Category Archives: Gluten-free

Back to the drawing board

I’m definitely on a journey, and one with a big learning curve.  Just when I think, “I’ve got this,” one of life’s “suddenly” moments happens, and I’m back to square one.

My relationship with food has been turbulent, at times difficult, and revolutionary.  Turbulent because of the health issues that sprang up over the years after eating a diet that was carb, meat and dairy-driven; difficult because of my heritage as an American Italian (food is so much a part of the culture), and revolutionary because of the change I had  to commit to once I realized that my eating habits were compromising my health.

Even with all the health challenges I’ve developed over the years, and the knowledge I’ve acquired, I still falter and fumble.  It’s astounding to me how taste-influenced I am, and how bound to tradition I am.  What am I talking about?  The holidays.

Thanksgiving was a serious blow-out. I don’t think there was one ounce of food inhaled (with the exception of lemon water) that I was not allergic to, or that should have been off-limits to me.  YET, I not only participated in the feast, I cooked much of the food.  It was traditional with a hint of Italian on the side.  I made (by request) about a dozen calzones.  Granted, I made them as healthy as I could, but still.  I even made half of them vegetarian (they were delicious)!

I suppose I shouldn’t be amazed after eating mounds of holiday food, calzones made with regular pizza dough, filled with mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese, and then deep fried that my blood pressure spiked, my gout flared up, and my joints ached.  I consumed a day of acid-driven foods.

Why did I do it? Why do we do it?

What is it about the holidays that makes this kind of crazy eating so alluring?

Perhaps it has more to do with people coming together socially than actually the food.  I mean, a kitchen is frequently the gathering spot for many a group of people, and the holiday season seems to amplify that reality.  Add being Italian into the mix and it’s practically a lost cause — a guaranteed food frenzy.  It’s a month and a half eating whirlwind that seems to give everything fattening, rich and grossly unhealthy top billing.  Stats show that on average, Americans gain about one to two pounds during the holiday season.

What can one do?

I truly believe that the holidays don’t have to be a weight-gaining nightmare. There are some things you can do to avoid widening your waistline.

For one, you need to make sure you don’t eat more than one helping of anything! Also, don’t skip meals before the event.  Skipping meals only sets you up to completely overeat, and don’t skip breakfast– it’s the most important meal of the day.   Avoid eating second and third helpings (most people totally bypass this rule).  keep your portions small, and eat desserts in moderation.  You know, tasting one or two delicacies vs. piling every assortment on a salad plate and then some!  Eat more salad than anything else.  You can’t go wrong with greens! Lastly, take a walk with family or friends after dinner.  Exercise is always a good idea.

Buon-Natale

 

La Famiglia: The food and feast continuum

I suppose there is no real definition of “normal” when it comes to family.  No two people do anything the same, so family dynamics are certainly no different.  However, if I were to bring the “Normal” label into my family adventures, I would dare say that I grew up far from normal.

First of all, both of my parents were highly educated, trained classical musician.  My father was drama-driven–by that I mean he had the combination plate of sensitive musician and being Italian.  Nothing was ever simple; nothing was ever laid back or calm, and most everything had the potential of being catastrophic, especially if the sauce cooked too long, or he had glitches while composing, working on music or working with other singers and musicians.  Of course, his drama was familiar to us kids, so we chuckled at it for the most part.

Being raised by classical musicians was certainly different.  Whenever my parents had string quartet rehearsals, opera rehearsals (which were often times weekly), or just the continual stream of piano and violin students that rolled into our home, it was not only loud, but a topic of conversation throughout the neighborhood.  There was a family of 12 that lived next door to us, and several of the 10 kids used to call my father “The crazy Russian.”  I am uncertain where the “Russian” thing came into play, but that was his nickname among the kids in the neighborhood. The best I can come up with is that my father always wore black turtlenecks (even in 100 degree weather), he had semi-long wavy black and graying hair, and sported a goatee.  Even though he taught high school orchestra for many years, he was not your typical business suit kinda guy.

With these kind of dynamics, being raised in an Italian household only added more color to the already fully-loaded palette, and as serious as my father was about his music, he was equally so regarding his food.

