DIETS Part I: gluten-free, allergy, autoimmune/anti-inflammatory, classic elimination, and low-histamine.

My mother told me recently that she only gave me soy milk for a long time as a child after my allergy testing showed I was allergic to half of the things on this planet. This is when I was 3. I’ve always known the story of the skin-prick tests done on my tiny 3-year old back. My mother was torn in pieces listening to her baby wail, so I’ve heard about it often. I knew the testing showed I was allergic to lettuce and rabbits and newspaper and so many other things it seemed like a joke. I thought we had always just ignored it to no consequence and that the first thing I ever stopped consuming was MSG sometime in the 90s. I kept swelling. One day, I awoke with my face blown up like a balloon: my eyes were slits, my lips made it difficult to speak, I could barely bend my fingers. This happened after eating frozen egg rolls in the wee hours, after a night at the pub, so I became really vigilant about avoiding MSG. Then, a few years later, I ate at a Thai restaurant with my sister. I never tempted fate with Asian food, but, god, I missed it! and the restaurant swore there was no MSG in their food. The next day, my face was swelled up, so I never tried that again. I still don’t know if the culprit is definitely MSG, but avoiding it, as well as all Asian food, stopped those acute episodes.

My next elimination was alcohol in 2002. It should have been difficult, but I thought it might be causing me to repeatedly go into anaphylactic shock, so I had no choice. When you’re worried about dying, you’ll give up anything.

I ate and drank anything I wanted for ten more years. And I ate a lot. Since I shed my college weight, I’ve always been around 7 stone (I haven’t switched to thinking of myself in pounds because I like the nice neatness of “7 stone”) and my husband would joke that I ate way more than he did (he’s 14 inches taller than I am). After thyroid ablation in 2009, I couldn’t eat as much as I used to – I didn’t diet, my body simply got full quicker and wasn’t hungry all the time anymore.

In 2012, while trying to cure what ails me, I stopped eating gluten. It never occurred to me that it would be permanent, but it seems it might be. It didn’t change how I felt one bit, but, after talking to numerous doctors and reading this book, it seems like it would behoove me to continue to avoid it – if not for ME, then for my (other) autoimmune conditions.

Soon after that, I had blood tests done that showed allergies to cod, tomato and egg. Giving up cod was no problem, tomatoes and eggs almost killed me. But, I thought, what if? So, I stuck with it and it’s now been a year and a half and, you guessed it, I felt no change.

When I started seeing the Good Doctor last year, she put me on a diet for autoimmune conditions which, she said, resembled most anti-inflammatory regimens. I stopped eating all grains but oats, all legumes, dairy and starchy veg. I cut down on sugar, I stopped eating processed foods, I stopped drinking sodas – even “healthy” stevia ones, even flavored fizzy water. I stopped chewing chewing gum, stopped eating lozenges with colourings. Although I missed all of these things, it was similar to anaphylaxis – I felt like I was (am) dying and would do anything to improve my situation, so the choice was easy. I stuck with this protocol for almost a year and… Felt no different.

This past August, my doctor switched me to a more “traditional” elimination diet. I was allowed to add back grains (except corn) and legumes (except peanuts) but stopped eating red meat, pork, processed meats, shellfish, soy, citrus, and most forms of sweetness: honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, and, obviously, sugar. This was only meant to last for three weeks before tackling challenges, but I took a turn for the worse with my symptoms and doing food challenges showed nothing definitive, so I’ve kept everything eliminated. Compounding this restriction was my low energy and my husband’s overwhelmedness with the changing shopping rules, so neither of us got out of the habits formed over the last year. I joyfully started eating rice again, but didn’t really explore other grains or legumes. Once you’ve been doing something for a long time, it seems a monumental effort to change.

When I saw the Good Doctor again at the beginning of this month, she wanted me to continue this elimination for three more weeks, while making a concerted effort to detoxify my liver because she is thinking of testing me for heavy metal toxicity and, if necessary, going through a chelation protocol. Specifically, what she told me to do was:

  • EAT FOODS TO IMPROVE LIVER DETOXIFICATION:
    • Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, watercress)
    • Kale
    • Swiss Chard
    • Collard greens
    • Garlic, onions
    • Grapes
    • Berries
    • Green and black teas
    • Herbs and spices such as rosemary, basil, turmeric, cumin, poppy seeds, black pepper, and lots of cilantro!
  • Metagenics Ultraclear formula: drink one shake each day (she already has me taking their probiotics and I get a patient discount).
  • Supplements [I am very happy to be taking vitamins again. I stopped all supplements and vitamins 3 months ago and never intended to stay off of them for so long. I’m eager to add more (CoQ10, Acetyl-l-carnitine etc.), but she is making me take things slow.]:
    • Vitamin D
    • Vitamin B6 & B2
    • Biotin
    • Glutamine
    • Zinc
  • Green detox soup[I said yuck to this soup because I thought it sounded like a warm green smoothie and I thought I didn’t like fennel, but it turns out it is SO DELICIOUS and I like to have some every day.]

