Monday, July 20, 2015

Update on the IBS Food Challenge

I was recently reminded that I never really continued with my story about what I had learned, and how I had fared, on the IBS diet I had initiated last year.

If you recall, I had done some homework on digestive problems and found something called the FODMAP Diet. FODMAP is an acronym for “fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols”. Quite a mouthful, but basically: components found in many foods that commonly trigger IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) in a lot of people. Here’s a link to the article I wrote on the subject last April.

So what happened after Week 1 on the FODMAP Diet? 

I continued with weeks 2 through 6 and found that I felt better than I had in very long time. Clearly there was something behind this eating plan! Eating out was nearly non-existent because I had to maintain strict oversight of everything I was eating. I was preparing most of my own food and reading labels on the rest like never before.

I discovered early on that I was lactose-intolerant and cut out dairy entirely. This was perhaps the single toughest thing to deal with because I love dairy. But I did it for a while to give my gut a rest. It made a huge difference. Eventually though I would learn through more reading which dairy contained the highest amounts of lactose and just avoided those. Things like milk and soft cheeses (ricotta and cottage cheese, for example) were completely avoided. Hard cheeses like parmesan, pecorino, swiss and cheddar contain very low levels of lactose and I seemed to do alright eating these as long as I ate them in small quantities. Over time, if I wanted to eat or drink something that had higher levels of lactose, I’d take a Lact-Aid tablet which contains the enzyme my body lacks to digest lactose. Problem basically solved. That one was pretty easy to figure out. I still do all that to this day.

What was also a sort of no-brainer was that the usual suspects like beans and hard to digest vegetables were out.

What I also discovered, which took a little more detective work, were a variety of other vegetables and fruits I found I had trouble with. When I reintroduced them into my eating plan after the initial avoidance period, it became clear that things like broccoli, all members of the onion/leek family and asparagus created problems. Apples and stone fruit sat heavily in my stomach, while berries and bananas were much easier. Now I do the best I can to avoid the things I learned trigger IBS symptoms. Eating out makes this more difficult, especially because there are onions in just about everything! 

A list of the common IBS trigger foods can be found here.

This list was compiled directly by the creators of the FODMAP Diet but you can find other lists on different sites. If you just Google “FODMAP Diet Food List”, you’ll get lots of hits.

For you, if you’re suffering from IBS, the foods that cause you problems might be different from mine, but it’s a safe bet to start with "The List" and go from there. The important thing is to start and begin feeling better right away! 

After the initial avoidance phase comes the experimentation phase, where you start reintroducing a different common trigger food each week, and yes, this step takes discipline and commitment. But there is no other way for you to learn what makes you feel bad unless you tackle it like this. Your doctor cannot tell you what foods are doing this to you. Only you can find this out on your own by experimenting. Sorry, there are no shortcuts to doing the work.

Downing Pepto-Bismol, TUMS (or whatever else you’re taking) every day for the rest of your life is no solution. You are masking the underlining problem and ultimately you still have IBS. While there is no evidence that unresolved IBS will lead to colon cancer, stomach cancer, or anything like that, why tempt fate, and why be miserable? If it hurts, something is wrong and needs to be addressed.

Even if you don’t have IBS but you find that sometimes you have “tummy” problems, do an elimination diet like this one to uncover the culprit.

If you need help creating a customized food plan for yourself, seek out the assistance of a nutrition professional who specializes in FODMAP Diets. It will be money well spent to get back to feeling good. One dietician I’ve found whose site is easy to navigate and fun to read is Kate Scarlata’s, found here.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Pizza Crust

Having given up a lot of foods that “regular” people eat, suffice it to say that although I feel so much better having made those changes, there are still times when I crave something on the “verboten” list.

Lately it’s been pizza.

I go into this state where I can just imagine all that doughy, cheesy goodness........the pizza sauce clinging to dough, the pepperoni with just the right “bite”, the cheese congealing it all together, the obligatory few veggies to make you think it’s quasi-healthy. Ah.......but then the harsh reality follows. After the satisfaction of having sunk my teeth into this Italian-American pie, what inevitably follows is a day and a half of digestive agony - the crippling gaseous pain that is enough to land me on the couch asking myself “why”. Why did I have to eat it?

Not worth it.

But, I still miss it.

The craving lingered and unable to resist it any longer I decided it was time to explore pizza crust alternatives. What ingredient could be used, flattened into a disk, that could somewhat pass as a crust? Ideally some kind of vegetable, so that it would be healthier.

Cauliflower, maybe? Not as strange as you may think it sounds. What the hell. I decided to try it. Here it is.

Cauliflower Pizza Crust 

1 small head of cauliflower, florets removed
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
1 egg, beaten

Place a pizza stone or baking sheet in the oven and pre-heat to 450 degrees. 

  • Remove the florets from the cauliflower. Place them in a food processor or blender and pulse until the cauliflower has the texture of sand. You should have about 2 1/2 - 3 cups of cauliflower “sand”.

  • Transfer the cauliflower sand to a microwave safe bowl and microwave, covered, for about 4 minutes.
  • Let your cauliflower cool completely. When cool, place the cauliflower in a clean kitchen towel and wring it tightly to remove as much moisture as humanly possible. You may want to do this in 2-3 batches.
  • Place the cauliflower pulp in a mixing bowl and add the cheese, spices and egg. Mix until well combined. Use your hands.
  • Form the “dough” into a ball and place it on a piece of parchment paper sprayed with a little cooking oil. Place a second piece of sprayed parchment on top of the dough and roll it out into a circle about 1/16 inch in thickness. Remove the top sheet of parchment and carefully transfer your dough to the hot pizza stone/baking sheet. Bake anywhere from 10-20 minutes. My old oven took a little longer. A good oven should take about 10 minutes. Mine took about 20-25. You want it to be golden brown and crisp. Keep checking it after the 10 minute mark and leave it in longer if it’s not there yet. Time is not the issue, it’s being done that is.

  • While the crust is crisping, you can prepare your toppings. I used pre-cooked chicken, ready-made pesto sauce, and then just sautéed some mushrooms in a little freshly minced garlic. When the crust was ready, I spread on the pesto, sprinkled on the ‘shrooms and chicken, and then a little more shredded mozzarella on top. Then I baked it another 7-8 minutes until the cheese was melted.
Important: Let your pizza cool for 2-3 minutes before slicing to make sure that the crust stays intact.

Serve with a green salad and a glass of your favorite red wine.

Verdict: I still miss the dough, but this gave me that satisfaction from my pizza craving that I was looking for, all the while knowing that it was FAR healthier than the real thing anyway.

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