Got Gluten?

Various_grainsI spend a lot of time and energy trying to avoid gluten. Sometimes it’s really inconvenient, but I don’t have a choice.

According to my doctor, I’m “off the charts” allergic to gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and of course, flour that is made from any of these plants or related species). One small bite can send me into an autoimmune flare-up for three to four days. It’s a delayed reaction, which means it take a day or two to show up. But when it does, it feels a lot like the flu. Unlike the flu, however, there is no medicine I can take to relieve the symptoms. Time, yoga, whole foods, and patience are the only cures.

If you’re not familiar with gluten intolerance, it might seem like a simple problem to solve…if you don’t want to eat gluten, then just don’t eat it, right? I wish it was that easy, but it’s not.

Why?

Because our grocery stores are stocked with more foods that contain flour than not, and restaurants use flour in almost every food they serve.

Even after ten years of avoiding gluten, I am still surprised by how few foods are truly gluten-free. This is especially true in restaurants. If chefs aren’t using flour or bread crumbs to thicken sauces, or bind burgers together, they are marinating chicken, or making sauces and dressings, with soy sauce (which is almost always made from wheat).

There is also a risk of contamination from grills, sauté pans, and deep fryers, that have cooked foods containing flour prior to your order.

Or, as one highly respected chef told me recently, it could just be that flour is so abundant in restaurants, that it becomes airborne, and lands on your otherwise gluten-free salad or veggie plate.

Of course, this makes it difficult for people like me, who are highly allergic to gluten.

But more importantly, if wheat and other sources of gluten are so prevalent in our food supply, then how much gluten/flour/wheat are non-allergic people eating?

And what would they do, if they knew that A) gluten is hard for our bodies to digest (which can lead to illness, inflammation, and weight gain), and B) that they are ingesting a lot of gluten unintentionally?

I’ve never seen anyone quantify how much gluten the average person consumes, but I really think someone should. I would not be surprised if, as a society, we are actually consuming more gluten than sugar. If you think about the flour content all of the breads, pastas, pancakes, cookies, crackers, pretzels, cereal, pies, and cakes we consume at home, plus the gluten-laden foods in restaurants, it definitely seems possible.

I know I’ve seen Dr. Oz quantify and display the amount of sugar the average American eats in a year–which he says is 150 pounds–and I can’t help but wonder why he wouldn’t also quantify the amount of flour we consume? It seems like a critically important piece of information to me.

20100114-tows-diabetes-2-300x205

If the good doctor were to stack up the bags of flour that represent how much gluten the average person ingests each year, and explain how much of a toll it is taking on our country’s health, would it change the way we eat? Would restaurants rethink their menus, and minimize the amount of gluten they serve? Would the major food companies use gluten-free flours and soy sauce substitutes in their foods? This would likely cost them more, but their hand might be forced, if we all decided to reduce our gluten intake.

I’m not saying everyone needs to cut out gluten all together. As long as you are not allergic, I think gluten, like everything else, is okay in moderation. But I do think that it’s important to practice dietary awareness, and do our best to consume real foods more than fake foods.

Most sources of gluten aren’t food anymore (wheat, for example), because they have been so genetically modified that don’t even resemble the original foods that God created. This makes it really hard for our bodies to digest, and potentially toxic in large quantities.

And so the question stands: how much gluten is in our food supply, and how does it affect our health? It’s hard to say for sure, but I am certain that minimizing gluten intake, and replacing it with real foods, is in everyone’s best interests.

*For more health tips, insights and inspiration, follow My Crazy Healthy Life on Facebook, and tweet with me at @crazyhealthy 

Aside

How I Finally Cured My Headaches

headacheI was interviewed by Good Housekeeping magazine, for an article in the July 2103 issue, entitled “How I Finally Cured My Headaches”. They only used a snippet of the interview for the article, so I thought I should share the full story here, with you.

I battled chronic pain for over twenty years. I had a headache almost every day, took a lot of medication, and did the best I could to deal with the pain. Prescriptions helped alleviate me get through the days…but, in hindsight, I think they ultimately made things worse.

I knew it was a mistake, taking all of those drugs, but I felt like I didn’t have a choice. Deep down, however, I knew that there had to be a root cause, and a holistic approach to prevent the pain.

