You know that feeling after doing something physically demanding, when you are so exhausted that you can barely move? Your muscles are sore, even tender. You may even have a headache from being over-tired, and you may have trouble sleeping, even though that’s all you want to do. Imagine feeling this way for weeks and months at a time. That’s pretty much how I felt around the time I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, around 17 years ago.
Millions of people in developed countries are now experiencing auto-immune disorders in record numbers. Recent reports indicate that around 5 million Americans may have fibromyalgia, an auto-immune condition that is characterized by muscle pain, fatigue, and “tender points” at the base of the neck, back and several particular places. When I saw the endocrinologist, I was told that the best thing I could do was to rest a lot and take a prescription medication from then on to manage the pain. I was told that my condition would deteriorate for the rest of my life, which should be normal length.
Even then, I knew enough about nutrition and alternative health practices to know that I would not sign up for a lifetime of pharmaceuticals until I had explored the options. I knew I could do a lot to improve the way I was eating, and I also knew I had been under a lot of stress. I loved being a mom, but taking care of 5 kiddos under the age of 11 was running me ragged! At the time, I did not realize the strong connection between the health of my gut and my immune system, but I was having a lot of digestive distress, on top of everything else.
What we eat, what we think, and what we do impacts our health, but so does our environment. Although I worked on improving my diet and figuring out my digestive issues, the biggest single boost to my health happened when my family and I moved from the Midwest to Colorado – a much drier climate. I could literally feel my body relaxing as the pain diminished on the long drive across Kansas. When we would go back the other direction, I could feel the aches and pains setting in again. That said, I’m sure I’d still be suffering if I had not navigated my gut issues.
You may have heard that 80% of your immune system is actually in your gut. There’s a kind of battle going on in the guts of people in modern society that has developed as a result of our modern eating habits. The battle is between the “good bugs” and the “bad bugs.”
Ever since the refrigerator came on the scene, we’ve been losing touch with the traditional practices of fermentation, also called “culturing.” At the same time, we are eating more denatured foods and we are surrounded by toxic substances. I recently heard a health expert warn against the toxic exposure we are all getting from our receipts. That’s right! There is BPA, a toxic plastic, in our register receipts from the gas station, grocery store, and most other places that give them out. It seems we are being bombarded from every angle!
The battle that goes on in our guts can determine, to a great degree, our overall health. I’ve known people who have fully recovered from fibromyalgia simply by eliminating wheat and gluten. For me, it took more than that, but I’m not sure I even have fibromyalgia any more. Donna Gates has been writing about the connection between a healthy gut, fermented foods and a healthy immune system for many years. Click here to see a helpful page on her website.
There is a lot to building a healthy immune system, especially if you are dealing with a chronic health condition already. Many times, however, much can be accomplished by nurturing the good bugs in your gut while minimizing the bad ones. I hope to have my new eBook about this topic finished this spring, and you will be able to find more information as well as recipes there. Until then, check out this link to a recipe I posted earlier, or this website I recently found. This page is all about cultured foods (& recipes).
I plan to post more (much more!) on each of these 2 topics (bugs/gut health & auto-immune issues) in coming posts. I hope you’ll join me if you or a loved one is affected by these things. I welcome your comments or feedback, as always.
You know what most of these are already, don’t you? Remember, this blog is all about nutrition & health, so this list is not going to have things like snickerdoodle latte piled with whipped cream, even though it is a hot drink. But, speaking of hot drinks, they’re not exactly food, but folks who drink plenty of steamy beverages during this time of year are definitely onto something!
Our bodies react differently to the same food, depending on the season. You may feel great about having a cool, crisp salad in July, while you actually need discipline to make yourself eat those greens in January. If you know anything about ayurveda, you understand this principle of seasonal eating. One winter, I became a little “gung ho” about eating raw foods. I tried to eat at least 90% of my food (by weight) raw. Besides feeling like I would die of starvation, the next most prominent feeling I experienced was cold. On another occasion, I ate nearly all raw foods for weeks on end during the heat of the year, and loved it!
So now that we are in the coldest part of the year, I want to share with you some of my favorite cold-weather foods.
1) Soups! The best base for soups is bone broth. You can make a clear soup using this broth, but you can also use it in creamy soups. I’ll be posting a recipe soon for this type of soup. For now, check out this link for a great article on soups, their health benefits and how to make bone broth (it’s super easy!)
