Can Dietary Changes Reduce Inflammation?

Can dietary changes reduce inflammation? I can’t help thinking about inflammation this morning. My left thumb is swollen and throbbing thanks to an ant that was eating the okra pod I reached in to harvest before I noticed it. (Yes, I have gloves and I know I should wear them.)

Inflammation is detrimental to health especially when it becomes chronic. What I’m experiencing at the moment is acute inflammation that should subside in a few days. But before I knew I should be gluten-free, I experienced chronic inflammation.

Research has shown chronic inflammation to be associated with heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis. Not only is it a possible contributor to serious disease, chronic inflammation makes you feel bad.

For me, it developed slowly over a period of time. I knew I had inexplicable pain that kept me awake. More than likely, that was related to inflammation. It went away when I eliminated gluten from my diet. After a few weeks, I was acutely aware that I no longer felt “tight” in my skin. Once I realized how much lighter I felt, I never wanted to go backward.

But because my condition changed gradually over a period of years, I became desensitized to the overall changes in how I felt. I knew something was going on because I was weak and tired and I ached, but the acute symptom that kept me seeking answers was an itchy rash.

With chronic inflammation, your body is constantly responding as if it’s under attack. The immune system pumps out white blood cells and chemical messengers that are helpful for a time after an injury or illness like a virus, but if the process lingers, they become detrimental. Just typing that makes me feel tired. It seems obvious that constantly fighting itself would not result in optimum health.

Diet and exercise are key to managing chronic inflammation. For me, eliminating gluten was what it took to rid myself of chronic inflammation and eventually my itchy rash. Even now, after 17 years, it doesn’t take much accidental gluten ingestion to trigger another round of blistery itching. Maybe that’s a good thing. It certainly keeps me on the straight and narrow.

To reduce chronic inflammation, eliminating foods you recognize irritate your system is a good place to start. Anything that produces an allergic reaction, stomach discomfort, swelling, redness, or rash can go in the first round. Dairy, eggs, soy, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish may fall in this category.

Next up, consider limiting consumption of processed foods. The chemicals in soft drinks, deli meat, baked goods, and preformed meals may trigger an undesired response from your body.

Beyond that, it may be helpful to eliminate sugary, starchy foods like white bread, pancakes, doughnuts, and pasta. This will help prevent blood sugar spikes. Keeping the body even keel allows it to use available energy to repair itself.

You may want to increase other foods like cherries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, plums, red grapes, onions, turmeric, green tea, spinach, and Swiss chard. Kale is a great option if you like it. All of these foods are high in polyphenols which are antioxidants that reduce inflammation.

Exercise plays a part in preventing conditions associated with chronic inflammation and research has shown it can directly reduce inflammation as well. Of course, movement will be more pleasant as inflammation lessens. I am intensely reminded of this when I try to move my thumb.

A change in diet can result in reducing or even eliminating chronic inflammation. Sitting here with a reminder of how inflamed tissues feel, I am grateful that it only took eliminating certain foods to bring me relief. That makes the dietary changes worth it!

Stop and Smell the Memories

Do you ever take a moment to stop and smell the memories? My tomato plants are covered in tomatoes so heavy they tipped the trellis over this morning. As I was setting them back up surrounded by the smell of the plants, I was reminded of gardening with my grandmother when I was small. There’s a strong connection between smell and memory. There’s a strong connection between memory and comfort. And there’s a strong connection between comfort and food.

Have you ever had a chance to stop and consider how smell and memory influence your food choices? Most of us don’t even have time to stop and smell the roses, much less the memories. But an awareness of our relationships to smell memory can be helpful with compliance when we need to follow a specific diet in order to be healthy.

A few years ago, a gluten-free bakery opened in my city. My response upon first visiting it was to feel disappointment that there was no yeasty smell in the air. For me, the joy of a bakery lies in the smells-yeast, coffee, cinnamon. The visuals are great too, but while I might be hesitant to eat an oddly shaped cut of meat or deformed looking vegetable, I’d never refuse a misshapen cookie or a torn piece of bread.