But, try as I did, I never found what I was looking for. Not in the doctor’s office. Not in chiropractic care and massage. And certainly not in a pill bottle. But I kept repeating the same behaviors, year after year…and, as a result, I spent a lot of my life dependent on medications. These drugs damaged my gut, weakened my organs, and made me feel powerless against the pain.

I had a migraine almost every day, and I tried everything to make them go away. First it was Advil and Tylenol (which never really worked). Then it was anti-seizure medications. After that it was self-administered intramuscular shots of ergotamines (which hurt like hell and made me nauseous). And finally it was barbiturates.

In my twenties, I took Fioricet, a combination of Tylenol, caffeine, and butalbitol (and also a controlled substance) almost every day for ten years. My doctor said it was ok to take Fioricet daily, and I wanted to believe him, because I felt like I had no other choice.

As I popped all of those pills, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing to my health. I didn’t understand that the human body works synergistically. That taking a pill to relieve a headache would weaken my liver, kidneys, and digestive system. Which would, in turn, make me more susceptible to another headache, and another, and another. I was in denial about a very basic fact that, deep in our hearts, we all know to be true: everything we put in out body either fortifies, or destroys, our health.

I think this is why, as I got into my late twenties, the headaches got worse, and the painkillers stopped working. I grew desperate, and was willing to try anything.

When I finally reached the end of my rope, in 2003, I reluctantly let my yogi friend, Charlie, lead me through an elimination diet, of just bananas and water, for five days. And of course, being the stubborn person that I am, I fought him tooth and nail on all of it:

Why can’t I have fish? Fish is healthy.

Just one cup of coffee shouldn’t matter. What if it’s decaf?

What about milk? Everyone knows we need calcium.

I can’t get through the day without my medication…why can’t I have it?

These are the questions I asked, even though I already knew the answers, as Charlie patiently encouraged me to keep eating my bananas. The more patient he was, the more cranky I became. I just didn’t want to do it.

I wanted him to be wrong. How could food be the problem? I didn’t want to find out that I was allergic to bread, or cheese or (God help me) hamburgers. And who has the willpower to give up foods they love, just because they cause pain?

But Charlie was right, and I was wrong. The only way to identify allergies and sensitivities, was to clear my body of all potentially allergenic foods, and experiment afterward through trial and error.

As I slowly added foods back into my diet, I discovered that I had a lot of allergies. It was clear that food was causing my migraines. Surprisingly, it wasn’t just one food causing my pain, it was a lot of foods:

  • EVERYTHING that contains chemicals, additives, and preservatives gives me a migraine within a matter of minutes.
  • The same is true for most meats.
  • I can handle small amounts of organic dairy, but non-organic dairy gives me migraines.
  • Gluten gives me sinus headaches and makes my stomach hurt. I also find it hard to breathe after an exposure (I now know that some allergies present a day or more after exposure), and often end up with a sinus infection.
  • Sugar gives me PMS and migraines.
  • Alcohol makes me headachy and depressed for two days after the buzz wears off.

It took several months of trial and error to figure all of this out, and it felt like I was allergic to more foods than not. But that wasn’t really the truth.

The truth is that there are a lot of really delicious foods that I had never tasted before the elimination diet. Once I started exploring the grocery store with new eyes, and getting creative in the kitchen, it was actually fun. A lot of fun. And since my taste buds were no longer dulled by the processed, fake foods of my past, everything tasted richer, and more amazing than ever before.

I also found a book called Eat To Live, by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, which became my bible during the transition (if you haven’t read it, you must!). It all started to click, as I learned about the power of phytonutrients, realized that animal products inhibit our health more than they help, and accepted that food affects everything about my life.

My tastes changed over time, and I began craving healthy foods I never would have eaten before, like homemade guacamole, and roasted brussel sprouts. I ate a lot of veggies, fresh fruit, humus, trail mixes, and beans and rice. Whole Foods became my happy place, and I grew more excited about eating at home, than eating out.

Best of all, my energy was through the roof. I felt amazing. My skin was glowing, my hair was shinier, and I lost weight. I didn’t know it was possible to feel that good, because I had never had a day, for as long as I could remember, without pain.

I never thought I would become a vegetarian or completely give up my favorite foods, even after the elimination diet, but every time I experimented with animal products and processed foods, I felt awful. Eventually I stopped wanting these trigger foods all together.

