As of today, I've been gluten-free for about 16 months and dairy-free for almost 3 months. Let's start with gluten-free: before I began this particular experiment, I knew that it could take 6 months to a year for the benefits of a gluten-free diet to kick in. I must say that it's incredibly difficult to embark on a journey involving a great deal of sacrifices, without any certainty that you will reach the desired outcome. But I stuck with it. I was 10 months in when I noticed I was feeling more achy and sore than ususal, which lasted for about 2 months. And while I can't back it up with facts or data, in retrospect it felt like my body was going through the final stages of gluten detox.Then, as if by magic, I started feeling better. My mood and energy improved and my chronic pain went from severe to moderate. As a result, I was able to start exercising regularly; I have these wonderful exercise DVDs from the Oregon Fibromyalgia Foundation (http://www.myalgia.com/) which are designed specifically for people living with chronic pain. They offer 4 DVDs: gentle aerobics, upper/lower/core strength and balance training, stretching and relaxation, and their newest addition, a yoga/pilates routine. I've also begun to use a "Pilates for Inflexible People" DVD from http://www.bodywisdomdvds.com/.
Let's move onto the return of the plant-based diet. When I tried to do this before, I made the mistake of including 3 servings of psyllium husks a day, which ended up being way too much fiber and caused way too much gastric distress. This time around I omitted the psyllium husks and that made a big difference. But I was still dealing with constipation and I'd been hearing about probiotics for a while, so I decided to give it a go. Fortunately, you can purchase probiotics in powder and capsule form without having to resort to eating a certain yogurt product (which I will not name here) 3 times a day. Almost immediately I attained regularity (it's wonderful and I highly recommend it) and I've been taking it regularly for about a month.
As a result, I've been able to reach my goal weight of 150 LBs (I started out at 265 LBs) and have moved on to the third stage of the low carb regimen made popular by Dr. Atkins - pre-maintenance. According to Atkins, pre-maintenance involves increasing your carbohydrate intake gradually until you get to the point where you stop losing weight. How many net carbs (and calories) it takes per day to maintain your healthy weight varies from person to person, so there's no magic number out there - you need to figure what works for you, personally. I used this opportunity to delve into the world of raw food and began to substitute various raw food staples for certain low carb standards, particularly in the area of fruits and sweeteners.
During my research I've discovered that the law governing the specifics of a raw food diet are not universal. According to Wikipedia:
"Raw foodism can include any diet of primarily unheated food, or food cooked to a temperature less than 104º F (40º C) to 115º F )46º C). The most popular raw food diet is a vegan diet, but forms may include animal products and/or meat. Raw foodists can be divided between those that advocate raw veagansim or vegetarianism, those that advocate a raw omnivorous diet, and those that advocate a 100% raw carnivorous diet." (source)
Since I'm already vegan, I think you can figure out which group I belong to, but not all vegan raw food diets are alike. There are variations between what kinds of food - such as oils, vinegar and other condiments - are acceptable. When it comes to using a dehydrator for cooking, there are some raw foodists who believe that it's OK to increase the temperature to 140º F. According to the really wonderful raw food website Rawmazing, the food throws off water and stays cool during at the beginning of the dehydration process so that temperature of the food temperature itself doesn't actually go above 115º. I'm not certain that this is true, but dehydrating like this saves time and may prevent fermentation.
So why go raw? Well, according to Ani Phyo, author of Ani's Raw Food Kitchen, unheated fresh foods (AKA living foods) are are full of enzyme activity. According to Phyo:
"Enzymes help you digest food and are the catalyst for for every metabolic reaction in your body. Without these enzymes, there can be no cell division, energy production, or brain activity.
[...]Only uncooked and unprocessed foods can provide us with the full range of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, oxygen, fiber, and other nutrients our bodies require to run like a well-oiled machine."In spite of the differences between the ideologies of the various raw food factions, they all seem to agree on one thing: that a raw food diet will help you reach a state of optimal health. Which is, quite frankly, the only reason why I even considered yet another set of dietary restrictions. I have read many personal accounts of patients whose Fibromyalgia symptoms have vastly improved after changing to a raw food diet and I needed to be abe to say that I tried every possible angle in my attempt to optimize my health - both physically and mentally. Now that I had the energy, I owed it to myself to try it at the very least.
