Gluten Free For Good


 

More About Melissa

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.



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



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).



According to my Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition book, if you live for 65 years or longer, you will have consumed more than 70,000 meals and disposed of 50 tons of food.

FIFTY TONS OF FOOD?!

Yikes, that’s a lot of food.

Okay—one ton is 2000 pounds. In that case, the average (whatever average means) person consumes 100,000 pounds of food in 65 years (give or take a few pounds). So, 500,000 pounds of food would keep 5 people nourished for 65 years. Very cool.

Andy Grant (hard-working farmer, soil scientist, and plant guru) and Grant Family Farms (my organic CSA) donated almost 500,000 pounds of fresh food to the community last year via several food banks in Colorado and Wyoming. Over the past few years, Andy and the gang have donated over 2,000,000 pounds of food (you read that right—6 zeros). They even shipped food to communities in need after hurricane Katrina.

That’s how it’s done. People helping people.

Andy hates to toot his own horn, so I’ll toot it for him. I’m so impressed (and humbled) at how hard the folks at Grant Family Farms work to support the community and I’m over-the-top grateful to have their organically grown, local food grace my table and boost my health. Join a CSA and help support this grass roots movement to reclaim our food supply. It starts at home.

Farm-fresh frittata
what you need
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chopped squash (zucchini or yellow)
1 tomato, seeded and chopped (drain the juice)
1 cup spinach, chopped
6 organic pastured eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons Simply Organic All-Purpose Seasoning
Sprinkling of Parmesan cheese (optional)
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper

what you do
1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. In a heavy skillet (I use a cast iron skillet to prepare and bake the frittata in), heat the butter over low-medium heat. Make sure you coat the bottom and sides of the skillet with butter. Sauté onions for about 5 minutes. Add garlic, stir and cook another 2 to 3 minutes.
2. Add the squash and continue cooking for about 5 more minutes. Don’t let the veggies burn, cook until slightly tender. Remove from heat. Add chopped tomatoes, spinach, and herbs. Mix well.
3. Pour eggs over top and gently stir to blend ingredients.
4. Place skillet on center rack of preheated oven and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and return to oven for an additional 5 to 7 minutes until eggs are firm and top is slightly browned.
5. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve immediately.

For more information about Andy Grant and why we need to support our local farmers, please watch this short video.

“Dammit, we’re doing the right thing.” – Andy Grant

Yes, you are Andy, and I love you for it!

Peace, joy, and farm-fresh veggies!
Melissa



After last week’s nerd post, which stimulated a steady stream of UNsubscribers, I’m going to make this week’s post short, savory, and to the point. Regardless of my dwindling followers, I’m going to stick with my theme. Stomp, stomp.

I’m on a fitness binge. Low calorie, nutrient dense food mixed with jogging, strength work, and yoga.

Heelllooo sulky metabolism. Get your ass in gear!

That’s my goal right now. Here’s an example of the kinds of food I’m kick-starting my days with. For part one of this breakfast series, check here.

Collard greens and brown rice (yes, for breakfast)
What you need
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup diced onion
2-4 Brussels sprouts, sliced
2-4 mushrooms, sliced
1 carrot, shredded
2 cups collard greens, thinly sliced in ribbons to avoid “rubber glove texture syndrome”
1/3 to 1/2 cup cooked brown rice (I like Lundberg Organic Golden Rose for breakfast)
1/4 cup broth (chicken or vegetable)
Simply Organic All-Purpose Seasoning, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper

What you do
1. Heat the coconut oil in a large skillet over low-medium. Add onions, garlic, Brussels sprouts, and mushrooms and sauté, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. Add carrots, collard greens, rice, broth, and seasonings. Turn heat to low and mix well until collard greens are slightly wilted and rice is heated, about 5 minutes.
2. Serve immediately, wait two hours, and jog for 3 miles.

Check here for a detailed post on the nutritional value of collard greens and a “greens and beans” recipe.

