Posts Tagged dairy-free

The Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean Diet

A study just came out showing that following the Mediterranean Diet – lots of veggies and good fats like olive oil and nuts  – can reduce the chance of heart attacks and strokes by 30 percent.

Here’s the diet the study participants followed:

One group assigned to a Mediterranean diet was given extra virgin olive oil each week and was instructed to use at least four tablespoons a day. The other group got a combination of walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts and was instructed to eat about an ounce of the mix each day. An ounce of walnuts, for example, is about a quarter cup — a generous handful. The mainstays of the diet consisted of at least three servings a day of fruits and at least two servings of vegetables. Participants were to eat fish at least three times a week and legumes, which include beans, peas and lentils, at least three times a week. They were to eat white meat instead of red, and, for those accustomed to drinking, to have at least seven glasses of wine a week with meals.

They were encouraged to avoid commercially made cookies, cakes and pastries and to limit their consumption of dairy products and processed meats.

This is interesting to me because it is essentially the RA diet I’ve been striving for (though I’ve also been avoiding gluten, caffeine and alcohol). I say striving for because I definitely seem to find my share of gluten free pastries, coffee and forbidden half glasses of red wine…

I will say that the summer before I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, I went on a mega vacation to Russia, Greece and Turkey. In Russia, my symptoms flared (though I didn’t know what they were symptoms of at that point). My feet were extremely swollen and it was very painful to walk.

By the second day in Greece, my symptoms were much better. This could be due to the slower pace of my travels at that point too, but maybe, just maybe, it was the awesome, fresh, veggie-heavy Mediterranean diet I embraced there.

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True Grit

GRIT: noun – firmness of character, determination or strength of character

I think some people are born with a natural abundance of grit. I think my grit, the will to persevere and the optimism to keep going is learned, practiced and fickle.

I’m still trying to figure out why sometimes I’m so strong and determined, and why other times I want to pull covers over my head and never leave my bed.

I think something about the beginning of October triggered the ostrich response in me. Suddenly I bounced from I can do anything to I don’t want to do anything anymore.

When I was diagnosed with my RAD new disease back in March, my doctor marked autumn as the time when I could possibly be in remission and we’d be looking at getting off the methotrexate, and later the Enbrel. My September doctor’s appointment was instead met with an increased dosage of methotrexate and the news that the MTX may not even be working yet. Doc’s new goal for remission: spring 2013.

That’s actually kind of good news because it means when it starts working, I’ll feel a lot better. But also, really?!?!

I left the doctor’s appointment feeling fine about it, but then October came and all optimism drained out of me. I was suddenly so, so, so done with MTX day and freaking injections. All things gluten appeared appetizing, dairy seemed impossible to avoid, my vitamins made me nauseous, and I felt like if I even had to look at fish oil again, I’d vomit.

What’s the point? What if it doesn’t go into remission? Am I really going to do all of this forever? I don’t want to have this life. I didn’t ask for this. F#@! RAD and all the stupid S**! that goes with it.

I stopped taking the vitamins and I laxed up on the fish oil. I cheated on my diet. But I kept going on the drugs.

My negativity quickly started to annoy the hell out of me. So there I was, standing over my morning folic acid and fish oil supplements, a wave of nausea overwhelming me, and I snapped. Out of it that is.

My grit was back.

What’s the point? The point couldn’t be more obvious or important – it’s my health. Is it worth trading because I’m a wuss about injections, I hate swallowing pills, and the smell of fish oil is gross? Obviously not.

So I’m staying the course. I’m back on track. (Although I am being a bit more relaxed about supplements for my sanity’s sake.)

I’m thinking March is gonna be a great month for me. I’ll be running my first marathon and hopefully I’ll officially be declared in remission and will be breaking up with methotrexate. Maybe Enbrel and I will even get to say goodbye. Here’s hoping.

In the meantime, I’m happy to report that I think the higher dose of methotrexate is starting to work. My compromised immune system and the changing season has led to a cold, but otherwise I feel great. No joint pain, no feet pain, less fatigue, less trouble sleeping. I even went on a 12 mile run a couple weekends ago.

Now I just have to figure out how to keep my grit from disappearing on me again.

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Mediterranean Spaghetti Squash Salad (Gluten Free & Vegan)

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I experimented in gluten-free, dairy-free cupcakes the other night to surprise my coworker for her birthday. The results were not what I expected (they’re definitely not the red velvet cupcakes the name promises), but were pretty good in their own way. And they were a hit at the office. 🙂

I did this recipe for the cupcakes, but subbed brown sugar for the coconut sugar:

Then I did this for the frosting, which was good, but definitely not as sweet as traditional frosting and a little difficult to spread – it came out a little crumbly.

Let me know what you think, or if you have your own recipes for gluten-free, dairy-free desserts, I’d love to hear them!