In an attempt to make the transition, I took three recipes that I love and prepared each of them in a regular oven and in a dehydrator, to get an idea of how they compared. As far as my palate is concerned, the three vegetables, asparagus, zucchini, and kale, taste great when cooked, but are pretty much inedible when raw. I discovered that dehydrating them didn't do much to improve their flavor. In addition, it takes several hours to make most raw food dehydrator recipes which probably isn't very energy efficient. So, while I may use the dehydrator for certain recipes, like raw crackers and cookies, I don't see myself using it for preparing vegetables. I'm including the dehydrator temperatures and times in the recipes below, if you want to give it a try, but for my own personal consumption, the raw veggies I'm sticking to are things like carrots, spinach and celery. I'm not going to be able to maintain a full-on raw diet, either because I can't stomach the taste or because many raw food staples (like agave syrup, medjul dates, and bananas) aren't compatible with my low carb diet. I found several recipes for raw bread and crackers I wanted to try, but they rely on flax meal, which I had to eliminate from my diet - flax contains phytoestrogens which wreak havoc with my menstrual cycles. But as a whole, I've decided to include more raw food in my daily diet, such as raw nut butter and homemade nut milk, and to a few things I've come to depend on, such as canned products like coconut milk and tomatoes. I'm not sure how much of a difference it will make, but I believe I'm doing what I can to improve my health without turning my meals into miseries.
Roasted Zucchini Fries
Zucchini is a an incredibly versatile vegetable and shows up in a variety of low carb recipes. I've seen it used as a substitute for potatoes, pasta and even chickpeas in a raw hummus recipe. It's a good source of fiber, antioxidant vitamins C and A, and, in addition to calcium and magnesium, it contains a trace mineral called manganese which helps the body metabolize protein and carbohydrates.
Nutritional yeast is called the "vegetarian's proteins." It is considered a complete protein , with 18 amino acids, and the reported health benefits include: maintaing an ideal intestinal ecology, improving blood production, helping to maintain optimum cholesterol levels and improving the health and functioning of the liver. In addition, it's a rich source of vitamin B-complex, which helps in managing stress levels, maintaining a healthy metabolic rate, and promoting healthy skin. Nutritional yeast also contains chromium, which is useful in managing diabetes, low blood pressure and fluctuating blood sugar levels. It also contains such trace minerals as manganese, copper, vanadium, molybdenum and lithium (source.)
It's great for sprinkling on salads, adding to soups, and in the case of Zucchini Fries, serves as a coating in the place of breadcrumbs. I love the taste and it really makes this recipe stand out as one of my favorites.
1 small/medium zucchini/ 150 g
1 T cold pressed olive oil
1 clove garlic, forced through press
pinch sea salt
pinch black pepper
1/2 T/5 g nutritional yeast (optional)
*Preheat oven to 425º.
*Cut zucchini into pieces ( about 1/2 x 1/2 by 4 inches)
*Combine garlic, olive oil, nutritional yeast, salt and pepper in a medium sized bowl.Toss the zucchini until it is evenly coated. Place in a baking pan and roast for 15 - 20 minutes.
*Put prepared zucchini pieces on Teflex sheets and dehydrate for 30 minutes at 140º, then an additional 4-5 hours at 115º.
Makes 2 servings and each has 77.48 cal, 2.37 net carbs, 6.88 g fat, 1.27 g fiber and 1.77 g protein.
Asparagus is a member of the lily family and can be steamed, roasted or eaten raw. It's rich in potassium, vitamins A and K, and is a good source of fiber. I prefer to use thinner stalks - they're more tender and take less time to cook.
90 g trimmed asparagus (just break off the ends of the tough stalks)
1/2 T cold pressed olive oil
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
*Preheat oven to 450º.
*Place asparagus spears in a baking pan and drizzle with olive oil. Season and roast for 10 - 15 minutes, until tender when pierced with a fork.
*Place asparagus spears on Teflex sheets and warm in the dehydrator for 30 minutes at 140º. Drizzle with olive oil and season and warm for another 2 - 4 hours at 105º.
Makes 1 serving and has 79.5 cal, 2 net carbs, 6.75 g fat, 2 g fiber and 2 g protein.
Baked Kale Chips
Kale belongs to the Brassica family of cruciferous vegetables, which includes cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. It is a green, leafy vegetable that comes in three varieties: curly, ornamental, and dinosaur ( I don't know why it's called dinosaur, but it's my favorite, mainly because the leaves are flatter, making it easier to coat evenly with oil and seasonings.) In addition to being a good source of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium, kale is rich in antioxidant vitamins A, C, and K.
1/4 bunch/75 g kale, washed and dried
1/2 T cold pressed olive oil
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/8 tsp sea salt
*Preheat oven to 275º.
*Remove stems from kale, either cutting them out with a knife or tearing the leaves from the stem. Tear the leaves into pieces and toss with olive oil and seasoning. Arrange in a baking pan so no pieces overlap. Bake for 10 minutes, turn leaves and bake for another 10 minutes.
*Place kale pieces on screen trays and dehydrate for 4 -5 hours at 115º.
Makes 1 large serving and has 77 cal, 2.8 net carbs, 6.75 g fat, .7 g fiber and 1.05 g protein.