Monday, January 23, 2012

Little Miss Sunbuttershine

I'm a big believer that whether or not you eat breakfast in the morning, and what you choose to eat, dictates the quality of your day.

When I was little, I knew it was going to be a good day when I got to be the one to open a brand new jar of peanut butter.

I lived for that moment where your butter knife first plunges into the creamy, untouched, golden brown peanut butter and adheres decadently to the clean blade. I loved the way it seeped into the nooks and crannies of my warm honey wheat english muffin as it melted and became one with the dough. It was breakfast bliss.

Now, starting my day this way would result in an inflammatory nightmare. A peanut buttery breakfast would be a fast track ticket to the E.R., complete with the use of an epi-pen, angry lungs, a radical rash,  and an embarrassing explanation to an emergency room doc. I like to call it, "peanut butter annihilation". 

Not only did chronic illness turn my life upside down, but it changed the way in which I live it. A significant change in diet is one of the many changes I was forced to make, a change that I surprisingly don't resent a bit. When I fell ill my immune system took a hit, and while parts of it were suppressed by infection, other parts went autoimmune. My struggle with autoimmunity lead to the development of inappropriate immune responses to certain foods, and I developed more food allergies and sensitivities than I could count on my fingers and toes. One of the most severe allergies was to peanuts.

Peanuts are the most common food allergen amongst the nation today, but it is also the food allergy that is most likely to produce a lethal allergic response. The rate of peanut allergies in children has rapidly increased over the past 15 years, and allergic responses continue to heighten in severity. Allergic children and adults alike now have the potential to react to as little as 1/2000th of a single peanut, making finding "safe" packaged food quite a challenge (1).

Even for those who have not developed a peanut allergy, peanut butter may not be a friendly food. Peanuts are naturally susceptable to mold growth in storage, and produce a carcinogen called aflatoxin (2). Aflatoxin is a type of cancer-causing mycotoxin that is found in many species of mold and fungus. Research has shown that the aflatoxin found in peanuts lead to liver cancer in rats, and that all 29 jars of peanut butter purchased at local grocery stores contained aflatoxins greater than 300 times the amount deemed "safe" (3, 4).


After learning of my potential likelihood for a deadly response to my creamy jar of Skippy, combined with my new knowledge of the moldy nature of peanuts and peanut buttery spreads, it wasn't hard to give up the treat. Much like my commitment to consuming unprocessed foods and remaining gluten and refined sugar free, it was a lifestyle change that involved more physical benefit than sacrifice.   But, it was a little difficult at first to find something to spice up my healthy daily breakfast and afternoon snacks.

That is, until Sunbutter saved the day.

My favorite ways to eat Sunbutter: Smothered on Lundberg Wild Rice Cakes, as a delicious dip for Granny Smith Apples, or smoothed into the crevice of Fresh Celery. 

I'm convinced that Sunbutter's name says it all. The first time I tasted it, I declared that it was sunshine in a jar (a proclamation that may have been slightly influenced by nut butter deprivation). Sunbutter is an alternative to nut butter, made entirely of ground sunflower seeds. I opt for their Organic, Unsweetened Sunbutter because the only ingredient in the jar is "Organic Sunflower Seeds". That's it.

The fact that Sunbutter offers an organic spread with no added sugar, chemicals, preservatives, hydrogenated oil, fillers or mystery, is fantastic. But, what's arguably even more significant about the brand is that they manufacture their products in a gluten and peanut free facility. This means that the product is entirely safe for those who suffer from life threatening peanut allergies. 

I like to think of my food as fuel. I could fill myself up with low grade fuel that'll likely cause performance problems, clog my filter, or slowly deteriorate the health of my engine. Or, I could fuel myself with premium fuel that aids me in my effort to get where I wish to go and keeps every mechanism of my body running as it should. Sunbutter is an optimal choice to fill up on because:

1. Sunflower Seeds contain more vitamin E than almost any other food. Vitamin E is an anti-inflammatory nutrient, and protects our cells from free radical damage and our body from oxidative stress. It aids in mediating digestive dysfunction and skin conditions, and protects us from developing cardiovascular and digestive disease (5,6).