Thankfully, eating clean got easier and easier, as the months went on, and I learned how to prepare foods from the earth. The changes in my health were unbelievable: I slept better, got more done, and almost never needed medication of any kind. Best of all, I felt happier than I had ever been in my life.

I have followed a mostly vegetarian diet ever since, and I absolutely love it. Food is my fuel, and my medicine. The brilliant, beautiful foods I bring home from the farmer’s market nourish my body, and I find them much more satisfying than any hamburger could ever be!

Similarly, the fake, processed foods of my past life seem boring and toxic to me now. It doesn’t bother me if other people eat them, I just usually don’t want them for myself, because I know they will make me feel bad. Eating clean has empowered me to control my health, so I honestly can’t imagine ever going back to my old ways.

The bottom line is that I finally solved the greatest mystery of my life, and cured my headaches forever, through an elimination diet. After all of the time, effort and money I spent on doctor visits, I figured out, on my own, that food allergies caused my migraines. It was such a relief to cure my headaches myself, without doctors, and without medicines.

I hope that by sharing my story, you, or someone you love, might also be inspired to seek a holistic cure for their migraines. Extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary measures, so if nothing else is working, allergy testing and an elimination diet might just be the thing that finally cures your migraines forever.

Please feel free to email any questions you might have about my blog, either through this site, or the My Crazy Healthy Life Facebook page. I always reply to inquiries!

Photo: http://www.health-advisors.org

Spring Cleanse, Spring Break, and A Spring In My Step

Ok, ya’ll. I’m back, and feeling great after the Pranaful Spring Cleanse.

I didn’t mean to take so long to fill you in on the cleanse, but it was Spring Break last week, and I just couldn’t write. There were sandcastles to build, waves to jump, and dolphins to chase in the warm Florida sun.

I’m home now, though, rested and ready to chat about the cleanse.

First of all, I have to say a huge thank you to my friend and inspiration, Meredith Klein, and also to Dr. Siva Mohan, for offering this powerful experience for free. They worked tirelessly during the cleanse, to promptly reply to questions and comments about the protocol, and their insights were invaluable (join the Pranaful Spring Cleanse Facebook page to read all about it).

I also need to say that I am really glad I did it. I had a lot of reasons not to cleanse, but I did it anyway. And now my skin is glowing, my hair is shinier, I have more energy, and I’ve dropped a few unnecessary pounds. More importantly, I learned a lot from the experience, as I always do when I shake things up. Here’s what I took away from my week of green juice, kitchari, and aloe shots:

1. Cleansing is an emotional and spiritual exercise, as much as it is physical. It’s easy to just think about the food, and what we are missing, during a cleanse. The most important work, however, is happening at a much deeper level. If we pay attention, we start to recognize the stories (and untruths) we tell ourselves about what we need, deserve, and desire. We gain perspective about the role of food in our lives, and are empowered to make healthier decisions afterward. My mantras throughout the cleanse were “it’s only food”, and “I can do anything for a week”.

2. I don’t need as much food as I normally eat. I have toyed with the idea of calorie restriction for years, and have tried to practice it from time to time, but have not been particularly successful. In my head, I know that science says we need far fewer calories than most people eat, and appropriate calorie restriction can help prevent disease…but I have a tremendous fear of my blood sugar dropping, so I usually eat something small every three hours. On the cleanse, however, I purposefully stretched out the time between eating, and allowed myself to sit with that fear. It made me realize that the fear is more about my lifelong attachment to food, than avoidance of low blood sugar. As a child, I used food for comfort during my parents’ separation and divorce–a pattern that started when I was eight, and I don’t think I ever broke. I am attached to healthy food now, instead of junk food, but the dynamic is the same.

3. The first few days after the cleanse are as enlightening as the cleanse itself. As I started to reintroduce foods that I ate before the cleanse, I noticed that some foods made me feel bad, including soy lecithin, which is in a majority of the snack bars I eat on the run (KIND, Luna, etc.). I know soy lecithin is not particularly good for me, but it’s one of the compromises I have made along the way, in the name of convenience. But now I know that I have a soy lecithin sensitivity, and it’s harder on my body than I thought. So, I’m going to avoid it going forward, which is hard, because it’s used in a lot of products that are otherwise healthy. Admittedly, eliminating these foods from my already gluten-free, mostly vegetarian diet has been frustrating (especially on spring break, when we were in perpetual motion!). However, having eliminated foods before, I know that once I find substitutes, it won’t bother me for long.

