Book Review: The Thyroid Solution Diet

The Thyroid Solution DietFirst off: Don’t let the title throw you. This book is not just about the thyroid or those who suffer from thyroid related issues. Second: Anyone interested in extending their life should read it.

I have for years, since well before Lia’s diagnosis with Type 1 diabetes, been interested in the connection between food, exercise and physical health and this book, which falls along the same lines of Gary Taubes’ Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About ItDr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution: The Complete Guide to Achieving Normal Blood Sugars and anything by Michael Pollen, does a wonderful job explaining it using both science and a keen ability to speak in terms any layperson serious about their health should be able to understand.

Though the book does not speak directly to people with diabetes (and where it does it is doesn’t differentiate from type 2), it says volumes about insulin and maintaining healthy blood sugars. It is, in short, the hard stuff I wish our endocrinologist was either trained or knowledgeable enough to discuss with us. But Franca and I learned early on that taking care of diabetes meant TAKING CARE of diabetes. Not signing that task off to someone else.

But back to the book. I was much more interested in the first two-thirds in which Arem goes into fabulous detail about sugar, fat and how these foods breakdown and based on various factors combine with the body’s multitude of hormones (but especially insulin and leptin) to regulate/affect/and in many cases generally muck up the body’s natural metabolism (i.e. Garbage in. Garbage out, which reminded me a great deal of Alejandro Junger’s, Clean: The Revolutionary Program to Restore the Body’s Natural Ability to Heal Itself, which I also highly recommend from personal experience). The last third spells out specific recipes, which I may or may not use, but offers to those not interested in coming up with their own menus, excellent examples of not only what to eat, but when to eat it. Great information to anyone, regardless of what state their personal health is in, in terms of converting food to fuel as opposed to fat.

While I don’t agree 100% with what he says—for instance, I don’t follow the low-fat-is-better-for-you theories on health—rarely have I found a food book that speaks so clearly in terms of sugar, fat, hormones, and exercise, and also of aging, stress, sleep, and detoxification and the affect these have on not just our pant size but our mood especially. And that (the mood, not the pant size) is something we all can relate.

Homemade Bread
(So Easy, Even I Can Do It)

I was born with no sense of smell, a fact I hardly notice (other than to regret having passed it on to one of my kids). Without fail though I am reminded of it when someone enters the house and if a loaf of bread is baking or just come out of the oven they comment on the wonderful aroma. While I may have no olfactory inkling of what they are talking about, I know joy when I hear and see it and that is enough to clue me in on just what I am missing.

To be sure, I’ve had plenty of time to get the picture. For fifteen years or more we have been baking our own bread at home. It began with disdain for the taste and nutrition lacking in store bought bread and blossomed into a full on and eventually successful war against sugar and especially High Fructose Corn Syrup. The bread, hands down, was the easiest of the many battles we waged in that fight to put good healthy food on our table. And the nicest part about it? Other than the cost and obvious health benefits, making homemade bread takes about as much time as it takes for a pot of coffee to brew. It’s so easy, Franca even taught me how to do it, and in a moment she’ll teach you, too.

But first, let’s talk about why you should be making your own bread. Like almost everything that is good for you, most of you will already know why, so I’ll just keep things simple and visual.

Here’s just a partial list of the “extras” that go into making that loaf of industrial bread:

soybean oil, sweet dairy whey, butter, maltodextrin, honey, high fructose corn syrup, calcium sulfate, soy flur, dough conditioners, such as: dicalcium phosphate, calcium dioxide, sodium stearoyl lactylate, ethoxylated mono and diglycerides, mono and diglycerides, and/or datem, yeast nutrients: ammonium sulfate, ammonium chloride, calcium carbonate, monocalcium phosphate, and/or ammonium phosphate, cornstarch, wheat starch, vinegar, natural flavor, beta carotene (color), enzymes, calcium propionate, soy lecithin.

In comparison, here’s what goes into our simple homemade bread:

oil, honey, flour, salt, yeast, water.