2) Winter squash – acorn, butternut, and spaghetti squash are probably the most common, but there are many more varieties. Squash is inexpensive and nutritious. It’s also easy to prepare. It can go sweet, savory, or somewhere in between. You can even just pop them in the oven for a while on about 350 degrees. When your squash is somewhat soft, take it out, cut & remove seeds. Sprinkle with salt & pepper, and/or cinnamon & butter. Delicious!
3) Hot whole-grain cereals – I stay away from wheat, and most commercially produced cereals because they are so highly processed. However, you can get a fantastic whole grain cereal from Bob’s Red Mill. Gluten-free oatmeal makes a nice breakfast if I add some nuts or nut butter and a little fruit or dried fruit. I also like turning leftover brown rice or quinoa into breakfast by adding rice or almond milk (preferably home-made), cinnamon, butter and pure maple syrup.
4) Pastured beef or other red meats. I love a great roast or stew. These meats contain nutrients that are difficult to get if you’re not really meticulous about your diet. I’m not really a fan of diets that contain huge amounts of meat for most people. The biggest reason is that it doesn’t make sense to me since it’s so unsustainable. However, I regularly partake of responsibly, locally raised meats in small amounts.
5) Cruciferous veggies – Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and others in this family are great sources of a wonderful array of vitamins and minerals. They also grow well in moderately cold weather, so it’s not difficult for me to find locally grown, organic offerings even during these months. I have a fantastic recipe for using cauliflower in my new cookbook, “Break Free!” which you can check out if you click this link.
6) Cultured foods – you knew this was coming! Cultured veggies are a perfect garnish for those lovely soups we mentioned earlier. Plain yogurt or kefir also makes a good garnish for soups, and is good on baked yams or sweet potatoes. Miso is a fine base for an easy soup. The thing you have to watch is that you don’t actually cook the cultured garnishes. Exposing them to high heat kills the beneficial bacteria. Just spoon a bit onto the finished cooked foods to boost nutrients and flavor.
7) Sourdough breads and pancakes – I’ll have a bunch of recipes for these in my new book on cultured foods (which I hope to finish before summer!) For now, here’s a link to an article & recipe you can take a look at. Souring increases nutritional content of bread and also improves digestibility. It’s easy to do, especially if you can manage to think ahead.
Delicious wintery foods are one of the best parts of this season, and they can contribute to your overall health. The foods I have listed can even help you heal when you’re battling a virus or health issue. If you have a favorite I haven’t mentioned, I love to hear about it!
Yes, I’m talking to you! What do you think it would it take to get you there? Lots of exercise? A great detox program? A diet? Yoga? May I suggest, perhaps, a paradigm shift, instead? I have said many times, “My husband is not perfect, but he’s perfect for me.” By that I mean, of course, that Scott does not belong on a pedestal, but I really like having him at my side. He helps me do life in a creative, responsible, and fun way. And, there’s no one else I’d prefer. It’s a bit like that with my body.
Now that I am half a century in age, I appreciate the things my body does well, even as I watch it age. I am no longer able to binge and then go on some radical diet (like eating only saltines and grapefruit for a week). When I work out too intensely, I could be sore for a week. When I actually injure myself, what once may have taken a couple of weeks to heal may take a year. Then there’s my skin. It’s not so youthful as it once was. Fortunately, my vision isn’t as sharp, either.
Maybe what we’re really after is more like making peace with our physical selves, and supporting healing where necessary. Perhaps you have some sort of chronic condition. It’s important to note that lots of folks have been told that they would have certain symptoms or conditions for the rest of their lives, or even that they would decline with age, only to find that when they took much better care of themselves, they improved drastically or healed completely. It’s also true that some people have set out to heal themselves through nutrition or “alternative” therapies, and have not had the improvements for which they had hoped.
Quite a few years ago, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder called “fibromyalgia.” There were days when I could barely get out of bed. I was also having all sorts of digestive woes, scary heart symptoms, and hypoglycemia. On top of all that, I had 5 small kiddos at home with me every day. I was told that I should take medication, that I would be taking increasing amounts of this medication as I aged, and that I would continue to lose mobility until I died, though my life expectancy may be “normal.”
