Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Book Review and the Four R's

When your digestion isn't functioning well, a comprehensive approach is needed to put it right. I have a wonderful book called "Optimal Digestive Health - A Complete Guide" that is packed with great information about digestion. It is a collaborative effort on the part of many experts in the field of nutrition and digestion and is over 550 pages long. You might want to look into getting it at your local bookstore on online at amazon. 

Explaining first How the Body Works, then providing a list of Tools for Evaluating Your Health, Finding New Strategies for Inner Health, Therapies for Mind-Body Medicine, to providing a List of Treatment Options for Specific Conditions, it is a great resource for anyone interested in improving their digestion. I wanted to share a section from the book written by Jeffrey Bland, Ph.D. that I find to be the core of not only the book, but of improving digestion. Something called "The 4R Support Program".

Here's what Dr. Bland writes:

"A comprehensive approach to normalizing gastrointestinal function, referred to as the "4 R's", involves four basic steps: Remove, Replace, Restore, and Repair. 

"Remove" focuses on eliminating pathogenic bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, allergens, and toxins from the GI tract. This is a crucial beginning step on the path to digestive wellness.

The second step is "Replace", replenishing enzymes and other digestive factors that may be lacking, such as pancreatic enzymes, hydrochloric acid (HCI), or intrinsic factor

The third step, "Restore", refers to restoring the beneficial bacteria that are commonly found in a normal digestive system, but may be missing from a dysfunctional one. It is an important step in restoring healthy function to the gut. A variety of supplemental resources may be considered helpful in this phase, including cultured and fermented foods and supplements containing live beneficial bacteria.

The fourth step in a 4R approach, "Repair", addresses intestinal permeability through the use of nutritional supplements known to be critical in intestinal function.

Step 1: Remove
  • Common food allergies or sensitivities
  • Bad bugs - candida (yeast) or bacterial overgrowth or parasites
  • Problems from viruses
  • Minimize environmental and digestive toxins

Step 2: Replace
  • Betaine hydrochloride (hydrochloric acid)
  • Enzymes (animal or plant-based)
  • Bicarbonate (which enables the enzymes to work)
  • Intrinsic factor
Step 3: Restore
  • Probiotics - L. acidophilus and other probiotics
  • Provide prebiotics if starches and sugars are tolerated. Nourishment for the beneficial microflora such as FOS (fructo-oligo-saccharides) and inulin
  • Increase fiber and monitor the response. Soluble fiber such as oat bran increases butyrate and other essential fatty acids. Nonsoluble fiber such as cellulose is best tolerated by some people, but not others
  • Increase resistant starch in the diet to reduce acidity, and raise fatty acids
  • Monitor level of starches and sugars (carbohydrates are a common source of digestive upset)
Step 4: Repair
  • Provide nutrients to heal the GI mucosa: vitamins A and C, B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyrodoxine), the amino acid L-glutamine, and the mineral zinc
  • Support the immune functions of the GI tract: vitamin A to nourish antibody production
  • Continue to avoid allergens and irritants: certain drugs (such as NSAIDs), alcohol, and foods that trigger allergies."

In Step 1, finding out if you have these "bad bugs" requires testing, and usually not by a regular doctor. You might have to request these tests from a specialist. Some can even be performed by a specialized lab via mail. The book has a great list of resources throughout on where to go for help.

How to go about doing all these steps is outlined in the book, of course. Each section gets a well-researched and extensive list of suggestions to get well. Of course no one thing works for everybody, and it might take trial and error to find out what's really going on with your own digestion, but it helps to have a place to start from. I highly recommend this book. It has helped me immensely.

Regarding my own digestion, I have had much success avoiding lactose and doing the FODMAP Diet. While I sometimes still have low-lactose-containing foods, they still cause some discomfort and therefore must remain an occasional treat nad be eaten in small quantities. Onions and garlic are back in, and while eating them raw causes the most trouble, cooking them very well or adding them to foods during the cooking process and then removing them (and not eating them) helps tremendously.

Just like life, it seems, getting to know one's ever-changing body is a journey and a learning process. Learn by reading good books such as this one.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Featured Vegetable: Swiss Chard

This leafy green was identified by a Swiss botanist and is a variety of Beta vulgaris, belongs to the same family as beets and spinach, and shares a similar taste profile with a flavor that is bitter, pungent, and slightly salty. The plant has numerous monikers, including silverbeet, Roman kale, and strawberry spinach, though I always see it as "Swiss chard" at the markets where I shop.

Swiss chard is one of several leafy green veggies often referred to as "greens", something we're supposed to be eating much more of because of their impressive list of health-promoting nutrients. Chard is available throughout the year, but its peak season runs June through August when it is in the greatest abundance at your market. So now is the time to run out and get some at your farmer's market!

Swiss chard has a thick crunchy stalk that comes in white, red, or yellow, with wide fan-like green leaves. Plants can grow to 28 inches high and look really good growing in the garden. They make a great display of color and look pretty even if you don’t plan to eat them!

As I mentioned, Swiss chard is a nutritional powerhouse -- an excellent source of vitamins K, A, and C, as well as a good source of magnesium, potassium, iron, and dietary fiber.

And like beets, chard is a unique source of phytonutrients called betalains. In this family are found reddish-purple as well as yellowish pigments that scientists have identified provide us with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and detoxification support.

Sometimes at the market, different colored varieties will be bunched together and labeled "rainbow chard". I like to buy these because they're pretty. When the nutritionists tell you to "eat the rainbow" it doesn't get much better than this.

One cup of chopped Swiss chard has just 35 calories and provides more than 300% of the daily value for vitamin K. But skip this veggie if you’re prone to kidney stones; it contains oxalates, which decrease the body’s absorption of calcium and can lead to kidney stones. (One way to reduce the oxalates is to boil the chard.)