4. I get stuck in food addiction very easily. I had never had kitchari before last week, but now I wonder how I ever lived without it. I am having a hard time letting go of just eating kitchari at every meal (seriously!). Everything else seems less clean, and less comforting.

5. I spend a lot of time thinking about, shopping for, and preparing food. I need to let go of the reins a little, and streamline some of my habits.  This cleanse actually showed me that life is easier when I prepare several days’ worth of food ahead of time, instead of cooking twice a day, like I normally do. Cleansing this way definitely changed the way I think about meal planning for myself and my family.

6. No matter how crazy healthy I become, I can always benefit from giving my digestive system a break every now and then. I felt great after the cleanse, and will definitely use the information, recipes, and techniques I learned for the rest of my life.

7. We can learn a lot of crazy healthy habits from Ayurveda. The more I experiment with this ancient Indian approach to food as medicine, the better I feel. This Ayurvedic cleanse was logical, insightful, and helped me feel more confident than ever in exploring the use of Eastern approaches to  healing my body.

There’s still a few weeks left to register for, and participate in the Pranaful Spring Cleanse. For those who have already completed the cleanse, please let me know what you learned, and what habits you have changed as a result.
Namaste,
Amber

Aside

The Science Of Addictive Food

Assorted Junk Food

This morning, instead of the usual carpool drop off, I walked into my daughter’s preschool to deliver her, and some healthy, gluten-free snack alternatives, to her teacher. As I pulled out the roasted pumpkin seeds, dried cherries, orange-infused cranberries, sunflower seeds, and raisins, and she replied with “I don’t know how you find all this stuff!”

It struck me as so funny. I laughed, and said “It’s just what I do.” But what I should have said is this:

I find this crazy healthy stuff on the outside of the grocery store. It almost seems hidden. Usually in the way back. Sometimes near the produce. Or in the organic aisle. And everywhere but the front and middle of the store, where the big food manufacturers pay to promote their highly addictive disease-causing products. Like Walter White in “Breaking Bad”, they are all fighting for market share, and will do anything to improve their personal position, no matter how much long term damage it might inflict on others. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want Walter White, or anyone with his lack of ethics, influencing decisions about my family’s health.

Earlier this week, the NY Times published an article on this very subject called “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food”. It’s long, somewhat shocking, and potentially life changing. Set aside time to read it, process it, and talk to your family and friends about how these companies use science to create addiction.

The major food manufacturers are not particularly concerned about public health. There’s no question about it. And there’s also no easy fix. But the more we learn about, and talk about, what’s in our food, where it came from, and how it effects our body, the easier it will be for those of us who think food matters to create the crazy healthy life we desire.

The Avocado Pudding Party


photo

Instead of the usual after school snack yesterday, the girls and I had a pudding party. Not just any pudding party, but a crazy healthy avocado pudding party. And they thought it was the best thing since sliced gluten-free bread.

It might sound decadent, but it really wasn’t. Avocados are full of protein, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. They actually rank pretty high on Dr. Furhman’s Nutritarian Food Pyramid (love him!), which means they are nutrient-dense, and an important part of a crazy healthy diet. The other ingredients we used for the basic pudding were also full of phytonutrients. As far as I’m concerned (and I think Dr. Fuhrman would agree), this basic avocado pudding is a guilt-free indulgence.

DrFurman-foodpyramid-large

So here’s how we did it: my eight-year old beat three medium ripe avocados with approximately 3 T. raw cacao, 2 or 3 T. local honey, 1 T. unsweetened almond milk (you can substitute soy or coconut milk) and a healthy pinch of sea salt, to make a basic avocado chocolate pudding. Sometimes I add a little vanilla for taste as well. *

I separated the pudding into small bowls, and then we all got creative with mix-ins. I wanted the girls to be invested in the final product, so I let them pick the flavors.

