Eight tips to make family favorites healthier

By Mary Pat Baldauf
If you’re trying to cook healthier for your family, you don’t have to abandon their favorites or resort to tasteless tofu. There are many ways you can make your recipes healthier without dramatically changing the taste. Try these tips on for size:

  1. Decrease the fat: Cut back on the amount of oil, shortening or butter in a recipe by half the amount listed. Instead of cream or half-and-half, try one percent milk or skim milk. Low-fat and fat-free options are also available.
  2. Love the taste of real butter? Try butter flavored olive oil, available at most stores that specialize in premium olive oil, such as The Crescent Olive or The Classy Cruet. It’s not only healthier than other oils, it’s also delicious; I like to spritz it on air-popped popcorn for a treat.olive-oil-968657_1920
  3. Cut the cheese: I love cheese, so this always sounds so wrong to me, but you can usually reduce the amount of cheese in a recipe by up to half without significantly altering the taste. Strong flavored cheeses like sharp cheddar and parmesan are the best to try to cut back. Reduced-fat cheese varieties also are an option.
  4. Lower the salt: My sister-roommate has issues with salt, so I’m always trying to lower the salt in recipes. You can add flavor with citrus juices, vinegars, garlic, onion or pepper. Check your no-salt seasoning blends such as Dash. Also look for lower-sodium versions of your pantry staples, such as soups, sauces and such.
  5. Reduce the added sugar: You often can reduce the amount of sugar by one-half to one-third. You can also try using a sugar substitute suitable for cooking or make a subtle half and half mix. Spices like cinnamon, allspice, cloves and nutmeg may also enhance the sweetness in a recipe and allow for less sugar.
  6. Get creative with fruits and veggies: Use pureed fruit, such as applesauce, in place of some of the butter or oil in a baked recipe. I learned how to use pureed vegetables to add flavor and nutrients to foods via my grandmother, who pureed celery for her Thanksgiving stuffing.  The Sneaky Chef series of books by Missy Chase Lupine also serves as a great source of information.
  7. Explore different cooking methods for veggies. Do you usually fry vegetables? zucchini-2340977_1920Try roasting squash, sweet potatoes, onions and zucchini for a tasty side dish. Steaming is a healthy and quick option, too. There are also many varieties of “veggie noodles” at local grocery stores; I personally like the zucchini noodles. You can also make your own with a spiralizer.
  8. Go for whole grain: Whole grains are a rich source of fiber and contain an assortment of vitamins, minerals and nutrients. Use whole grains of cereals, breads and pasta in place of “regular” versions. Just remember to check the first ingredient on packaged foods for “whole grain.” When I first tried whole grain pasta, I didn’t like it one bit; now I can’t eat “regular” pasta because it’s so mushy in comparison.

 

 

Curried Eggs and (No) Ham

By Rachel Sircy

I love eggs. I have them pretty much every morning for breakfast despite the fact that I have cholesterol problems. I really wouldn’t recommend this for anyone else who has cholesterol issues, but we all have to take baby steps toward better health, right? Well, that’s what I’m telling myself for now, anyway. I’m taking a few baby steps right now toward eating more whole and organic foods. I am trying little by little to purge my diet of chemicals and high glycemic index foods like white flour and sugar. It’s really slow going. But then, so was the change that I made when I switched to eating totally gluten free. Believe me, I would love to tell you that I was a gluten free crusader from the first minute I got that awful news from the doctor that I was a celiac, but that would be a lie. It took me almost a year just to decide to really eat gluten free all the time. I kept wondering whether the doctor might not be wrong. I actually went back to the gastroenterologist about 9 months or so after I was initially diagnosed just to have him check all the lab and endoscopy reports again and make 100% sure that what he was telling me was right.

So, my latest discovery of food that can be used as medicine is turmeric. Turmeric is a powder made from a dried and ground root that is vibrantly yellow and is related to ginger. I had always kind of heard from one person or another that turmeric is supposed to be good for you, but I never knew how or why. I had some sitting in my spice cabinet that had been there for quite a while just waiting to be used. I love to eat curried things: Singapore style rice noodles, chana masala, etc. Somehow, though, whenever I try to replicate these recipes at home, they never taste right. So, my poor container of spice just sat there, ignored for quite a while. It wasn’t until I was reading the transcript of a lecture series given by Dr. Mimi Guarneri, the founder of the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine, that I decided to get my little container of turmeric out and put it to good use.

