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!

Delicious and Gluten-Free Chicken Tenders

Last week, I tried some delicious and gluten-free chicken tenders. While I prefer preparing fresh food, sometimes I’m a less-than-perfect planner. I get caught up in work and before I know it, I’m too hungry and just need something to eat. For those moments, I like to keep a few partially or fully prepared foods on hand.

Choosing those foods is fun because it gives me an opportunity to explore new or different gluten-free products that are on the market. Often, the search more satisfying than the consumption. Over the 17 years I’ve been gluten-free, there has been improvement in the selection and availability of convenience foods. But there’s still no guarantee those products will be palatable. I can’t help but open each new package with a bit of trepidation.

I will enthusiastically say, there is no need for hesitancy with Bell&Evans® Air Chilled Gluten Free Breaded Chicken Breast Tenders. They are the best frozen chicken tenders I’ve ever eaten!

There are many reasons for this. First, they are made from chicken – not chopped or separated chicken parts and fillers. Next, they’re flash fried to set the breading but remain uncooked until you cook them. Third, they’ve been marinated in a sea salt brine.

Additionally, the breading is a very thin coating that lets the moist, tender chicken be the star. It consists of rice flour, water, yellow corn flour, sea salt, xanthan gum, dried whole eggs, yeast, cane sugar, black pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder that has been set by flash frying in organic expeller pressed soybean oil.

Because the tenders have not been previously cooked, it is important that they reach a safe internal temperature. To that end, the tenders can be pan fried, air fried or oven baked. Once they are golden brown, I’ve served them alone as an entrée and atop a salad. They are large enough for a sandwich as well.

For small fingers, you can choose gluten free chicken nuggets rather than tenders. The nuggets are made from chicken breast meat without fillers and breaded with the same ingredients.

Bell&Evans products can be found at Whole Foods and Fresh Market in my area. To locate their products where you live, there’s a zip code search on the company’s website. Not all products will be gluten-free so be sure to read the descriptions carefully before purchasing.

My experience was so good, I’m planning to sample the Bell&Evans meatballs as well. If those are good, I’ll consider the chicken burgers.

It’s always great when food exceeds your expectations. These chicken tenders did that and raised the bar. Not only will I add them to my set of regular options, they’ll replace every chicken tender brand I’ve previously ordered.

I hope this week’s discoveries turn out as well for me and for you! Happy gluten-free exploring!

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.”

Cooking for One

Is there a point in cooking for one? The common consensus may be it’s too much trouble to cook for just one person, but is it really? So many of us now find ourselves alone, it’s worth revisiting the question.

Obviously, the benefits of cooking apply whether you’re cooking for one or cooking for six. The question is whether the ratio of effort, ingredients, time, and cost outweigh the ease of popping open a package and grazing. The truth is, you will have to weigh this for yourself and there are many things to consider.

As with most things, the process of thinking through the answer to the question will be revealing and provide insight. That has value no matter what the conclusion.

What are the considerations?

Health

Fresh food prepared at home is the easiest way to eliminate preservatives, artificial coloring, and other additives. It’s the easiest way to make food compatible with your specific dietary needs. It’s the easiest way to control sodium intake and minimize ingesting potential carcinogens. Preparing your own food gives you more control over its healthiness.

Time

The pandemic has overloaded already full schedules with tasks that were previously unnecessary. Some people may have temporarily discovered extra time to bake bread, but most people I know do more dishes, double-up housework and work, have more time-consuming errands, and have had to revise their method for approaching every area of life. Time is an even more precious commodity than before.

Preparing your own meals does take time that you might otherwise spend on something else. If cooking results in food that makes you feel more energized and satisfied, less lethargic and bloated, and less distracted by gut pain, it may well be worth it. There are also ways to maximize efficiency so that the time spent on food prep is minimal.

Cost

If you purchase large amounts of fresh halibut, you’ll spend a fortune and call me crazy, but in general, purchasing individual ingredients is more cost effective than buying prepackaged convenience foods. This is especially true when it comes to gluten-free packaged food.

And you don’t have to strictly buy one or the other. You can make your own macaroni & cheese using store-bought gluten-free pasta. You can keep frozen chicken nuggets, or ham, or pimento cheese on hand for days that plans unexpectedly change and you need something quick.

Taste

I don’t think you can beat the taste of a fresh tomato or peach. In fact, I’d argue that perfectly ripened, they’re best eaten unadorned. Fresh spinach from the garden tastes like a whole different green. Recognizing the inherent scrumptiousness of fresh food cam mean you feel less pressured to go to great lengths to enhance something that’s wonderful on its own. This will save both time and money.

Waste

Perhaps the most frequent argument against cooking for one is that you’ll waste too much food. That is a possibility. But there are many ways to counter this.

I frequently share dishes with my neighbors. Once I hit the point at which I recognize I am tired of something, I throw the balance in a jar and deliver it to the porch next door.

Recently, I made a pie in a pan that a friend left at my house long ago. I needed to test a recipe and I needed to return the pan. I made the pie, took out one piece, then called my friend to come get the rest of the pie thereby accomplishing both.

Occasionally, I freeze something to reheat later. If you’re willing to freeze cookies, then why not pesto chicken, chili or lasagna? And when I don’t want to freeze, I repurpose.

Braised boneless pork ribs become carnitas tacos. Chicken becomes chicken salad. Breakfast sausage and spinach land on mashed potatoes for an upside-down version of sausage shepherd’s pie. This list could go on forever. I repurpose often.

