Monday, January 25, 2010

Deadly nightshades?

After a miserable three days with joint pain, fatigue and bowel movements that are best not discussed in polite company... or any company really, I'm directing my attention to my favourite foods: the nightshades.

I am descended from Irish stock (in part) and the Irish love spuds. Not those fake sweet potato things, I mean the real potatoes with the white flesh that make amazing crisps, delectable salads, scrumptious mash, divine wedges, fries, hashbrowns, cakes.... Ohmygosh, I'm drooling!

Uh huh, so I'm addicted to potatoes. If I were ever stranded on a desert island there better be a potato crop right nearby or things would get ugly.

Potatoes are not the only member of the nightshade family that I have an unabashed adoration of. Tomatoes are a potatoes' best friend. My backyard is filled with tomato plants. I'm giving tomatoes away because on an instinctual level I know that to eat too many of those delicious red and yellow delights will result in pain. I restrict myself to small portions, diced up small... well, mostly I do.

Also in the family are eggplants, peppers (capsicums to us Aussies), chilli and tobacco. Tobacco and I have never become friends. Chilli and I parted company some time ago thanks to the oral autoimmune condition that I have, but my love of peppers and eggplants remained. If necessary though, I could live without them... for a short time anyway.

In my quest for a peaceful painfree life, I read this article: Do Nightshades Promote Inflammation?

Okay, to backtrack a bit. Two years ago I had a series of blood tests run. One of the things that showed up was inflammation. When I experience fatigue and joint pain I now recognise it as an inflammatory response to something I've eaten or done. So, could my potato addiction be feeding my inflammation?

The author (Scott Kustes) of the article above talks of his joints popping.
When I first changed my eating habits for the better a few years back, I started incorporating lots of salads (still do, but that’s beside the point). One to two salads per day, each with tomatoes and green peppers. .... I was incorporating lots of nightshades into my diet. At that level of consumption, I started getting all kinds of popping in my joints, especially in my back and even in my sternum. It wasn’t painful, but that I could pop pretty much anything at will was disconcerting.

Yup! I can do the same. My sternum popped at work the other day and my colleague's eyes widened. 'I've never known anyone who could do that,' she said and we laughed about it. One elbow pops when I throw the ball to my dog. That's just started in the last few weeks. I can pop my lower back, my shoulders and my ankles. My wrist pops when I use the computer mouse to scroll in small increments across the screen. That's a relatively new one. Come to think of it, I've been wondering about this recent increase in popping. As Scott says, it's disconcerting.

Scott goes on to say:
Later, Dr. Smith started talking about nightshades on the CrossFit forum and I decided to try cutting back. I cut out the tomatoes and peppers from my salads and cut back on the hot sauce. Lo and behold, the popping in my back and sternum went away.
He admits that after eating nightshades he experiences aches in a formerly dislocated shoulder joint. When he's nightshade free, exercises on the same joint are pain free.

The first joint to give me trouble is my knee. It's a sharp twinge/stabbing pain that doesn't stop me walking but generally precedes the burning/aching pain in the other big joints. It does feel like what I imagine arthritis would be, and I'm ready to accept that nightshades may be the culprit.

Scott raises an interesting point about seasonal eating. Before supermarkets and year round produce, people ate seasonally. Nightshades, even consumed in large quantities, were limited to the cropping season -- predominantly summer. Imagine rotating through foods rather than eating them everyday as we now do. I believe in the theory that over-indulgence in anything will result in damage. Why should nightshades be any different?

So, does that mean no more potatoes for me!? Maybe. At least in the short term until the joint pain and popping goes away, then I can trial things again. The lesson here for me is moderation. It's going to be hard. Potatoes are my life! And potato crisps.... my comfort food! *wrings hands*

Though... I will admit that those sweet potato crisps Em had when I last visited her were all kinds of fantastic! Now if I can figure out how to make those myself, life may not be so bad.  ;-)

Oh, and amongst the comments for the article one reader noted that potatoes are medically acknowledged as aggravating IBS symptoms in some people. Huh... who would have guessed?

Sunday, January 24, 2010


I have celery growing wild, so many tomatoes that I've had to resort to giving them away and apples that are falling from the tree and rotting on the ground.  What better way to deal with all this excess produce than to juice it!

Juicing vegetables converts them into an easily digestible form. If you're struggling to meet your daily fibre intake then juicing won't help because the fibrous part of the vegetables are left to the compost. Nutritionally though, juicing delivers a high burst of vitamins and minerals without demanding the digestive system break down all that fibre. It's good for people with compromised digestive systems -- and for those with healthy digestive systems.

This morning I juiced up celery (6 stalks, home grown), carrot (1, shop bought), apples (3 small home grown) and tomatoes (3 small home grown).

Into the juicer went all this stuff:

Here's the left over pulp. This goes into the compost.

And here's the vegetable juice:

The colour may not be to everyone's taste. What you put in will determine the colour, and to give a beautiful purplish drink you need add a small amount of beetroot.