If you want to go the extra step–and we usually do–we add:

flax seeds, sunflower seeds, pepitas, and chia seeds, all usually ground but not necessary

‘Nuff said? Let’s move on.

How to Make a Loaf of Bread

The tools

the tools
We use a kitchen aid mixer, but it’s just as easy to mix it in bowl. Other than that all it takes is a couple of measuring cups and spoons, and a kitchen towel.

 

 

the ingredients

The ingredients

2 tbsp honey

2 tbsp olive oil

3 cups flour

3 tsp yeast

1½ tsp salt

1-1½ cups water

** if making wheat bread add 4 tbsp gluten
*** if desired, 2 tbsp each of ground sunflower seed, flaxseed, chia, pepitas

Now for the rest, here’s Franca–

(We had a good chuckle from the inferior audio our cheap, little camera provided — what’s with those S’s anyway–as  well as Franca’s double fist pump at the start. In the interest of full disclosure, she had to make three loaves to get this video so by the final cut she was ready to have this over with).

So that’s it. Baking bread at home. Stress free. And, if you’re lucky, scented.

Food Envy

We recently had the pleasure of having my mother in for a long weekend. She is an interesting case, one you will read more about one day soon as the story she is writing for herself of her golden years is one every adult, young and old, should hear and if, possible, embrace. My only wish is that she hadn’t taken so long to get to it, but as I said, that’s for later. This post is about food, or, I should say, it’s about love, happiness and taking care, and mostly it’s about pleasure.

My mother starts it off because she was the one visiting and sitting at our kitchen table and asked, “So, what’s for dinner?”

From America's Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook

It was a simple enough question, one posed every day of the week, I dare say, in most traditional households. In fact the answer, my mother most probably knew and had already read for herself, was written on the whiteboard menu we keep on the door of the fridge (in this case, Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps from one of our favorite cookbooks, America’s Test Kitchen).

But dinner at our house is not just about sustenance, you can get that anywhere, especially if you’re willing to push health, taste and sustainability aside. At our house food is a centerpiece, as much as any artsy heirloom or family artifact passed down through generations. It is the meal, or the experience of eating real food, that has become our handiwork and our pleasure to create — thanks entirely to Franca, who embodies the ancestral spirit of cooking that can transform a kitchen into a blank canvas and beg of a visitor to ask, What’s for dinner?

Next week on Food Envy: Baking bread. It’s easier than you think..

The Garden Collapse

I mentioned the garden, or rather the garden’s collapse. It’s too bad. We had great plans for a marvelous harvest this year, as this photo clearly shows.

The Grand Arbor

That woodwork you see, other than the lattice, was hand cut, yes hand cut, from a recently felled Poplar tree and then crafted by Lia and me. Same with the trellises, which along with the planting areas were meticulously chosen and laid out to achieve the best possible plant growth. The way we garden, in fact, is quite a bit like the way we manage Lia’s diabetes. Planning down to the minutest of details. Keeping record. Envisioning a positive outcome.

For their safety and our sanity, we’d even made special arrangements during the most fragile stages of the growing season to quarantine one of the most formidable double agents a garden can know.

Quarantined!

Unfortunately, like diabetes, things don’t always turn out as planned and an eleven day absence on our end left the garden exposed to the herd of four legged creatures better known in our house as Venison and the garden suffered a fatal blow. (Side note: that marker is for Digger, the beloved dog I wrote about last week)

The culprit

The apocalypse?

As you can see, other than the arbor, there’s not a lot of green going on inside that fencerow. With the damage done, we unleashed the secondary echelon of crop destroyers and they saw the collapse to the bitter end.

And the Destroyers

There is a moral, I’m sure to this, some lesson I could take away connecting the dots in some logical fashion to the value of time and my attention. But I think I would rather view this year’s garden as not some agricultural failure but instead as a place of natural beauty and sustenance to those creatures with which we share our slice of the world.

After all, Fall and the hunting season are just around the corner.

A Sustainable Pantry?