I suppose I should share that my mother was not Italian.  She was predominantly Welsh and French, but had to pretty much learn the “Italian way.”  I think that’s the case for most non-Italian’s marrying into an Italian family.  Sort of, “My way or the highway” theory.  She was an exceptional cook–a gourmet by every standard, in fact, some of her varied sauces for pasta were actually better than all of my Italian aunts put together.  She could cook rings around most.  Well, all except my father.  Truthfully, no one could top him.  I still don’t know if I’ve ever tasted anyone’s Italian food that comes close to my father’s creations.

Every single day was a new adventure in the kitchen with my dad.  The only time he didn’t have his hands in dough, grating cheese, stirring sauce,crushing piles of garlic (the house reeked), or squishing tomatoes with his bare hands, was because he was either at work, conducting, running rehearsing or out of town.

There is no way I can discuss my growing up years without mentioning Calzone’s. While my father’s are certainly off-the-charts, mine became legendary as well.

A calzone is basically a pizza folded in two. Like pizza, it has ancient origins and can be traced back to the beginnings of flat breads, which were already present in Ancient Egypt. In fact, flat bread covered with herbs were served at birthday celebrations for the Pharaoh.

While there are mentions of dishes similar to pizza through the history of the the Mediteranean cultures, the pizza that we know today, and what is referred to as “real pizza”, was created in Naples.

At the beginning, pizza was made with a type of bread dough, flattened with your hands and covered with cheese or lard and cooked in a very hot wood-burning oven.

Only in the 18th century, and more precisely in 1730, did someone think to add tomato as a topping, giving life to the pizza marinara. This is how the pizza we know today came into being. It was then exported to America with Neapolitan emigrants and from there to the rest of the world.

Like pizza, there are a variety of calzones circling around the globe.  Our calzones are not just about the dough, but the sauce, the cheese, and often we deep-fried them as compared to some who merely bake them like pizza.  In a nut-shell… they’re seriously calorie-laden, and totally unhealthy.

Getting both pizza and calzones out of my diet has not been easy, and I cannot honestly say that I will never have another slice of pizza.  To exclude everything familiar from your life is not realistic, but I do believe in living a very balanced and controlled lifestyle.  That being said, “If” I choose to make pizza or calzones, which is rare, I use or make a gluten-free dough.  Instead of a meat and heavy cheese-filling, I use veggies and a small amount of organic goats cheese (if any).  Instead of deep-frying calzones, I bake them.  Using everything organic and fresh for the inside.  Believe it or not, making these kind of adjustments really do make a difference.

The truth is, you cannot live isolated from everything, but if you value your health and make a quality decision to eat healthy about 90% of the time, saving the small 10% for those moments you might want to have something like pizza or calzones, then you are still better off.

Because I have so many food allergies, wheat sensitivity, and gout, both calzones and pizza should be avoided.

Sometimes, it’s a bitch.  Food is alluring and just tastes so darn good, and especially good Italian food… You know?

Mamma Mia!

What the heck’s wrong with pizza?

I’d like to devote this blog entry to pizza.  I have traveled all over the globe, and while there is nothing like pizza in NYC, Chicago or the mother land (Italia), I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that my fathers pizza is literally out of this world.  With all the places I’ve traveled, I have still never come across anything that remotely touches my dads pizza.  In addition, I’m a pretty good cook myself, and I can’t touch it either.  It’s truly legendary.

Of course, he makes his own dough, which is a step up from anything you’ll ever get in a restaurant that offers pizza.  In addition, the sauce is also homemade, and he only uses fresh ingredients.  However…

Pizza is not really something that works well for me.  Let’s just start with the dough.  It’s wheat-based, and I am allergic to wheat.  Gluten-free dough is much, much better, but very few places carry that kind of dough.  The cheese is probably the worst offender, and for so many reasons.  Despite my absolute love for cheese and wine, cheese is one of the most unhealthy things we can eat, and for a variety of reasons.