Juicing options are limitless, confined only to your imagination and taste preference. Experiment, and whereever possible use fresh (home grown or organic) produce.

And, if you weren't convinced by me, read this: Juicing for Health.

Happy juicing!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

New veggie bed

A couple of weekends ago I decided it was high time to build a new veggie bed. This involved weeding an area that roughly measures 2 metres (6 feet) by 1 metre (3 feet). Heading into the garden after several days of sustained soaking rain makes lots of good sense, especially when weeding is on the agenda.

This is what I was faced with:

The vast green mass is couch grass. It's a thick stemmed, deep rooted grass that spreads on long (over a foot long) stems. It's actually quite rewarding to pull out, when the soil is moist, because it comes out in long tangled clumps and it feels like you're actually making progress.

The deep roots are a problem though, and it's near impossible to get absolutely every part of it.

Here I am partway through, thinking that I should be being paid for this.

Mum, bless her, helped immensely by carrying away the vast pile of debris and helping with the digging and yanking. Eventually (finally... many aching muscles later), it looked like this:

That one last mass of brown shows the root system. And yes, even that eventually came out.

Two weeks later, this is the veggie bed, complete with a wire fence (thanks mum!), concrete stepping stone and happy seeds.

The first seeds to sprout are rocket:

Further over to the left some bok choy are also peeking through, but so far no sign of the chinese cabbage (wong bok), tomato (grosse lisse), snow peas, beans or carrots. I'll keep hoping.

While we're waiting, let's tour the rest of the garden.

This is a view of the back part of the garden, with the greens beds, the new veggie bed tucked in the shadows behind and the nectarine tree and pots to the left.
Paddy enjoys the sunshine (damned hot it is too) while the tomatoes wilt and Chester seeks out the heavy shade.

The tomato garden may not be glamourous, but it's prolific. That's all that matters, right!?

The coriander has gone to flower, and soon will seed. I've never collected fresh coriander seed, but I guess there's always a time to start (and learn).
Then, by the back door, I'm growing sprouts in soil. I've never tried this before either, but figured it may be easier than doing them in water and jars. Here's some pea sprouts just coming through, and below that are the alfalfa sprouts.

Cottage cheese on rice cakes

This simple, tasty breakfast dish packs a protein punch and boasts delicious taste.

I'm fortunate enough to have fresh garden herbs on hand, but if you don't then mix and match with what you have (experimentation is the key).

I sometimes add finely diced cucumber as well, but forgot about it this morning.

3 thick rice cakes
1 cup cottage cheese
a mix of fresh garden herbs (mix these up according to taste, for this meal I used garlic chives, chives, thai basil and coriander)
cumin (1/2 tspn, freshly ground)
fresh tomato, finely chopped (I have several varieties of cherry tomato growing so I use six of those)
salt and pepper to taste

pick herbs, chop finely and add to cottage cheese, cumin and salt. Scoop spoonfuls onto the rice cakes. Top with finely chopped fresh tomato and pepper to taste. Enjoy.  (serves 1)

Quinoa, millet and roast vegetable pilaf

Technically this isn't a pilaf because I didn't brown the grains before cooking them, but I couldn't think of another name so it'll have to do.

1 cup millet
1 cup quinoa
1 litre vegetable stock (gluten free)
2 medium sized sweet potato
1 carrot
2 parsnip
1/4 pumpkin
1/2 red pepper
1 tbsn cumin seeds (whole)
sea salt to taste
2 tbsn olive oil


Dice vegetables into half inch chunks and spread evenly on a large baking tray or dish. Splash with olive oil, cumin seeds and salt. Use a spoon or spatula to mix so that the oil and seeds evenly coat the vegetables. Roast in a hot oven until vegetables are brown and cooked through (allow at least 30 minutes).

While the vegetables are cooking, heat water and vegetable stock in a large pot (I used powdered stock which I added to boiling water). Add dry millet and quinoa, bring to boil then reduce to simmer. Cook until all water is absorbed, stirring occassionally.

When vegetables and quinoa/millet are cooked, combine in a large bowl. (serves 8)

I pack single serves into freezer containers for easy lunch meals. I eat it with tinned tuna, but it can easily go with just a salad or some grilled fish, chicken, beef. 

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Buckwheat porridge

Finally I worked up the courage to give buckwheat groats a go. They are a strange, oddly shaped grain that, while delicious as pasta and the flour is great in recipes, I was leery of their unprocessed form. At $3.50 a kg, I figured it was worth a try.

If I can't have oats -- and I'm not sure that I can, at least for a while -- then could buckwheat be a substitute? Google thought so and we all know that Google knows best.

I tried this recipe: Buckwheat Porridge - recipe by DukeLupus.

Thirty minutes later I had a pot of porridge, and a yearning to give it a try.