According to some research I did, chard shows benefits for blood sugar regulation in animal studies due to it containing syringic acid, a flavonoid shown to inhibit activity of an enzyme called alpha-glucosidase. When inhibited fewer carbs are broken down into simple sugars and blood sugar is able to stay more steady. While studies on humans have yet to be performed, I take this research nonetheless as another reason to incorporate it into my diet.

Cooking Swiss chard:

Prepare Swiss chard by rinsing the crisp leaves several times in warm water. Leaves and stalks can be boiled, sautéed, steamed, or roasted, but boiling seems to reduce the bitterness the best, from what I’ve read.

Ideas for using Chard:

Toss with penne pasta and olive oil, lemon juice, and chopped garlic
Add to omelets and frittatas
Use in place of spinach when preparing veggie lasagna

I once posted a recipe for Swiss Chard and Bacon Quiche. It's still one of my favorite things to do with chard, although now I’d make the crust gluten-free. And while that quiche is totally delicious, I would save a recipe like that for the weekend when I have more time to cook. Here’s what I typically do with Swiss chard on weeknights.

Sauteed Swiss chard with bacon & garlic

Chop some bacon into little bite-sized pieces and place in a saute pan. Get it nice and crisp.

Once crisp, you can either remove the bacon, leaving the fat, or leave everything in the pan. Either way, clean your chard well and chop off the stalks and then chop them into pieces the same size as the bacon. Dry these off really well before adding to the bacon fat else your stove top will get a good splattering of fat all over the place. Saute the chopped stalks for several minutes to soften a bit. Then add the leaves, which have also been chopped. Let the leaves steam a bit before giving everything a good stir. Add some chopped garlic, and continue cooking until the leaves are properly wilted (about 10 minutes), stirring every so often. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with a little fresh lemon juice before serving.

We had it last night alongside a piece of sauteed fish in garlic butter. Mmmhh, boy did we smell like garlic!

To make this vegetarian, simply replace the bacon with a generous amount of butter. Do not use oil and most definitely do not use margarine! That stuff'll kill ya.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Ethiopia in Los Angeles

It's been a long while since I've done a restaurant review. It's because I don't eat out that much anymore, as you know, and when I do, it's just some little taco place or Thai restaurant in the neighborhood - nothing really too out of the ordinary. But I wanted to tell you about my experience in Los Angeles last weekend.

There is this section along Fairfax Avenue just south of San Vicente that I have travelled past for many years. It isn't more than a few blocks long and it was established in the late 1980's with a single restaurant. After a little while other business people flocked to the area to open shops themselves nearby when they saw how successful this one restaurant had been. Eventually the area became well-known as an Ethiopian hangout and in 2004 the mayor coined it "Little Ethiopia". 

Every time I would drive by this unique little neighborhood I would tell myself that "some day" I would have to stop and explore it. Of course, as most things go, that day just never seemed to present itself, until recently.

I was invited to join a group of former co-workers and their friends at that very first restaurant I mentioned earlier, which was then, and still is, called Rosalind's. 

The group meets there quarterly and is a collection of former work associates, their friends or spouses, or fellow volleyballers. The one woman who connects all of us is, no surprise, Ethiopian, and it was she who we deferred to when it came time to order dinner.

She ordered a sampler platter that allowed us to try a variety of specialties, both vegetable and meat.

A typical presentation

This sampler was served on a large round platter on top of Ethiopia's staple, Injera, a unique unleavened flatbread made of teff. I had heard of teff but had never tried it.

Teff is an African cereal that is cultivated almost exclusively in Ethiopia, used mainly to make flour and out of this flour comes Injera.  Injera is the national dish. It's a sourdough-risen flatbread with a unique, slightly spongy texture.  It's used as not only the starch of the meal, but the utensil as well, for Ethiopians don't eat with fork and knife. They eat with their hands, using Injera to scoop up the food. 

Ethiopian dining is therefore a very communal event! You can't be shy, either, or you'll get the leftovers after everything has been picked through. You have to just dive right in.

But let me not get ahead of myself. The first course was a simple salad dressed lightly with lemon juice and maybe a little oil. 

Then came the platter, which contained vegetables dishes such as a carrot and cabbage combination, green beans with onions, pureed chickpeas, lentils and sauteed collard greens. The meats included lamb and beef which I didn't have (not my thing) which was fine because there was a chicken and hard-boiled egg dish that I fell madly in love with. Called Doro Wot, it has a very unique spice blend as a base for the sauce, cooked with pureed onions, garlic and chicken broth. Super-delicious. And of course, I was immediately compelled to make it myself.

But let me finish with the dinner. When we had eaten the meal, our waitress came by with a smoking pan of green coffee beans. She passed the pan under our noses so we could enjoy the smell of roasting coffee beans. She then took the beans back into the kitchen and ground them and then returned with a pot of freshly brewed coffee served in little cups much like espresso. It was divine. Alongside the coffee drinking we had burning frankincense, which is part of the "coffee ceremony". (Trivia question: where did coffee originate?)

After we were stuffed to the gills, our Ethiopian friend took us a few doors down to a market with all sorts of African items for sale. I was particularly interested in seeing the spices and food products and my friend showed me which spice blend to buy to make this incredibly flavorful sauce. It's a red chili pepper blend but contains over 14 different spices. I scoured the internet (of course) for recipes for Doro Wat and found several. This one, though sounds exactly like how the technique was described to me, so I'm going to try this one.

I found it on a pretty cool-looking website called Food Republic. I'm going to just insert the link to it here. Nice picture of it, too!

I'll let you know how it goes.

But if you're ever driving along Fairfax and you come across this part of town, I do encourage you to get out and explore and perhaps eat at one of the local establishments in Little Ethiopia.