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Mitochondria part 2

Tour de France

One more post on weight loss (or gain), mitochondria density, and metabolic health and then I’ll get back to posting some healthy, gluten-free recipes. I promise. But before I do that, I have to fill in the blanks from my prior post on this subject. To catch up, please see part one—the mitochondria: your own starship enterprise. This two-part series features highlights from last June’s Fitness & Health Bloggers Conference held at the newly opened Anschutz Health & Wellness Center.

Okay, are you ready for a different take on weight loss? Curious, even?

Dr. Iñigo San Millán is the director of the Human Performance Lab at the Anschutz Center. He’s an exercise physiologist and his conference presentation brought together two different areas of customized approaches to fitness. On one end, we have the average person trying to lose weight and get healthy. On the other end, we have world-class, elite, endurance athletes. You know—the kind of people who run ultra-marathons, break world records, win Olympic medals, ride in the Tour de France. Yes, I know, there’s a big gap between average and elite. But according to Dr. San Millán, we have a lot to learn from elite athletes and can apply the same general principles of metabolic health to our own pursuit of fitness.

What is metabolic health, you ask? Overall, it means being healthy and fit in all aspects and on a whole body level (on a cardiovascular, hormonal, emotional, nutritional, and cellular level). Sounds rather yogic, doesn’t it? Mind, body, and spirit health.

Dr. San Millán tossed out some brutal facts about the rising rates of obesity, diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease in the United States. Sixty-eight to seventy percent of the US population is overweight or obese. Two-thirds of Americans are on some sort of diet or weight-loss program at any given time, but 98% of weight loss is gained back. That roller-coaster ride of weight gain, weight loss, weight gain undermines metabolic health and makes it increasingly harder to lose the weight. What’s the answer?

It’s complicated and there’s no magic formula, but there’s a positive side to this. We can make health-enhancing changes at anytime of life. It’s never too late to eat better and move more. BUT, it has to become a way of life, not a temporary “diet” or periodic exercise program.

According to Dr. San Millán, elite endurance athletes are the most fit people on the planet and the only population totally free of acquired metabolic and cardiovascular disease. As Dr. San Millán said in his talk, “Simply, it doesn’t exist.”

So, what makes these elite athletes metabolic super-stars?

High mitochondrial density and metabolic flexibility.

Huh?

In a nutshell: cellular energy requirements control how many mitochondria we have (in “healthy” individuals without a genetic mitochondrial disorder). The more we move (walk, run, hike, bike, ski, play tennis), the more mitochondria we have. Endurance athletes have twice the mitochondrial content as sedentary individuals (Davis et al., 1981, 1982). The more mitochondria we have, the more efficiently we process carbs and fat. The more efficiently we process carbs and fat, the less likely we are to be overweight. If we maintain a healthy weight, there is less risk of insulin resistance, diabetes, and heart disease.

See those legs in the above cycling photo? That’s turbo-charged mitochondrial density in action. It’s unlikely any of those cyclists are overweight or have type 2 diabetes or heart disease. Tour de France riders consume an average of 6000–9000 calories per day. Of those, 75–80% are carbs. Michael Phelps told ESPN that he consumes 8000–10000 calories per day during training and competition. Again, a high percentage are carbs.

Okay, sounds good, but where do we start? And comparing ourselves to elite athletes is a little intimidating, wouldn’t you agree? I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to be running marathons anytime soon. Plus, we’re all different. Each body is unique. We have different adaptations to exercise and different responses to what we eat. But, the good news is, it doesn’t matter how old we are or what shape we’re in, we can make positive changes. We can lose weight. We can eat better. We can become healthier. We can increase our mitochondria and enhance our ability to process carbs and fat. We can thrive.

    

Here’s the deal. According to Dr. San Millán, physical activity should be the foundation, boosted by a healthy diet. And that healthy diet can include carbs. Healthy carbs aren’t evil, we just need to move our bodies daily to be efficient at processing those carbs.

I agree. We need to make time for activity, at least an hour a day, more if possible. You don’t have to go to the gym or buy expensive equipment. Dance, do yoga, garden, walk your dog, sell your car, move to Paris, become Amish. It’s about permanent lifestyle changes; it’s not about dieting. We need to move more to lose weight, maintain metabolic health, and avoid type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

We don’t have to be an elite athlete, but we can learn from them.

Peace, love, and physical activity! Lots of it. Weight loss will be the side effect!
Melissa

Backcountry nutrition for peak performance

This is the scene I was rewarded with a couple of years ago while backpacking in the Colorado high country. It was definitely worth the climb (summit 13,951 feet) and although I kept my distance in respect to my mountain goat friends, I thoroughly enjoyed our meeting.

When Maggie and Amy asked me to do a guest post at The Balanced Platter and explained that June’s editorial calendar included the theme, traveling on a GF diet, I immediately thought of high-country travel—as in backpacking. No cars, trains, or airplanes needed—just a good pair of hiking boots and a loaded backpack.

So—what does it take to fuel your engine and nourish your body for “peak” performance? Follow these basic tips for sustained energy (a long day on the trail) and quick bursts (climbing the last 500 feet to the summit). You’ll also need some turbo-charged recovery food so you can sleep well, climb out of your tent at the crack of dawn, make a hearty breakfast, and start all over again—day after day. That’s what backpacking is all about—sustained energy. And yes, I call that traveling on a GF diet.