It’s not rocket science anymore… Most everyone is well-aware that human beings don’t actually need dairy, in fact the entire way cheese is processed and the way milk is homogenized is problematic.  I recently read a statistic that France and Ireland have the highest rate of breast cancer anywhere… Both of these country’s diets are cheese and meat-driven, and I cannot help but wonder if there’s a correlation.

When most cheese is made, however, the lactose in milk is converted into lactic acid by bacteria. The resultant acid begins the curdling process that eventually results in cheese, and little – if any – lactose remains at the end. Sometimes even trace amounts of lactose can trigger sensitive individuals, but cheese is usually fairly safe. A good general rule is the longer a cheese is aged, the less lactose it’ll have. Another thing to remember: the less lactose a cheese has, the less carbohydrates.

HOWEVER…

Complications arise because of the acidity in cheese.  Medical Microbiologist and author, Dr. Robert O. Young says, “That is why I have stated, “acid is pain and pain is acid.” You cannot have one without the other. This is the beginning of latent tissue acidosis leading to irritation, inflammation and degeneration of the cells, tissues and organs. After a rich animal protein or dairy product meal, the urine pH becomes alkaline. The ingestion of meat and cheese causes a reaction in acidic fashion in the organism by the production of sulfuric, phosporhoric, nitric, uric, lactic, acetylaldehyde and ethanol acids, respectively, but also through the formation and excretion of base in the urine. Therefore eating meat and cheese causes a double loss of bases leading to tissue acidosis and eventual disease, especially inflammation and degenerative diseases.”

I was in an accident 11 years ago, that opened the door for arthritis to blast the areas of my body that were traumatized from the collision.  It’s been quite a battle, and when my doctor who was doing all of the food allergy testing then told me that I have “Gout,” I was floored.  “Gout?” I said… “That’s for the seriously old.”  He asked for more blood-work… and I tentatively obliged.  As he suspected, my acid levels were off the charts.  This was the beginning of my indoctrination into the world of pH balance, and eating according to our design, which is more alkaline.  Acid causes disease and it causes pain.  When I asked the doctor what I could do for gout he said, “Yeah, become a vegan.”  I was aghast!  For an Italian, with the kind of eating tradition I was used to, I couldn’t even wrap my  brain around that concept.  All I could think of was the few vegans that I had encountered over the years, who were hippies with grown out arm-pit hair, unshaved legs, etc.  You get the idea… everything was a-natural… Believe me.  This was NOT something I wanted to remotely embrace.  In a nutshell, I was pissed.

One can begin to understand why eating vats of sauce, cannoli’s, pasta, pizza and slabs of roast were all not what this new doctor would order.  Indeed, it was out with the roast and in with kale, but it didn’t happen overnight.  Believe me, I bucked this for YEARS!  I was more upset about giving up things like polenta, semolina pasta and rib eye steaks than chocolate or ice cream.

Bottom line—these foods on an occasion are not the thing that’s going to make us sick, but continuous consumption of acid-driven, carb-bent, animal protein will become a health issue at some point.  I began to research and read everything I could get my hand on about arthritis and gout (which is another form of arthritis). All disease is formed because of an over-acidification in the body…In other words, disease comes about when a person’s pH is not alkaline balanced, but acidic.  Even more interesting, especially when considering my diet while growing up, gout is called the “rich mans disease,” and it is caused from too much protein in the diet.  Animal-based protein, which when broken down in the body produces ACID in the blood.

Perhaps the saying, “You are what you eat” is true.  There is no doubt in my mind that my “Italian” protein-driven, carb-based diet laid the groundwork for issues as I got older.  By the way… pasta, polenta and bread all break down in the body as sugar, and sugar is acidic.

When choosing between pizza, tradition and familiarity, or learning a new way to eat, I eventually did choose the later, and WOW…what a difference it’s made!

But, more on that later…

Source:  Great article to read!

http://articlesofhealth.blogspot.com/2011/09/why-eating-meat-and-cheese-leads-to.html

What do you mean I can’t eat polenta?

