Happy New Year! 2014?! I can now say “that was 20 years ago” or at least “that was 15 years ago” very easily….it’s strange but fun at the same time.
Quick updates before we get to the topic at hand. First, I had wonderful holidays; I love my family/friends and it was really nice to get spend time with most of them between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Some are just too darn far away but still felt the love from far away. We also hosted and attended a lot of super fun parties. December is one of my favorite months.
In terms of a health update, I am doing pretty well overall. Emotionally I am getting better about my body image, about how I perceive the food I am eating, why I’m eating it, etc. which is a huge part. But I do still have the physical damage of UC that I’m trying to heal through food, yoga and love, and not through medication. It becomes challenging because what I eat often affects those around me…..you know, since they are around me while I’m eating. I still struggle with keeping the majority of my diet whole, plant-based foods throughout the day, and throughout the entire preparation (i.e. no added sugars, butter, excessive oil, etc). If I am preparing it, it is obviously much easier to control, but time management issues take us to restaurants more frequently than I’d like to admit. Plus with the holidays there is a TON of eating out and eating at other people’s houses. Which is fun, just not as fun for my bloody poop and burny butthole feeling. :) This all resulted in a mild but consistent flare during pretty much the whole November/December season. I had a few blood-free movements but most of them had a least a little bit of blood, some a lot. It is what it is and as I keep telling myself, it is still WAY better than when I was on medication. I had a GI appt yesterday morning and he doesn’t see a need to have a colonoscopy this year after all. He said if I wanted to, he could do a flexible sigmoidoscopy (much more mild procedure) but I think I’m good right now. I can feel where my body is at and overall I’m happy. I know what I need to do to stay healthy, it’s about sticking with it!
Onto the topic at hand. Too much of a good thing. I was/am very confused about “processed foods.” Everyone in the current research says they are bad. I know first hand that if I eat mostly processed foods, then I feel like crap. Processed foods are hard to process! Or is it that they are too easy? There seems to me, two different kinds of processed. Commercially processed and at-home processed. Granted, I don’t have time to take whole wheat berries and pound them into flour, but if I did, would it still be “bad” for me? If I get a smoothie at Jamba Juice, it’s going to be orange juice from concentrate and fruits picked out of season, frozen and shipped across the world, blended with yogurt. But if I make a smoothie at home, then it’s organic fruit, small amount of fresh fruit juice and vegetables. Inherently, blending isn’t “bad”, in fact most would agree that blended food is much easier to digest than whole foods (see: baby food vs adult food). If you follow that logic even more, why would it be bad to take every food, mash it up into tiny little pieces and then eat it? You are saving your body hours of time! Some people actually do that, and with fruits and vegetables, maybe it’s not a bad plan. It also leads to one of the arguments for juicing: your digestive system doesn’t have to work hardly at all, and it is a BOOM! effect of vitamins and minerals. Ahhh, but then you are taking out the fiber. Which is where we get into commercially processed foods.
I’m going to be focusing on grains here, because it’s what confuses me the most and is my Achilles’ heel. I love anything baked in an oven. Especially sweet things out of an oven. Bread, muffins, cinnamon rolls, scones, even pretzels (although I tend to crave sweet over salty), oh and did I mention bread? When I do any cleanses or strict food diets for a long period of time, bread is always the #1 thing that I crave. Why is that? The answer is probably an entire blog post on its own, and it probably involves emotional eating, but all of the things I mentioned are flour based products. How is it we make flour? We pound down whole grains into powder. But much more than just pounding is going on here (that’s what she said)….
In whole grains, there are three main parts of the seed that we harvest and eat (these seeds are also known as kernels, groats or berries): bran, germ and endosperm. By buying whole wheat berries and then grabbing a meat tenderizer and smashing the hell out of them in your kitchen, you are doing more than simply getting a little aggression out (although that could be a good mental health exercise to focus your anger). You are breaking down the outer layer or bran of the grain. The fiber is all spread out and pre-broken down on your kitchen counter. All of the sudden, that grain is magically now digested faster. The body doesn’t have to worry about breaking down the hard exterior that held the grain together. It will be processed much faster and more efficiently. A good thing? Maybe? Question mark?