As it turns out, all of those things that I had heard people mention now and again in passing about the health benefits of turmeric are true. There have been a number of scientific studies done on the compound, curcumin – the compound that gives turmeric it’s signature yellow color – has some significant health benefits. Curcumin has been used as an alternative treatment for cardiac patients, reducing the number of heart attacks patients have after a bypass surgery. It has also been used as an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever for osteoarthritis patients and has been found to work as well as ibuprofen. It also has been shown to reduce inflammation in the digestive tract. All of these health benefits were of interest to me. As a celiac, of course I deal with a lot of inflammation in my digestive tract. I also wake up with back pain every morning and, last but not least, I am at a higher risk for chronic cholesterol problems. So, each morning for about three weeks I’ve been sprinkling a little turmeric on my scrambled eggs. Of course, it would be best if I could get myself to just eat the scrambled egg whites. One day I’ll get to the place where just plain egg whites don’t seem so hopelessly tasteless, but I’m not there yet. I can’t really tell you if turmeric is healing some of the inflammation in my digestive tract or if it’s improving my cardiovascular health. What I can tell you is that it seems to be significantly decreasing the amount of pain that I have in my back. I’m actually kind of shocked at how much it seems to be helping.

Now, the caveat here is this: I put a LOT of turmeric on my eggs in the morning. I usually don’t cook it in the eggs, I sprinkle it on top. It’s definitely not the most delicious way to consume turmeric, but it seems to work a bit better for the stiffness and pain when I eat it that way. Also, in most of the scientific studies on turmeric, the patients involved were taking way more than your average culinary doses of turmeric. You can get turmeric supplements at health food stores or almost anywhere you can buy vitamins, but you need to talk to your doctor before you start taking any new supplement!

Right now, I’m focusing on just using more turmeric and curry powder as I cook and seeing how much better I feel after that. I really don’t like taking pills, even supplements. So, food first, capsules later (if the food doesn’t fix what ails me).

You can read the abstracts or even the whole articles on turmeric on the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health’s website: nccih.nih.gov.  You can also checkout this article on Healthline.com, which breaks down some of those studies for you and also has links to the medical studies from which the information was taken: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/top-10-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-turmeric#section5. (Truth be told, I hate any article titled “Top 10” Anything. I always feel like they’re trying to fill space or sell me something, or both, but I appreciate the way the author on health line included references for everything he wrote. I’m married to a teacher, so bibliographies and reference numbers always make me feel warm and fuzzy inside.)

Here is a picture of my Curried Eggs and (No) Ham. I put the turmeric in the eggs and then scrambled them and also added spinach to compensate for the fact that I actually did eat some bacon with these…

eggs

The Dirty Dozen (and the Clean Fifteen)

By Rachel Sircy

So, in my attempts to eat healthier this year, I am buying a lot more vegetables and fruits. But, it turns out that not all fruits and vegetables are created equal. It matters (at least to me) that the fruits and vegetables that I eat and that I feed to my family are as chemical free as possible. Of course, the best place to find fresh fruits and vegetables that are chemical free (or close to it) is the farmer’s market. I’ve already written about how much I love the SC State Farmer’s Market. You really can do pretty much all your produce shopping there. And, even if the farmers can’t afford to purchase the “organic” label for their produce, it’s likely that since they’re not farming on a huge scale, like the corn and soybean farmers in the Midwest – they’re the farmers who supply the stuff used to make high fructose corn syrup, etc. – that they’re not spraying some of the crazy chemicals on their produce that a huge corporate farm would. Plus, local produce hasn’t had chemicals added or been processed in a weird way in order to keep it fresh during shipping, because it hasn’t had to travel far to get to you. And the prices of this fresh, local produce are not as high as you’d think.farmers-market-1329008_1280

However, most of us can’t make it to the farmer’s market for a leisurely shopping experience. If you’re like me, you go to the grocery store when you’ve run out of all of your kitchen staples and you’re desperate. And most of us probably try to squeeze our shopping in after work and in between running our kids to this sporting event or band concert or what have you. Unfortunately, the price of organic produce can be prohibitively expensive for some (including me) at the grocery store. Of course, places like Aldi and Lidl (which just opened in Lexington), carry a variety of organic products for fairly cheap. However, if you can’t get to an Aldi or to the new Lidl, or if the prices are still out of the range of your budget, you can choose which fruits and vegetables to buy organic by following the guidelines of the clean fifteen and the dirty dozen.