These are basic eating strategies for all-day energy. Although sometimes one category serves the purpose better than another, most meals and snacks are a mixture.

Complex carbs
High-fiber, complex carbs will help you plod along for long hours on the trail. They provide more sustained energy because they’re digested (broken down) more slowly than simple sugars. Oats, brown rice, quinoa, teff, granola, and buckwheat are all examples of complex carbs. Start the day with a blend of carbohydrate (complex and simple), protein, and fat. Oatmeal with dried fruit, nuts, and brown sugar is a perfect way to start the day.

Simple carbs 
Say you’ve been hiking along at a moderate intensity for 3 or 4 hours and you realize you’re about a half an hour away from a very steep 500 foot climb to the summit. You need a quick fix and that comes in the form of fast burning, simple carbs like GF jelly beans, dried fruit, honey, or chocolate chips. They’re easy to digest and the simple sugar goes immediately to your working muscles and nervous system.

Fat
High-quality, slow-burning fats are essential for backpacking. They provide more calories (energy) per gram, which you need when you’re physically active all day. Fats give you staying power. Mix them with complex carbs for long-lasting fuel. Nuts, seeds, coconut, and jerky (salmon, beef, bison provide fat and protein), cheese, and sausage are great choices for backpackers.

Protein
Many of the complex carbs (teff, quinoa, oats) and fats (jerky, nuts, seeds) all provide a good dose of protein as well. Protein helps repair the muscles and connective tissue you break down during long hikes. Protein is essential for recovery.

Nutrition bonus
Backpacking is physically demanding and stresses the body in many ways. I like to dehydrate nutrient-dense, hearty greens (kale, spinach, chard) and create my own dry soup mixes for a daily nutrition bonus of antioxidant protection. Hearty greens dehydrate well, weigh next-to-nothing, and rehydrate immediately. They’re perfect for backpacking. Mix the dehydrated greens with instant potato flakes and a gluten-free chicken base for a satisfying and nutritious side soup. At camp, all you have to do is add boiling water to the dry mix, stir, cover, and let sit for 5 minutes.

Granola-Style Energy Bars (Perfect to make ahead and eat on the trail)
Makes 16 bars
Courtesy of The Gluten-Free Edge: A Nutrition and Training Guide for Peak Athletic Performance and an Active Gluten-Free Life (by Peter Bronski & Melissa McLean Jory)

What you need
1/4 cup almond meal
2 tablespoons raw shelled hemp seeds
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup pecans
1 cup almonds
1 cup unsulfured dried apricots (about 6 ounces), chopped into chunks
1/4 cup certified gluten-free, rolled oats
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/3 cup maple syrup (grade B is thicker)
1 large egg
1 tablespoon coconut oil, melted, plus some to grease the pan
1 teaspoon gluten-free pure vanilla extract

What you do
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch square pan.
2. Place the almond meal, hemp seeds, cinnamon, and salt in a food processor and pulse until well mixed.
3. Add the pecans, almonds, oats, and apricots and pulse several times until the nuts are in small chunks but not completely ground. Add the chocolate chips and pulse a few times, leaving larger chunks.
4. In a medium bowl (big enough to hold all the ingredients), whisk together the maple syrup, egg, melted coconut oil, and vanilla. Whisk for 1 minute to ensure all ingredients are mixed.
5. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mash together with a fork. Use your hands if you have to.
6. Spread the mixture in the prepared pan. Cover with parchment paper, and using your hands, flatten evenly. You can also use an unslotted spatula to flatten the mixture.
7. Place on the center rack in the oven. Bake for 22 to 24 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool. Place the pan in the refrigerator to chill before cutting into bars. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.


Peace, love, and happy trails from The Balanced Platter!
Melissa
PS Leave us a comment sharing your favorite gluten-free hiking snack.

The athlete’s recovery cocktail (sportini)

My last post focused on hydration and featured a power-packed smoothie recipe. I’m still on my hydration and recovery kick, but this time I’ll serve you up a nice ”end of the day, I’m absolutely exhausted” recovery cocktail. I’m calling these evening, post-workout drinks sportinis. No alcohol needed. At least not most of the time. And, in my case, certainly not after an energy-draining, dust-collecting, 20 mile, single-track mountain bike ride. I’ll explain the alcohol piece shortly.

As some of you may know, I’m on a mission to get in shape and lose the extra pounds I gained over the winter co-writing a book on sports nutrition with friend, colleague, and ultra-endurance athlete, Pete Bronski of No Gluten No Problem. The Gluten-Free Edge: A Nutrition and Training Guide for Peak Athletic Performance and an Active Gluten-Free Life will be released in June. If you’re interested (semi-shameless plug), you can pre-order it here.

Aahh, the irony of sitting on my bum for long hours writing about nutrition, sports, and wellness—a downgrade in fitness and health, an uptick in weight and low energy. Life is a roller coaster ride at times, wouldn’t you agree?

Regardless of the ups and downs of life, it’s never too late to jump back on the healthy-living bandwagon. Never give up. Check here if you need some serious motivation – Arthur went from disabled, depressed, overweight vet to headstand-crow-chaturanga. Wow.