Peace, love, and collard greens.
Melissa



Warning: science post, no recipe, bail out now unless you have a curious personality. You know the type. Always asking questions, perpetually wondering, head-in-the-clouds explorer. I’ll post a follow-up recipe to my healthy breakfast series next week, but for now, I’m on a mission.

I’ve gained several pounds over the past few weeks and I did it quite easily, which surprised me. Check here to see why I gained the weight. I’m determined to lose it before it becomes my new normal, but I’ve also been curious as to why I gained it so easily. My eating habits didn’t change that much. My exercise routine was slightly different, but I kept up with my yoga practice.

Are you still with me?

Let’s start at the beginning. Literally.

I love this video from Virginia Hughes at The Last Word On Nothing because it’s short, charming, and incredibly creative. If you want a better understanding of your irregularly arranged DNA and how your unique version of this dynamic, coiled jumble of genes makes you the special (or quirky) person you are, watch this short (less than 2 minutes) video.

(Please scroll down, this isn’t the end of the blog post. Click the start button on the video to watch the magic of DNA coiling. The rest of my rambling continues after the video.)

See? Wasn’t that awesome?

In a nutshell (or nucleus in this case): DNA forms the inherited genetic material found inside our cells. Genes are the hereditary units that form our DNA. Our genes tell our cells how to function and what traits to express.

And guess what? We have some control over that. A good example is the genetic predisposition for celiac disease. Say you have the gene that codes for celiac disease (DQ2 or DQ8), but you live on some isolated island and you’re never exposed to gluten. That gene would not be expressed. It would stay turned off. On the other hand, if you eat a lot of gluten and the stars align, you’ll end up hitting the switch and turning the gene on. I have DQ2 genes and celiac disease, but I’ve been living gluten-free for so long now, I feel like my celiac gene is on dim mode. It’s not turned on, but it’s also not totally turned off either. Eating a big plate of gluten-filled pasta would be the equivalent of hitting the on switch and re-expressing the gene. I don’t want to do that.

On another note, I have this theory that I’ve tweaked a different genetic predisposition of mine in a healthy way and although that’s a good thing, there have been some unintended consequences. We have about 20,000 genes so there’s lots of potential for shenanigans.

Let me explain. That’s if you’re still here.

My mom says I was born running (much to her dismay). I grew up in the 50s and 60s and had they coined the term at that time, I probably would have been called ADD-ish. I rarely sat down long enough to eat a full meal, never took naps, was always fidgeting, ran up and down stairs, twirled, jumped off things, climbed over furniture and so on. If you ask my mom, she’ll say I was a royal pain in the neck.

Jump ahead to the year 2000. I’m hitting midlife, am still very active, but I’ve never really learned to relax. High blood pressure is common in my family and mine had been inching up over the years. Not bad, but it was making a move. I decided I had no desire to express (turn on) that high blood pressure gene that seems so prevalent on my dad’s side of the family. I decided to turn it off by practicing yoga and meditation. And guess what? A decade later, I don’t have high blood pressure, I’m calmer, I don’t fidget as much, and I no longer drive people crazy with my speed walking. Instead, I float around chanting in Sanskrit. No worries. Peace, love, and tie dyes.

One more time, but now jump ahead to 2011. I’m busy co-writing a book* with my friend and colleague Pete Bronski of No Gluten-No Problem, so I sit at my computer for long hours each day. I don’t change my eating habits (which are good for the most part), but my intense hiking, skiing, dog walking, etc. go by the wayside. I’m still committed to yoga, but to keep from being too stressed from my work, I practice a more restorative style. Yikes, I gain 5 or 6 pounds in short order. I’ve never done that before.

Here’s how it happened. I’m in midlife (okay, late midlife, late-late midlife) and I’m now practicing a more calming style of yoga. Both my age and my yoga have contributed to a reduction in my metabolism. That’s the point of yoga—relaxation, lower heart-rate, deeper breathing, lower blood pressure, less caloric need, and hence a lower metabolic rate.