The end result was peppermint chocolate pudding, banana chocolate pudding, strawberry chocolate pudding, cinnamon chocolate pudding, and peanut butter chocolate chip pudding. This is what it looked like after they devoured it all (don’t you love the cute little signs my daughter made?).

photo copy 2

We tried to vote on the best flavor, but couldn’t come to a consensus. My eight year old loved the peppermint, my seven-year old preferred the peanut butter chocolate chip, and my five-year old loved the cinnamon. Personally, I thought banana chocolate pudding was the best. I also thought that raspberries would taste better than strawberries, and will try that next time.

The best part of the avocado pudding tasting party was that the girls and I had fun experimenting in the kitchen with crazy healthy foods, and they’re already begging to do it again. And that makes me really happy, because it means I now have even more opportunities to help them create crazy healthy childhood memories.

Note: I use less cacao, milk and honey than most recipes you might find because I think it’s healthier that way, but you can add more if you think you need it.

Photo: http://www.diseaseproof.com

Sweets for My Sweets

photo

One of my favorite things about this crazy healthy life is that it encourages me to be creative in the kitchen. I am constantly experimenting with recipes, and talking with my husband and three daughters, about how we can improve our eating habits. It feels like a game, trying to invent the next great healthy recipe.

Learning how to make healthy desserts is of particular interest to my girls. They know that sugar can be a major health-inhibitor, and that there are some good sugars, but most of them are bad.

When they ask for dessert, I help them put the request in context (Have you already had some sugar today? How much? How did it make you feel?), and challenge them to use natural sugars, such as fruit, honey, or maple syrup, to satisfy their cravings. We also try to limit sweet treats to one serving a day. Too much sugar creates noticeable changes in our energy, moods, and immunity.

Some of our favorite desserts are fresh berries with a small whipped cream “flower”, chocolate pudding made from avocados, organic chocolates, cashew creams, or strawberries stuffed with peanut butter and mini chocolate chips (my fave). It’s not the same as a piece of cake or bowl of ice cream, but it doesn’t seem to bother my family. They truly enjoy our unconventional sweet treats.

It reminds me that we have to change our minds first, if we hope to change our lives. There is a saying that “Doing what you like is freedom, liking what you do is happiness.” I believe that learning to like real sugars more than fake sugars is one of the best kept secrets to happy eating. With a little creativity, it gets easier to replace bad sugars with healthy alternatives. Ultimately, we learn that when it comes to dessert, there’s really nothing better than the real thing.

Crazy Healthy Food 101

green and red healthy food

I was five years into my yoga practice, before I discovered the connection between the food I was eating, and the quality of my health. I had embraced the value of working hard to control my mind and body, but I was totally reckless in my relationship with food.

Despite my efforts to be healthier, my weight was fluctuating, and I couldn’t get rid of chronic migraines. Why wasn’t working out, and practicing yoga, enough to make me crazy healthy?

My super-smart yogi friend, Charlie, explained that working out and yoga would never bring my health into complete balance, if I wasn’t eating nutrient-rich diet. He convinced me to try a fruit and veggie detox. It sounded crazy, but I was desperate, so I took his advice.

What I did was extreme–just fruits, vegetables, and water for two weeks. No medications, no caffeine, and no added sugar. Just a lot of bananas at first, and then other raw foods toward the end.

During the detox, I tried to eat something small every hour that I was awake, so I was never hungry. I learned to change my mind about why I was eating. It was really hard, and it took a lot of discipline, but it was definitely worth every sacrifice.

After it was over, I never wanted to return to my previous habits. My headaches went away, and I was able to better control my weight on this nutrient-dense diet. I realized that, more than anything, food is fuel, and the quality of the food we eat affects everything about our health. Our bodies need, and deserve, a diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.

Charlie’s fruit and veggie detox is a radical approach to getting healthy. It worked for me, but it will only work for you, if you are ready for an extreme change.

Those who want to ease into this crazy healthy life, can begin by following these simple tips:

1. Just say no to fake foods. Health-inhibiting foods are anything that contains gluten, dairy, preservatives, artificial flavors or colors, and added sugars or sweeteners (stevia is ok). Genetically modified foods are also health-inhibiting, so avoid non-organic soy and corn products. I think of these as fake foods, and things I don’t want in my body.

2. Stock up on foods from the earth. Animal products and fake foods are lower in nutrients than whole foods, so use them in moderation. Try to fill your fridge, cabinets, and countertops with fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, beans, and gluten-free grains. Fresh foods are higher in nutrient content, but it’s ok to supplement with frozen and canned when necessary.

