Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Gluten-Free Diets: Foe or Friend?

Everyone is going gluten-free, but is it the latest fad diet or is it the path to thriving health? Unlike some cynics and possibly celiacs who are annoyed by the new wave of gluten phobics, I think going gluten-free can be a healthy move as long as it's done right. Let's explore how a gluten-free diet can improve overall health, how to do it properly and what's non-celiac gluten sensitivity. 

If you're like me addicted to refined carbs and feel that this is holding you back from reaching your health goals, then trying a gluten-free diet will be beneficial AS LONG AS YOU DO NOT REPLACE YOUR PROCESSED CARBS WITH GLUTEN-FREE VERSIONS. In the beginning of my gluten-free journey I made this mistake. So what do I mean? Do not replace your morning toast with gluten-free bread, do not replace your breakfast cereals with gluten-free cereal and the list goes on and on. This is super important because gluten-free PRODUCTS are made from rice, corn, oats and tapioca flours which all have a high glycemic load. Having analyzed the labels of many gluten-free foods they almost always contain less fiber and less protein then their gluten containing equivalents, which means these foods will act as pure sugar in your body and if you don't burn them off, it will be stored as fat. Also in order to mimic our favorite gluten filled foods like a fluffy bagel, by default gluten-free products are so highly processed that they can irritate your gut (hello leaky gut!) and cause systemic inflammation.

homemade gluten-free ramen with zoodles instead of noodles

Instead replace your gluten containing processed carbs with whole food carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, whole fruits and quinoa. If you want to take it a step further, replace them with non-starchy colorful vegetables, natural fats like avocado and rich proteins like lentils and organic eggs. The reason behind this is because it's easy and we do over consume carbs, but we are not eating enough of non-starch plant based foods which contain fiber for colon health and micronutrients (think vitamins and minerals) for overall health. GOOD fats and proteins, along with fiber, are also very satiating foods and they make us feel fuller and more satisfied. 

Also in defense of going gluten-free, I find that I make better choices in social settings by abstaining from breads and such. When I'm out to dinner I don't touch the bread basket and I always order vegetables with protein which is great. If I'm at a work event or a house party, I avoid puff pastry hors d'oeuvres and the brownies and focus on fruits, proteins and vegetables. 

Another reason to avoid gluten is if you suspect you are gluten intolerant because you are experiencing autoimmune issues, digestive issues and you don't know what the fuck is going on. For the longest time I felt I lead a healthy lifestyle because I exercised regularly and I ate "healthy" about 80% of the time, but in hindsight I didn't realized how much stress I was under emotionally, unhealthy lifestyle habits I developed and how unbalanced my diet really was. That was until I developed diabetes and just recently I learned that I AM GLUTEN INTOLERANT. I've been working with holistic practitioner Dr. Salzarulo and he suspected gluten sensitivity based on my food diary and symptoms. I had always eaten wheat and gluten; however, for the aforementioned reasons and eating a unhealthy vegan diet tipped me over the edge. So all my saying is you never know.

lab results from

Have you thought about going gluten-free or are trying it now? I'd love to hear from you.


Additional Reads

Personal post on exploring veganism and where I went wrong

The toxic truth about gluten-free foods

3 Reasons Gluten Intolerance May Be More Serious Than Celiac Disease

Against the Grain

Is non-celiac gluten sensitivity a real thing?

Is going gluten-free good for me?

9 things to know before going gluten-free

The great gluten-fee fad

Are you an abstainer or a moderator?

Why we're wasting billions on gluten-free food

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Devil Wears Diet Labels: Low-Fat Fig Newmans

My no. 2 tip for finding health in 2016 and basically FOREVER is to start familiarizing yourself with food labels. This is a biggie because there's a lot of junk foods out there disguised as health foods; they lure us with their deceptive low-fat, low-sugar or sugar-free, gluten-free, all natural and organic labels. They hide in the inner aisles or end caps of super markets like this guy: Newman's Own Low Fat Fig Newmans. Let's take a closer look at why this is not a health food and at best is a sugary treat!

Let's start with the ingredients.