This soup is a gift to your liver to help it with its critical role in cleansing and filtering the blood. Sulfur-containing foods, such as onions and garlic, will keep your glutathione levels and antioxidant power high. Cruciferous vegetables are great for all your detox pathways, especially estrogen. Enjoy this soup for breakfast, as a snack or any time of the day. You can make a big batch and freeze it in small containers.

Makes 4-6 servings

1 tbsp extra virgin coconut oil or olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 tsp minced ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 celery stalk, chopped
3 cups chopped broccoli, florets and stems
1/2 head fennel, chopped
1 tsp salt
3 cups water
1/8 tsp freshly ground pepper

Heat the oil in a medium pot on medium high heat. Add the onion and ginger and cook until onion is translucent. Add the garlic, celery, broccoli, and fennel and a generous pinch of salt and continue to cook another 2 minutes. Add the water, remaining salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes. Place the soup in a blender and blend until smooth and creamy. Adjust salt.

Now the fun part: I haven’t been eating the chard, onions, grapes and berries she instructed me to because I am experimenting with a low-histamine diet. I am always trying to link seemingly unrelated conditions from my past to what is happening to me now. Just like I thought (think) dysautonomia explained not only my symptoms now, but issues I had pre-ME like Raynaud’s and fainting, I started to seriously look into histamine intolerance (HI) and mast cell activation disorders (MCAD). The swelling, the idiopathic anaphylaxis (which happened more often than not during my period), the alcohol intolerance, the dysmenorrhea, the hypotension and syncope (which happened more often than not during my period)… All of this makes sense in the context of a histamine problem. I used to wrack my brain and research incessantly to try to figure out why I was going into anaphylaxis but they could find nothing to which I was allergic. Was it the alcohol? Was it my period? Was it garlic? Was it ibuprofen?

When the allergist explained autoimmune urticaria and angioedema to me, he said the rashes I got during anaphylaxis and the swelling I’ve always experienced were the same mechanism in the body, just in different dermal layers. He said they are caused by tissue permeability and leakage and any vasodilator, such as alcohol, will potentiate the problem.. To demonstrate the autoimmune process, he injected me with my own plasma and I had a reaction on my forearm similar to the histamine control. He said these episodes could be brought on by emotional turmoil or stress and there is nothing to be done but take antihistamines. I counted myself lucky because some people have horrible chronic urticaria (I really recommend the film, Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead).

The more I researched histamine issues, however, the more I realized that my allergist, like all doctors, is limited by what he doesn’t know and what science hasn’t discovered. I asked my GP, the Good Doctor and my new environmental doctor about testing for MCAD and every one of them said they don’t know how. It turns out there really aren’t good tests, but they didn’t know this ~ they didn’t know anything about it!

I am going to continue the info about my low-histamine diet experience in Part 2 of this diet post (as well as all the other crazy elimination diets I’ve been researching: ketogenic, alkaline, low-salicylate, migraine) because there is a lot of information. But I’m giving you homework, if you’re interested in this topic at all: Listen to Yasmina Ykelenstam’s (The Low Histamine Chef) interview with Dr. Janice Joneja. There are 2 parts, but the first part is the most important. Get comfy because it is 49 minutes long and have a paper and pen ready. I’m telling you, it’s worth it. Dr. Joneja is so clear and knowledgeable.

Until next time…

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8 Food Products I Love Right Now (because I’m fickle and, any day, I may change my mind)

IMG_20131016_111405Organic tart cherry juice concentrate. This is from Dynamic Health. I alternate (or mix) it with Country Spoon, which is thicker but not as tasty (seems to be unavailable on Amazon at the moment). I drink 1 – 2 tbs of concentrate in water a few hours before sleep. It’s supposed to be a wonderful source of melatonin, but I find it really helps my pain. Montmorency cherries are the best and you want tart cherries, (e.g., Montmorency and Balaton) and not sweet cherries (e.g., Bing, Lambert, Rainier), although both varieties have healing benefits.

IMG_20131016_105812 (1)Turmeric! A potent anti-inflammatory. I put it in and on everything. Well, almost everything ~ it can get a bit bitter. But it disappears into soups and is wonderful in things like stir fries and curries.

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Flax oil. I’ve been using it on steamed veg to replace butter and on salads with balsamic vinegar. Yum!