3. Make a plan to be successful. Write down what you ate today, and yesterday, and determine what percentage was nutrient-dense. Commit to increase that percentage by 10% each week, until you reach 80%. Over time, the healthy stuff will “squeeze out” the fake foods. Your palate will change, as you refine your diet, and soon you will crave the healthy stuff, more than the fake stuff.

3. Learn how to roast vegetables. The best advice I ever heard for increasing veggie intake is that most vegetables taste great roasted. It’s true, and so easy: just toss with grapeseed or sunflower oil, salt, and pepper, and roast at 450 for ten minutes. Broccoli, brussel sprouts, asparagus, and sweet potatoes are my favorites. Get in the habit of preparing extras for leftovers, also, to save prep time the next day.

4. Drink mostly water. Self-explanatory, but this can be a big change for a lot of people. Drinks other than water can actually be dehydrating, and health-inhibiting, especially if they contain caffeine. You can allow yourself one cup of coffee or tea if you must, but remember that caffeine can be harmful in large doses.

5. Avoid absolutes. You don’t have to be 100% raw, or totally vegetarian to be crazy healthy. What you do need to do, is find a balance that works for you. I feel better when I limit animal products, but you might find that you need a little now and then. Do some research, try new recipes, and figure out what makes you feel your best. It’s also important to remind yourself that you can still have an unhealthy treat once in a while. You are not giving up ice cream forever; you are simply reframing it’s place in your life.

I know it seems overwhelming. It kind of is, until you get into a groove. But trust me, you will be glad you did. It’s been ten years since I switched to a nutrient-dense diet, and I really can’t imagine eating any other way.

I understand why this approach works now, and will talk more about that in future posts. In the meantime, give these tips a try, and trust that they will, over time, lead you to the crazy healthy life you always hoped for.

*Photo: http://www.rawfullyorganic.com

Chick-fil-A, The Crazy Healthy Way

Image

At three o’clock this afternoon, I got an email from a parent in my daughter’s class that said, “In honor of Charlie’s birthday tomorrow, we will bring lunch from Chick-fil-A for the entire class. It’s his favorite meal: chicken nuggets and fruit.”

My first reaction was, “Uh-oh, how am I going to make this right for my little one?” She is severely allergic to gluten, and we know from experience that the wheat in Chick-fil-A chicken nuggets makes her wheeze, and fight for breath. I knew she would be sad to miss out Charlie’s birthday treat.

And then I came to my senses. What a great opportunity! The perfect way to remind my kids that there is ALWAYS a yummier, and healthier, choice than fast food.

I did not grow up in the South, like many of my friends here in Atlanta, and my mom was more of a baker than a chef. So, I have no experience with frying anything. But tonight I would finally try my hand at frying chicken, and I would do it in a crazy healthy way.

We also don’t eat meat very often, so I was surprised/happy to find one package of organic chicken breasts in the fridge. All systems GO.

I cut the chicken into small pieces, dipped it in egg or egg replacer, then dipped it in a mixture of Pamela’s Gluten-Free Baking and Pancake Mix, salt, and pepper. I think of myself as an intuitive cook (translated: I find it hard to follow recipes, and would rather figure things out as I go), so I just guessed at how much baking mix, salt and pepper to use.

I also guessed at how to work with the oil. Grapeseed oil is flavorless and has a high smoke point, so this seemed the best option for frying (coconut oil is healthier, but I thought the taste would be too strong). I doubled the amount of oil I usually use to sauté veggies, and let it get nice and hot over medium-high heat, before adding the chicken.

And then I thought, why not go all the way, and replicate the Kids Meals at Chick-fil-A?

Hmm…how to recreate the sides in a hurry? Toss new potatoes with grapeseed oil and salt, and roast them at 450 degrees for ten minutes. Slice some apples, and voila! Faux Chick-fil-A in a crazy healthy way.

Not as nutrient-dense as most of our dinners, but we all need to live a little, right? The best part: all three of my girls said tonight’s dinner was better than Chick-fil-A. Way better. Everyone had seconds, and I still have enough to send with my youngest tomorrow, so she will not feel left out.