If you’re not already familiar with these lists – the clean fifteen and the dirty dozen are two lists of fruits and vegetables that are released every year by the Environmental Working Group. The Clean Fifteen is the list of the fifteen fruits and vegetables that are least likely to contain pesticides or which contain fewer pesticides than your average fruits and veggies. So, the produce listed on the Clean Fifteen list are probably pretty safe to eat even if they’re not organic. In other words, these are the things that you can get away with just buying the regular, cheaper version of. And yes, you guessed it, that means that the Dirty Dozen is a list of the produce that is MOST likely to have pesticides. So, if you can only afford to get a limited number of organic fruits or vegetables, choose the organic version of anything you want or need that is on the Dirty Dozen list. Sometimes I have just planned my shopping list around the items on the clean fifteen list, so that I didn’t have to worry about buying organic!

You can find the 2018 lists and a lot of other resources at www.ewg.org or you can just look below, since I’m going to write out the lists for you 😊

The CLEAN FIFTEEN:avocado-2644150_1920

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet Corn
  3. Pineapples
  4. Cabbages
  5. Onions
  6. Frozen Sweet Peas
  7. Papayas
  8. Asparagus
  9. Mangoes
  10. Eggplants
  11. Honeydew Melons
  12. Kiwis
  13. Cantaloupes
  14. Cauliflower
  15. Broccoli

 

The DIRTY DOZENstrawberry-2960533_1920

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Nectarines
  4. Apples
  5. Grapes
  6. Peaches
  7. Cherries
  8. Pears
  9. Tomatoes
  10. Celery
  11. Potatoes
  12. Sweet Bell Peppers (they also list Hot Peppers as a 2018 Dirty Dozen member)

 

Happy Shopping!

Two Favorite Healthy Recipes

By Rachel Sircy

So, in early 2017 I discovered, thanks to some lab tests, that I had high cholesterol. I resolved to start taking charge of my health. Well, the truth is that I did and I didn’t take charge of my health. I was pretty good, by which I mean that I was better than I had been in previous years and I started taking fish oil. I never did get a good exercise routine down, which I think is due in part to the fact that I absolutely hate the aerobics dvd that I have. That is no fault of the exercise program on this dvd, it’s just that I hate doing exercises that hurt and make me sweat in the first place and I really hate doing them if I’m stuck indoors watching a video of people who are way, WAY too excited about “sweatin’ the fat away.”

Long story short: I’m still overweight and my numbers, while much better than last year – they were only borderline high as opposed to high – are still not where I’d like them to be. As you know, I’ve been trying to focus on food as medication lately. And, according to what I’ve read about the latest research in lowering cholesterol is that you have to change your diet first and then begin to exercise, not the other way around. Anyway, I’m trying to avoid too much meat and when I do eat meat, I try to pair it with dark, leafy green vegetables. Here are two of the tastiest recipes where I’ve managed to do that. Hopefully they will be of use to someone out there who is trying to lower cholesterol (or blood pressure or whatever) without sacrificing flavor:

  1. Sausage and Kale Soup: This recipe is slightly adapted from the Taste of Home Heartwarming Soups book that my mom gave me some years ago. Basically, the adaptation is that I add twice as much broth as it originally calls for, but if you like less liquid, you can always add less. It is my family’s go-to soup for any time we don’t feel well. Somehow it always makes your recovery time shorter if you have a cold. It’s a great cold weather soup, but I like it the year round. And, given the weather we’ve been having lately, you might want a good cold weather option for the dinner table:

Ingredients:

  • ¾ cup chopped onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 TBS olive oil
  • 8 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
  • 2 medium red potatoes, scrubbed and cubed.
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. black pepper
  • 1 lb fresh kale trimmed and chopped (I always get the bags of pre-washed and chopped kale from the grocery store, it makes my life so much easier)
  • 1 15oz can Cannellini or Great Northern Beans, rinsed and drained
  • ½ lb fully cooked Kielbasa (Polish Sausage)
  1. In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, sauté onion and garlic in the olive oil until tender. Add 4 cups of the broth and the potatoes, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until potatoes are tender. When potatoes are tender, slightly mash them with the back of a wooden spoon or a potato masher.
  2. Add the kale (don’t freak out if it seems to take up all the room in your pot, just mash it down), the beans, the sausage and the remaining 4 cups of chicken broth. Boil with the lid on until the kale is tender.