2. Sunflower Seeds contain the highest amount of phytosterol when compared to other seeds and nuts. Phytosterol helps lower bad cholestorol while raising the good (5).

3. Sunflower Seeds are a vegan source for the essential vitamins B1, B5 and B6. They are also a strong source of folic acid, which is essential in maintaining neurological health, red blood cell formation and proper liver detoxification (5,6).

Thus, Sunbutter is the perfect way to start the day. It's creaminess and addictive taste also doesn't hurt.

Here's some great allergy-friendly, diet abiding Sunbutter recipe ideas from some fantastic gluten free bloggers that will help spice up breakfast, snacks and dessert:

by Elana's Pantry

by Diet Dessert and Dogs

by My Real Food Life

by The Fit Cookie

by Sketch Free Vegan Eating

They say that "you are what you eat". Perhaps that makes me Little Miss Sunbuttershine. And, that's okay with me.


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Sh#! Lyme Patients Say

", Listen..."

Last Month, writers Kyle Humphrey and Graydon Sheppard posted a video to youtube entitled "Shit Girls say". Graydon Sheppard, clad in women's attire, ventured to enact the body language, expression and phrases used by of a good majority of the female population. The final result is a hilarious, arguably (and embarrassingly) accurate portrayal of the stereotypical American "white girl". Like, seriously.

The video caught fire. Thousands of comments rolled in from girls across the nation exclaiming, "that totally sounds like me", "omg so right!", and "nailed ittttt". Now, the video has over 10 million views. Over the following 4 weeks, parody after parody surfaced. We now have "Shit New Age Girls Say", "Shit Yogis Say", "Shit Gay Guys Say", "Shit Black Girls Say", "Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls" and even "Shit Nobody Says".

And I'm drinking the Kool-Aid.

As much as we'd like to deny it, Lyme Disease has almost become a culture of its own. Not only are patients required to alter their entire lifestyle when diagnosed, but they often choose to ban together and change their facebook photo to include a green awareness ribbon, post Lyme-related informational links perhaps one too many times per day, and construct quite creative status updates about their ailments and pains.

My facebook newsfeed looks like a lime green apocalypse.

Thus, I bring you...

Shit Lyme Patients Say

1. "iHerb is having a huge sale right now."

2.. "I heard yellow is going to be the 'it' color this spring. I'm considering painting my nails with what's left in my Mepron bottle."

3. "I.V. Vitamin C gave me the munchies this time around."

4. " I got a really cute paramedic this week."

5. "My pain level today? I'd say...six. Or actually, it's a seven. No wait....6.759."

6. "A list of my medications? Oh God."

7. "I slept great last night. Almost 4 hours.

8. "My nap was a lot shorter today. Only 4 hours."

9. "Antibiotics are cheaper in Mexico? Road trip!

10. "Are my feet supposed to be this color?"

11. "My phone number? Uh...I can't remember. But I can tell you my medical record number."

12. "What's my zip code?"

13. "I forget how to spell..."

14. "What's 52 plus 75?"

15. "Pre-existing conditions? I'll just spell them for you. P-O-S-T O-R-T-H-O...."

16. "No...let me just spell it. B-A-B-E-S-I..."

17. "Next friday? Let me look at my calender. Accupuncture at 9:00, Chiropractor at 1:00, Reiki at 4...."

18. "Does this look like a bug bite to you?'

19. "Oh my God, is that a tick? That's a tick. Yes it....wait, it's just lint."

20. "Is this gluten free?"

21. "Is there dairy in these?"

22. "I'm pretty sure that's a walnut."

23. "Is the sugar in this unrefined?"

24. "I don't have a gall bladder. Well actually, I do, but it's in a jar in my closet." 

25. "Have you seen Jane's facebook lately? She doesn't look sick at all."

26. "...and then he was like, 'but you don't look sick', and I totally wanted to punch him."

27. "Is it hot in here?"

28. "Is it cold in here?"

29. "Does anyone else see black spots?"

30. "Where did I put my water bottle?"

31. "Am I having a heart attack?"

32. "It feels like someone kicked me in the kidney."

33. "I feel like someone sucker punched me in the gut."

34. "Where IS my water bottle?"

35. "You're going to want to draw blood from the other arm. Those veins aren't juicy."