Much of the joy and comfort of cooking come from familiar aromas. The first time I cooked fresh green beans in my home, I remarked, “This is how this house should smell.” The house is over 100 years old. Somehow, the smell fit the hardwood floors, carved wood doors, transom windows, and 12-foot ceilings. And I knew it.

When smell is a reminder of family, comfort, and tradition, it can be especially compelling. That’s because smell goes directly to an olfactory bulb that’s connected to the amygdala where emotional processing occurs. All of those warm feelings can end up being connected to related smells.

The idea of giving up a certain food may trigger a feeling of loss or separation as if you’re giving up family or comfort. Knowing this up front can help inform your choices and give you enough insight to recognize and overcome emotional memory stumbling blocks.

And perhaps knowing this can help you process through a diagnosis of celiac disease, diabetes, IBS, or Crohn’s disease without feeling as though required dietary changes will be dire. You will quickly recognize that you can enjoy the warm memories associated with the scent of a cinnamon roll without actually eating one. This knowledge will increase your sense of power, confidence, and choice.

It may also mean you value your memories more because you take time to smell them.

Gluten-Free on the Cheap

When you have to be gluten-free on a tight budget, it’s good to know how to eat gluten-free on the cheap! As we settle into 2020, those lovely credit card bills arrive to remind us just how generous we were during the holidays. Once that happens, I always feel like I should implement an austerity program to keep me financially on track for the rest of the year. If you’re like me and you’re new to the gluten-free world, you could easily panic over an anticipated increase in household costs.

The internet is filled with articles to multiply your concern and get the adrenaline pumping. Read a few sites and you’re sure to know that gluten-free bakeries charge a premium for breads, cakes, and cookies, and most restaurants upcharge when substituting a gluten-free bun. Continue reading and you’ll discover that gluten-free food is about 86% more expensive. That’s a lot.

While all of this reading may leave you feeling alarmed, it’s worth noting that articles warning of the expense of a gluten-free lifestyle typically assume that all of us will primarily purchase and consume prepackaged convenience food or restaurant substitutions. That seems like a reasonable assumption given that many of us have lives that are often overbooked. But with a few simple tips, even the busiest of us can manage to eat gluten-free on the cheap most of the time.

Soooo…how can you eat gluten-free on the cheap when you’re really busy and don’t have time to spend in the kitchen?
rice
Here are five tips to keep costs down:

Remember that many inexpensive common foods are naturally gluten-free
For example:
Brown rice – a 16oz bag costs 78 cents and contains ten servings. Even microwave rice bowls are less than $1 per serving.
Black beans – a 15oz can costs around $1 and contains 2-3 servings. A 16oz bag of dry beans runs less than $1.50 and contains about 13 servings.
Frozen corn – you can buy a 32oz bag for under $2. That’s about 10 servings. A 15oz can runs about 50 cents and has 3 servings.

You can easily throw together a filling burrito bowl using microwaveable brown rice, canned black beans, canned (or leftover) corn with a sprinkle of cumin and a spoonful of salsa. You’ll spend less than 10 minutes in the kitchen and less than $2 per serving. That’s about the price of a drink at a fast food restaurant. You may still have room in the budget to add cheese, rotisserie chicken, sliced avocado or Wholly Guacamole for a more gourmet bowl.

And that’s just one example. A veggie and cheese filled fritatta only takes a few minutes to prepare, especially when you use leftover veggies. Fritattas are great for breakfast, brunch, or dinner.

Fresh fruit is a healthy gluten-free snack. To keep costs down, cut up your own pineapple, cantaloupe, and honeydew. It won’t take as long as you imagine and you can always plant the pineapple tops in pots to grow on the porch or in the window. That’s like getting a free houseplant each time you eat a pineapple.

Get your Omega 3s from canned tuna, salmon, or sardines. All are readily available and less expensive than fresh fish. Tuna salad can be eaten on top of greens, out of an avocado or tomato half, or on a cucumber slice eliminating the need for gluten-free bread.

Potatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli, carrots, and squash are all inexpensive to purchase and easy to prepare. If you don’t have time for even minor prep, consider frozen vegetables. As a whole, they’re cheaper than preprepped fresh vegetables.

Check the discount store shelves
If you’re looking for gluten-free chicken stock, snack bars, bread, or pizza you may immediately head for a specialty store that charges more for everything. Before you do that, peruse the shelves of your local discount market or dollar store.