February one year ago, I shared with you how Franca and I had declared war on sugar a couple of years prior and I thought that with the three year anniversary of that  eye-opening event having passed recently along with our one year marking of Lia’s diagnosis of diabetes, I’d open the door once again and peer inside our pantry.

To do that, I think, it’s important to share our philosophy on food. What is that, you might ask. Well, put simply, it’s a way of thinking about what we eat with the same level of care that we ask ourselves, what do I want out of life. This degree of careful reasoning, of course, takes much more than just listing what foods we like to eat. That would be like saying what I want out of life is to have a nice farmhouse and a family. That’s not a philosophy. Those are things, and like other things — a good job, perfect health — they make up the goals we set for ourselves on a daily basis. As such, it’s difficult to look past them and know that all of the energy, passion and effort expended in their pursuit fits into the much grander scheme. That is, are the things we are doing helping us achieve what we want most out of life. A philosophy helps answer that question and further guide us and keep us on track, by taking a much broader view of the question and focusing on the one thing we believe is the most valuable.

In writing this post I challenged myself to boil down my philosophy of food into one, most valuable word (MVW?). The first one that came to mind was healthy, but I discredited it almost at once as I refuse to fall to the ludicrous marketing strategies of so many food providers, to whom if they had their way, we’d be buying up boxes of cookies and chips for their life-saving nutritional content. To our credit though Franca and I, and to a great extent our children, do spend a great deal of time thinking about the healthier aspects of the food we eat. Most of our grocery budget, in fact, is spent at the outer aisles of the grocery stores on fruits, vegetables and fresh seafood, far and away from the misleading slogans printed on cardboard boxes and cellophane packages.

The next word that came to mind was taste. Whenever we compliment one another on something made in the kitchen, what we are usually referencing is the food’s  taste. But to classify taste as a philosophy is to ignore the mechanics of how the body and mind works in relation to food. One of the most notable findings we experienced when we outlawed sugar and again later in learning how to treat type 1 diabetes was that eating sweet foods seemed to encourage the eating of more sweet foods (this is the short of it, the real culprit here is insulin). Or, to put it in more appropriate terms, after a few days of not eating sweets, we found we stopped craving sweets, thus letting our body reach and enjoy a happier state of equilibrium (homeostasis) that it has evolved over millions of years to work toward. For us, I suppose, in this century and the last, sugar became the preferred method food producers use to get us to like their product. In the eighteenth century it was probably salt. Smells like marketing again. That rules out taste as a philosophy.

After taste failed to stand up to the rigors of philosophy, I thought maybe convenience would serve well. We are a family of five. Both parents work. The kids are actively involved in school and building relationships, and with our free time we’d rather spend it outside on a walk or visiting with friends than cutting up vegetables at the kitchen sink. Unfortunately, how we spend a great deal of our free time is cutting up vegetables at the kitchen sink. That’s just how it is when you choose to shop the outer aisles and prefer your meals made at home. When you add in taste as factor, well, the time required seems to double. I might wish convenience was our food philosophy, but it’s not and likely will never be.

With healthy, taste and convenience out of the picture, the only other word that could possibly describe the most value we search for in food is that it must be real. But what does that mean, real? Doesn’t any food you can touch, smell, taste qualify? You’d think, but that’s not the case if you believe like Michael Pollan, author of the bestselling book, In Defense of Food, that only food that our great grandmothers would recognize as food is real. All that other stuff, he says, is wrought by scientists in lab coats, not by nature, and once it’s pumped up with nutrients, so as to market it better to a society confused and mega-driven by expert advice and false health claims, the pre-packaged result only resembles an “edible foodlike substance”. It’s not real, it’s not food. And it’s making us all sick (here is an in depth article on this very fact. I strongly urge everyone to read the first part about the Afghans. You’ll find it sadly fascinating).