  • Organic Unbleached Wheat Flour 
  • Organic Sugar
  • Organic Figs
  • Corn Syrup
  • Organic Palm Fruit Oil
  • Water
  • Natural Flavors
  • Leavening (Sodium Bicarbonate, Monocalcium Phosphate)
  • Non-Fat Dry Milk
  • Salt
  • Soy Lecithin (an emulsifier)
The main thing I want to point out is that the first four and main ingredients are just pure, refined, processed sugar and will be digested quickly in the body, thus sending insulin and blood sugar soaring. Unbleached wheat flour is refined white flour and the organic figs are refined too. They are not fresh whole intact figs, it's actually fig puree without it's fiber rich green skin and cooked down for concentrated sweetness. Sugar is sugar, as we know, and forth on the list is good old corn syrup. This is not high-fructose corn syrup, but the only difference is the molecular make-up. Both are refined, both are un-natural, both are not good for you. 

Palm fruit oil is a popular ingredient amongst processed foods because it's cheap. I haven't read much about palm fruit oil, but there are mixed feelings ranging from the health benefits of the red oil to the impact palm oil farming is having on the environment. According to this site there seems more bad than good associated with this type of oil.

Natural flavors are anything but natural and this basically means that there is a trace natural element in this man-made created flavor, but you can't find it in nature as is. Leavening is used in most baked goods and it's used for adding texture. Soy lecithin is complicated to explain, but it's processed from GMO soybean oil and is used as a substitute for eggs. The non-fat dry milk is an interesting one because it contains oxidized cholesterol, which is the dangerous kind that leads to plaque build up in our hearts. The process of turning fresh milk into dry milk is what causes the oxidization; however, I will say that there's probably only trace amounts (if any) in the cookies. It's still kind of nasty and worth making a mental note. 

A quick assessment of the nutrition facts tells us that two little Newmans has 110 calories and 23g of carbs, a combination of sugar and starch that will be digested and absorbed quickly in our bodies. With no fat, no fiber and no protein to slow down the digestion of these guys, who is going to be satisfied with just two Newmans? This is a terrible snack for anyone with blood sugar regulation, heart health and weight issues.

Although I'm enjoying vilifying these fig Newmans, the point of this post is to begin recognizing fake healthy snacks. This is a sugary cookie and if you're craving something sweet, I'd recommend fruit or treating yourself to ONE gourmet cookie from your local upmarket bakery. It's probably better because it was baked on the day, contains more whole food ingredients and is far better for you in the long run then 9 servings of processed Newman's Own. It will also be fucking delicious.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Sun-dried Tomato Cashew Cheese

Every year for Christmas Eve my family and I gather at my mom's house in Virginia and put on a big dinner. All the women (because we're pretty much all women) choose one thing to make whether that be a cocktail, starters, main meal or dessert. Inspired by this amazing cheese plate at Avo, a raw vegan restaurant in Nashville, I decided to make a cashew cheese with sun-dried tomato. It was bomb and everyone loved. Makes 2-3 cups 

  • 1 cup of roasted salted cashews
  • 2-3 large sun-dried tomatoes in oil
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 large raw garlic clove
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil (I used the oil from the sun-dried tomatoes jar)
  • sea salt & pepper to taste
  • water
First you want to soak the cashews overnight in water. Not only does this soften and bloat your cashews for easy blending, but it also makes cashews easier to digest. Nuts and seeds have higher amounts of phytic acid, which prevent our body from absorbing minerals because of the way the acid binds to minerals in food and interferes with enzymes. By soaking the cashews, you can reduce or remove the phytic acid in the nuts.

Drain your soaked cashews and rinse with clean water. Place all the ingredients, except the olive oil, into a food processor or high-speed blender and start blitzing. Gradually add in the olive oil until you reach the desired consistency. At the time I was working with a small food processor with low horsepower so my cheese had lots of texture, but it could also be as smooth as soft goat cheese. 

And voila! Super easy to make and there's a whole lot of goodness here. The cashews offer a host of benefits including minerals copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and vitamin K as well as healthy essential fat along with the olive oil. Also cashews contain proanthocyanidins, which contain flavanols that help reduce colon cancer. Garlic is anti-inflammatory and it contains sulfur compounds, which is great for cardio health. And last, but certainly not least, the sun-dried tomatoes provide antioxidants vitamins A, C, E and lycopene. Add extra health by forgoing chips and serving with raw veggies like sliced cucumber and carrot knubs.

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