Summer Break, Gardens, and Happy Hour Sushi

Globe ArtichokeI haven’t been doing much writing this summer, but I plan to get back on schedule this fall. It’s been one busy summer!

Things kicked off with my birthday in June, and two days later I started summer school classes (Statistics and Political Science) which required non-stop studying and writing which reduced the writing itch as well as changed my focus from nutrition.

In my spare time, I tended my first vegetable garden in four years, and renewed my efforts toward keeping up my yard’s fruit trees. I planted watermelon, yellow squash, zucchini, cucumber, butternut squash, three kinds of beans (green, wax, and purple), globe artichokes, Jerusalem artichokes (actually, they planted themselves), and some basil. The yellow squash and basil both failed to thrive, however the cucumber is working in a professional capacity, and the artichokes have already put out several small chokes. If I collect beans for a week, then there are enough for two, and while the zucchini plant seems to visibly take over the garden, it hasn’t been putting out. I did finally see a couple of small watermelons though which gives me hope I’ll get a few of those before the growing season ends.

The funny thing about zucchini that doesn’t seem to apply to any of the other squash is any contact I make with the leaves gives me a mean-looking rash. It’s like a stinging nettle reaction and usually goes away by the next day unless I get a bad spot; then it lasts for a week or so. I’m usually suspicious of eating anything that reacts with my skin, however zucchini never seems to cause any problems, so I keep watering and hoping it’ll give me something more to work with.

Nothing says summer to me like drizzling chopped zucchini, red onion, and mushrooms with Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (like soy sauce however it’s not fermented and therefore doesn’t contain any aspergillus fungus, nor does it have any other ingredient than soy) and some olive oil and grilling on the bbq in a grill basket.

Another indulgence this summer has been hitting the downtown sushi restaurant, The Raw Bar, for its happy hour, so I can enjoy a couple of cut rolls while people-watching as the restaurant faces the downtown park quad. Sushi is a favorite of mine, as long as I bring my own Bragg’s, because I can usually find something to eat without any special help.

Raw Bar Happy HourPhilly rolls, which contain smoked salmon, cream cheese, and green onions wrapped in rice and seaweed, are a favorite. I do like to request my own special roll, however, and most places I’ve gone are more than happy to accommodate my request. In fact, The Raw Bar is thinking up a name for it since I request it every time. My custom roll is: tuna, avocado, daikon radish, green onion, rolled inside out with sesame seeds and tobiko (flying fish roe) on the outside. Delicious with some Bragg’s and wasabi. I skip the ginger because it usually contain citric acid. For those sensitive, some sushi restaurants use seasoned rice vinegar in their rice which does contain a little corn syrup; often times the wasabi contains corn starch, so be careful if you are sensitive.

Unfortunately, I decided to venture out of my safety zone and ordered a different roll I thought might be ok for me to eat, but I discovered just as I was swallowing my first bite it contained tempura. It was the first time I had any gluten grain in my mouth and known about it in several years. I didn’t know what to do! And my waitress was very attentive and apologetic, saying she knew I brought in my own soy sauce but didn’t put two and two together and realize I was gluten-intolerant because people who have Celiac disease usually bring tamari instead. In actuality, I should have been the one to say something to begin with, but have had such good luck with sushi restaurants I had gotten careless. At any rate, I greatly appreciated the concern and care taken in making sure I had something else to eat and made sure I showed up the next week so she knew I survived.

It’s tough with me and gluten, however, because with this exposure, it took several days to become obvious. I think it may have to do with how long it’s been since I’ve had any gluten, so it was subtle at first. However, about five days later, the familiar head-crushing migraine “storm” struck and then the stomach problems, the aching all over in my joints, and the emotional roller coaster that lasts for about three weeks.

The gluten reaction even kicked up a major Interstitial Cystitis flare, complete with pelvic floor spasms, which surprised me as I hadn’t considered they might have any relationship. I think the common denominator may be firing up of the abdominal nerves and inflammation caused by the autoimmune reaction. At any rate, I survived ok but there was a rough week or two in there where I once again felt strongly resolved in my making gluten a thing of my past.

I’m still trying to understand how food reacts with the body and hope to learn more this fall as I learn more about organic chemistry and physiology. And I’ll post some new recipes I’ve learned and concocted this summer.

Thanks for reading!