Recreating Chick-fil-A at home was easier, and more satisfying than I expected. In 20 minutes, I went from doubting my ability to create a healthy substitute, to showing my kids that Chick-fil-A might taste good, but we can do better.

Turning doubt in opportunity. That, in a nutshell, is what this crazy healthy life is all about.

The Incredible, Edible Cashew: A Healthy Alternative to Dairy


raw-320-count-cashews-1-pound

Photo: http://site.nutsinbulk.com

I had never paid much attention to cashews until last year. They always seemed boring and tasteless; something I could take or leave. What I didn’t know then, that I know now, is that cashews are an important part of a healthy diet, and a healthy substitute for dairy in many recipes. Studies have shown that they are rich in phytonutrients, lower in fats than most nuts, reduce cancer risk, and support bone health and weight control.

My opinion of cashews changed, when I met a vegetarian chef named Meredith Klein, who “cooks” with raw foods. Meredith changed my life, and my cooking, forever, when she served fresh fruit with raw chocolate cream for dessert. It was divine…I couldn’t believe something so simple and crazy healthy could taste so good.

I asked Meredith how she made it (cashews, raw cacao, coconut water, maple syrup, and salt), and it was the beginning of my love affair with cashew creams. I use cashews all the time now, to make vegan alfredo sauces, whipped creams, mousses, cheescakes and pumpkin pies. I serve them to my kids, and at dinner parties, with great success.

It’s so simple, it’s silly. All you have to do is soak cashews for 2-4 hours first, and process them until they are creamy, in a high powered blender or food processor.

Thanks to Meredith, I’ve fallen hard for cashews, and you might too, if you discover how helpful they can be as a replacement for milk and cream. Below is a recipe for cashew cream that I have modified from Meredith’s original guidance. It’s fabulous, served with strawberries, or Trader Joes’ Gluten-free Ginger Snaps.

DSC_1515

Meredith and Amber in the kitchen at Casa Barranca in Ojai, July 2012

Raw Vegan Chocolate Cream, inspired by Meredith Klein

16 oz. raw cashews, soaked in water 2-4 hours

1/4 c. raw cacao (or cocoa powder)

12 oz. coconut water (or more, if needed for consistency)

1 t. maple syrup

1/2 tsp. vanilla

1/4 tsp. salt

Mix everything in a food processor until creamy.  Add more coconut water to increase sweetness as desired, more cacao to increase chocolate flavor, and more salt if desired. Enjoy with apples, strawberries, or gluten-free ginger snaps!

Crazy Good Kale Salad

My friend, Angie, is a total foodie, a professional chef, and the best cook I know. Eating out with Angie is always fun, because she is really enthusiastic, and funny, about food. If she likes something, she calls it craaaazy good. Her enthusiastic use of “crazy” is one of the reasons I love calling this blog “My Crazy Healthy Life“.

Angie came to dinner last week, along with a few other girlfriends. I served bourbon salmon and roasted butternut squash with cranberries, along with this raw kale salad that I found at http://www.vegetariantimes.com. I only used half of the salt they recommended, because I thought it called for too much. It turned out perfect.

As I had hoped, Angie, and my other friends, also thought this kale salad was crazy good. They raved about it, helped themselves to seconds, and insisted that I forward the recipe. I’m pretty sure one of my other dinner guests, Lisa, is making this salad right now, as I type this post.

Because it was such a hit, I wanted to share this crazy good, crazy healthy recipe with you. It calls for grated raw rutabaga and grated raw turnips, which is AWESOME. I never would have thought of that on my own. I love that the veggies are seasonal, it’s easy to make, and the final product is the perfect combination of all six tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, pungent, and astringent.

Give it a try, and let me know if you agree, that this might just be the perfect kale salad.

1010_VegDlites_KaleSalad_MED-458x326

Photo: http://www.vegetariantimes.com

 

Life On the Gluten-Free Fringe

It seems like everyone is talking about gluten these days, but some people still don’t understand why the discussion is important. Gluten is a HUGE deal because wheat, the primary source of gluten, has been so genetically modified, that our bodies no longer recognize it as food. We have a hard time processing it, and it can wreak havoc on our immune systems.

