Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Spring Cleaning for the Body: Part 2

Although they are often talked about interchangeably, there's a big difference between a cleanse and a fast. A fast involves reducing the intake of calories so that your body goes into starvation mode and starts breaking down its fat stores to turn them into glucose, or fuel. A cleanse is typically eliminating items from the diet that are "unhealthy", undesirable, or non-food, and focussing on nutrient-rich foods, for the purpose of improving one's health.

Two common misconceptions about cleanses are that they are rigid, difficult or expensive to maintain, or that a cleanse or fast will medically purge or purify parts of the body (e.g. liver or digestive tract). Regarding the first, you can design your own cleanse in a way to make it pleasant and easy to follow. Regarding the second, more realistic outcomes of doing a cleanse are to break oneself from poor eating habits, to bring greater awareness to one's eating behaviours, and to have intense dedication to optimal nutrition for a short period of time.

How do you design a cleanse that you can stick to for 3 days or more? Choose first what you want to eliminate from your diet. Do you believe that you are having difficulty digesting dairy products? Are you eating too many desserts? Want to cut down on refined flours and coffee? Make a list of what you'd like to not eat or drink and decide on how long a period you'll try to stick to this.

Some ideas for cleanses:

- no sugar for a week
- no coffee from Friday to Sunday then back to just one on Monday morning
- eliminate all dairy products for a whole week
- no flours or starchy foods or sugar for an entire weekend
- go without meat products from Monday to Friday
- do a juice fast over the weekend; that's consuming only fresh or purchased juices and is best with a focus on vegetable juices and fresh juice (i.e. not store-bought)
- go macrobiotic for one week (fish, vegetables, brown rice and fermented foods)

What you might see during a cleanse:
- any change to what you take into your body will affect what comes out. Expect to see a change in bowel movements. Watch out for red-coloured urine if you drink beet juice. It's shocking to see but perfectly normal.
- bodily changes such as skin, nails or hair that is less dry or brittle
- a smaller tummy. If you're eating less or different food, you may find that your stomach is smaller and flatter. This is due to either having less in it or less gas production from the elimination of problem foods for you.
- a bigger tummy from more gas. This can be an unpleasant side-effect of eating more vegetables or raw foods in your diet. If you continue to have problems with gas, this means you are having difficulty digesting these foods, due to not chewing your food enough, or you may be lacking in sufficient enzymes or gut bacteria to break down your food properly.
- weight loss. If you greatly reduce your caloric intake, you may see a loss of a few pounds. Unless you continue to eat in the same way, it's likely that all but one or two pounds will return when your diet normalises.

Some important things to remember when doing a cleanse:
1. Take notice of all that you're feeling/thinking and keep a journal. This is the most important thing you can do. We spend so much time cooking/eating/thinking about/cleaning up after food. Often a cleanse means you are eating or preparing less food, and this often frees up lots of time for reflection. Being away from comfort foods also can create a lot of unexpected emotions and it's good to be able to capture this information, as it may tell you a lot about your relationship to food.
2. Have a buddy or a supporter. It's hard to make a dietary change on your won, especially if you make food for others who may not be as interested in doing a cleanse. Make sure you have people to talk to who support your idea.
3. Drink lots of water in between meals. This will help you feel more full if you're eating less than usual, but will also make sure you are staying hydrated, help to keep things moving in your system and flush out any toxins.
4. Eat slowly. If you're going to be eating a lot of vegetables for the first time, make sure you chew well to aid with digestion further down the line. If you're doing a juice cleanse, you will want to drink slowly so your meals don't end in less than 5 minutes.
5. Don't do a cleanse when you have a lot of social engagements. It's tough to restrict your diet at a party or when eating out, especially as others often see this as a time to indulge in rich foods.
6. When the cleanse is over, reincorporate the "forbidden foods" slowly into your diet. If you were doing a juice cleanse, slowly start back on eating solids with foods like cooked rice, cooked vegetables or crackers or toast. You may find that you don't want to bring some of the foods you eliminated back into your diet at all.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Hide the Dark Chocolate from the Children!

Sometimes being a parent brings out the kid in me. Even though I'm an adult, I still have trouble sharing my favourite things; especially my chocolate. Back when the Bug was 12 months old, in the spirit of sharing all my food with her, I gave her a small piece of 85% Venezuelan chocolate. She let it dissolve on her tongue for about a minute and then "bleaahhh!" Out came her tongue and the small dark blob plopped back onto the high chair tray. I breathed a sigh of relief: "Thank god she doesn't like the good stuff!"

But lately, I've been working my way through my Mother's Day chocolate so I can get back to a "Very Healthy Eating" phase, and consequently I've been eating some of it in front of her. Almost any child instinctively knows that a shiny package contains something good so the Bug kept begging for a bite of my Lindt 90% bar. I relented, while reassuring her "you don't like this, trust me". And darn it if she hasn't developed a taste for the stuff.

She hesitated at first, but then kept saying "nummy!" over and over. She even snagged a huge piece while I wasn't looking and that's when I started to snap some photos. After these photos were taken I realised that she had eaten a lot of chocolate considering her naptime was in 15 minutes. And the noise coming from upstairs now lets me know that I have made a grave mistake. Don't give the kids the good chocolate. And especially not before bedtime. Live and learn.......