While real most approximates the way we think about food and would serve nicely as our philosophy, honestly, if you were to look in our pantry — a word, by the way, derived from the Middle English term panterie; which is taken from the latin word for bread, panis, and therefore suggests that what’s kept in it is not real — you’d find more than a few processed things. Cereal. Pasta. Crackers. And of course, juice boxes, sweet tarts, dark chocolate and a small corner shelving what can best be described as “bags of stuff”.

So there you go. It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be, summarizing our philosophy of food into one simple word; and I guess that’s the point and the trouble with formulating a philosophy. It’s not meant to be easy. If it were, people wouldn’t be on their death beds wondering how they had let themselves get so distracted and had failed to achieve all the things they had wanted out of life. A philosophy keeps you on task, so you don’t, in fact, mislive. But as our own pantry shows, a philosophy — even a dependent and loosely, knotted one as that involving food — without an effective strategy designed around a grand scheme, there is the chance still you won’t succeed.

There is the chance, too, as anything a writer may write, that I’ve given this way too much thought and have digressed to the point where I’ve lost you. Maybe a picture would’ve worked just as well….

 

But I doubt it (other than the fact that it’s noticeably empty, which should give you a clue into what our refrigerator and freezer must look like).

The point is, food and the choices we make about food are just too important (maybe even more important than medicine or science) to our overall health to leave it to clever marketing and profit-driven nutritionists.

Despite all the recent attention (and some old), the truth is not much has changed about our pantry. It still takes knowledge, willpower and a diligent, concerted effort on all of our parts to root out the hidden perils in the foods being offered to us. It can be done, and the dangers of not doing so are high. But it’s a shame that we have to spend so much time in deliberation and worry over it. Our great grandmothers would be shocked and more than a bit saddened considering their unique perspective of having made their own life’s journey and left knowing what really matters.

 

Cleaning the Slate

Franca and I are not fanatics about health — well, our children might say we are and maybe it’s true, though we also believe that everything is better in moderation, including wellness dogmas — but we do eat well, exercise regularly and generally follow the kind of active, wholesome lifestyle that promotes youth, not aging. With this past year taking a toll on us on so many levels, in the days following our one year anniversary of living with diabetes we took advantage of this emotive milestone to do something about whatever remained of the unfavorable, pent-up feelings not successfully accepted, purged, exorcised or written off in the long months prior. There was, despite these efforts, the toxic residual of dark thought still polluting our minds and weighing our bodies down. I saw it when I looked in the mirror and felt it when I tightened my belt.

I didn’t know it then, but Eastern tradition has a word for this. It’s called amma. In English, we know it only as a mucus and while we don’t for the most part imagine it anywhere other than running from the nose, it’s everywhere in the body. The ears, the lungs, joints, the gut, the genitals. Our bodies make about a quart of it everyday in protecting these and other vital systems from such noxious intruders as pesticides, processed foods, medications, household cleaners and, according to believers of amma, negative emotions. Over time, the mucus builds up like plaque and leads to a feeling of lifeless and heaviness in the body and mind.

The solution to ridding ourselves of this unwelcome load, practitioners of this holistic movement say, is through treatments of a less conventional, more whole-person approach, such as nutrition, yoga, meditation, and fitness, all of which aid in this process of natural detoxification. One of the champions of this philosophy, Dr. Alejandro Junger, cardiologist and author of the book Clean, describes the goal as this: “the vibrant well-being and longevity that are your birthright.”

I had no idea if this was possible but I did like the idea of purging myself of the burden of what I could only imagine were the enduring spoors of every tear, every worry, every heartbreaking element of this new reality. The clarity and lightness I hoped to re-discover was just too much to pass up. Franca agreed and we borrowed Junger’s book from the library and, minus the supplements, adopted his nutritional cleanse program to help get us there.

The plan was simple: eliminate a number of foods from our diet — dairy, wheat, caffeine, alcohol, to name a few of my personal obstacles — and consume only liquid meals (smoothies, juices, soups) for breakfast and dinner; then allow at least 12 hours between dinner and breakfast to give the body time to digest the food and move on to the Great Toxic Dump.