I learned about guten the hard way, after a long battle with what my doctor called IBS (irritable bowel syndrome…worst disease name ever) in the late 1990’s. It was a difficult time in my life, so everyone, including me, thought my illness and weight loss were related to stress. My doctor told me to stick to the BRAT diet (banana, applesauce, rice, and toast) until I felt better. It only made things worse. I was miserable, until I finally tried a gluten elimination diet. Within a few weeks, I got back to a healthy weight, and could eat regular foods again. My chronic sinus headaches also got better. It seemed that gluten might have been the issue all along.

After that, I tried to stay away from gluten, but would  still “cheat” every now and then. That was when the gluten/disease connection became crystal clear. There was no doubt about it…I was gluten intolerant.

This is why, when my kids and husband suffered from stomach aches, wheezing, stuffy noses, and headaches last year, I put them all on a gluten elimination diet. I cleaned out the cupboards, and asked everyone to avoid gluten when they were away from home. We talked about hidden sources of gluten (such as soy sauce and snack bars), and how we should never eat anything unless we are 100% sure it is gluten-free. Sure enough, everyone in the family felt better within a few weeks, and we became a gluten-free family.

I involved my family in the transition as much as possible. I taught them how to read labels, and empowered them to make gluten-free choices at the grocery store. They learned to replace sandwiches with soups/salads, flour-based cereals with organic corn-based cereals, crackers with gluten-free chips (such as sweet potato chips), and cookies and cakes with fruit, yogurt, or dark chocolate.

Reframing the way we think about snacks helped, too. I offered more fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds in their backpacks and family snack trays, and no one seemed to mind. Pretty soon, foods from the earth became our family’s favorite munchies.

DSCN0912

I did find some tasty gluten-free substitutions to keep on hand, which has helped a lot. We use them in moderation because they cost more, and are lower in nutrients than plant-based foods. Our favorite gluten-free foods are Udi’s breads, Nature’s Path cereals, Glutino crackers, Pasta Joy  pastas, Trader Joe’s ginger snaps, Pamela’s baking mixes, and Kinnikinnick frozen pizza crusts.

photo

Admittedly, it was not easy for my family of five to adjust to a gluten-free life….but it was absolutely worth it! These days, we get sick less often, and we all have a lot more energy. My husband and I have an ongoing dialogue with our kids about “real food”, and how to select healthy gluten-free options. The girls do a fairly good job of avoiding gluten (it can’t be easy to say no to a cupcake, when you are a kid!), and I think they enjoy being experts on the matter.

I do have to plan ahead for birthday parties and school celebrations, to make sure the kids have a delicious alternative to cakes and cookies. Most of the time my girls are happy with the substitution, and deal pretty well. This is one of their favorite treats:

photo

The bottom line is that, because my family wants to be crazy healthy, we avoid gluten like the plague. It makes us sick, and it’s not really food. It took some time to change our minds, and our habits, but now we all love our crazy healthy gluten-free life.

 

Breakfast of Champions

I eat veggies for breakfast. In fact, this is what I ate this morning:

photo

Is that strange? I can’t tell anymore. I have been at this crazy healthy thing for so long, that veggies for breakfast seems normal. I actually prefer it to my former favorites: bagels, cereals, and eggs. Which is proof that changing our diet starts with changing our minds.

Replacing cereal with vegetables was an adjustment, for sure. I started with quinoa, and pretended it was cereal. I played around with cinnamon, curry, and other savory spices, and added dried fruits and nuts when appropriate. It was fun, and tasted yummy.

One day, I decided that roasted veggies might be good, too. Asparagus is kind of a breakfast food, right? That was yummy, too.

And then, I woke up with a cold one morning, and what I really wanted, more than anything, was kale with garlic and onion. It made me feel much better. And my love of veggies for breakfast grew from there.

I kept experimenting, and pretty soon, nothing was off limits. Brussel sprouts, okra, broccoli…you name it…veggie dishes became my breakfast of champions.

I learned to double my dinner recipes, so there would be enough left over for breakfast. It turns out that my homemade black bean burgers taste pretty darn good with a cup of green tea. Who knew?

Don’t knock it ’til you try it. Veggies are delicious when prepared properly. Most taste wonderful when simply roasted or sautéed with a lot of garlic and onion, plus a little maple syrup (or honey), salt and pepper. Plan ahead, so you can reheat, instead of cook from scratch, in the mornings. The more you practice this crazy healthy habit, the easier it becomes, and the better you will feel.