I love my oats with yoghurt, fruit and nuts. I had all those things on hand and so put a small serving of the buckwheat porridge into a bowl and heaped on the rest.

It's not bad. I bet I can fiddle and make it tastier... maybe add some spices or try different ways of cooking it. I love the texture. Very similar to the steel cut oats that I fell in love with in the States. And it sits nicely in my tummy. As for the claimed health benefits... astounding, really. It'll all but cure cancer, apparently. It rather puts the old oat to shame.

And guess what I'm having for breakfast tomorrow morning.... ;-)

New Years resolution... of sorts.

Here I sit munching on rice cakes topped with (low fat) cottage cheese mixed with a combination of garden grown herbs and spices from my cupboard, and finely chopped, garden grown tomatoes nestled on top. It's delicious. Really. Every bite reveals a hint of cumin, or thai basil, or garlic chives, or regular chives, or a splendid burst of tart tomato and the gentle warmth of ground black pepper. It's a tropical sunset for my palate -- delectable and oh so inspiring.

This simple breakfast item delivers a protein punch, which is essential for energy maintenance throughout the day. It also abides by my dietary requirements... at least I think (hope) it does.

I have resolved (resigned) myself to a self-diagnosis of gluten sensitivity. That's really a no-brainer given my dietary history, physical and emotional symptoms and the fact I have one autoimmune condition (acquired 20 years earlier than is the norm for that condition) and, in the words of my specialist for that condition, was on the fast track to rheumatoid arthritis. Oh what joy that would have been.

Beyond that though I abide by the low FODMAP(tm) diet, a diet devised by Sue Shepherd. The diet is based on sound new scientific research into how simple sugars are digested by the body, and identifies those sugars which are poorly (or not at all) tolerated. Though Sue has celiac disease, her advice and recipes extend beyond the exclusion of gluten from the diet and encompasses all the other foods that cause digestive disturbances. I have all her recipe books which are suitable for celiacs and those on a low FODMAP diet.

Until this week, I have not been ruthless about excluding gluten from my diet. I avoid the main players, being wheat, rye, barley but had been including oats and gluten containing sauces and thickeners. When I stick to the low FODMAP diet (which encompasses gluten free), my symptoms are almost fully resolved. I say almost because they are not entirely resolved. As I am my own therapist, researcher, doctor, specialist... you name it, I have nowhere but the internet to gain insight into why this may be the case.

Basically, there are two possible explanations: 1) I am more gluten sensitive that I've realised and the inclusion of even minute amounts of gluten is continuing to compromise my digestive system, or 2) my digestive system is still healing -- it can take months/years to heal and given that I've had symptoms for well over five years, it's unreasonable to expect my health to immediately bounce back.

So, without knowing for sure which it is, the safest option is to go to option 1 assume that I require a gluten free diet, rather than a gluten reduced one. I've found it relatively easy to avoid wheat, rye and barley as a main ingredient, however avoiding all gluten sources is much harder.

At home, in control of my own kitchen and daily eating menu, everything is pretty much okay. I plan ahead, make sure that I always have something on hand that is quick and easy for those times when I'm tired and could be tempted to eat the wrong thing. Eating out though, and socialising is a whole other thing.

Yesterday my colleagues stood around my desk and discussed pasta restaurants, recipes and wheat based food that left me feeling isolated and abnormal. They meant no harm. They are lovely people, but the reality is that wheat permeates every part of modern dietary life. Even if it's possible to avoid it as a main ingredient, it's near impossible to avoid it as a thickener or additive, which makes eating out either difficult (if I am to abide by my dietary requirements) or sickening (if I give in and eat a convenient, but damaging, food). Neither option is appealing, so I rarely eat out. It's not so bad for hermit-like people (as I am), but there are times when I long for human company and generally that means going to another person's house or meeting up at a food place. The complexity of that sometimes seems like just too much effort, so I stay at home, alone, and nibble on my own food knowing that at least I'm not compromising my physical health.

I also learned yesterday that wheat is addictive. I'd never have guessed it, but it does make sense. 

The plus side of this is that I am regaining my health and vitality. After years of chronic diarhoea, recurring bouts of fatigue, weakness, joint pain, depression and mood swings, I now wake most mornings feeling rejuvenated and alive. My oral autoimmune condition rarely causes me any trouble and the tube of steroid cream is never touched. My hair no longer falls out with the frequency that it used to. I no longer need to structure my day around the proximity to a toilet and I am physically active and have sustained energy.

It's worth it. It really is. I just have to keep reminding myself of that. Being sick sucks and if eating a restricted diet and having less of a social life means I can be physically active and healthy, then so be it. I refuse to accept ill health. I refuse to accept the worn out excuses and recycled explanations that western doctors throw at patients. And I refuse to take pills to resolve a situation brought on by laziness and inattention to my body's needs. I intend on living a long a healthy life. Popping pills because I'm too lazy to look after myself is not an option. If I can do something to make my life better, I will.