IMG_20131016_110439I put this jam on the crackers my husband makes me with some cashew/ walnut/ almond butter. I originally bought it for these almond cookies (they would have been delicious if we hadn’t burned the bottoms). Ingredients = organic wild berries, organic apple juice concentrate, natural fruit pectin, ascorbic acid. No refined sugar.

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After reading about Dr. Cheney’s home brew on Health Rising, I started to drink this cocktail in the morning to increase my blood volume and, hopefully, my blood pressure and maybe alleviate some symptoms (I feel no different, of course, but I’m still doing it to get some salt and fluids into me). He recommends 3 to 8 glasses a day, but I’m still only doing one in the morning. Nu-Salt (called “No Salt” on the links) is potassium chloride, plus less than 1% of cream of tartar, silicon dioxide and natural flavor. I haven’t investigated an alternative potassium source without those added ingredients (I especially try to avoid “natural flavor”). I was originally using packets of regular table salt (packets are conveniently about 1/8 tsp, which is what the recipe calls for), but the ingredients are: salt, tricalcium phosphate, dextrose, potassium iodide, and sodium bicarbonate. Then my husband found these Real Salt packets at Whole Foods. Ingredients = Ancient Sea Salt. Excellent.

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Speaking of salt, I really like Herbamare seasoning salt. It has no MSG! I can’t quite believe it, but I’m hoping the ingredients don’t lie. It is salty and herby and it’s big enough to last the next five years! Ingredients = All organic sea salt,celery, leek, cress, onion, chives, parsley, lovage, garlic, basil, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, kelp.

IMG_20131016_110246Now that I am eating legumes, but not eating refined sugar or soy, Soy-Free Vegenaise fills the mayo niche for tuna, salads, sandwiches, wraps etc. I wish the jar was about half the size because I don’t use a lot of it and wind up throwing it out before it is empty, but, once in a while, it hits the spot. Ingredients = Expeller-pressed high-oleic safflower oil, filtered water, brown rice syrup, apple cider vinegar, pea protein, sea salt mustard flour, lemon juice concentrate.

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When my mother was visiting, she helped me with some recipes that could satisfy my chocolate craving and use the cacao powder I got for my birthday (thank you, E and G!). Both recipes are from Elana’s Pantry and both can be eaten right out of the freezer. They are both gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free, egg-free, and refined sugar-free. The brownies are also nut free (although the next time I make them, I want to add walnuts). I can’t believe how good they are (probably because my palate has changed. While making my brother try one, I said, “I can’t really remember what real brownies taste like…” And, with an unswallowed mouthfull of my healthy brownie, he replied, “Much, much better.” :D) Here is the recipe ~ we substituted coconut sugar for the xylitol. When they come out of the oven, they are quite cakey, but when I froze them, it made them more fudgey = more yummy.

The fudge balls were much better than I anticipated (see? There are only two left!). We used pecans instead of walnuts because that is what I had on hand and I rolled some of mine in coconut and some in the bitter cacao powder, which nicely offset the richness inside.

Honorable mention goes to the homemade veggie broth, chicken broth and beef bone broth that my husband made after I decided that ALL store-bought broth and stock has MSG and nasty stuff ~ even the Kitchen Basics, which I’d relied on for so long. He froze them in individual servings, so I can just take one out, put it in a pot and add whatever veg and seasoning I want. I would have included a picture, but they’re not too attractive.

Stay tuned, I will write about the new doctor when I have the energy. He didn’t look at my list, of course, but he listened to me talk for an hour and a half, which was the longest I’ve talked in over a year!

I Scream, You Scream

What has the power to make me expend energy writing a blog post? You guessed it: ice cream!

I’m having a very hard time quitting my sweet habit. I don’t eat a lot of desserts and I can live without processed sugar, but I seem to need that little bite of sweetness after meals to seal the deal. Small bites of ice cream and chocolate have always been my go-to desserts.

All store-bought, non-dairy ice creams have carageenan, guar gum, erythritol, and “natural flavors” or soy lecithin or a lot of sugar. Although I don’t eat these a lot, I’ve felt frustrated at my inability to eliminate this habit when I have so easily and strictly stopped eating all the other food groups my doctor has specified. Bring in this $34 (when I bought it) ice cream maker on Amazon Prime. It was too daunting for me to tackle, but my husband made it look easy and I’ve had fresh, creamy, healthier ice cream for the last few weeks.

Here’s the basic info: coconut milk + sweetener + flavour = YUM

The coconut milk should be the full-fat canned kind. This is the only brand I found with no guar gum in it. The sweetener can be dates (make amazing “caramel”) or bananas or honey or coconut sugar (resembles brown sugar and my doctor has okayed it!). The flavour can be anything you can dream up ~ nuts, fruit, extracts etc.