As Arthur demonstrates, it’s possible to have major gains in strength, aerobic capacity, energy, and over-all radiance if you put your mind and body into it – no matter where you are on the health spectrum. But, as you can see from the video, it takes foot-stomping commitment.

Now, back to the alcohol piece. Studies show that alcohol disrupts sleep patterns, even in low doses. Yes, as little as one glass of wine can impact sleep. You might fall asleep okay, but as your body starts metabolizing the alcohol, sleep becomes progressively more erratic and disturbed. Here’s what happens in a nutshell (or, in this case, a shot glass). You have your glass of red wine. You feel warm and mellow, relaxed and sleepy. An hour or two later you go to bed and fall asleep easily. The first half of the night goes well.

Zzzzzz.

And then, out of nowhere, you wake up at 1:12 AM. That’s a measly four hours after you fell asleep. And no matter what you do, you can’t seem to find na-na land again.

Toss. Turn. Pillow flip. Check the clock. Worry about lost sleep. Start fretting about bizarre things.

Oh my gosh, what if the refrigerator stops working? Did I pay my phone bill? Maybe I should get a puppy. What’s the deal with putting hot dogs in pizza crusts? Disgusting. I hate it that people get Parkinson’s disease. Did I shut the garage door? I’ll probably get another Alaskan Malamute if I get a puppy. Yikes! What was that noise? Is someone in the house? I’m hungry. And tired. Wish I could go to sleep.

Repeat frustrating cycle while incorporating new random worries. Kick covers. Curse crickets.

You get the idea. I don’t have time for that. I need eight hours of sleep. Straight. So, if I want to feel my best and reach my summer sports goals, I have to skip the wine (most of the time anyway, there are exceptions). Here’s where the sportini comes in. After a long day of work topped off with an evening mountain bike ride, I want to feel like I’m having something special like a glass of wine, but without the 2 AM pillow tossing. My post-exercise, recovery cocktails (mocktails/sportinis) replenish lost electrolytes and glycogen stores, provide antioxidants and phytochemicals, and boost hydration. Plus, they feel kind of special like I’m celebrating.

Lemon-lime-mint recovery cocktail (sportini)
Makes 1 large or 2 small servings

what you need
8 ounces S. Pellegrino sparkling mineral water
8 ounces Recharge organic lemon sports drink
1 organic lime (the fresh-squeezed juice and a little zest)
1 organic orange (the fresh-squeezed juice and zest)
1-2 fresh organic mint leaves

what you do
Place mineral water, Recharge, lime juice, orange juice, and zest in a shaker (I use a mason jar). Shake well. Add ice if desired (I don’t like ice, ever). Pour into a fancy glass, top with crushed mint leaves, stir gently, and enjoy.

PER SERVING: 182 calories; 0 g fat; 48 g carbohydrate; 4 g protein; 7 g fiber
SPORTS NUTRITION BONUS: excellent source of vitamin C; contains iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, B vitamins, vitamin A (see details below, click table to enlarge)

Cheers!
Melissa
P.S. Stay tuned for upcoming book give-aways to highlight May as Celiac Disease Awareness Month.

Hydration and recovery (recipe included)

I have a friend (as brilliant as he is) who recently spent a day or so recovering from a self-induced, internal drought. He was miserable.

If you’re an active person, you’ve probably experienced an imbalance between water intake and water loss at one time or another during an extended period of exercise. It’s not pleasant and greatly impacts your performance whether you’re out for long mountain bike ride or playing a hard-fought tennis match. Exercise capacity can be compromised when a person is dehydrated by as little as 2% of body weight. That’s not much.

We often focus on food sources of fuel, but fatigue during exercise may be the result of dehydration as much as from lack of nutrient intake. It takes much longer to recover from a hydration deficit than it does from a food (energy) deficit. You can eat a banana or a handful of jelly beans and feel better in minutes, but if fluid intake is compromised, it takes a lot longer to recover. If you’re feeling like a saguaro cactus—hot, parched, and moisture-deprived—it will take hours for fluids to trickle back into your blood plasma, muscles, and intracellular fluids. It’s best to make sure you’re well-hydrated to begin with and take measures to stay hydrated while active.

Sip, sip, sip.

And guess what? Food counts as hydration. At least some food does. Processed food contains no water. Raw vegetables and fruit contain quite a bit and come with a supporting cast of nutrients, including sodium, potassium, and magnesium—critical electrolytes lost through sweating.

Power-packed, pre- or post-exercise smoothie (a great combo of ingredients for hydration, performance, and recovery)
Makes one mega serving, or two if you’re forced to share

1-1/2 cups coconut water
1 small banana
1/3 cup frozen cherries
1/3 cup chopped cucumber
1/3 cup chopped raw beets
1 stalk celery, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 tablespoon flax seeds, ground

Place all ingredients in a high-powered blender and pulse until smooth. Makes about 22 ounces (1-3/4 cups).

PER SERVING: 350 calories; 7 g fat; 70 g carbohydrate; 8 g protein; 13 g fiber
Nutrition Bonus: vitamin C; magnesium; phosphorus; sodium; potassium; thiamin; selenium; zinc

For a detailed post on the differences in high-powered blenders, check this post from my friend Alexa at Lexie’s Kitchen. She’s the blender guru. I have a VitaMix and I love it, but there are several other blenders on the market that will also pulverize chopped beets and celery.

