Having read multiple books and watched documentaries and listened to lectures and so on, it seems that we are very confused what how to eat well. No matter how much we praise things like flax today, tomorrow it will be deemed over-estrogenic and out out out! And it is generally well-known these days that low-fat diets lead to weight instability (and inhibit healthy brain function) and that once-vilified butter is way better for you than trans-fatty margarine. It seems to me that keeping it simple is the way to go.
Of course, I'm not the first person to notice this (thank you Michael Pollan, personal idol).
And I mean simple in a variety of ways. Unless we have diagnosed health problems, our nutrition should not be so complex that we cannot figure it out for ourselves - after learning the basics, of course. It should also not be so strict that we can never indulge. I call this the Mental Happiness-Body Forgiveness Principle (actually, I don't and just made up that term right now). If I don't feel like a bad person for enjoying a slice of birthday cake or poorly planning my day's food plan, I will probably feel good and healthy afterwards.
And our food should generally be simple, too. Limiting pre-packaged and processed foods makes a huge difference, which throws a wrench into the simplicity of planning meals. Now, understand that I make complicated foods at home, like gumdrops and marshmallows. Each of these require a couple of processed ingredients that I wouldn't suggest eating all of the time, like carageenan gel and boxed pectin, and well, sugar, albeit organic and fair trade.
People tend to make the assumption that I have a sugar addiction, which is not true. Sure, I enjoy sugary treats, but for me candy works perfectly. If I want something sweet, a couple of pieces of candy quenches the desire and I'm done with it. I understand that having candy around doesn't work like that for everyone, though.
So why am I offering this diatribe?
I just finished with the main phase of testing my food sensitivities. And speaking of simplicity, this was an inordinately complex process. Each day started with a large glass of water and liver-support tea before eating anything. And before coffee. I also tend to skip breakfast normally, so I had to get on schedule. Breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner were all planned and balanced and, thankfully, good. But I did have to make and pack all of my food, every day.
Water is calculated on individual body weight, daily weather, and activity level. It's a normal amount of water, but I needed to drink steadily throughout the day and not save it all for the evening like I tend to do.
I also needed to take a probiotics supplement. I should start by stating that I feel weird about supplements - or anything that is expensive and takes weeks to work, if it does at all, and offers no proof of success. And the whole Butter-Margarine-Butter Problem (also just made that up), in which a wonderful new supplement is considered poison a year later (fish oil, I'm looking at you). But probiotics are awesome.
Without getting too detailed, taking a program of probiotics does wonders if your systematic yeast is off. I will try to keep this short, especially if you've seen Gentlemen Broncos and would rather never hear the word "yeast" again. Basically, because I've taken antibiotics a couple of times in the past year, my bacterial balance was thrown off. I cannot believe how much better I feel after the probiotics. It worked within two weeks and now I'm done with them until the next time I notice symptoms.
Anyway, I felt great for the duration of this process. I'm currently taking a three day break to enjoy the holiday weekend and eat some treats, but now I have a common sense plan to go back to. Here it is:
- Eat three meals a day, plus a snack and a small dessert.
- Lunch and dinner should be mostly vegetables, some cooked and some raw. Don't eat anything raw that doesn't sound appealing raw. (That's my takeaway, since raw zucchini sounded gross and it was gross and it made me feel gross.)
- Remember to include protein. Fat, too, but I was already on board with that.
- Remember to eat fruit (I'm notoriously bad about actually eating fruit).
- Stop drinking water a few hours before going to bed.
- Stick to olive oil and butter for cooking fats.
- Weigh oneself every morning to collect data on weight gain. This is for checking water retention (read: inflammation), not actual weight.
- Keep track of other negative responses to food, like upset stomach, increase in seemingly-unrelated health issues, traditional allergic reactions, or skin irritation.
- Continue to make meals look appealing and attractive and enjoy them.
- Don't worry about it.
These guidelines allow me to feel well and determine if a new food is something I react to. Or that something that is commonly reactive is fine for me, like wheat or dairy (YES!).
So here's a balanced meal that makes me feel good. Hopefully it makes you feel good, too.
A BALANCED VEGETARIAN DINNER
- olive oil
- onion, sliced hull-to-hull
- carrots, diced
- beet (here I used a candy-stripe or "chioggia" beet), diced
- zucchini, diced
- 2-4 shiitake mushrooms, sliced
- kale, chopped
- handful of mixed greens per serving
- apple, diced
- 2 ounces cheese, diced (I used blue cheese) (optional)
- 1 ounce goat cheese, per serving (or 2-3 ounces if not using other cheese)
- balsamic vinegar
- dried cherries or cranberries, handful per serving (optional)
- pepitas or sunflower seeds, handful per serving
- salt and pepper to taste
Heat a tablespoon-ish of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until softened, then add carrots and beets. Once softened, add zucchini and shiitakes. Continue to sauté until all vegetables are cooked through and slightly browned on the edges. Season with salt and pepper, toss, and add kale. Stir in gently and cook until kale is bright green. Put about half of this on a plate and top with goat cheese and seeds.
Place mixed greens in a bowl and top with apple, cheese, and dried fruit. In a jar, pour in equal amounts balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Add a pinch of salt, cover, and shake to emulsify and pour over salad.
Depending on your opinions about combining apples and dried fruit with everything, you may want to stick with just goat cheese and mix half of the cooked veg directly into the salad. Top with the goat cheese, vinaigrette, and seeds and dig in.
And finally, don't forget to enjoy these last few weeks of summer!