We followed the program for two weeks — the full plan calls for three (everything in moderation, remember) — and to bring the kids into it and make it a bit more fun, we measured our success through the Ninentdo Wii Fit. By the two week’s end, we had shed a collective twenty pounds, most of which I can honestly say seemed to come not from fat but from somewhere deeper inside our bodies, giving some weight to the mucoid plaque theory. My Wii fit age dropped to 27 (I’m nearly twenty years plus that in non-Wii years, but in the interest of full disclosure, when we started I measured 31 Wii-years old, so not that great of a change. Franca’s age didn’t change at all, she held pretty much at 30). So it appeared from those reckonings alone to be a phenomenal success. But the real test however was not how I looked but how I felt and the clean did make me feel younger, healthier and more energetic, especially at night when before I looked ready for bed as soon as I’d polished off dinner, I now looked forward to a game of chess against Lia or even yoga with my wife.

As for the emotions? I won’t pretend to think that the anxiety I’d felt over the past year was suddenly and entirely eradicated with this cleanse. It wasn’t. After all, we’re talking about diabetes, an incurable illness requiring constant maintenance. Even with acceptance, each and every day adds some degree of grief, angst, and frustration to the volume of toxins for which mucus must keep up its insurgent-war against. What the clean did for me though is highlight the fact that you are what you eat, but you don’t have to be what you think.

Compromise

How the dispute ended with us and sugar was not so much a compromise as it was a surrender on our part. But since surrender conjures in the mind images of winners and losers, making it a hard word for at least one of the two to swallow, especially if you’re an ex-soldier, I’ll settle with compromise. We agreed to let sugar back into the house provided there was less than a handful of grams per serving, and by handful, my oldest daughter would argue, means in the neighborhood of nothing that tastes like kid food — but in reality means usually not more than ten. No more sugar monopolies. Also High Fructose Corn Syrup was banned. Period. No discussion. In return for these conditions, we ate less, ate better, and were happier, healthier people because of it.

This compromise was “signed” two years ago, so when Lia’s diabetes was diagnosed you can imagine first, our shock. How could she have a disorder so connected to sugar? We’d already, healthfully — and inadequately so — addressed its role in our lives. Second, after the immediate worry of her recovery had passed, came examination. What did this mean to how we ate? What did it mean to the learnings from two years ago, all that time spent in the grocery destroying our eyes reading tiny ingredient labels, hours spent lecturing the kids the nutritional value of food, what of all our efforts and struggles and costs of eating healthily and responsibly.

To come to our house and eat is not to be met with extravagant dishes. They are good dishes to be sure, delicious in fact, but there’s nothing fancy or even of much variety from week to week. We found what worked for us and our family and lifestyle and stuck with it. Our menu, which we write on a white board each Sunday for the following week, reads pretty much the same:

Monday is meatless. We have laying hens, so you can guess what it entails.

Tuesday is pasta. Always has, always will. (We somehow have to make this work. This family is mostly Italian, we do well to limit it to once a week).

Wednesday, fish, venison or pork, and veggies such as kale, roasted carrots, and rice or potatoes.

Thursday tends to be somewhat of a repeat of Wednesday, though we try to work in beans, lentils, or some other legume. Kale with white beans is a favorite. During garden season, the fresh vegetable choices are phenomenal. Sautéed cucumbers, grilled tomatoes, baked zucchini, roasted bell peppers, Jalapeno poppers, boiled beets, green bean salads… I could go on and on, but it is still blustery winter outside and for my sanity I won’t.

Friday is wings, or fajitas, maybe tacos. Usually wings though.

Saturday is pizza. Homemade. Best ever. Hands down. Add a glass of homemade Chianti and there’s never any reason to go out for a pie.