Peace, love, and plant power!
Melissa

Gluten ataxia and cerebellar juggling

I’m guessing you probably stopped by hoping to find a recipe for something exciting like peanut-butter chocolate cake or frosted cinnamon rolls. Maybe a nice cheesy casserole or a chocolate Easter bunny.

Sorry.

I’ve been sidetracked lately by the dazzling microcircuitry and super-powers of the cerebellum, my favorite brain region. You might want to stick with me on this, especially if you’re curious about the many ways gluten can wreak havoc on your health and derail your Cirque du Soleil ambitions.

Here’s the deal.

Ataxia is a lack of muscular coordination and balance. It’s a loss of precise movement. The main function of the cerebellum is to evaluate how well movements initiated by motor areas of the brain are actually being carried out. It’s responsible for orchestrating muscular action in a controlled way. If the motor areas of the brain aren’t skillfully doing their jobs, the cerebellum detects the discrepancies and via a complex network of feedback signals, attempts to correct the errors.

If you want to ride a unicycle and juggle while being distracted by women in short skirts twirling around on roller skates, you better have a high-functioning cerebellum. Do you remember world-class, short track, speed skating champion, Apolo Ohno? Didn’t it make you a little nervous watching him bumping elbows with the South Koreans while taking corners at high speeds? He was practically horizontal. My gosh, how did he manage to stay upright (at least most of the time)? That kind of movement takes dynamic balance, sensory control, reflex adjustment, and incredible coordination. The cerebellum takes note of everything that’s going on with the body in space and makes instant adaptations to maintain equilibrium.

That’s if nothing is sabotaging its performance (and yours).

This under-appreciated little structure of lobes, white matter, grey matter, and other assorted goodies accounts for only 10% of the brain mass, but contains approximately half the neurons (specialized nerve cells) in the brain. That gives you an idea of how important it is. Researchers are also finding the cerebellum plays a roll in cognitive function and language. There’s a lot going on in that part of the brain.

Now throw some gluten into the mix and you might have problems with even the simplest of movements. Like walking, skipping, catching a slow-moving beach ball, or retrieving a word from the tip of your tongue. Cerebellar ataxia is one of the most common neurological manifestations of gluten intolerance.

Dr. Alessio Fasano, world-renowned celiac specialist and Italian cutie-pie (well, isn’t he?) from the University of Maryland’s Celiac Research Center says, “The gut is not like Las Vegas. What happens in the gut doesn’t stay in the gut.”

Such is the case with gluten ataxia. People with the genetic and environmental susceptibility to gluten ataxia may not even have gastrointestinal symptoms, although the problems begin when gluten hits the small intestine. Unfortunately, the potential for damage doesn’t stay there. It can also have an impact on the brain. Studies show that 60% of patients with gluten ataxia show cerebellar atrophy on MRI. One study I read suggested that prolonged exposure to gluten in people with gluten ataxia was irreversible. Obviously, the sooner the diagnosis, the better. I’m not a doctor (I’m a nutritionist taking ballet lessons), but I believe a healthy gluten-free diet of nourishing whole foods and activities that stimulate cerebellar function can do wonders for people with neurological problems and can be protective for those without.

What kind of activities?

Dance lessons, yoga, tai chi, juggling, tennis—any activity that requires balance, movement, and attention to detail. Even tossing a beach ball back and forth stimulates the movement centers of the brain. Research shows that structural changes occur in the brains of people who engage in activities that require balance and coordination—jugglers, basketball players, speed skaters, dancers. If there is evidence of architectural changes, then why not exercise your cerebellum? Nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Plus, you might have fun in the process. Latin dance lessons? Ballet?

Check out this video of cerebellar rock stars, Bob, Trish, Chip and Laura. It’s short (1:17), fun, and will give you an idea of what it’s like to have a top-notch sense of balance and coordination. This kind of skill takes a lot of dedication and practice and I bet on MRI, these folks would have a blue ribbon network of neurons guiding their movements. They’re exercising their bodies, but they’re giving their brains a workout as well.

Basketball-Juggling Trick Shot (Chip and Laura Edition) with Bob and Trish

Dance, twirl, and exercise your brain. Your cerebellum with thank you.
Melissa

Resources:
• Sultan, F et al., “The cerebellum: Comparative animal studies,” The Cerebellum, 2007; 6: 168–176.
• Hadjivassiliou, M et al., “Gluten Sensitivity: from gut to brain,” Lancet Neural, 2010; 9: 318-330.
• Sapone, A et al., “Spectrum of gluten-related disorders: consensus on new nomenclature and classification,” MBC Medicine, 2012; 10: 13.
• “Skaters’ Brains: Specialized training of complex motor skills may induce sports-specific structural changes in the cerebellum,” ScienceDaily, March 26, 2012; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120326112918.htm (accessed March 26, 2012)
• Gerard J. Tortora et al., Principles of Anatomy & Physiology (New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2003), 462-463, 472.
• William D. McArdle et al., Exercise Physiology: Energy, Nutrition, and Human Performance (Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2007).