Yikes! The perfect storm. I’m mellow, I don’t fidget, I’m older, I do restorative yoga, and I’m working long hours sitting at my computer. The result is weight gain, even though I’m eating well. And because of my age (which will remain untyped) and the fact that I’ve intentionally shifted my metabolism down a notch with all the yoga, it’s been harder to lose the weight. My muscle to fat ratio has changed. I don’t want these extra pounds to become my new set point, so what can I do?

First off, I can’t get all worked up about it as I have that high blood pressure gene just waiting for an excuse to turn on. I’m continuing with my meditative yoga, but I’m making sure I get a couple of power yoga classes in per week. I’ve added mountain biking into my schedule to boost my metabolism and burn some calories and I’ve added some round-about weight training. I’m not into going to the gym and lifting weights, but I’m aware that I need to build muscle, which is more metabolically active than fat. I do my yoga in the morning, my biking whenever I can, and I’m periodically doing some at-home strength training.

One last thing. I don’t think it’s a big deal to gain a few pounds. I have motivations other than being the “right” weight. I want to do some climbing this summer and I need to be in good shape for that. Extra weight makes climbing 14,000 foot peaks more difficult. Yoga inversions and arm balances are harder on my body if I weigh more. A few pounds makes a difference in the activities that are important to me. If you want to lose weight, you have to evaluate what your genetic predispositions might be, what you eat (quality and quantity), and what you do (sit, stand, run, what type of yoga, etc.) and adjust according to your age and lifestyle factors. Life is definitely an ever-evolving journey.

I promise a breakfast recipe for next week. A nutrient-dense, low calorie one.

Peace, love, and flexible genes!
Melissa

* When I wrote this blog post last March our book had not been released. The Gluten-Free Edge: A Nutrition and Training Guide for Peak Athletic Performance and an Active Gluten-Free Life is now available on Amazon.com and at various bookstores. Yeah!



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



It’s Valentine’s Day and I’m guessing you were expecting dark chocolate, candy hearts, and frilly cupcakes—not shiitake mushrooms, leeks, and spinach. I’m compelled to skip the sugar-laden Valentine goodies this year and go the medicinal mushroom route instead. It seems half the people I know are sniffling, sneezing, and coughing and although it’s hard to avoid being exposed, nourishing food gives your body the ammunition it needs to stay healthy in the midst of cold and flu season.

You want to be able to share the LOVE, not the flu cooties, right? That takes a powerful immune system. Shiitake mushrooms will help you boost your endurance in that department. I’m lucky to have a local source in Hazel Dell’s fresh organic mushrooms.

Shiitake mushrooms have a long and colorful history as cold and flu fighters. They’re a symbol of longevity in Asian cultures and there’s research to back up the claim. What is interesting about these mushrooms is the unique way they work in contrast. Let thy food be thy medicine. These little gems stimulate the immune system in a magical way, enhancing the beneficial aspects of immunity while suppressing the negative aspects. Perfect for those of us with misdirected immunity (think celiac disease).

Having said all that, I’m not a fan of the texture of mushrooms, but love the taste. I don’t like slimy foods like mushrooms or oysters. I can watch open heart surgery up close and personal, but can’t tolerate a runny nose. Mushrooms are plant boogers and they give me the willies. So, in order to take advantage of the medicinal attributes and wonderful earthy flavor of shiitake mushrooms, I cook them up and blend them with broth and a small amount of organic tomato sauce to make the most divine soup base you can imagine. I use this base for all kinds of soups and stews. It’s a cooking/health trick worth adding to your arsenal of radiant living tips.