Sunday is “linner”, lunch and dinner combined, and may consist of a roast or something grilled, more veggies, baked bread. When there’s time, my wife, who is the cook in our house, no question, tries recipes that are a bit more adventurous and they always turn out superb (Boeuf Bourguignon most recently. It was, in the memory of Julia Child, good enough to make you cry. Bon appetit!). But in most case we are a simple-is-better food family. So with our treaty with sugar in place and our dinner menu simple, homemade and fresh, what had to change with diabetes?

Not a whole lot, to be honest. In fact, eating for us has been the easiest adaptation we’ve had to make since her diagnosis in December. The hard part is dosing correctly, which is another story all together, one that keeps us up late at night and wakes us early in the morning and generally occupies our thoughts throughout most of the other parts of a day.

But as for the food itself, we think we’ve been doing pretty well with it. So well, in fact, I had intended, in honor of the many lists I’ve found on the web touting the top diabetic snacks, to offer up Lia’s Top Favorite Foods list (in fairness to her Kale would probably not be on it, or sweet potatoes!). But the more I thought about it, the more I started to think if someone out there hasn’t already come up with their own healthful best foods list, they probably shouldn’t start it online. Better to just head on down with their reading glasses to their local grocery market.

War on Sugar

When it was just the five of us and no diabetes it was the desire Franca and I had of eating healthier foods, produced more sustainably and responsibly, that drove us to declare war on sugar. It started, as many such conflicts do, as a simple disagreement over turf: our wanting food that was good for us versus sugar’s monopolistic saturation of the food industry. At the same time we were moving ourselves toward living more simply and off resources found closer to home and of the land, a rule of order that ensured our place as a steadfast enemy of industry. And finally, I was on a quest personally to lower my cholesterol without the use of prescription drugs. I had nothing against proven pharmaceuticals, but I felt if I could achieve the same results through modifications to my diet, I would be a better person for it. Plus, I hated the experience of having to take a pill everyday for the rest of my life. Now, of course, with insulin-dependent diabetes a part of our day to day lives, I feel ridiculous having even complained.

But such as the way things were back then, we chose Valentine’s Day, a symbolic gesture of our seriousness, as our date of revolt. Our strategy went like this: We would for a period of two weeks eliminate processed sugar from everything we ate. Everything. No cereal. No soda. No packaged snacks. No granola bars, no yogurt, no tasty coffee cookies.

Sugar was a worthy adversary, however, and an information-gathering, reconnaissance trip to the grocery forced us to add to the Do Not Eat watch list. Peanut butter, tomato sauce, chicken stock — yes, chicken stock, canned soups, canned beans, canned just-about-anything, crackers, chips, ketchup. This last one, especially, caused our family some heartache as our oldest daughter, Krista, was an addicted user, even dragging green beans through a pool of the red stuff in order to wash them down. Learning of ketchup’s betrayal, she immediately deserted and waged her own war against us as a full-time dissenter.

And so it went, with us rooting sugar out of concealment and it’s clever hiding places, banishing it from our cupboards and refrigerator shelves, and finding a more suitable, or in some case, no, replacement. Lia, for all of her six years, turned out to be an exceptional soldier, using her sharp, childhood inquisitiveness to sniff out the enemy on ingredient listings everywhere. Even Krista came around, by the end of the two weeks she had lost the equivalent of one grumpy pre-teen along with six unnecessary pounds.

The war ended eventually, as all wars should, and we made our peace with sugar. We had neither won nor lost. Sugar is back in the house again, but without unchecked reign over our pantry, so I suppose you could say we won the battle. Out of it grew new alliances: A garden, egg-laying chickens, closer friends at the farmer’s market, veggies that did not require condiments. Even my cholesterol played nicer, staying in check without medication for the entire next year.

Yes, we thought we’d done pretty well, and even if we hadn’t, in those days it was much easier to make light of our failures. Losing takes on different meanings depending on what’s at stake, and for us now, sugar — carbs, whatever you want to call it — is waging a fresh new war and the goals have become much loftier than life without a pill.

To read more on the perils of sugar, here is an in-depth article from Mother Earth News. In addition, there are plenty of myths surrounding sugar and type 1 diabetes, to see the facts please click here.