The Dollar General by my house has gluten-free labeled items like chicken stock, snack mix, and nut bars plus a variety of raw nuts and dried blueberries, cherries, apricots, pineapple, and mango. They also have corn tortillas. Down the street a few blocks I can get gluten-free frozen waffles, pizza, and pretzels from the regular grocery store.

Walmartgrocery.com carries Bob’s Red Mill® almond flour for a fraction of the cost of a health food store. They also have Great Value Gluten-Free Brown Rice Elbow Pasta in a 16oz bag for $1.96 and Lance Gluten Free Original Crackers in a 5oz box for $3.72. The Tate’s bakeshop gluten-free cookies at Walmart run about $1 per bag less than the Whole Foods Market® price.

Limit premade ingredients to the basics
Instead of buying a loaded frozen gluten-free pizza, I choose a plain cheese pizza then add toppings like pepperoni, salami, spinach, or bell peppers at home. On average, this method saves me $2-3 per pizza. You can even create a cheeseburger pizza by adding seasoned, browned ground beef and cheddar cheese to a plain cheese pizza.

If you keep pizza sauce on hand, you can buy premade pizza crusts instead of pizza. There are many gluten-free frozen crust options available from cauliflower based to balls of dough you roll yourself. The selection may be limited in your area, but keep an eye out because stock changes frequently. Near my home, the constant change is frustrating. About the time I find something I like, it gets rotated out. The good news is this allows me to sample a wider range of products.

It’s also easy to create soup from basic ingredients rather than paying more for a complete gluten-free version. Make simple chicken and rice soup in the microwave using dollar store gluten-free chicken stock and Minute Ready to Serve brown or white rice. Add a snack pack of veggies from the convenience store for more flavor and nutrition.

Pomì strained tomatoes can serve as a base for tomato soup, chili, pasta, and pizza sauce. A 26.46oz box costs $2.96 at Walmartgrocery.com. With nothing more than a tube of Italian Herb stir-in paste, honey (or a sugar packet from a restaurant), salt, pepper, and garlic powder, you’ll be amazed at what you can create. Simply measure to taste, stir everything together, and heat.

Instead of buying protein or snack bars, make your own trail mix with nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and chocolate chips or gluten-free pretzels. It’s fun to play with these combinations and you won’t have to pull out the nuts you don’t like. For less waste and fewer arguments, each family member can have a refillable jar of personalized mix in the pantry.

Check out fast food websites
I’m not recommending fast food as a regular part of any diet, but when you’re in a hurry or traveling and are on a budget fast food can be a viable gluten-free option. Most fast food chains list nutrition information on the web.

Wendy’s small chili, a baked potato with butter, and small iced tea costs around $6 and doesn’t require you to ask for any modifications. A half apple pecan chicken salad costs less than $5 and is also gluten-free as is the taco salad. And you can top off your gluten-free meal with a small frosty for $1.

You can be sure that I’ll stop at an In-N-Out Burger® at some point when I’m in LA. My whole family loves the protein-style burgers and fries. If I want to consider other menu options, I can easily pull up or print out their handy allergen information PDF and carry it with me.

Other fast food restaurants and build-your-own pizza chains offer gluten-free choices. There may be a risk of cross-contact on prep surfaces and in fryers so it helps to be familiar with a particular location in order to feel comfortable you won’t be exposed.

Take home leftovers
If you’re paying a premium to order a gluten-free meal, don’t be shy about taking home a couple of ounces of steak, half a chicken breast, or a couple of spoonfuls of chicken salad. These can be repurposed as the protein in tacos, burrito bowls, and salads. Even leftover French fries can become part of a microwave breakfast casserole.

Repurpose protein
Leftovers aren’t the only thing that can be repurposed. Rotisserie chicken from the grocery store or smoked meat from a BBQ joint can be turned into quick, delicious gluten-free entrées that no longer resemble baked chicken or BBQ.

Chicken can be made into chicken salad, used as a topper for a green salad, and put into stir fry, curry, enchiladas, tacos or quesadillas (with corn tortillas, of course). Rotisserie chicken is also a great protein addition to pasta primavera and chicken tortilla soup.