Immune boosting shiitake mushroom soup

What you need (see fresh ingredients above) 
1 cup shiitake mushrooms, washed and chopped
2 cups chicken broth
1 eight-ounce can organic tomato sauce
2 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 leek, sliced in rounds (into the green section)
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 celery stalks, about 1 cup chopped (leaves included)
2 carrots, about 1 cup chopped
1 tomato, chopped
4 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon Simply Organic All-Purpose Seasoning
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh spinach, chopped
1 cup cooked chicken (option)

* Note that the total amount of broth should be 8 cups. You can substitute vegetable broth to make this a vegetarian soup.

What you do
1. Place chopped mushrooms in a medium saucepan. Add 2 cups chicken broth. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat when finished cooking so it can cool slightly.
2. While mushrooms are cooking, heat the olive oil in a large soup pot on low-medium. Add leeks and garlic and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring often.
3. Add 4 cups broth to large soup pot with the leeks and garlic mixture. Add celery, carrots, chopped tomato, chicken if using, and seasonings. Turn heat to low.
4. In the meantime, pour mushroom and chicken broth mixture into a blender. Be careful—hot liquids can blow the top off your blender. Let the mixture cool before blending. Add the tomato sauce and 2 cups of room-temperature chicken broth to the blender. Blend all ingredients until smooth. Pour into stock pot.
5. Simmer soup over low heat until vegetables are cooked, but still crisp (about 1 to 2 hours).
6. Add a handful of fresh, raw spinach to the bottom of a large soup mug or bowl. Ladle soup over spinach and give it a stir. The heat of the soup will wilt the spinach to perfection without overcooking it.

Options: add cooked brown rice, quinoa, or Tinkyada brown rice noodles.

For sweet treats to go with your immune boosting soup, check out these recipes.

Double chocolate, double walnut, double heart cookies from Gluten Free Easily
Mexican chocolate brownies from The Book of Yum
Chocolate souffle from Celiacs in the House
How to choose gluten-free chocolate for baking (part 1) from No Gluten No Problem
Pecan and chocolate pie from The WHOLE Gang
Chocolate fondue from Cook It Allergy Free
No bake cookies and creme cheesecakes from Simply Gluten-Free

Peace, joy, and immune-boosting love!
Melissa



What’s a Supertaster, you ask?

Well, I hate to brag, but that would be me. I’m a supertaster. It’s kind of like being Wonder Woman without the warrior princess gadgets. My super powers are in my taste buds, not in indestructible click-click bracelets or projectile tiaras.

Okay, I’ll be honest. It’s not that big of a deal—25% of us are supertasters. We’ve inherited a higher-than-normal number of taste buds and are typically more sensitive to strong, bitter foods. Think raw broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, grapefruit juice, whiskey, wine, dark chocolate, coffee. We don’t like those foods.

Although I have the supertaster genotype, I do like (have come to like) all those choices with the exception of whiskey. I’ll get to that in a minute, but first, let’s take a brief look at the genetics behind food dislikes—or variations of that theme. Maybe your kid is a “picky eater” for a reason.

Supertaster’s have cell proteins on their tongues that detect intense, bitter flavors. All genes encode proteins with information from our DNA. I happen to have the gene that is the protein blueprint for an overwhelmingly bitter taste. But what makes all this interesting is the mix of our genes and our personal and environmental variations. I’ve managed to override some of my genetically predisposed, taste quirkiness by tweaking the quality of the food. That, and my willingness to experiment. Some of these bitter foods are incredibly healthy and contain cancer-protective substances, so broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts have become favorites of mine. That’s my phenotype at work. I haven’t turned the gene off, I’ve simply tweaked the stimulus (my food environment) in a positive way to pull a fast one on my supertaster gene.

Let’s take this one step further. By purchasing high quality versions of these foods (fresh, organic) and taking the time to prepare them in a way that accentuates the flavors I that I do like, I end up supplying my body with phytonutrients (plant chemicals) that promote good health. That way, I can get my foot (phytonutrient) in the door (cell) to turn certain other genes off or on. I can discourage disease-promoting genes and encourage health-warrior genes. We have the power to do that.

