. This is specially true of chronic autoimmune conditions which are diagnosable usually only after they have caused considerable damage in the body.

A diagnosis also puts you in a little box where not all symptoms get considered. This often means inefficient treatment because the body needs to be viewed as a WHOLE system in order to get long term, real improvement.

What did I do? After I discussed all the tests with my doctor and got some referral letters, I dropped out from the system and took matters in my own hands. I still have a ways to go, but unless I’m not as vigilant as I need to be, I don’t have joint pain.

So, what can you do if you ever find yourself in a similar conundrum? 

  • First of all, you must approach the health care system assuming that you know what you feel better than the doctors. Demand to be really listened to and speak up when you’re told you’re crazy or a hypochondriac. Do your research and ask questions.
  • Know that ALL your symptoms are relevant and pertinent and don’t disregard or ignore any of them. Start a journal. This way you’ll get clear and that will translate into clear conversations with doctors and practitioners. A journal will also be the most efficient way to gather feedback when you make changes.
  • Refrain from your need to have a simple, linear explanation. Chronic disease is a puzzle — there are several whys, and by the same token, several factors that will add up to healing.

You can only get the treatment you need if you get involved in the process and think of your practitioners as collaborators rather than father figures. If you feel sick and you can’t get a diagnosis, focus on your symptoms and find practitioners that will speak that language.

The sooner you adopt the mindset that healing is a journey rather than a destination, the sooner you’ll start finding relief.

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Food Journal

A Food/Mood/Poop (FMP) journal is, as its name very precisely indicates, a journal to keep track of the food that you eat in relation to your bowel movements and to how you feel. When you commit to keeping the journal, it’s the most thorough tool to get to know your body in a way that not even the most sophisticated tests could tell you.

In my practice, I insist that all my clients keep a FMP journal. For some, it’s not easy to get started, but once they start to understand the practice and the benefits, they usually keep going.

In your life, how much time have you dedicated to learn how things work? Appliances? Computers? All the technology that surrounds you? Your trade? A language? I bet those are not insignificant lengths of time.

Now, how much time have you spent trying to understand how your own body works? And since it is indeed YOUR body, can you consider that it deserves a little more time? Think of your FMP journal as your own body manual. A manual that you can use right as you’re writing it.

You can find various templates online if you need one to start your FMP journal, but I prefer using a spreadsheet. That way, I can easily give access to it to any of my practitioners if it’s fit and it’s easy for me to keep without causing clutter. I also keep track of all other things that affect my health in the same spreadsheet: symptoms, supplements, therapies, sleep, etc. (If you’d like to see my template send me an email!)

Here five things my journal has taught me:

  • For the time being my body can’t tolerate mustard, eggs, coffee or any of the nightshade foods.
  • I have healthy bowel movements as long as I sleep properly.
  • I still experience abnormally slow recovery from exercise. Working on it…
  • Three meals a day are too many. With the exception of 2 or 3 days around the third week of my cycle when I get abnormally hungry, 2 meals is more than enough for me.
  • I benefit most from probiotics if I rotate different kinds and give my body breaks when I don’t use any.

There’s much more! I learn tons about my body on a daily basis. Mostly, thanks to keeping my FMP journal. Give it a try!

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Egg-free Banana Tapioca “Crepes”

by Andrea on July 15, 2014

in Food,Recipes

 

Banana tapioca crepe, tropical compote, coconut milk vanilla ice cream, as seen in the Red & Green Dinner

Banana tapioca crepe, tropical compote, coconut milk vanilla ice cream, as seen in the Red & Green Dinner

 

Plantain tortillas are great option when you are following an elimination/provocation protocol like the Autoimmune Paleo, but I wanted to make something resembling a crepe. I used Stephanie’s recipe as a starting point and had to play around to get the result I was looking for. This is probably the closest one can get to make a grain-free, egg-free crepe.

These can be made super thin if you want — the starch will prevent them from falling apart. It’s just a matter of baking them slowly so that they don’t burn. They can be kept for several days in a container at room temperature, or longer in the fridge. Just warm ’em gently before serving. They have a little bit of chewiness, brought by the starch in the arrowroot, that everyone loved.

Egg-free Banana Tapioca “Crepes”

Prep time: 10 min
Baking time: 30 min +/-

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cup mashed ripe banana — about 3 regular size bananas
  • 1 cup tapioca starch
  • 3 tablespoons cooking fat, melted — I tried both bacon rendered lard and ghee. They were both great.
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • A generous pinch of salt
  • 3/4 cup water

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Arrange racks in the middle of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Add all the ingredients minus the water to the bowl of a food processor or a powerful blender. Add the water gradually as you blend, until you get a batter that’s a little thick.
  3. Pour the batter slowly onto baking sheets and smooth it until really thin if you’re looking for a “crepe”. This is enough batter for about 12 6-inch crepes, but the batter will hold really well to make larger crepes if you’d like. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the edge of the crepes is brown, turn them over and bake for another 10 minutes, or until slightly puffed and fragrant.
  4. Let cool slightly before serving. Use your favorite toppings, for breakfast or dessert.