Gluten-free oatmeal and teff power porridge

Pete Bronski, founder with wife Kelli of the blog No Gluten No Problem, is an endurance athlete, friend, colleague, and co-author of our new book (May release date), The Gluten-Free Edge: A Nutrition and Training Guide for Peak Athletic Performance and an Active Gluten-Free Life. Check here for pre-order details. And when we say, an Active Gluten-Free Life, we mean everyone on the planet, not just super-heros.

After long hours (days, weeks, months) of researching, writing, rewriting, and interviewing gluten-free athletes and athletes who choose to be gluten-free, Pete is back logging long hours trail running and I’m back at Mary Jane telemark skiing. I’m also in the process of losing the 5 pounds I gained while writing and creating high-octane recipes for the book. Aahh, the irony of writing a book on sports nutrition (weight gain and a slide in fitness).

It was worth it and I’m incredibly grateful for the experience, but now I’m on a mission to revive myself. My eating habits weren’t bad while writing the book, but I sat on my bum for way too many hours and my exercise routine, active lifestyle, and yoga practice suffered. That’s not something I want to make a habit of.

I’ve found that the best way to kick-start my day and boost my energy levels is to eat a power-packed breakfast. That means a combination of high-quality carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be sharing healthy, gluten-free breakfast ideas for an active lifestyle. All will be vegetarian, nutrient-dense, and delicious.

First up: gluten-free power porridge with whole-grain oats and teff—perfect before heading out for a day of skiing or hiking (or in Pete’s case, mega-distance trail running).

But before I get to the recipe, I’d be remiss if I didn’t do a little “compare and contrast” of oats. Oats are not all the same, as fast-food, mega-giant McDonald’s demonstrated last year with the unveiling of their “Oats with the Most” fruit and maple oatmeal bowl. After reading the ingredient label and nutrition information, I’m thinking the tag line should read, “Oats with the Most additional and unnecessary low-quality, junk-food additives.”

McDonald’s Oatmeal Bowl contains the following ingredients: Oatmeal—whole grain rolled oats, brown sugar, modified food starch, salt, natural flavor (plant source), barley malt extract, caramel color; Diced Apples—apples, calcium ascorbate; Cranberry Raisin Blend—Sweetened dried cranberries (sugar, cranberries), California rasins, golden raisins, sunflower oil, sulfur dioxide as a preservative (contains sulfites); Light Cream—milk, cream, sodium phosphate, datem, sodium stearoyl lactylate, sodium citrate, carrageenan.

What the heck is datem?

I’m so glad you asked.

DATEM (directly from Wikipedia): Diacetyl Tartaric Acid Ester of Mono- and Diglycerides is an emulsifier used to strengthen dough by building a strong gluten network. It is also known as E472e and is often derived from genetically modified soya bean oil.

First off, if it’s called E472e, it’s not food (not to mention its other name). Really? We need a dough strengthener in our oatmeal?

Aside from the fact that this oatmeal is contaminated with gluten, it’s filled with a boat-load of unhealthy ingredients. Leave it to McDonald’s to completely ruin what should be a healthy breakfast.

Now, let’s take a look at the ingredient list on my bag of Montana Gluten-Free OatmealIngredients: whole grain rolled oats. Period. Wow, the oats are the ingredient. It’s the same thing with my bag of teff. Ingredients: whole grain teff. What a concept. The food is also the ingredient.

To be fair, the McDonald’s ingredient label included everything in the pre-made bowl of oatmeal. Yes it comes with the apples, cranberry raisin blend, and light cream infused into the oatmeal (don’t even ask). Unfortunately, you can’t pull through the drive-up window, order the Oatmeal Bowl and say, “Hold the  E472e, the barley malt extract, the caramel color, the multiple sugars, the modified food starch, the calcium ascorbate, the sulfur dioxide, the sodium stearoyl lactylate, sodium citrate, and the carrageenan.”

To insure that my “compare and contrast” playing field is level, I’ll include the same detailed nutrition information on my porridge at the end of the recipe.

Gluten-free oatmeal and teff power porridge
(photo above–Montana GF Processor’s raw oats and Bob’s Red Mill raw teff)

what you need
1 and 1/4 cup water
dash of salt
1/2 cup certified gluten-free whole grain rolled oats
2 tablespoons whole grain teff
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 small apple, cored and chopped
1 tablespoon raisins (or a mix of raisins and dried cranberries)
honey or maple syrup (to make it vegan, used maple syrup)
coconut milk or other milk

what you do
1. Bring water and salt to a boil.
2. Slowly add oats and teff, stir well, and turn heat to low. Add vanilla, cinnamon, apples, raisins, and cranberries (if using).
3. Cook on low for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Remove from heat when liquid is absorbed and serve with a drizzle of honey (or maple syrup) and milk of choice. I like light coconut milk with it, but any nut milk will do.

PER SERVING (Oatmeal Teff Porridge): 3.2 g fat; 78 g carbohydrate; 11 g protein; 10 g fiber
Nutrition Bonus: excellent source of iron

PER SERVING (McDonald’s Oatmeal): 4.5 g fat; 57 g carbohydrate; 5 g protein; 5 g fiber
Nutrition Time Bomb: additives, preservatives, dyes

Note: Some people with gluten intolerance have an immune response to oats, even certified gluten-free oats. If you choose to try oats, start slowly (1/3 cup) to see if you react. Oats also contain a lot of fiber, which is a good thing, but may cause gastrointestinal stress if you’re not used to it. Check with your healthcare provider if you’re unsure about adding oats to your diet.