Back to supertaster foods. I don’t like raw broccoli, cabbage, or cauliflower, but I do like all those vegetables drizzled with a small amount of olive oil, dusted with Simply Organic All-Purpose Seasoning, sprinkled with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, and lightly roasted. I don’t like most types of coffee (Starbucks is over-the-top bitter to me) or most types of wine, but I do like my mellow, organic, breakfast blend coffee mixed with a little coconut milk and I love having a glass of nice, smooth red wine. But, a lot of wine does taste bitter and acidic to me, to the point that I literally turn up my nose and shiver. There are only a few dark chocolates that I like and I much prefer them topped with a little sea salt. Grapefruit juice I can totally do without. I’m also a salt-aholic, but only with good quality sea salt. Salt masks bitterness, so it makes sense that supertasters are heavy-handed with the salt grinder.

Are you wondering how I know I’m a supertaster?

I took the test. Researchers have discovered a chemical that, when applied to a strip of paper and placed on the tongue, distinguishes between non-tasters, medium-tasters, and super-tasters. I ordered the test strips and was overwhelmed by the bitter taste. Seriously bitter. I actually thought I’d be a non- or medium-taster because I like most of the foods on the list, but after the test and some thought, I realized that I’ve simply adjusted to being a supertaster. I had a couple of other people take the test and they had absolutely no reaction. None. They didn’t taste anything. I couldn’t believe it as I could hardly stand the taste. Apparently supertasters experience flavors with about three times the intensity of others.

Why do you think some people are supertasters? Is that an evolutionary advantage or a disadvantage?

Say you’re out doing some gathering during the Paleolithic era and you grab a handful of leaves. You take a bite, find the leaves extremely unpleasant, nasty-tasting and bitter, so you spit them out. Maybe you just saved yourself from an untimely death due to ingesting toxic plant chemicals. Good one. I’m glad I’m a supertaster.

But wait, food was scarce back then. You can’t be picky. My non-taster neighbor will eat anything, therefore having more chance of survival when times are tough.

What’s your theory? Are you a supertaster? Is that good or bad?

While you think about it, here’s a recipe for roasted broccoli and cauliflower.

Roasted broccoli and cauliflower
1 cup broccoli florets
1 cup cauliflower florets
2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
Simply Organic All-Purpose Seasoning (I have nothing to do with this company, I just love this seasoning and use it on everything.)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees
2. Place florets in a medium bowl, drizzle with olive oil and toss to cover. Sprinkle with herb seasoning, sea salt, and pepper. Toss again.
3. Place florets in a shallow baking dish and sprinkled with garlic.
4. Place baking dish on the center rack of oven and roast for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until lightly browned. Stir occasionally to insure even browning.

Note: Broccoli stalks are wonderful roasted. All these foods are almost undetectable used raw in small amounts blended into smoothies.

Okay, what do you think? I’m curious. What’s the point of the supertaster gene? Did it evolve as a protective mechanism or was it a detriment to survival?

Peace, love and the wonderful world of genetics!
Melissa



I have a theory that if you keep your intentions (or resolutions as is the case with each new year) to yourself, you have a better chance of achieving them. The more you talk about something—a goal, a resolution, a project, an intention—the more it scatters. It’s like you’re frittering away bits and pieces of your grand design each time you mention it. The more you talk about it, the less interesting it becomes. Your brain registers a premature sense of accomplishment.

So—I’ve decided not to broadcast my list of 2012 resolutions. I’m keeping them to myself, thinking they have more power to blossom if I don’t talk about them (especially that 5 pounds I need to ditch and the mountain I want to climb).

Out with the old—in with the new.