So far I have made Caramel Pecan, using this recipe from My Whole Food Life (it was far too sweet for me with 2 tbs of honey in addition to the dates, so be careful) and Pistachio-Almond, using Food Babe’s recipe, but, beware: I used 1/2 cup of pistachios and there were too many nuts and not enough creaminess. Also, don’t use salted pistachios ~ duh! I have the ingredients for the mint chocolate chip (even though the Enjoy Life chips are made from cane juice and I’m not allowed to have it on my current diet) and I have some huckleberries with which I want to experiment. The Spunky Coconut has a lot of recipes, too. She uses hemp and chia seeds which help take the place of the “gums”. There are some other creative flavour ideas here.

Before you get started, make sure you have all the ingredients needed, plus ice and salt for the ice cream making process (there is a product called “ice cream salt“, but I think you can use regular salt, too). Don’t believe the recipe if it says you need to freeze the ice cream maker bowl first or refrigerate the tin of coconut milk overnight- you don’t.

Ok, my half hour is up and I have to go to an ENT doctor appointment for my sinus issues, which are stopping me from wearing my cpap, and what might be an ear infection from trying to be “healthy” and use nasal irrigation. Another purchase wasted. Down with neti pots!

I was going to go back and spend more time making this a fancy two-scoop photo, but I couldn't be arsed. You get the gist. ;)

I was going to go back and spend more time making this a fancy two-scoop photo, but I couldn’t be arsed. You get the gist. 😉

Doctor follow-up: symptoms, sleep, diet.

I haven’t taken vitamins or supplements in 19 days (except probiotics in the morning, magnesium at night and fish oil here and there). When I wasn’t sleeping, I decided to wash-out everything and, when I saw the Good Doctor last week, she wanted me to hold off on adding them back until I had challenged some foods. So, in the next month, I will be challenging soy and citrus, which I haven’t eaten in a month, and corn, dairy and eggs, which I haven’t eaten in a year. Honestly, I don’t know how I will identify symptoms ~ for no reason, sleep disappears and headaches hit me like a freight train. A few days ago I woke up with all over muscle pain: thick, heavy, stiff, achy, contracted muscles from tip to toe. I started waking up in the night again in a full-body tense stretch, jaw clamped down painfully, neck and back arched. It is coupled with daytime tiredness that stopped me writing, reading, talking… This wasn’t the bricked feeling of ATP running out in my cells, this was pure tired, like I was convalescing. It’s still with me today, but I want to write, so I force myself to sit at the computer.

I hate when old symptoms return. I thought perhaps spine pain and muscle aches were gone for good, but here I am with a new bottle of Tizanidine. I made a list of what could be causing it: Scooter? Adding back legumes? No supplements? Weather? Period? This week has also felt like awfully bad allergies, which shouldn’t be happening at the end of August. I actually had to take my inhaler and I couldn’t wear my cpap last night because my nose was plugged, even after multiple shots of antihistamine nasal spray. My headaches have mostly dissipated, only rearing up when I tweak my neck (which is about every other day; the nighttime muscle contractions don’t help), but I’m left with leaden cotton wool filling my skull and plugging my orifices. It feels like an orange on a toothpick, my neck too weak to hold the bobble head. I’m chalking it up to the weather. Seattle turned into a tropical rain forest this week. The temperature in my room is 74 degrees and the humidity is 74%. I keep saying, “It’s so close!” The only way to describe it.

Some good news: I’ve actually slept relatively well the last 7 nights ~ with only melatonin ~ which is miraculous. I have had a resurgence of mild night sweats for the first time in a very long time. But, we’re going to ignore that and the lack of deep sleep and concentrate on the positives: My current average hours of sleep, average time awake and average time to fall asleep:

An average of 8.5 hours sleep? First time ever in my life!

An average of 8.5 hours sleep? First time ever in my life!

38 mins awake, on average,  when it used to be 2 hours!

38 mins awake, on average, when it used to be 2 hours!

A glorious average of 9 mins to fall asleep! (this was tipped by the unheard-of ONE MINUTE it took me to fall asleep last night!)

A glorious average of 9 mins to fall asleep! (this was tipped by the unheard-of ONE MINUTE it took me to fall asleep last night!)

Other things I talked about with the Good Doc: She doesn’t feel comfortable with prescribing saline IV infusions, she is thinking about digestive enzymes, she wants to get my vitmain D levels between 50 and 80 (they were 30 last March), and she doesn’t want to do a tryptase test to look for Mast Cell Activation Disorder (MCAD).