Peace, love, and power porridge. Stay tuned for more healthy breakfast ideas for an active gluten-free life!

Melissa

fuzz food inflammation and movement

If I had more room in the title bar, I’d call this post, “inflammation, fuzz, food, inner space, enlightenment, movement, and twisty-bendy stuff.”

In case you’re wondering about the photo, cotton candy has nothing to do with this post, other than it looks exactly like fuzz. I wanted something that would visually compare to fuzz in case you wanted to opt out of the cadaver video.

I bet you’re curious, though.

I’m a nutritionist, but my college education began with a degree in exercise physiology. Because both disciplines are science-based, I’ve ended up taking anatomy, physiology, and bio-chem two different times, from different teachers, at different institutions. My first semester (20-some years ago) of anatomy included a cadaver lab. It was there that I found my religion (seriously) and began my intense fascination with how our bodies work from the inside out.

Before I was diagnosed with celiac disease, joint pain and inflammation where a daily thing for me. Nothing debilitating, but it was annoying and constant. I even slept with my arms in a pillow-version of traction because my shoulders hurt so much. I attributed the pain to a lifetime of physical activity and overuse. To make a long story short, a gluten-free, whole foods diet and lots of yoga solved my problems. No more inflammation and very little pain — as long as I eat well and move often. Bend, stretch, twist, twirl, and dance.

I’ll let somanaut Gil Hedley explain why. His approach to teaching anatomy and physiology is humorous, creative, and spiritually enlightening. He’s also brilliant and charmingly geeky, which I absolutely love.

Did that help (and isn’t Gil charming)? Doesn’t fuzz look like cotton candy? Well, there’s no need for either.

Movement is key, but so is food.

On to inflammation, which isn’t always a bad thing. It’s a natural and protective response by the immune system to infectious agents, toxins, tissue injury, temperature extremes, cooties and other icky things. It’s a bad thing when the response is misdirected, never shuts off and targets healthy tissue. Because inflammation is a general and non-specific protective mechanism, the response is similar whether the damage is caused by gluten cooties, poor diet, disease, a fall down the stairs or a misdirected hammer.

So — what can we do to decrease inflammation and enhance our health?

Make anti-inflammatory foods your foundation and twist, bend, stretch, twirl, and shake your booty every day. You might also consider some beneficial body work.

Here are 10 tips to get you started.

1. Eliminate or minimize processed foods, fast food and junk food. Avoid products containing trans-fats, partially hydrogenated fats, high-fructose corn syrup, chemicals, additives and other “non-food” ingredients. Sugar is also pro-inflammatory.
2. Choose healthy fats such as extra-virgin olive oil, coconut, avocados, nuts and seeds.
3. Avoid soda pop and opt for old-fashioned water or green tea. If you choose to drink alcohol, an occasional glass of red wine has been shown to be beneficial.
4. Choose a wide variety of fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables. Organic is best. Strive for 9 to 10 servings per day. Eat more veggies than fruit (5-6 servings of veggies, 3-4 servings of fruit). This is just a guideline.
5. Eat healthy non-gluten grains like teff, montina, quinoa, amaranth and brown rice. Legumes (beans, peas, lentils) are also a rich source of high-quality plant protein.
6. Choose nuts, seeds, raisins and dates for snacks or an occasional small serving of dark chocolate when you need a “sweet fix.”
7. Season foods with health-enhancing herbs and spices like garlic, capsicum, turmeric, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, parsley and cilantro. This list is endless.
8. The right balance of EFAs (essential fatty acids) is important. In general, omega-3s are anti-inflammatory and omega-6s are pro-inflammatory. I’ll do an entire post on this one of these days.
9. If you choose to eat animal products, 100% grass-fed, organic choices are best. Meat and dairy products from 100% grass-fed animals contain higher levels of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), which studies show may fight inflammation and have anti-cancer properties.
10. Reduce stress, think positive thoughts, get adequate sleep and exercise.

Bottom line?

Your body truly is a temple. Treat it as such. Go inside, learn as much as you can about the inner workings that make up the divine space in which you live. As Gil so eloquently expresses in his book, Reconceiving My Body – Take Two, From The Heart, “I realized that I had been sitting for my whole life outside the doorsteps of the most finely wrought Cathedral ever built, without ever having gotten off my arse to walk through the doors and have a look about. My body in all its complexity represented the wonders and workings of God’s creation. Rather than being some insufferable obstacle to spiritual growth, my body as a temple could become my greatest resource for beholding the hidden face of the Divine within me.”

Go forth and explore inner space. The more we understand the magic of what’s going on inside our bodies, the more likely we are to appreciate and take care of this wonderful creation.

Peace, love and inner space!
Melissa

wild sockeye salmon

This is Redfish Lake located at the base of the Sawtooth Mountains in central Idaho. I just spent several days there enjoying the slow pace of camp life. The days were long and the western, starlit nights, cool and crisp. I loved it, and having spent time there as a child, it was a nostalgic trip back.