Instead of a resolution list, I’m making a list (a glossary actually) of farm-fresh words to share over at The Balanced Platter, Amy (Simply Sugar and Dairy Free) and Maggie’s (She Let Them Eat Cake) new home for all things related to healthy and balanced living. During this month’s launch of TBP, you’ll find a steady stream of up-to-date information, helpful tips, brilliant ideas, and wholesome recipes instead of resolutions. We’re all in this together, let’s share our wisdom for a brighter and more balanced 2012.

Balanced Living Lingo

Biodynamic: A form of organic farming that emphasizes the relationship between the soil, plants, and animals as a self-sustaining system. Biodynamic farmers seek to maximize diversity in their farming practices by treating their farm as a unified organism. They avoid the use of artificial chemicals and practice crop rotation, composting, and plant and harvest according to seasonal and lunar rhythms.

Cage-Free Eggs: There is no legal definition of cage-free. Often cage-free hens live in crowded conditions with no access to the outdoors. Seek out local farmers who practice human animal husbandry. Organic eggs from healthy, pastured chickens look and taste very different from the conventional version.

Certified Naturally Grown: Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) products are certified by an independent nonprofit organization (not USDA) as having been produced in approximate accordance with national organic standards, a program involving fewer paperwork requirement and lower certification fees for farmers than the USDA’s National Organic Program.

Community Garden: A community owned and/or operated plot of land that is divided up for individuals or families to grow food. Community Gardens provide an opportunity to grow low cost, nutritious food and can contribute to the local economy by allowing gardeners to sell their produce at Farmer’s Markets.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA): Consumers buy a share in a local farm or garden, usually paying before the beginning of the season—in return, they receive a weekly supply of fresh, local produce that is harvested throughout the growing season. By paying up-front the shareholder gives the farmer cash to start the season and also takes on some of the risks associated with farming (hail, drought, etc.). I’ve been a member of Grant Family Farms CSA here in Colorado for years and appreciate the opportunity to have locally grown, organic food, fresh from the farm. Check here to find a CSA in your area.

Conventional: Refers to standard agricultural practices that are widespread in the industry. Can (but does not necessarily) include the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, mono-cropping, antibiotics, hormones, and other chemical approaches. Conventional farming in the U.S. may also include the use of GMOs.

Farmer’s Market: Refers to an open-air market where farmer’s sell their produce directly to consumers.

Farmstead Cheese: Farmstead cheeses are made by the same people who farm the animals producing the milk.

Farm-To-Table: Signifies that the food on the table came directly from a specific farm, or a meal prepared and served at the farm where the food was grown. The use of farm-to-table also emphasizes a direct relationship between a farm and a restaurant or store.

Food Shed: The term food shed is similar to the concept of a watershed while watersheds ouline the amount and flow of water supplying a particular area, foodsheds outline the flow of food feeding a particular area. Your foodshed encompasses the farm, your table, and everything in between.

Free-Range: USDA regulations apply only to poultry and indicate that the animal has been “allowed access to the outside.” The USDA regulations do not specify the quality or size of the “outside” or the duration of time an animal has “access to the outside.” Most farmers that you meet at the farmer’s market or through your CSA raise animals that are actually free to roam naturally, but if you want to be certain, you should visit the farm.

GMO (Genetically Modified Organism): GMOs are plants and animals whose genetic make-up has been altered to exhibit traits that they would not normally have, like longer shelf-life, different color, or resistance to certain chemicals. In general, genes are taken (copied) from one organism that shows a desired trait and transferred into the genetic code of another organism. Genetic modification is currently allowed in conventional farming.

Gleaning: To gather food left behind after the harvest. Sometimes farmers invite people to their farms to glean for free food or to donate food to food banks.

Grass-Fed: Refers to livestock, especially cattle or sheep, that have been fed grass instead of corn or soy (grains). Grain is commonly fed because the cattle or sheep fatten more quickly, but grain creates abnormal acidity in their digestive system, which negatively effects their overall health. Meat and milk from 100% grass-fed animals have a healthy ratio of omega 3-6-9′s and a higher amount of conjugated linoleic acids (CLA, a fatty acid that has health-promoting properties).