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Ticks on Finger

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the Functional Forum, which is a fun networking and educational event for health professionals who are interested in the evolution of medicine — and therefore, of nutrition. Me! Me!

The topic of the night? Lyme disease. Perfect! A topic which we all need to learn more about. Lyme is not one of those things where you say, “oh yeah, I got it, went to the doctor and the next week I was good. No big deal.”

Unfortunately, Lyme disease is far from straight forward. It’s hard to diagnose — current testing is about 50% accurate — and it’s hard to treat — usually a super intense course of antibiotics, which, as you might know by now, may have severe long term side effects.

But the most worrisome aspect of Lyme is that in most cases, it is a silent disease.

Most people believe that Lyme is transmitted by ticks that you can only get when you go hiking, that if you get bitten by one of those ticks, a bull’s eye rash forms and if that happens then you should get tested.

But what if there’s a bite but no bull’s eye rash? What if you do get tested, but the results are inaccurate? What if no obvious symptoms are experienced immediately? Not only are all those possibilities likely, they are the rule rather than the exception.

More importantly, deer ticks are not the exclusive carriers of the Borrelia spirochete, which transmits Lyme. Cases have been reported attesting that other insects, including bed bugs — hello NYC!! — could carry the nasty organism. So much for being careful when hiking…

And if that’s not enough to make you pay attention, here are three facts about Lyme that will turn your head:

* Chronic Lyme can end in Multiple Sclerosis.
(Dr Mark Menolascino at 11:10)

* Lyme disease can induce autism, and Lyme can be acquired in utero.
(Dr Jodie Dashore at 49:20)

* Ozone therapy can be an effective treatment for Lyme (and infectious diseases in general)
(Dr. Howard Robins at 65:30)

Watch the doctors talk about that and much more critical information on Lyme Disease here. (You’ll need to register to access the video.)

And if you start to love the Functional Forum as much as I do, I gotta tell you: The same guys are putting together the Evolution of Medicine Summit, which is like the Functional Forum, but for everyone to access freely on the web! Check it out and sign up over here

The man himself, Deepak Chopra, along with Mark Hyman, Frank Lipman and many other leaders in health, nutrition and wellness will be there. I’m sooo excited about this event! I really believe it’s going to be a turning point of health care as we know it. About time, don’t you think?

All about the Evolution of Medicine Summit here ==> http://bit.ly/GoodMedicineNow

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Chocolate Syringe

I used to be a serious chocolate addict. Just like I once couldn’t fathom my life without bread, for many years I thought I could never live without chocolate. Now I know there are many things I can live without, including chocolate.

Sometime last fall, I started feeling a sharp pain in my left shoulder. I thought I’d torn a muscle doing pull ups. I got some acupuncture and a couple of days later, the pain was gone. I quickly forgot the incident.

About a month later, I experienced a similar pain, this time in my right shoulder. I had taken several yoga classes in the same week so I figured I had overdone the yoga and that perhaps I was getting old and needed to be more careful about how much exercise I got. This time I had to bend my shoulder awkwardly just so I could move my arm. It hurt badly! I got acupuncture three days in a row and took Epsom Salt baths every night.

On the fourth day I woke up to a fading pain in the shoulder, but now my left wrist was on fire. That’s when I understood this had nothing to do with exercise.

Over the next three weeks, I went through the craziest pain roller coaster I’ve ever experienced. Fiery surges of pain circulated systematically through all the major joints of my body in distinct patterns. Sometimes it was the left elbow and the right hip, knee and ankle. Two days later it would be the right wrist, along with the left shoulder. I started to fear that first movement in the morning when I woke up. Invariably, something hurt.

I tried taking Advil, but that didn’t help much, so I moved onto Aleve in order to function for a few hours. I welcomed the New Year unable to unscrew bottles or open windows, looking for elevators wherever I went, as I was limping about 50% of the time and taking the stairs was hard. I was scared.

I decided to take matters into my own hands. Whatever this migratory joint pain was, I had no doubt it was of an autoimmune nature.

Autoimmunity happens when the immune system goes haywire and attacks its own host — in this case, me. If you’ve ever had an allergy, then you have experienced autoimmunity. Your immune system reacts to a substance that is not necessarily offensive: gluten, pollen, dust, cat hair, etc., because it confuses that with something else that in the past has threatened your health. The immune system is actually doing its job, which is to defend the body from invaders. It just happens to be misinformed.