This post won’t be recipe-oriented, although I’ll include one at the end. It will be more of a contemplative ramble on fish, nutrition and ecosystems. All have to do with health, both ours and that of the environment. We are inseparably linked.

When I camped at Redfish Lake as a little girl, there were “red fish” in the lake, lots of them. Idaho’s Stanley basin (and Redfish Lake) is the spawning destination of Snake River sockeye salmon. These wild salmon hatch from eggs and make the epic voyage from freshwater mountain lakes and streams to the distant reaches of the Pacific Rim. They do this in the spring as young fish, migrating downriver to the Pacific Ocean to spend 2 to 5 years in the ocean growing strong and large enough to endure the journey back home to the lake or river where their life began. The sockeye salmon from Redfish Lake must travel almost 1000 miles gaining over 6,000 feet in elevation to return to their spawning grounds where they provide life for the next generation and then die.

How amazing and beautiful is that? The power of nature. It brings tears to my eyes.

Okay, I don’t want to make this an environmental rant, but before the many dams were built in the Pacific northwest, millions of salmon returned each year to spawn. Redfish Lake was full of red fish, the brilliantly colored sockeye salmon. Now, how do they migrate past eight dams, reservoirs and industrial blockades? Most don’t, and it impacts so many different ecosystems that it’s impossible to measure the consequences.

Back when the salmon migration was uninterrupted by damming the rivers, millions of pounds of high-quality nutrients were “delivered” to the plants, animals and people of the Pacific Northwest. A recent study * documented 137 species that benefit from the ocean-origin nutrients these salmon provide to the environment. Eagles and other raptors, bears, wolves, coyotes, insects, aquatic species, and many plants all thrive on these nutrients. Minerals from the ocean have even been detected in the leaves at the tops of trees. For centuries, the indigenous people of the northwest were sustained by the salmon and their connection between land and sea. Rapid industrialization has changed all that.

Thankfully there are people working to restore the rivers and the wild salmon. Snake River salmon were listed as an endangered species in 1991 and although recovery efforts are underway, it’s been a slow process.

Below is a photo I took of a print by Douglas S. Young and Richard D. Alsager. It tells the story of the sockeye salmon and Redfish Lake. I bought the print for my fly-fishing-guide son who studied fish biology and river restoration at the University of Montana. He and his fiancée will be married next summer on the shores of Redfish Lake.

In 1991, four sockeye salmon returned to Redfish Lake in the Stanley Basin, their ancestral spawning grounds. This journey of over 900 miles is the longest anadromous fish run in the lower 48 states. Over the past few decades Idaho has seen sockeye numbers plummet from tens of thousands to just the three males and one female sockeye in 1991. These four fish were trapped and utilized as important genetic contributors for future sockeye to be spawned and released in Idaho. The four fish that returned in 1991 exemplify the power, strength, and resolve that is so prevalent and unique to Idaho’s anadromous fish.

This limited edition print was produced in order for Idaho’s sockeye to come to life artistically. The original piece of work was done by actually painting the fish and pressing them on paper. The areas vacant of paint were then filled in with various colored pencils and pens. We felt that if this fish was to leave this earth forever, that at least an artistic record of the actual fish would be left behind as a reminder to you of how beautiful they were.

— Artwork and narration by Douglas S. Young and Richard D. Alsager

I believe that a deeper understanding and appreciation of where our food comes from brings with it greater health, both physically and spiritually. You won’t be eating any Snake River sockeye salmon, but if you enjoy the rich nourishment and delicate taste of wild Alaskan salmon, express some gratitude for the fish and admiration for its strength before taking your first bite.

If you choose to eat fish, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, wild-caught Alaskan sockeye salmon is a sustainable choice. Check here for a detailed guide to fish conservation and the best seafood choices.

* The above study information came directly from the Save Our Wild Salmon website (almost word for word).

how to roast wild Alaskan sockeye salmon
(full of nourishing fats and healthy protein)

what you do
I see no reason to mess with this, just cook it as it is and enjoy the rich, deep flavor of the fish.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place tin foil on a cookie sheet and lightly grease with olive oil. Carefully rinse and pat dry the salmon filet (any size). Pour a little olive oil in your hands and rub it on the entire fish. Place fish skin side down on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with a little sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Place in oven and cook for 10 to 20 minutes depending on thickness. Remove when fish flakes easily with a fork. Serve with lemon slices. Keep it simple. Appreciate the fish and enjoy!

My guy Fairbanks (Alaskan Malamute), doing some fishing at Redfish Lake. No luck.

Peace, love and river conservation.
Melissa
P.S. After writing this post, I ran across this wonderful blog (Idaho River Reflections), with an eloquent story (and gorgeous photographs) about the plight of the salmon. Please check it out.

gluten-free backcountry power bars

Sunday was closing day for Winter Park/Mary Jane Ski Area. I posted season-ending party pictures on my Facebook page, but now that the snow is slowly melting, the focus has shifted from skiing to mountain biking. The Winter Park crew will soon be working on single track trail expansion and the construction of Trestle Bike Park. Plus, there’s climbing, hiking and backpacking. I love Colorado, no season left behind!

Okay, so what does that have to do with a food and nutrition blog, you ask?