This soup is absolutely delicious. Below is a picture of it as I was finishing cooking some this afternoon. The picture is a bit hazy because of the steam coming off of the pot. It’s going to be so good later…

Pic 1

 

  1. Mediterranean Tuna Salad: This salad is one that I found on the internet years ago and it is really, really good. I think it’s from some Mediterranean Diet cookbook. I’m not a seafood lover, I’ll be honest, but this salad has made me able to eat tuna. You can also substitute canned salmon in place of the tuna – I sometimes do this because I find salmon a bit less fishy than tuna. If you use tuna, I would recommend the solid white albacore. Also, my husband can’t stand mayonnaise and so sometimes I just mix a can of tuna with the dressing for this salad (olive oil, lemon juice and grainy Dijon mustard) and he can use it to make a tuna sandwich.

Ingredients:

  • 2 5oz. cans water packed tuna
  • 1 15oz. can white beans, rinsed and drained
  • ¼ cup finely chopped green onion
  • 1 ½ cup diced cucumber
  • 4 cups fresh spinach, chopped (honestly, I don’t always chop it)
  • 3 TBS extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 TBS grainy Dijon mustard
  • 3 TBS freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Coarse ground pepper to taste
  • 1 TBS capers (optional)
  • Avocado chunks to garnish (optional)

Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl, stir in the olive oil, mustard and lemon juice. Season with pepper and add capers and avocado if desired.

Seriously, how easy is that recipe? It’s just chop and mix. It’s also delicious and it’s good for you. Here’s a picture of the finished product…

Pic 2

Happy Eating!

Kissing my sweet tooth goodbye!

By Mary Pat Baldauf

Studies show that sugar’s effect on our brain can be as addicting as cocaine. Yet the American Heart Association recommends that adult women eat no more than 24 grams, or six teaspoons, of added sugar. (The current average is over 30 teaspoons of sugar per day.) So what’s a woman to do?

hershey-easter-kisses-700_0

These days, I’m working to loosen the grip added sugar, particularly in the form of those pesky, persistent candies wrapped in holiday foil.  While Hershey’s Kisses may seem innocent enough, especially wrapped in pastel shades of the season, a handful contains the daily recommended allowance of sugar.

Excess sugar in your diet is unhealthy for many reasons, not the least of which is weight gain. It can raise your cholesterol; cause liver trouble and insulin resistance, which is a stepping stone towards diabetes.

From Rally Health, here are some tricks to help you successfully kick the sugar habit:

  1. Start with a solid breakfast. The less sugar you eat in the morning, the more balanced you will be all day. High-protein breakfasts have been proven to reduce cravings.
  2. Plan your meals in advance, to prevent dips in blood sugar.
  3. Dehydration can make you feel hungry, so drink plenty of water. Add lemon, berries or other fruit to your water to make it more flavorful.
  4. When you crave sweets, wait 10 minutes and change your environment. Take a walk, or get into a project. Perhaps you can distract yourself out of at least one sugar fix.
  5. To satisfy your sugar cravings in a more healthful way, turn to vegetables such as sweet potatoes, squash, beets and carrots. Other naturally sweet foods include coconut, bananas, frozen grapes, dates, vanilla, raw cacao and cinnamon (which has been shown to reduce sugar cravings by helping to manage insulin sensitivity). Berries are another option, and their sugars are released more slowly than those of other fruits. And high-fiber foods such as broccoli, cauliflower and kale make you feel full longer than many quickly digested foods such as cereal, bagels and other simple carbohydrates.
  6. Smoothies are a sweet treat that, if made without added sugars or too many sweet foods and with plenty of fiber, will satisfy without causing a blood sugar surge.
  7. Avoid artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharin and sucralose, which have been shown to increase sugar cravings.
  8. Trick your body by eating something sour when you want something sweet. The sour flavor can stimulate the taste buds and distract you from the sugar craving.
  9. Ginger and turmeric help prevent insulin resistance so don’t be afraid to consume them freely, in turmeric lattes or ginger-infused smoothies, as you work to balance your blood sugar.

If sugar has already hijacked your body and you want off the bumpy ride, hold on tight because you will likely have those drug like withdrawal symptoms for two or three days, and the cravings will likely remain for at least the first week. After that, some of the negative habits and hankerings will dissipate, and hopefully, you can take off your seat belt and enjoy a smoother ride.

Is added sugar a problem for you? What is your weakness? And how do you control your sweet tooth?