Rather than waste food, you can always share with strangers. There are plenty of children in my neighborhood who can use extra food. While I have not determined the best way to get it in their hands yet, I am constantly making assessments that will contribute to a plan.

Looking at health, time, cost, taste, and waste are somewhat measurable. Cooking also offers intangibles that can’t be objectively measured: warm feelings, pleasing aromas, aesthetically pleasing visuals, family memories, creativity, a feeling of accomplishment. It is the intangibles that pull me into the kitchen. It’s the taste that keeps me there. And the health benefits are a major bonus.

I cook for one. For me, it’s worth it. Let me know if it’s worth it for you.

What Makes a Grocery Store Great?

This week I’ve been wondering what makes a grocery store great? When I travel, I like to visit grocery stores. Not only do I want to see the food itself, I want to observe and absorb the culture. Funny thing is, I do not enjoy the grocery stores in my town. Why? Well, that’s what I’m exploring. I know it feels better to shop in some stores than others. Let’s figure out what makes that so.
grocery
Yesterday, I needed a few things in addition to groceries — potting soil, toilet paper, marbles. Wal-Mart seemed like a good place to get everything at one time. I crossed the river to an adjoining town to shop at the nearest Wal-Mart. But as I drove into the parking lot, I realized I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to go in that store. Without even pulling into a parking space, I drove out the other side of the parking lot and to a Kroger nearby.

What pulled me toward the other store?

Both are larger than I prefer, but the second store is smaller. Wal-Mart supercenters average 178,000 sq ft. Kroger Marketplace stores average around 100,000. I really prefer the footprint of The Fresh Market, Whole Foods, or Natural Grocers stores that average under 50,000 sq ft. From this I must conclude that size matters to me…in grocery stores.

As grocery store space expands, it rarely means more fresh produce, meat, or specialty flours. The added space is typically stocked with items that are boxed, bottled, fully prepared, or not food related. There’s nothing wrong with that. I just prefer shopping where fresh food is the focus.

I also like small shopping carts. Believe me, I can fill them with plenty of food. As a short person, tall, deep carts make it annoyingly difficult to reach small items hiding in the bottom near the back of the basket. Most grocery stores have both, but the store closest to my home does not.

When I walk into a store, it’s a pleasure to be greeted with a beautiful variety of produce, but two of my favorite stores (unfortunately, not in this town) have the produce located where it’s not visible from the door. Obviously, seeing produce immediately is not a big factor in a store making my favorites list. And from a practical standpoint, I’d rather stack easily bruised fruit on top of the staples in my basket. If I begin in the produce section, it ends up on the bottom where it’s more likely to get damaged.

More important than location is the variety and freshness of the produce offered. I’m okay with seasonal variations in selection, but only if there is a moderately predictable seasonal rotation or an easily accessed online list of what is currently stocked in a given store. Because stores in different neighborhoods are stocked differently, it sometimes takes visiting 3 or 4 locations to gather the vegetables I need for a recipe.

Once I find the produce I’m looking for, I’d like for it to be fresh enough to last a couple of days. Every other week, I get home to discover that the raspberries I couldn’t see in the bottom of the container are fuzzy or the prewashed sugar snap peas smell foul even though it’s not past the use by date. This recurring issue makes me dread what I’ll find next time I put away groceries.
spices
This may not be true for everyone, but for me to think a store is great, it needs to offer a good selection of fresh meat, poultry, fish, and seafood that is unseasoned, unmarinated, and uninjected. I just want the raw ingredients, please. And I’d like a sell by date to give me an idea how long I have before it spoils.

Organic dairy products like plain yogurt with lots of active cultures and no gums or fillers, dairy alternatives without tons of sugar, high quality butter, and a wide selection of coffee improve my impression. Plenty of raw nuts, dried fruit without added sugar, and bulk spices make things even better.

Other than that, clear and accurate signs, efficient organization, and few empty spaces on the shelves go a long way toward a pleasant shopping experience. If I have to scour the health food section searching for gluten-free cereal amongst other whole grains, I will most likely skip it. I feel the same way about crackers, cookies, chips, and frozen food.
dried fruit
A final consideration is the ambience of the store. When I walk in, is it quiet and lit well but not garishly? Does it smell good? Are the aisles wide enough? Are there plenty of open checkout stations with friendly checkers? Does it feel more like a comfortable boutique than a herd-em-through warehouse? If so, I’ll enjoy being there.

If I could get a small, pleasant store with an adequate cold chain that offers a consistent variety of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, seafood, and easy to find gluten-free items that I can put in a small cart within 5 miles of my house, I’d be so giddy I wouldn’t know what to do. All of that together would truly make a grocery store great!

In the meantime, I’ll keep going to multiple stores to get what I need.

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.”

https://retail-index.emarketer.com/company/data/5374f24d4d4afd2bb4446614/5374f2b24d4afd824cc15ebb/lfy/false/wal-mart-stores-inc-real-estate

https://www.walmart.com/

https://retail-index.emarketer.com/company/data/5374f24a4d4afd2bb4446582/5374f2834d4afd824cc15a0f/lfy/false/kroger-real-estate

https://retail-index.emarketer.com/company/data/5374f24d4d4afd2bb4446612/5374f29e4d4afd824cc15c99/lfy/false/natural-grocers-real-estate

https://retail-index.emarketer.com/company/data/5374f24e4d4afd2bb4446642/5374f2b34d4afd824cc15ed5/lfy/false/whole-foods-market-real-estate

https://retail-index.emarketer.com/company/data/5374f24e4d4afd2bb4446639/5374f2734d4afd824cc1587c/lfy/false/the-fresh-market-real-estate