Time for homemade power bars!

backcountry power bars
what you need

1 cup pecans
1 cup almonds
1 cup chopped dried apricots, unsulphured (I used organic Turkish apricots)
1/2 cup (2.5 ounces) dark chocolate, coarsely chopped, 55% cocoa content or higher
1/4 cup gluten-free rolled oats
1/4 cup Pamela’s GF Baking Mix
2 tablespoons ground chia seeds
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup pure maple syrup (I like organic, grade B)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla

what you do
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Spread the pecans and almonds in a single layer on the prepared cookie sheet and roast for 6 to 10 minutes, or until fragrant and lightly browned. They burn easily, so watch them and stir once or twice if needed. Let cool.
2. Place flour, ground chia seeds, cinnamon and salt in a food processor and pulse until well combined. Add nuts and pulse until they are coarsely chopped and well blended with the other ingredients.
3. Add oats, apricots and dark chocolate and pulse several times so everything is mixed together.
4. In a large bowl, whisk together egg, maple syrup and vanilla. Make sure these ingredients are well blended. Add the nut and fruit mixture to the bowl. Using a fork, mash and mix them all together, breaking apart clumps of dried fruit and chocolate.
5. Spread the mixture over parchment paper onto the cookie sheet. Either flatten the mixture with your hands or place another sheet of parchment paper on top and roll out into a flat sheet, about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Remove the top piece of parchment paper and bake on center rack of oven for 24 to 28 minutes until nicely browned. Don’t over-bake them. Cool completely on a wire rack before cutting into bars. Store in the refrigerator. Makes about 2 dozen bars.

Happy trails!
Melissa

cherry cabbage chia recovery smoothie

This recipe is for my city-riding, bike messenger, fixie friends (you know who you are); my marathon running friends (that would be you, Jack); my ultra-paddling friends (Fly Fish Chick and Banning); and my Livestrong friends who are an inspiration to all.

I’m a big fan of smoothies. You can pack vegetables, fruit, seeds and all kinds of healthy ingredients into a breakfast drink. Just imagine how much your body will love you if you start your day with several servings of high-end antioxidants and building blocks. I won’t go overboard with the geeky details, but Dr. Glyn Howatson, exercise physiologist and lab director at the School of Psychology and Sports Sciences at England’s Northumbria University (I also adore my UK friends), found that marathon runners who drank cherry juice twice a day for 5 days before and 2 days after the London marathon, recovered much faster than those who didn’t. Howatson and his research team (talk about geeky*) also found that cherry juice reduced oxidative stress and inflammation. To make a long and biochemically complicated story short, the substances in cherries help reduce physiological stress, diminish inflammation, boost immune function and speed up recovery time. All good things.

Here’s how I see this and how I apply it to my life and to everyone I mention above. We’re all under physiological stress, whether you’re a bike messenger in NYC (check here to see what that’s like), running the Boston marathon (run Forrest run – uh, I mean Jack), “sprint” paddling 262 miles from central Texas to the Gulf coast (check here for details about my friend Christine and Team Paddlefish’s attempt at this grueling race), or fighting cancer (which puts everything else into perspective).

Whatever we’re doing we’re experiencing oxidative stress.

Okay, so what is oxidative stress?

My Exercise Physiology: Energy, Nutrition, & Human Performance book defines oxidative stress as cellular damage caused by an accumulation of free radicals, which ultimately increases the likelihood of cellular deterioration associated with many diseases, a general decline in central nervous system and immune function and advanced aging. I’m paraphrasing; that’s the abridged version. The detailed version is much scarier. Oxidative stress is to us like kryptonite is to superman.

Yikes! Please pass the cherries.

Here’s what’s so amazing about the human body. We have an elaborate natural defense system that fights against free radicals and other icky things, but we need to equip our army with the right battle tools.

A donut doesn’t have the fire power of a broken squirt gun.

I want a battleship, a rocket launcher and some grenades. That’s what you get when you supply your troops with high-powered, nutrient-dense foods.

Does that make sense?

If so, then let’s support the troops! This smoothie is full of ingredients that help fight cancer, boost the immune system, combat oxidative stress, speed recovery time, restore tissue damage and blah, blah, blah.

power-packed cherry cabbage chia recovery smoothie
what you need

1 cup coconut water (wonderfully healthy electrolyte drink)
1/2 cup fresh or frozen organic cherries, about 10-12 (see health information above)
1/2 cup Redwood Hill Farms vanilla goat yogurt (I love this stuff)
3 or 4 large Napa cabbage leaves, washed and chopped (contain anti-cancer substances)
1 tablespoon ground chia seeds (high-quality protein)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (helps balance blood sugar)

what you do
Add ingredients to a blender or VitaMix and blend well.

* Bananas and pears also taste great in this smoothie. Be creative.

I prefer using all organic ingredients, but if nothing else, make sure your cherries are organic. They’re on the Environmental Working Group’s dirty dozen list. Check here for a downloadable shopper’s guide to pesticides in foods.

* I’m very fond of nerdy guys and am not knocking these cute UK science geeks.

You might also like these geeky posts
Performance enhancing beets
Does my butt look big

Go forth and power up your army!
Melissa

Disclaimer: All material on this website is provided for informational and educational use only and should not be used for diagnostic purposes. Consult with your physician regarding any health or medical concerns you may have.
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(co-written with Pete Bronski)



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