 

Eating Around the Flu

By Rachel Sircy

First, before I dive into my main subject, let me clarify a statement from my last blog post. I am kind of a skeptic when it comes to certain alternative medicines and home remedies. However, I am a believer in many herbal remedies and I definitely believe that a person can eat (and exercise) their way to better health. Benjamin Franklin said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I believe this is true and this describes my outlook on homeopathic remedies. They are the ounce of prevention that is worth the pound of cure. I believe that you should try to prevent illness with diet, exercise and herbal remedies and reserve trips to the doctor for when you are sick and the herbal stuff isn’t doing the trick. I don’t believe in any fad diets and I especially don’t believe in any concoction that is supposed to cure anything that ails me. If a person claims to have answers for everything from warts to stage 4 cancer, they are just trying to sell something. Or, that’s my feeling on the subject anyway. And that goes for conventional medicine as well as homeopathic remedies.

So, I said all of that to say, I don’t think that essential oils are ineffective or useless. Melaluca oil killed my pet beta fish almost instantly (I was trying to cure a vicious fungal infection that he had), so I know that the power of essential oils isn’t just hype. They definitely have their uses. Not for poor, sick beta fish, but certainly for other things.

…anyway, on to this week’s post.

The post last week was all about how I was on a horseradish kick. I’m still on a bit of a kick and I’ve found that a bit of the fresh ground horseradish with some Duke’s mayonnaise is awesome on an egg sandwich. Beware, though, of eating it first thing in the morning. It could tear your stomach up and, actually, while I’m thinking about it, horseradish isn’t recommended for people with ulcers. I am the kind of person who eats egg sandwiches for lunch and dinner, so that would be when I would recommend eating it. It’s also really good on a grilled ham and Swiss cheese sandwich.

This week’s post is about some other foods that you can eat to help prevent sickness this cold and flu season. Here are some of the things I’ve been eating lately:

Picture 1

Of course, there’s the horseradish and I’m also a big believer in Echinacea, especially in tea form. Echinacea is the one and only herbal remedy that I’ve ever heard praised in a biology class. I was in college and our professor told us that it works better than vitamin C to prevent and shorten colds and flus. It’s a great immune system booster.

Picture 2

This huge pile of minced garlic went into a chicken dish that I made. I’ve been cooking with as much garlic as possible, not just to prevent respiratory infections, but also because garlic contains compounds that aid in heart health. Garlic is also supposed to be an immune system booster, but remember, you need to buy cloves of garlic and chop it yourself. To get the most out of your chopped garlic, let it sit for at least 5 minutes before cooking with it. Apparently when garlic is chopped and left to sit, a compound called allicin forms. Allicin is the compound that boosts your immune system and can help prevent a cold. You’ll notice, when you let your garlic sit that it’s scent changes. It gets stronger the longer that you let it sit. My Reader’s Digest Complete Illustrated Book of Herbs recommends that you consume 3-4 cloves per week for prevention of sickness and 1-2 cloves per day if you are already sick. Yeah, you’re going to smell funky if you eat 1-2 cloves per day, but I bet you’ll feel better.

Picture 3

This is a delicious bowl of cabbage soup was made by my mother-in-law. Now, I don’t advocate the Cabbage Soup Diet. Almost every reputable source of medical information that I’ve found on the internet (including the Mayo Clinic, which is the source that I trust the most) says that the Cabbage Soup Diet is a really, really bad idea. However, if you don’t go crazy and eat nothing but cabbage soup for months on end, then a bowl of cabbage soup is actually pretty good for you. Cabbage, after all, is a member of the cruciferous family of vegetables. Cruciferous vegetables also include broccoli and cauliflower and are related to – guess what? Horseradish! Cruciferous vegetables, like horseradish contain glucosinolates, which is a compound that may aid in the prevention of cancer. Not to mention that cabbage contains a lot of vitamin C, as do the tomatoes in the soup. So, it’s kind of a win-win food for your health. As long as you don’t eat it and nothing else. Really, don’t do the Cabbage Soup Diet. Losing weight isn’t that serious!

picture 4

This is the chicken dish that I made with all that garlic. The herbs on the chicken are oregano and thyme. Thyme is supposed to have anti-microbial properties and so it is recommended for respiratory infections and for the prevention of colds. I’ve also had thyme tea, which you can make by simply putting some dried thyme in hot water and steeping for 10 minutes or so. It’s not your usual tasting tea, but it’s really not that bad. I don’t know if I’d go for the tea unless I was already sick. But the great thing about trying to eat for your health, is that when you cook a dish that consists of a lot of garlic, thyme and lemon (these basic ingredients make up the marinade for this chicken) it’s not only healthy, but it tastes great, too.