Most modern chronic diseases are considered to be of an autoimmune nature, or to at least have an autoimmune component. Celiac, Hashimoto’s, asthma, eczema, MS, and most types of arthritis are all autoimmune disorders — and there are loads more. The affected tissue may change, but the principle remains the same: your immune system is attacking you.

On January 10th, I put myself on a very strict elimination diet. In all the years I’ve been experimenting with food, I never foresaw that I’d one day have to be so frickin’ anal about eating. Following the Autoimmune Paleo template, I deconstructed food to bare ingredients and started tracking how every single thing I ate affected me. It was intense, physically and emotionally. I had made many radical changes to my diet before, but having to do them as a result of so much pain inspired a new level of compassion for all the clients I’ve had (and all those yet to come) who, for years, have been desperately searching for relief.

Slowly and steadily, the pain started to give way. I took the last Aleve on January 25th. I’ve only taken it a couple of times since then. I had to quit chocolate — and many other foods I like. Conversely, I started to eat things I didn’t pay much attention to before.

Today, I have no joint pain. I can unscrew bottles, open windows and walk. In fact, I can dance, and run and do yoga.

Did I check with my doctor, you ask?

Well, yes. And no. Let me explain.

Modern health care kind of sucks. And I’m fortunate to have worked with enough people to know that when it comes to the treatment of autoimmune conditions, modern health care really sucks big time.

I did go to the doctor. And I got a bunch of tests done. None of them showed indications that I might be developing rheumatoid arthritis or some other kind of inflammatory joint disease. Unfortunately, the way blood testing is done to determine possible autoimmunity is inefficient at best. If I wanted to get an “official” diagnosis, I basically needed to let myself get really, very sick. Or spend a fortune — not covered by insurance — to get more sophisticated tests done.

I decided that if the elimination protocol had the effects I was hoping for, that would become the evidence I needed to move forward. I didn’t need to waste precious time waiting for my doctor’s validation. The combination of appropriate diet plus listening to my body had never disappointed me. This experience has only reaffirmed that principle.

I’m incredibly grateful for all the scientific, experimental and intuitive knowledge I’ve accumulated in almost ten years of practicing health coaching. And I bow to all the people that today are suffering with chronic autoimmune conditions. May you find the relief you are looking for. (Diet is a damn good place to start.) My heart goes out to you.

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Apple, Raspberry and Ginger Kvass

I admit. Even for the most committed health nut out there, drinking water gets old. And I dunno ‘bout you, but I usually crave a little fizziness in my beverage. There just is a ‘je ne sais quoi’ that even the best tasting water can’t deliver.

But, as we know, sodas are not the solution. Looking for the childhood enjoyment I remember, I have occasionally tried one of those fancy sodas sweetened with cane sugar. Always in vein; I just can’t stomach that much sugar at one time, even when I really want to.

And whereas there are new, creative choices in the market — kombucha, coconut water, various probiotic beverages — they are not always available — lemme just say that you won’t find kombucha even in the fanciest market in Colombia — and they are also NOT cheap — you’ll have to drop an average of $3.50?! for a 16 oz bottle of one of these “healthy” beverages in Whole Foods.

Meanwhile there is a whole universe of truly healthy beverages awaiting in your kitchen, if only you’re willing to wear your experimenting apron for a little bit.

I’m talking about lacto-fermented, AKA cultured, beverages.

My interest in lacto-fermentation has only grown over the years, along my love for digestive healing. Lacto-fermentation enhances the nutrient availability of foods and produces friendly bacteria that we all need more of.

I just love nursing jars containing all different mixes of veggies and tasting them every day, until they reach my desired sourness. I must confess though, that now that I’m single, I just don’t get to make them as much as I used to.

But the beverages? That’s another story. I find certain advantages to them over the kraut.

  1. They are easier to make. They require less preparation than the veggies, as you’ll see below.
  2. They are easier to consume than lacto-fermented veggies. Even though no one said you MUST eat it with your meal, not a lot of people would go for a bite of kimchee by itself. But a beverage is welcomed almost any time of the day, along with a meal, or on its own.
  3. They can really fulfill your crave for a tasty, refreshing drink. You’re gonna have to try to see what I mean…

Peaked your interest? Good! Here are directions for three different ones for you to try:

1. Fermented cabbage juice.

Fermented cabbage juice —  FCJ, for short — is no more than the little juice you get when you ferment sauerkraut, but the juice itself is such an incredible health tonic that it deserves to be fermented on its own. Besides, this way you can get the goodness even if you don’t like sauerkraut.

Over time I’ve learn to LOVE the flavor of FCJ. Its intense bite shakes up my body and wakes me up! — not to mention it’ll melt away the toughest sugar craving I might get. Of all the lacto-fermented foods I’ve had, FCJ is now my favorite both for its flavor and its benefits.