I did a lot to change my situation over time. Now, I don’t really know if I actually have fibromyalgia at all. (More to come soon about this condition and other autoimmune disorders.) I do feel a little sore at times, but mostly, I think I feel pretty terrific for a 50 year old. I am so thankful for the improvements I have enjoyed that I find no time to worry about how much I may dislike any body part or physical attribute. It’s true that I’ve traded acne for a few wrinkles. This does not bother me too much.
I’m choosing to be very thankful for all the things my body does for me, does exactly according to its design. I’ve never been naturally athletic or coordinated, but muscle memory and countless exercise, yoga, and dance classes have trained my body to be stronger, more flexible, and miraculously, more graceful. When I was younger, I got sick 6 or more times every year. Now, I rarely get even a cold. In fact, during the past 3 years, I’ve had only 2 colds, and they were separated by only a few days.
So, what about you? Perhaps your body is doing miraculous things every day. Maybe you will feel marvel if you simply begin to pay careful attention to all the things that are being perfectly executed in your body, day in and day out. While your body may not be perfect, perhaps you’ll find it seems pretty perfect to house your soul for your time on this planet. If not, perhaps there are ways you can support your physical strengthening or healing. And, a health coach can help. Please contact me if you are looking for one!
My Grandma Walker was an expert pie maker. She made mince pies, fruit pies, cream pies, and my favorite, pecan pie. Although I have not eaten one of her pies in over 30 years, I still remember how they tasted – perfect! My own mom made very good pies, too, and I made her teach me how to make pie crust when I was a teen (from Crisco and white flour). She shared her pecan pie recipe with me, and I didn’t think twice about the fact that the main ingredient was dark corn syrup.
These days, I can’t quite bring myself to make a pie out of corn syrup. My teeth would not stand for it, for one thing! Years and years of too much sugar and other foods that convert quickly to sugar when eaten have left me much more sensitive to blood sugar ups and downs. I can manage all of that really well if I stick with a pretty good diet most of the time. But this time of year, it’s a challenge to include wonderful traditional foods in a healthier way. I think about that pecan pie for weeks! I don’t want to have to put it away after only a bite or two – I’d prefer to have a slice or two, wouldn’t you?
I have several ways to keep a lid on my holiday eating. I’m not trying to control my weight as much as I just want to feel well and come to January with a sort of clean slate – not an intense need to detox. If I can do that, I don’t have an issue with the weight, either. I’ve been working at it a bit each year for a while now, and last year, January was a pleasure.
One of the things I did this year was to develop a new pecan pie recipe for the holidays. I want to share it with you today. It’s not that this would make a great entree, but as a dessert, it’s delicious and still offers some good nourishment without a ton of sugar.
What you need for the filling:
1 cup “crispy” pecans (instructions below), plus more for decorating the top
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon grade B pure maple syrup
3/4 cup milk or milk alternative
1/2 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/3 cup oatmeal
1/4 cup ground flax seeds
2 tablespoons blackstrap molasses
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
What you do:
Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees (F). Over low heat, melt butter and coconut oil. Beat together all ingredients except for milk and pecans in a large mixing bowl. Beat in milk (or alternative). Add pecans and mix gently. Pour in raw pie crust (Click here for gluten free recipe. I used this one, with ground flax seed and no egg white.) Arrange pecan halves on top.
Here’s how to make “crispy” nuts. (Sally Fallon Morrel gives instructions in her “Nourishing Traditions” book, and so do a few other folks.) Soak your nuts 12-24 hours in salted water. Drain off water and use it to water plants, if you like, but don’t drink it! This removes the phytic acid coating from your nuts, making them more digestible and preventing them from blocking absorption of other nutrients. Now, your nuts are quite soggy. To make them crisp, dehydrate them in a dehydrator for about 12-15 hours, or place them in a single layer on a baking tray in a barely warm oven (200 degrees or less) with the oven door left partly open. There you have it.
Bake pie at 425 for 10 minutes. Without opening oven, lower temperature to 350 degrees and bake another 40 minutes, or until done. Pie is done when crust is slightly brown and center is puffed up a bit. Gently push in on center with the back of a spoon – it should give a little, but not be too jiggly. Let the pie cool for about half an hour before serving. Enjoy!