Monday, May 11, 2009

Dish of the Day: Rhubarb Compote

Spring has sprung for sure when rhubarb makes its poky appearance in the grocery's produce department. My husband loves rhubarb so I had to bring some home. We boiled it in a small pot with a bit of water until it fell apart, then added a bit of SomerSweet and put it in the fridge to chill.

After dinner last night we served it warm over vanilla ice cream and I cut some fresh mint on top of mine. Yum!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Dish of the Day: Lamb for the Whole Fam

For Mother's Day my wonderful husband cooked us a delicious lamb dinner, thanks to a great lamb chop recipe from Epicurious. I couldn't remember if the kids liked lamb or not since we often eat it out at restaurants, and don't often cook it at home. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the photo of the Bug with chop in hand above should give you a pretty good idea of her appreciation. Let's just say it was hard to separate the bone from my little carnivore's hand. My 7-year-old was heard to comment "I could eat this every day of the week!"

The other pic shows Bug's plate before it was attacked by toddler hands and a toddler fork. Our local Safeway has recently been offering organic broccolini , that yummy hybrid, and we're eating it three times a week now. And good old garlic-infused rice on the side.

We're a garlicky bunch this evening. But what a pleasure, to be able to enjoy a special grown-up meal and not have to cook something extra for the little ones. Eating foods in a natural way - without heavy sauces, without overly processing them - is a great way to win over kids' taste buds. Children are often skeptical of foods they cannot recognise, and many have problems with sauces that may contain ingredients they don't like. Also, many kids don't like foods touching or being combined with other foods, which is why stews and casseroles tend to elicit a "yuck!" But fresh foods, cooked plainly and served with maybe a bit of butter, are often a real hit. Try it and see what your family thinks!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Spring Cleaning for the Body: Part 1

Fasts and cleanses are all the rage these days as people want to take more responsibility for keeping their bodies healthy. We no longer want to just rely on the medical profession to keep our health in check and this is a great change. I've always found it strange how some folks seem to take better care of a car they will own for only a few years, instead of tenderly treating their bodies well so they'll last a lifetime.

Nutritionists often get asked about the difference between a fast and a cleanse and how they can restore their health. Many inquirers have heard stories of how the intestines can get filled up with crusty old bits of rotten food - even coins and marbles swallowed in childhood! I take a calm approach to these questions and say "this scenario is unlikely". If your digestion is average, if you do not have critical health problems, and you are young to middle-aged, your intestines likely look a lot like a more familiar part of your body: your mouth. The intestines are not a mysterious cavern, they're a warm wet place filled with epithelial cells whose job are to digest small particles of broken down food. Just like the inside of your mouth.

I had the (mis?)fortune to see the inside of my colon with my own eyes a few years back when I was having unexplained digestive difficulties. I had taken a magnesium drink to clear out the colon before the medical exam and I was looking forward to being knocked unconscious so I wouldn't have to feel, see or hear any part of the experience. However, the doctor allowed me to witness the proceedings which was actually a thrill. It was oddly like watching a roller-coaster ride film through the inside of my large intestine, but the wonderful part was seeing all the bright pink healthy tissue inside this flexible and hard-working tube. Even though normally one's colon would be filled with the last stages of undigested food which millions of tiny microflora (healthy bacteria) would be breaking down, there is simply nowhere for crusty bits of "food" to hide. The moist smooth walls would let it pass on out to the bowels.

So let's return to a more familiar picture: imagine the inside of your mouth, minus the teeth. If you ate three times a day but never cleaned your mouth at all, would crusty bits of food, or a coin have any place to lodge themselves? Even if a coin got stuck in your throat, eventually digestive juices and the act of eating and swallowing would pass it further down the tube. Healthy intestines have no pouches or hiding spots and the act of peristalsis (two types of muscles that squeeze and push food along the digestive pathway) keep things moving. Of course it's another matter if you have polyps, bowel constriction or some other severe problem, in which case you should look to solving the root of the problem before attempting any type of diet change.

The point is, our bodies do a great job of functioning properly, even when we fill them with a lot of things that they weren't designed to turn into fuel, such as candy or deep fried foods. However, if you're interested in doing a fast or a cleanse to kick-start a change to your diet for the better, then you should be applauded for your efforts.

Next week
we'll talk about easy ways to follow a dietary cleanse that will involve fewer changes than you might expect.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

How Does my Garden Grow?

I am in awe of the plants in my garden. I've tried to make a hospitable space for them, but it's tough for me to imagine how dirt could possibly be a nice place to inhabit. They seem to like it though - and thank goodness! I've told enough people that I've planted a food garden and my reputation is on the line. Since all I've ever done to-date is kill plants, inadvertently of course, the slow, steady growth of green things in my backyard is truly a miracle to me.

We've planted beans, peas, cucumbers, lettuces, kale, chard, onions, mint and chives. So far, every one if them is getting bigger, and I'm pretty sure this is a good sign! I think I need to start clipping these lettuces for don't they look juicy? I don't want them to get old and dry. As for the rest of the stuff, it's going to take a little while before they are kitchen-ready. But we're educating the kids on where their food comes from, and they seem to be enjoying watching the process thus far.

There are necessarily going to be a lot of summer vegetable recipes on the blog, coming soon. I'd be so happy to hear any ideas and suggestions that readers would like to share, since I'm looking at a steep learning curve here, as a gardener. Bring on the sun and the rain. My leafy friends need it!