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Notes From My Visit to a Naturopath, MD

My diagnosis (3 months ago, yikes!) led me to do a lot of research on RA and how diet might effect its symptoms and outcomes. From that research, I’d made some diet changes and added several supplements. I went gluten free, I cut way down on red and white meat and caffeine, I majorly boosted my intake of omega-3s – through fish, avocado and supplements. I also added lots of fruits, veggies, turmeric and ginger to my diet. I started taking more supplements daily than just my multi-vitamin, including B12, Calcium/Magnesium, Coenzyme Q10, Omega-3 Fish Oil, and Zyflamend (New Chapter’s version of an anti-inflammatory daily, which is mainly turmeric).

With all of these changes, I began to wonder if I should consult a professional dietician or naturopath. So when a Living Social deal popped up for a respected, certified naturopath who also held an MD, I jumped at the opportunity. I wanted to share a little of what she told me – keep in mind everyone’s different, so don’t take this as professional advice!!

First off, the whole experience was a positive one. I had never been to a naturopath before or used any sort of homeopathic medecine, so to say I was skeptical is possibly an understatement. I did and do, however, firmly believe that diet can be a powerful agent of change and healing in our bodies. She started off by patiently going through my long (novel-sized now, haha) medical history, family history and symptoms. I liked how we weren’t just talking about RA, we talked about other past ailments and current conditions as well.

Though hearing about the drugs I’m on – methotrexate and enbrel – made her twinge a bit, I liked how she didn’t push me to get off these drugs. She said the idea was to use diet, supplements and homeopathic treatments to get my body ready for when I would get off or cut down on the drugs, so that at that point symptoms would not reoccur. She said she just didn’t want to see me on these drugs forever, and I couldn’t agree more.

She believes that the root of many autoimmune diseases can be found in the gut, and that healing the gut can heal the root cause of the disease, instead of just treating the symptoms. In the end, she agreed with most of what I was doing, but made some tweaks to my diet/supplement plan.

She agreed that gluten-free is the way to go, but also recommended cutting dairy. I guess the idea is that you cut likely allergens to see if you feel better. She recommended a basic gluten-free, casein-free anti-inflammatory diet made up of 40% carbs, 30% protein and 30% healthy fats. She encouraged me to mix up the foods I was eating as much as possible, and also encouraged me to add more protein, even adding red and white meat back into the mix if I wanted.

Two big, but difficult suggestions were cutting caffeine and refined sugar. I’d already cut way back on my coffee drinking, but cutting it out completely? Don’t think that’s for me. Also, I don’t drink sodas or generally do a lot of refined sugar, but cutting it out of my diet completely seems near impossible because I tend to eat out a lot.

Another biggie was to increase water intake. She recommended drinking half my body weight in water every day and adding electrolytes, like Emergen-C or coconut water, to vary it and boost my body’s absorption.

As far as the supplements go, she took me off B12, saying that my Folic Acid was doing a very similar thing and she didn’t want me to have too much of a good thing (apparently a sign of too much of this particular good thing is numbness or tingling up your arms). She switched my Omega-3 fish oil from the supplements to cold-pressed cod liver oil and majorly boosted the amount I was taking. It’s more expensive, but I guess it’s way more effective. She kept me on CoQ10 (100-200 mg/day for energy and antioxidant support), Zyflamend or Turmeric (as a natural inflammatory, she likes the brand Boswelya Plus, but I haven’t tried it yet), and the Calcium/Magnesium (600mg calcium, 300-500mg magnesium/day), but she also added Vitamin D (6,000IU/day) and daily probiotics. She also suggested 1,000-2,000mg/day of Vitamin C for immune support – this has been easy with Emergen-C packets.

On top of all this, she has me on three homeopathic remedies twice daily to heal my intestines and liver, and Ribes Nigrum twice a day for adrenal and energy support and anti-inflammatory properties.

I was feeling overwhelmed at the end of the visit, but motivated to try it. I’ve been doing a mega-smoothie each morning with the fish oil, probiotics, and brown rice protein added (recipes in another post!). I have little gluten free snacks to get me through the day – nuts, fruit, pretzels (GF, of course), and try to do something pretty healthy for lunch, like a big salad with fish protein. Dinner has been a bit of a free for all, but I’m trying to come up with new recipes and welcome any suggestions.

It’s only been a few days on the diet, but I gotta admit, I’m feeling pretty good. It’s nice to have some ‘medical’ validation that there’s a reason to be avoiding gluten and other things (I think my friends either think I’ve turned into the most pretentious eater alive, or I’m trying to lose weight). It’s also good to feel a certain amount of control over the disease. I know I can’t control a lot of things with RA – the drugs, the bad days – but I can control my diet and what I’m putting in my system to help fight it. And the pain and symptoms have been pretty minimal lately, who knows if it’s the diet or the drugs or both, but I’m not complaining! I even ran a 10K on Memorial Day, relatively pain free.

So there you have it, my first visit to a naturopath.

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