36. "For Christmas I asked for an infrared sauna."

37. "I got a vitamix for my birthday."

38. "I ate quinoa patties for Thanksgiving dinner."

39. "Can you speak up? I can't hear you over the buzzing in my ears."

40. "Can you not talk so loud? My head is imploding."

41. "Can you turn the lights off? I can't see."

42. "Can you turn the lights on? I can't see."

43. "I think my insides want to be on my outside."

44. I seriously have no idea where I put my water bottle.

45. "I'm not sure if I actually took one of these pills, or if I just thought about taking one of these pills."

46. "Can you call back later? I'm rifing."

47. "Can I get you something to drink? We have reverse osmosis water, distilled water, mineral water, smart water,  seltzer water..."

48. "I'm brewing coffee right now. Oh, no, not for that..."

49. "Yesterday, I forgot to put the lid on my blender."

50. "Today, I found my notebook in the freezer."

51. "Damnit, I'm still wearing my slippers."

52. "It's possible that I'm having a stroke."

53. "Is this what a brain aneurism feels like?"

54. "Did I die? Oh no...wait...I have a pulse."

55. "Wow, shorter protocol this month. Only 22 pills with breakfast."

56. "Was I supposed to take 24 chlorella or 42? We'll go with 42."

57. This supplement sort of tastes like socks."

58. That pill bottle kind of smells like cheese.

59. "Can you take a picture of my rash? For my doctor...and facebook."

60. "Where the hell is my wa-...oh. It's in my hand."

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What To Eat When You Can't Eat Anything Series: Replacing Forbidden Favorites

I think I might have The Peanut Butter and Jelly Blues.

I absolutely love how much better I feel when I whole-heartedly stick to my gluten free, sugar free, allergen free diet. It's really not at all as depressing as it sounds. I enjoy a great big bowl of oven roasted veggies, I've discovered a love for all things coconuty, and I've even acquired a taste for eccentric grains like amaranth and teff. My diet has allowed me to explore a whole world of food that I never knew existed, and it has showed me that it's possible to take back that reigns in my own battle for health. It's sort of been empowering, and has acted as a creative outlet as I embark on a journey to figure out what the hell I'm supposed to eat.

Once I overcame the initial cravings and made the life altering commitment to remain 100% gluten and sugar free (without slip-ups, cheat days, or "little nibbles"), I no longer experienced those gripping cravings or that overwhelming desire to devour a loaf of french bread. Magically, previously unrelenting symptoms began to significantly improve. But sometimes, just occasionally...for a few moments...

I really just want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

I start to remember what the peanut butter looked like as it united with the bread, filling the nooks and crannies with its gooey texture as I spread it with my knife. I remember that first, soft bite into the fresh, fluffy bread, the sweetness of the jam mixing ever-so perfectly with the saltiness of the peanut butter. I remember that notorious sticky feeling left behind on your fingers after you finished devouring its delightfulness, and licking it off before washing it all down with a glass of milk.

Then I do a mental head slap. As much as I might miss a good PB&J, I don't miss the way I felt after eating one. The weeks of digestive upset after taking just one bite, the terrible headaches, the alarming tachycardia, the listlessness and feeling as though I were walking around with bricks in my pockets and lead in my shoes. Most of all, I really don't want to have to stick an epi-pen in my thigh as my throat begins to close after a hint of peanut hits my tongue. The detriment is just not worth the few moments of bliss. Plus, I'm not sure what I would tell the doctor upon arriving for medical aid. "What seems to have happened here?"...."Umm, I had a run-in with.....a peanut butter and jelly sandwich."

When it comes down to it, I will always choose health over instant gratification. So, instead of indulging and hindering my plight to wellness, I figure out a replacement to satisfy my culinary wishes and snack-time desires. Instead of a PB&J, I reach for a bag of Lundberg Wild Rice Cakes, Organic Sunbutter (the consistency is satisfyingly reminiscent of peanut butter), and a few raspberries to go on top. Because I made it over the "hump" and don't truly crave anything anymore, it does the trick.