Pulled pork can be added to pasta or nachos and used to fill tacos, tamales, baked potato shells, and shepherd’s pie. Chopped brisket can be turned into stroganoff, cottage pie, or chili, and can be added to baked beans.

At times you may end up buying some overpriced, less than delicious gluten-free product, but following these simple tips will help you hold down the overall costs without lots of extra time in the kitchen.

Choosing items that are not marked-up because of a gluten-free label saves money. Buying already cooked protein reduces cooking time immensely and, as you can see, a few basics give you a great deal of menu flexibility. Just be sure to read the label on grocery store items and ask the BBQ joint about seasoning to determine whether anything contains gluten.

With a little practice, you can easily live within a budget while remaining gluten-free…and you don’t have to spend hours in the kitchen!

https://glutagen.com/the-cost-of-a-gluten-free-diet/

https://menu.wendys.com/en_US/product/classic-chocolate-frosty/

http://www.in-n-out.com/docs/default-source/downloads/menuallergenchart2018.pdf

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/soups-on/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/dump-soup-perfect-for-a-lazy-day/


Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

A Perfect Pair

If you don’t have a recipe, how do find a perfect pair of flavors? My oldest son once called me during a layover in Vegas on his way home asking me to make Mexican lasagne for dinner. I had no idea what that was. He described it as a layered dish with lasagne noodles, meat, red sauce seasoned with a ton of spices like you’d use in tacos plus those in traditional lasagne, and cheese. I told him I’d give it a shot.

In that instance, I imagined the flavors in tacos. For that flavor profile, I chose salt, pepper, garlic, chili powder, and cumin. For the lasagne flavors, I added oregano, basil, thyme, and rosemary. I combined both of these profiles using sight, smell, and taste to judge the amount of each to add. The result turned out better than I would have guessed when he suggested it.

This request didn’t throw me because I rarely use recipes when I’m cooking for my family. So how do I know what to put in the pot? I’ve probably mentioned before that I imagine flavor combinations in my head. I do. But there are several things in play when I’m cooking.
perfect pair
For one, I use my sense of smell. If you hold your head over a pan and smell for a moment, you’ll realize you can smell salt as well as garlic, and curry powder, and basil. When the balance of the aroma is off, the taste will be as well.

I also use my eyes. If I’m adding beans to chili or cranberries to a salad, I use proportions that look pleasing. This results in a full combination of flavors in each bite.

Throwing something together often begins with inspiration or imagination. Sometimes I take a bite of something and have a sudden thought that it would pair well with X. Other times, I take the ingredients in my refrigerator and imagine different combinations of the flavors there. Sometimes I do this when I’m choosing my groceries for pickup or purchasing items at the farmers market.

Beyond my senses and imagination, I use memory. I both watched and helped my grandmother cook. I think about how she seasoned things. I also pay attention to the flavors and ingredients I can identify in restaurant dishes. And I envision combinations I’ve seen in recipes before.

Even if I can remember the general ingredients, once I get started I have to determine proportions. Knowing how something should look is helpful. If I’ve seen the consistency of pancake batter, then I can tell if there’s too much liquid or not enough.

Cooking experience is valuable as well. If you’ve baked a lot of cakes, you’ll have an idea what the ratio of flour to sugar, oil, and eggs should be. It’s probably worth noting that when you make gluten or dairy-free versions, traditional rules may not apply.

The best gluten-free sandwich bread I make has a dough that’s more like batter than dough. But once you’re practiced in these adaptations, you’ll still be able to rely on experience to help you.

If you have never cooked, or watched anyone cook, from scratch and cannot imagine flavor pairings, there’s a handy tool called The Flavor Bible that tells you what to mix and match. This comprehensive reference book of compatible flavors was named by Forbes as one of the 10 best cookbooks in the world of the past century. It also won a James Beard Book Award.

Following a specific recipe to the letter will yield a more consistent result, but using a flavor guide can introduce playfulness into your cooking. Life is made of so many repetitious chores, I like to add a sense of fun and play whenever I can. Sometimes the best way to do that is to try to find yet another perfect pair.

https://www.karenandandrew.com/books/the-flavor-bible/

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”