Full Circle, or How I Discovered My Food Intolerances, part 3

How I Found Out I Was Allergic To Pizza, and Discovered My Other Food Intolerances, part 1

Going Against The Grain, or How I Discovered My Food Intolerances, part 2

orangesIn 2008, I developed probably the most surprising allergy yet. There was a free drinks fridge at work and the only item in there without corn syrup or citric acid was orange juice, which I had a bottle of every morning. I started getting heartburn that grew more and more severe at the days went by, but I didn’t think about the connection to orange juice. I even started taking a Pepcid a day to try and stave it off, but no luck.

Finally, one day, I had an orange juice and went for a walk. By the time I got back, I noticed my mouth felt funny. My lips were swelling quite visibly. I knew then I was having an allergic reaction and took some Benedryl. My esophagus felt very tight and started feeling like it was being crushed, my whole chest became very painful. It was horrible. My lips kept swelling over the next three days and I kept taking Benedryl. My scalp even broke out in hives.

The ingredients in the orange juice were simply oranges, water, and ascorbic acid. I accidentally had a little orange in some fruit salad about three weeks later, and shortly after developed the same esophagus-crushing reaction. Since then I haven’t had any orange or other citrus except for a little lemon, which I’ve found doesn’t cause a reaction in me. True allergies often are to a very specific protein, rather than what you’d find in a family of food, so it may be lemon is safe for me.

gluten free donutsLife is full of surprises. I recently ordered some gluten-free donuts because I haven’t had a treat like that in many years. I thought they were delicious – I got cinnamon sugar and maple frosted. But by the second one, I was getting stomach discomfort. I always listen to that now. My gut knows what’s going on, even if I don’t.

I scored the list of ingredients, no corn starch or potato flour (both common gluten-free flours). No aspergillus. No orange. Cross-contamination? What was it?

And there it was. Pea fiber and pea protein. The one food all those years ago I actually tested positive for on an allergy test. Something I didn’t suspect because eating green peas or snow peas every so often never caused me any problems.

Why now? Why was I finally having a reaction to a food indicated on a test 24 years before? Perhaps the pea protein is such a concentrated source of the allergen that I finally reacted. Maybe if I ate a bucket of regular peas, I’d have the same thing happen.

So that’s where I am today. I’ve gone to doctors and I’ve spoken to natural foods gurus. I even had an interesting run-in with an energy healer in a health food store. However, I was able to figure out all the things (so far!) my body doesn’t want to deal with by listening to my body, by listening to my gut.

My gut was doing the thinking for me, and though it took me a while, I finally got around to paying attention to what my gut was thinking.

It’s worth it, if you want to feel better, to think with your gut.


Check out my personal food list – maybe it will help you understand some of your food intolerances.

Going Against The Grain, or How I Discovered My Food Intolerances, part 2

This is part 2 of 3. Part 1 is How I Found Out I Was Allergic To Pizza, and Discovered My Other Food Intolerances

Part 3 is  Full Circle, or How I Discovered My Food Intolerances

breadI’ve found that unraveling food intolerances is often like peeling away the layers of an onion. Get past one layer, and there’s another one waiting for you.

A couple of years after I stopped eating nightshades, I started having symptoms of “digestive distress” as they call it, politely, or to be more specific, problems such as gas, heartburn, and constipation/diarrhea. I also started having regular migraines again. On top of all of that, I started having hypoglycemic episodes, where I would be hungry, get lightheaded, start shaking, and feeling cold. I started feeling really stressed out and frustrated with everything. It was not a fun time.

I talked with an acupuncturist I was seeing about my love/hate relationship with food, and my obsession at the moment which was making my own pasta from scratch, including rolling out and cutting the dough to make noodles.

At that time I loved everything made from carbohydrates, having a bagel and a large smoothie every day for breakfast, sub sandwich for lunch, corn chips for a snack, and pizza or pasta for dinner.

She suggested I read the book Sugar Busters, because she thought I may have fallen into an addiction cycle with sugar and carbs. This was in 2002, right when Atkins and low-carb dieting was just beginning to dawn on the country.

I found Sugar Busters to make some sense and then went online to read about Atkins. Not one for going halfway, I decided to jump right into the Atkins diet of 20 grams of carbohydrates a day, also known in Atkinese as “induction.”

I had no idea what I was in for.

The first four days, I felt dizzy, like I had just gotten off a ride at the fair. I felt feverish. I was thirsty a lot and craved chocolate like I never have before or since. It was a tough time and I hope I didn’t torture anyone around me with my mood swings – I’m sure I was no fun!