To make FCJ, you’ll need… well, cabbage juice. If you don’t have a juicer, you can try blending the cabbage with just enough water to get the blender moving and straining the juice. I’ve never done that with cabbage specifically but I’ve done it with other foods, always with OK results.

From one cabbage you’ll get anywhere between one and three cups of juice, depending on the size and freshness of the cabbage and the quality of your juicer.

Pour your juice in a glass jar, leaving at least 1-inch of space from the top to avoid spills, and cover with lid. The juice will ferment on its own if you leave it in a warm place for a minimum of 3 days; it is not a bad idea, however, to use a starter, especially until you get familiar with the appearance and taste. The first starter I tried was — as it seems fit — sauerkraut juice, and I’ve also used whey with satisfactory results. You could also try a commercial veggie culture starter like this one. Keep in mind that a starter will accelerate the fermentation process. Just taste your juice every day until it reaches your desired flavor. Then refrigerate.

When there is about 1/4 of liquid left over, replenish with more cabbage juice and let the fermentation cycle run again. This is fun!

*Warning: Introduce FCJ s.l.o.w.l.y — as you should do with any probiotic food — incrementing by half tablespoons every few days, until you reach about 1/2 cup a day — that’s a therapeutic dose. You can dilute it with equal parts of water if the flavor is too strong for you. I also use FCJ in place of vinegar in my salads and as a condiment in my soups — warm soup, that is. Remember that ferments are very sensitive to heat.

**Another warning; FCJ might not be the best for people with low thyroid function. No one knows for sure what happens to goitrogens in the fermentation process.

**A nice tip: If you use a juicer, don’t throw away the leftover pulp. It makes the best dehydrated chips! I mix the pulp with curry powder and salt to taste, spread it thin over parchment paper on a baking sheet, cut it as if making crackers and leave it in the oven at the lowest possible temperature for 4 to 6 hours.

2. Fruit kvass

You might be familiar with beet kvass and/or original kvass — which is made from grains — but I personally never cared for any of them. Yeah, I know that beet kvass just like FCJ, has crazy healing properties — including being a powerful liver detoxifier — but it just doesn’t do it for me, you know?

But fruit kvass? Well, that’s a different story. The first time I tried the apple,raspberry and ginger kvass recipe on the GAPS book, I was like, wherehaveyabeenallmylife, oh wonderful libation! It’s good stuff!

If you don’t have the book, I’ll give you my short version.

Get a nice wide mouth liter/quart bottle. Take an apple, quarter it and toss it in the jar, along with a handful of raspberries and a tablespoon of shredded ginger. Add 1/2 cup of whey and fill the jar *almost* all the way up with *filtered* water. Cover with lid, leave in a warm spot for a few days — you getting the hang of this? — and when done, transfer to the fridge. Strain to serve, placing the fruit back in the jar. You can refill the water and let the fermentation process run a few times until the fruit gets spent.

You can also try pear, strawberries and mint. Or peaches, cherries and chamomile. Many fruits would work here! Hmmm… probably not banana… As for the benefits? Well… probiotic, probiotic, probiotic! And deliciousness.

3. Fermented grape juice.

One day I got thinking… hmmm… I wonder if I can lacto-ferment grape juice before it starts to become wine. So I tried. And ended up with a nice, fizzy juice just lightly sweetened with no palatable alcohol. A successful experiment, I’d say.

Get some nice organic and seedless grapes — unless you don’t mind pitting them or if you plan to juice them, as opposed to blending them. Throw 3 hearty handfuls of these in your blender and enough water to run it. Fill your handy liter/quart jar with this grape smoothie and add filtered water to fill the jar if needed.

For this, you definitely need a starter or else the juice will probably start to turn into alcohol before the lacto-fermenting bacteria have a chance to do their thing due to the high content of sugar. In this occasion, I used the contents of two Jarrow probiotic capsules as I wanted to make sure I’d introduce enough bacteria. I use probiotic capsules in fermentation frequently. It’s one not-very-scientific way to test probiotic supplements, but hey, makes sense to me.

If you don’t have a probiotic supplement handy — or if you don’t want to risk it — you can try using a considerable amount of whey — 1 cup per litter, I’d say — and perhaps a little salt just to keep those yeasts under control during fermentation.

Just as with the other beverages, leave in a warm spot for a few days and transfer to the fridge when the sourness is to your liking. Keep in mind that the more active the fermentation process, the more production of gas. You might want to loosen up the lid very slowly! Strain to serve.

There you have it. Three ideas you can copy or modify to come up with your own fermented beverages. Fermentation is definitely an art. It’s never a fixed process and it requires an experimental spirit. But it can be really enjoyable and the health benefits totally pay off.

If you, like me, have gotten a little lazy about fermenting veggies — or you have never tried making any ferments — give fermented beverages a shot. They’re super easy to make, healthy, and delicious!

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