There are a ton of other remedies out there. You can also use supplements to help you in this season of nastiness. I take one Zinc tablet every day and my husband takes capsules containing dried Echinacea since he doesn’t care for the tea. Elderberry can be used either in powdered form in a capsule or as a syrup, or you can sometimes find it as an extra ingredient in Echinacea tea. I really like the combination of Echinacea and Elderberry tea, but each person’s tastes are different. If you’re a tea fanatic like me, Traditional Medicinals and Yogi teas are a great place to start if you’re looking for herbal remedies. There’s basically a tea for every ailment that you can think of (but no one tea is a cure-all).

What I’ve shared here is, of course, just the tip of the iceberg. So if anyone else has an good remedies or recipes, please share them with us!

A Meditation on the Benefits of Celiac Disease

by Rachel Sircy

I have been sick most of my life with various and seemingly unrelated symptoms ravaging my body. I have suffered body aches, severe fatigue, mental fog, mood swings, the inability to gain weight, borderline anemia and so on. No one ever imagined that these varied symptoms were possibly all related. Finally, when I was in my early 20’s and just married, I started to develop terrible gastric problems. Every time I ate I would experience such intense stomach pain that I would have to lay down for a while. It got to the point that I wasn’t able to eat more than about a handful of food at a time. I dreaded going to the doctor for these problems, but my husband put his foot down and told me that I could either go to the doctor on my own, or he would drag me there himself. I was afraid I had an ulcer. My husband was afraid that I had stomach cancer. The symptoms had gotten that bad.

Before I went to the doctor, I prayed a simple prayer: that no matter what the diagnosis, I would not have to be on medicine my entire life. The thought of taking pills every single day was something that I dreaded. I got what I prayed for, but my answered prayer turned out to be much more burdensome than I had expected. Instead of taking one or two pills every day, I would have to completely change my relationship with food, what I ate and how I cooked. For the first few eight months or so after my diagnosis, I lived in a sort of denial. I thought that perhaps I had been misdiagnosed or that perhaps if I prayed hard enough, I would be miraculously healed. I do believe in miracles, but no miracle was in my future. Or, rather, the miracle that I got was not the one that I wanted. I refused to stay on a strict gluten free diet for that first eight months and I even went back to the gastroenterologist to try to talk him into retesting me and seeing if he had been mistaken. I stayed sick and when I went back to the gastroenterologist, he told me that there was no need to retest. The tests, he told me, had come out clear as day. There was no mistake in the diagnosis. He actually looked at me and said that he was sorry that I had celiac disease, but “that’s the way the cookie crumbles.”

I was fairly distraught after that. One night, alone in my room, I knelt down by the bed and cried, begging God to heal me and let me go back to the way of cooking and eating that I had always known. In that moment, crazy as it may sound, I think I heard from God. I didn’t hear an audible voice or anything, but an idea came to my mind so strongly, an idea that was so contrary to everything that I had been thinking and praying, that I knew the idea didn’t originate with me. The idea was something like this: Do I really need to be healed so that I can continue to eat powdered doughnuts and McDonald’s hamburgers? No, the point of this disease would be to serve as a constant physical reminder that it isn’t okay to just fuel my body (or my soul) with easily accessible junk. I was going to have to think about what I ate. I was going to have to put the health of my body before my cravings. Somehow, that night, I understood that this new way of relating to food, would make me a more careful and purposeful person. Not just physically, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Each time I drive down the road wondering what I’m going to do for dinner and thinking that my life would be so much easier if I could just pull over for fast food, I am reminded that food is for nourishment. My lifestyle is difficult because I choose nourishment over convenience. It has occurred to me since that night that this is a spiritual discipline as well as a physical one. This gluten free lifestyle is my own personal sacrament. Deuteronomy 30:19 records God’s statement to the Israelites: “[…] I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: choose life.”

This blog post was really supposed to be about the possibilities of a cure for celiac disease. Pharmaceutical companies are working even as you read this on drugs that could cure celiacs via immunotherapy drugs or protect celiacs from gluten contamination by creating drugs that isolate gliadin (the protein that causes the violent auto-immune response in celiacs) and making it undigestible. At first, I thought that anything that could cure celiac disease would be a welcome answer to prayer, but as I began to write, I realized that my prayer was answered years ago. Choosing life is never an easy decision, but it is one that is well worth it. Almost 10 years into my diagnosis I am a healthier person all the way around. I’m not saying that everyone should avoid these drugs or therapies if they ever become available. By all means, if you can become healthier through better science, I say that is a good thing. But as for me, I think I will continue to do things the hard way, choosing to remember that the ability to deny myself means that I am not a slave to my cravings. There is a great freedom in self-discipline.

Just something to think about…