Day five came and the dizziness was gone. I actually felt pretty good. Someone found me some low-carb chocolate protein bars that tasted like cardboard, but managed to find the will to stick to the diet. I ate meat, nuts, vegetables, and lots of cheese. I read that if you crave chocolate, try some cheese because it satisfies some of the same chemistry in your body that wants the chocolate to begin with.

I experimented with Splenda which was just coming out, at first only available in Diet Rite sodas. I dropped aspertame which was making my tongue feel like it was burned all the time, because I was chewing so much sugar-free gum to stave off sweet cravings.

steviaI found the slightly off-tasting, super-sweet stevia. I tried various sugar alcohols, including maltitol (closest to sugar), erythritol (supposed to cause the least intestinal gas but instead was the worst for me), and xylitol (which has some dental health benefits and a slightly cool taste).

The best part was I lost 40 pounds that I had gained over the last couple of years. It took me about four months, and it lasted. I felt pretty good about how things were going.

I decided to back off the 20 grams of carb a day limit because I no longer needed to lose weight and I felt pretty good about adding some complex carbohydrates back in.

I tried some low-carb bread first, but found it would make me feel nauseated. Great Harvest is a local bakery/deli shop that sold some of this bread and I tried three sandwiches there, each time feeling sick after. Low-carb breads often rely heavily on vital wheat gluten flour to keep the carbohydrate count low and protein high. I didn’t like the texture anyway, and decided high-gluten flour breads were not for me.

I began trying sprouted grain breads because they had a lower carb count and were generally considered low-glycemic, as far as breads go. Ezekiel made a really dense one, but I didn’t like the freezer requirement, so I went with Alvarado Street breads. California-style was my favorite one, with a slight sourdough taste to it. My local health food store has a bbq and deli and I could get a burger or a sandwich made on Alvarado Street hamburger buns.

However I was having stomach problems again, and occasional bouts of diarrhea that would last up to a couple of weeks at a time.

I had a particularly bad spell right after I’d gotten back from a two week trip to France where I’d most egregiously gone off my lower carb diet, having crepes, croissants, fondue with baguette, and pain au chocolat most every day. My doctor tested me for giardia or bacterial infection and gave me an antibiotic to take right away. However, both tests came back negative.

celiac sprue associationIt was eight months later before I realized I may have a problem with gluten. I called my doctor and asked what he thought and he said to try a gluten free diet for two weeks – if I felt better, then that was my answer. I realize many people go through various tests to verify whether or not they have Celiac disease, but I was fine with trying the dietary change, having had such a positive reaction from avoiding nightshades, a still relatively unknown intolerance.

I can’t say it was a night and day experience, but I did feel a little better. It was a couple of weeks before I noticed I wasn’t feeling so tired and that I wasn’t having blood sugar swings if I dared to eat something that contained a few carbohydrates. Plus my migraines backed off again, from about three a week to three a month.

Six months later I took a test to see if I was creating antibodies for gluten and found out my result was one point lower than positive, so I was not officially gluten intolerant. Since it had been about eight months since I’d stopped eating gluten, the fact I was developing antibodies at all was still a sign I’d made the right decision.

The reactions I have when I do get any gluten at all are enough to convince me – I feel pretty crummy for the first week, then I have a day or two where I feel like it’s over, but it kicks back in and lasts for up to about two more weeks. It’s a weird process that involves my digestive system feeling bad, my head hurting a lot, my thinking getting cloudy, and my emotional state going in a depressed direction.

That’s not all – I have found several other foods along the way I should avoid. I discovered that I am allergic to shellfish, even touching it to clean shrimp or crab makes my fingers raw, and if I eat it, my lips swell slightly and get itchy, and I get severe stomach pain and headaches lasting about 24 hours.

aspergillus niger

Aspergillus niger

I also have an allergic reaction to a fungus called Aspergillus which is used to ferment sugar to form commercial citric acid, as well as tofu, miso, sake, black tea, and create the drug component of many statin (anti-cholesterol) drugs.

I have an intolerance to corn. Sometimes I can have small amounts of organic corn, but regular corn, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, and corn starch all upset my digestive system.

Ever since I stopped eating gluten, I have had no tolerance for alcohol. Even half a glass of wine, gluten-free beer, or shot of hard liquor gives me a hangover as if I’d consumed the entire bar the night before. I haven’t been able to figure out why that happens but found on the online support group at that this seems to happen to a certain percentage of people who stop eating gluten due to intolerance.

Coming soon – Full Circle, or How I Discovered My Food Intolerances, part 3