This past weekend on the Infectiously Optimistic facebook page, a handful of patients expressed their struggle and frustration with sticking to their prescribed diets. They had fallen off the wagon or had mulled over quitting in entirety, and had become caught in the notorious cycle of cheating, reigniting cravings, sparking inflammation, and enkindling discouragement. This spoke to me, and I was overcome with a desire to help. I feel so strongly about the amazing things that maintaining a healthy, allergen free, anti-inflammatory diet has done for me, and I want others to reap the same benefits too. I want each of you to know what it's like to realize that something that you have employed and done for yourself has positively affected your health and your journey to wellness. I want you to experience the empowerment that comes with that, and I want you to know that cutting something detrimental out of your lifestyle isn't a loss, especially when you experience consequential physical gains. Improvement can't take place without consequential change.

So, I took to my facebook page to ask you a question:
Now that you have gone gluten, sugar and allergen free, what do you miss or crave the most? 

And then I set out to find replacements for your "forbidden favorites".

Devi: Almond Roca

Replacement: Elana's Pantry's Almond Joy Bark

You can make it even diet-friendlier by using Homemade Carob Chips instead of using unsweetened dark chocolate.

-Or, for a chocolate-free version, try Healthy Pursuit's Coconut Almond Bark.



 Replacement: Sketch Free Vegan Eating's Raw Cheesecake  (contains nuts)

Nikki: Crusty Bread (with a soft center)

Replacement: Affairs of Living Quinoa Millet Sorghum Sourdough Bread

-For an even crustier exterior and "whiter" center, try Nourished Kitchen's Coconut Flour Bread and remember that if you are allergic to eggs, you can replace them with "Flax Eggs" or 2 Tbsp of Chia Seeds per egg.


Tomato Sauces and Products (for those who are nightshade free)

Replacement: Affairs of Living Tomato-Free Pasta Sauce

 -If you are sensitive to onion and garlic (like me!), you can replace them with veggies like shredded zucchini, or for more flavor you could add apple cider vinegar or balsamic vinegar (only if tolerated).

Hannah: Pizza

Replacement:  Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen's Buckwheat Pizza Crust
(Quinoa Crust if you are allergic to buckwheat)


Replacement: You could use Affairs of Living's Socca as a crust

-Toppings for pizza are hard when you are dairy free and tomato (nightshade) free. It isn't impossible though; it just takes a little creativity! Tomato-Free Pasta Sauce, Dairy Free Almond Feta, or Avocado Alfredo are just a few of the many options. Your pizza may end up resembling Sketch Free Vegan's Green Pea Alfredo Socca Pizza.

Renee: Whipped Cream

Replacement: Gluten Free Cat's Coconut Whipped Cream

-Scroll down to the bottom of the post to find the delicious whipped cream recipe. You get a bonus Pumpkin Dessert Recipe along with it (dessert recipe contains nuts and eggs, but coconut whipped cream does not).

Multiple Emailers: Milkshake and French Fries

Replacement: Healthy Blender Recipe's Raw Vegan Avocado Smoothie

 Replacement: Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen's Strawberry Almond Smoothie

-For those who are allergic to strawberries (like me!), raspberries work great.

Replacement: Elana's Pantry's Squash French Fries


Replacement: The Functional Foodie's Rutabaga Fries 

Lisa: Macaroni and Cheese

Scroll to the bottom of the page for a nut free, dairy free, soy free "cheezy" recipe.

-For those of you who are yeast free (like me!) or sticking to a paleo diet, try  Hope For Healing's Savory Squash Rissoto. The dish captures the gooey, comforting nature of macaroni and cheese, without the grains and dairy. You can even eliminate the garlic and onions (and replace them with carrot or zucchini shavings) and it's still quite delicious.

-Or, try Whole New Mom's yeast-free "Almond Feta".

Shandy's request: Portuguese Bread 

Replacement: Gluten Free, Paleo Irish Soda Bread

We're mixing ethnicities here, but hey, that's okay.

I would bake this recipe sans the raisins. And remember, if you are allergic to eggs, you can replace each egg with "Flax Eggs" or 2 Tbsp Chia Seeds per egg.

-For a more moist texture, sweeter flavor and a yellow color that's reminiscent of the inside of some sweet portuguese breads, try Affairs of Living's Golden Coconut Snack Cake.

Happy not-so-sinful eating.