Imagine my surprise, to find out that 80% or more of what I had been eating all of my life, I was allergic to…The doctor laughed at me after I got upset over being allergic to corn.  He said, “Most people cry when they find out they can’t have chocolate.  You were upset over polenta!”

Of course, as time went on, and I began to research corn a bit, I discovered that it isn’t just the allergy factor.  Corn, because of the way it’s been genetically modified poses a problem.  Corn is cheap to reproduce, and it’s in EVERYTHING!  Our cattle, chickens, hogs, and even our cats and dogs eat it… and in the form of corn syrup, it’s actually cheaper to use that sugar.

However…cheaper is not always better.  Perhaps the old saying, “You get what you pay for” is true.  Nutritionists claim that obesity, which is currently a rising epidemic in the U.S. has been affected by corn and all of its modifications.  By the way… it’s also affecting the quality of the meat; it’s become fattier.

According to Time Magazine, “From 1972 to 2002, the amount of sugar and syrup produced annually per American grew 21%, from 104 lbs. to 126 lbs., according to the Department of Agriculture. In that same time period, the percentage of syrup sweetener in that total grew from less than 1% to nearly 50%.”

Ouch!

Dr. Mercola would have to agree.  He says, “Pundit George Will has joined the ranks of those who have noticed that the U.S. government’s treatment of corn is wrecking the health of Americans…Rates of chronic diseases like cancer and Type 2 diabetes are much higher today than they were in 1900. Type 2 diabetes is a $100 billion a year consequence of, among other things, obesity related to a corn-based diet. Four of the top 10 causes of American deaths — coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke and cancer – have well-established links to diet as well.”

Of course, since I am allergic to corn, this should have no barring on me… Yet, it’s taken years for me to “try” and wean myself off of corn, and to be truthful, I still have not completely accomplished this, but I am working on it, and I have lowered my intake of corn products radically.  The greatest offender is corn tortillas. I live in Southern, California, and they’re hard to avoid. However, I do not eat any product that has high fructose corn syrup, especially with the absolute understanding that this ingredient is wrecking the health in America.

Think about it:  We are eating products that raise our insulin levels at every meal.  When I was eating “Italian,” even though “sugar” was not a common part of my everyday diet, so many things that I ate became sugar when broken down in my body.  For example:  pasta, bread, cereals, rice, polenta, potatoes, etc.  The carbs in some foods (mostly those that contain simple sugars and highly refined grains, such as white flour and white rice) are easily broken down and cause blood sugar levels to rise quickly.  The foods to avoid are mainly empty carbohydrates including all white flour breads, pasta, white rice, anything made with white sugar, corn syrup, or high fructose, processed foods like boxed or prepackaged foods, foods with no or low fiber, fruit juice with added sugar, condiments with added sugar, sugary cereals and regular soda. The two vegetables that have the highest glycemic index are potatoes and corn. Most foods that are packaged like frozen dinners and canned foods have fillers like corn starch, sugar and carbohydrate-based preservatives.

It’s interesting that for the past few years, health practitioners have been encouraging people to eat according to the Glycemic index, which measures the effect that carbohydrate consumption has on blood sugar levels.

After reviewing my eating habits for most of my life, it is no small wonder as to why I’ve developed some health issues, beginning with food allergies.  In an recent article on WebMD, it says, “A food allergy occurs when your immune system responds defensively to a specific food protein that is not harmful to the body…The first time you eat the offending food, your immune system responds by creating specific disease-fighting antibodies (called immunoglobulin E or IgE). When you eat the food again, the IgE antibodies spring into action, releasing large amounts of histamine in an effort to expel the “foreign invader” from your body. Histamine is a powerful chemical that can affect the respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract, skin or cardiovascular system.”

So, essentially, I compromised my immune system with the foods that I grew up eating, and it’s no wonder that I’m currently rethinking Italian!
“He who enjoys good health is rich, though he knows it not.” Italian Proverb –OH THE IRONY!

Sources:  http://www.ehow.com/about_4603110_foods-diabetic-should-avoid.html

http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2009/04/04/corn-is-making-the-us-unhealthy.aspx

http://www.webmd.com/allergies/food-allergies