So you continue your demonic demonstration of power and continue to beat those poor wheat berries until there is nothing left but a fine powder or flour. It’s not that different, right? The nutrients are still there. And yet if you were to eat a spoonful of that flour, it would have a radically different digestive journey than a spoonful of the original material. Although eating a raw spoonful of either substance would be questionable behavior.
Whatever you do with it, if you leave that flour out too long, it will start to decompose, much like any food that is even halfway decent for you. The oils and fats in the germ oxidize and become rancid. In the 1800s, humans figured out they could merely take out the parts that would go bad! Industrial milling started to filter out the germ and bran, leaving the endosperm by itself, sad and lonely. The endosperm can last on a shelf (or in your freezer) for a loooong time. Viola! Crisis averted.
Unfortunately, there are a ton of awesome nutrients in the bran and germ that you lose in the endosperm-only flour. They try to mechanically add a few of the vitamins back in (hello enriched and fortified products), but I think common sense would tell you that an isolated chemical nutrient isn’t going to be as welcome in the body as the real thing. Perhaps even more relevant, the ratios are all off and they don’t even bother putting back in most of the vitamins. It’s like anything (a beautiful piece of music, a great football team, really delicious pesto): the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
And finally, back to fiber. Fiber makes things metabolize slower, makes you fuller longer and protects against insulin resistance. Buuuuut, most of the fiber is in the germ and the bran which was just milled out! Oops. Without it, metabolism becomes lightning quick, triggers an insulin response and a dramatic drop in glucose…followed of course by a surge of hunger. Hunger surges crave quick fixes. Your body is craving the nutrients, not the donuts. But unfortunately, what’s a quick fix to trick the body into thinking it’s happy? More refined carbs, more sugar, more distilled and concentrated foods that would be more appropriate for an astronaut. But we’re not astronauts. Well most of us anyway. It becomes too much of a good thing. We process the flour like juice, it’s instant. Except with vegetable juice it’s a boost of vitamins and nutrients. With flour, it’s a boost of starch and basically acts as sugar. Even the whole-grain flours that purport to have all the germ and bran in there still have the fiber all spread out, just like your now ruined kitchen counter.
At this point, for me, it comes down to preparation. How do we humans typically prepare whole grains (brown rice, millet, quinoa)? Boil it in water for awhile, maybe throw some spices or vegetables or even meat in there. Then we eat it! How do we humans typically prepare flour? You’re not going to take flour and sprinkle it over your broccoli. Flour is gross on its own. It must be cooked, baked, fried, something. And usually that “something” is going to be an even harder food to digest. We combine it with sugar and dairy, oil and eggs.
What’s my bottom line here? Like seemingly everything else, if you are going to eat flour-based foods, eat them in moderation. Make those foods the minority on your plate and pair them with a bunch of veggies! For example, we made pasta last night. Pasta is obviously, flour based. But we made it with 6 cups of spinach, a bunch of artichoke hearts and a pistachio-lemon “pesto” (pistachios, lemon juice, olive oil and shallots). I felt great afterward, no bloating or hunger spikes or weird cravings. Important to note that I made the meal with my wonderful husband, we played games and took our time through the whole thing. I have to always keep in mind, to digest peacefully, the ritual of the meal may be just as significant as the meal itself.
Continued happy and peaceful eating to you!
Editor’s Note: I am not an expert on this stuff, but I did learn a ton by writing this post. Hope you got something out of it too. I encourage you to do your own research and see what resonates with you! Please correct me if I said anything wrong on here, I want to be as accurate as possible, as I am still learning myself! I heavily leaned on the work of the interwebs (yes, even wikipedia), this great write-up, and my awesome new book I got from Deb for Christmas: Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health. That recipe from last night was our first try from the book and it was amazing!
ALISA’S MUSIC CORNER
I haven’t been into too much new music lately. JJ Grey & Mofro have fun background funky music that I’ve been throwing on Spotify. Or for yoga, I’ve been listening to playing a lot of Bonobo in my classes. Other than that, oldies but goodies! I am looking forward to the Bruno Mars halftime show at the Super Bowl. Oh, and we went to a Reel Big Fish show last weekend. Despite having only one original member left, they brought the house down with their still true-to-roots ska energy. The number of teenagers there was unbelievable too! I was a teenager when that stuff was popular. I think the sole radio hit they had was Sell Out, but we listen to Beer after every softball victory. Here’s both, dance your heart out!