If anyone is interested in my elimination diet, she said she thought coconut sugar would be okay (I haven’t quit sugar yet; I’m a junkie) and she wanted me to avoid xanthan gum, guar gum and carageenan. This is virtually impossible using dairy-free products, so I’m not taking it too seriously. My husband spent half an hour in Whole Foods reading the labels of nut and coconut milks: if you want to avoid sugar, cane juice and soy lecithin, you won’t be able to avoid carageenan (if anyone has more info, please tell me!). The best bet seems to be Pacific Almond Milk (which has carageenan and “natural flavor”) and Rice Dream, if you don’t mind the calorie and sugar content (I love the taste, but it’s high-glycemic load causes my blood sugar to crash).

She also wanted me to watch the teas I drink, since this is the only thing I drink besides water. You can get all the info about teas from this FoodBabe blog. Basically, I am trying to stick with Numi, Traditional Medicinals, Rishi (which is even more expensive than the other expensive organic teas) and maybe Choice. I splurged and bought this yesterday: Rishi Turmeric Ginger Loose Leaf Tea ~ how good does that sound for what ails me?! (I reckon, in the good ol’ days, I would have spent about that much on one cocktail, including tip, so I deserve it. I ignored the voice that said, Uh, you have no income.)

Lastly, I saw my endocrinologist for my yearly check-up. He increased my Levothyroxine to 37.5mcg five days a week and 25mcg on the weekends and kept my liothyronine at 10mcg/day. He also thought I should see an immunologist. I didn’t even know they existed. Not that I think they could find anything… except maybe help with my MCAD theory (that’ll be another post).

That’s my update. In a few days, my Mother is coming from Ireland for THREE WEEKS to help us out and take a bit of the burden off my husband. One of my brothers is flying across the country to see me at the end of September and my other brother, the pilot, has a layover here the same week. It’s so exciting! Gratitude today, once again, is for my family. They continually help me, encourage me and remember me.

My beautiful niece sent me this card. :)

My beautiful niece sent me this card. 🙂

Simple Pleasures (+ amazing gluten-free, dairy-free, seedy cracker recipe)

A few great things happened this week.

First, today, the sun came out.

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Second, birds finally found my feeder:

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Third, after all these months, my husband has given me back the joy of texture:

I was dying for some sort of crunch, some bite ~ but not like raw celery… Something heavier, something that could stand in for bread or a substantial cracker~ that could hold a piece of salami or almond butter. I have had it up to here with soft foods, fruit, raw vegetables and nuts. My husband, bless his helpful soul, has perfected a recipe.

First he tried this one (beware: if you make it, use half the salt or less), but I didn’t want to rely so heavily on oats since my doctor doesn’t even want me eating any and is only making an exception for my breakfast granola/porridge since I whined so much.

Then he tried this one, minus the garlic powder so it could go savoury or sweet. However, they were quite… pungent. That was the only way I could think to describe them. … Too earthy. I was afraid they would overpower a simple topping like jam.

Third time’s a charm! He melded the two to make his own recipe. He promises they are quick and easy if you own a food processor (I have to go to a different floor, close the door to whatever room I’m in and hold my hands over my ears ~ that’s how ridiculously loud ours is). I have them with almond butter and banana and a bit of honey in the morning or avocado and chicken and some olive tapenade for lunch… They’d even be delicious with Nutella, but I’m staying away.

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1 cup gluten-free oats
1 cup pumpkin seeds, raw and unsalted
1 cup sunflower seeds, raw and unsalted
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup raw almonds
2 tbs coconut flour
2 tbs flax seed meal
1 1/2 tsp salt (you might want a bit more, say 2 tsp)
1/2 tsp baking soda
8 oz water
5 tbs olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Blend all dry ingredients in food processor until mixture resembles flour. Add water and oil to “flour” and make dough. Roll out to 1/8″ thick on parchment paper on two baking trays. Score the dough into squares or rectangles or whatever and bake for 30-35 minutes.

The final simple pleasure is: I found heaven in a fatty jar. I bought this coconut oil based on the Amazon reviews. I didn’t think my husband had even seen it yet. One night, he made some chard and fish. I said, “Why is this chard so good?” I was worried that he had sauteed it in butter because it was far more flavourful than the food I’ve been eating lately. “I used that coconut oil,” he says. “Why is the fish so good? Did you use a different seasoning?” “Coconut oil, again.” The next night we (he) cooked chicken breast in it… freakin’ delicious! Now I’m going to go slather it all over my skin, too, like the reviewers on Amazon recommend. Not really. Well, maybe.

Gratitude for the little things. 🙂