Heirloom: Heirloom crop varieties, also called farmer’s varieties or traditional varieties, have been developed by farmers through generations. Generally speaking, heirlooms are varieties that have been in existence for a minimum of fifty years.

Heritage: A term applied to breeds of livestock that were bred over time to be well-adapted to local environmental conditions, withstand disease, and survive in harsh environmental conditions. Heritage breeds generally have slow growth rates and long productive lifespans outdoors, making them well-suited for grazing and pasturing.

Local Food System: When all aspects of the production, distribution, storage, consumption, and sale of food are operated, managed, and owned by the community it serves. This is part of the broader sustainable food movement.

Locavore: A person who is interested in eating food that is regionally produced as part of the collaborative effort to build more locally based, self-reliant food economies.

Natural: USDA guidelines state that all “natural” meat and poultry products can only undergo minimal processing and cannot contain artificial colors, artificial flavors, preservatives, or other artificial ingredients. The claim “natural” is otherwise unregulated. In many cases, it means nothing.

No Anitibiotics: Antibiotics are given to animals such as cows, hogs, sheep, and chickens to  prevent or manage diseases. “No antibiotics,” implies that a farmer does not administer antibiotics to his/her animals.

No Hormones: Hormones are commonly used in the commercial farming of animals such as cattle to speed the growth rate or increase milk production. Some of these hormones are natural, some are synthetic, and some are genetically engineered. If a ranch or product professes “no hormones,” this means that they do not engage in these practices. Hormones are not allowed in raising hogs or poultry.

Organically Grown: Food grown without synthetic pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, hormones, antibiotics, fertilizers or other synthetic or toxic substances. Organic food does not include foods that have been irradiated or genetically modified.

Pastured: There are no regulations as to what this defines. If a farmer states their animals are pastured, the animals should spend time living on pasture as opposed to just having “access” to pasture. Time that an animal can actually live on pasture will vary regionally based on weather and length of growing season. To know for sure, ask the farmer and visit the farm.

Raw Foodism: The practice of consuming uncooked, unprocessed, and often organic foods as a large percentage of the diet.

Seed Saving: The practice of collecting seeds in order to preserve the genetic diversity of our agricultural heritage that is now threatened by agricultural seed monopolies.

Slow Food: An international movement that began in Italy as a reaction to the fast food industry. The Slow Food movement seeks to preserve the culture of food by education consumers about the seasonality of foods and which foods grown in their region, by connecting consumers to farmers, and by celebrating high quality food with others. There are Slow Food Chapters all over the world that celebrate good, clean, fair food.

Sulphured/Unsulphured: Many dried fruits are sulfured with sulfur dioxide (SO), or meta bisulfate to keep them from oxidizing during and after the drying process. This preserves their original color and acts as a preservative. Unsulfured fruits are often dark in color.

Sustainable Agriculture: Farming that is socially just, humane, economically viable, and environmentally sound.

Transitional: Farmers must practice organic methods for three years on a given piece of land before the products harvested from that land can be sold or labeled organic. “Transitional” is an unofficial term that refers to farmland that is in a transition period towards organic certification.

Urban Agriculture: The practice of cultivating, processing, and distributing food in an urban, rather than rural, environment. Urban farming is integrated into the urban economic and ecological system. For example, large gardens (mini farms) are being grown on rooftops in large cities. Vacant lots are being used for agricultural purposes.

Vegan: Foods with this label contain no animal products such as meat, dairy, eggs, gelatin, or honey.

Check out The Balanced Platter for more tips on bringing balance into your life! And please join me on Facebook and Twitter or subscribe to my blog for post updates (see above).

Peace, love, and balanced living in 2012!

Thank you to Pitchfork Pinups and The Farmer’s Market Coalition for some of these glossary terms.



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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