Friday, July 24, 2009

Our Nutrition Journey (Part 2 - From Georgia Onward)

This is continuing from my previous post, Our Nutrition Journey (My History With Food), as a part of Fight Back Fridays.

When I moved down to GA in the summer of 2007, I moved in with my brother and sister-in-law. They baked all of their baked goods with flour freshly milled in their kitchen from whole wheat. I was a little hesitant to swing so drastically into the "health food" camp (which is really laughable, if you know me now), but I decided to at least try it. What I learned is that wheat bread made from freshly milled flour has a very surprising nutty flavor to it, not at all like the cardboard taste of store bought wheat. Whether Jen is making cookies, breads, or cakes; she does that with freshly milled whole wheat flour. The more I ate with them, the less I liked white bread. In fact, most things made with white bread just tasted empty. I decided that when I was no longer living with them, I was definitely investing in a grain mill of my own. Other than that, I did not have too much planned along the lines of healthy living. As far as I was concerned, all the wonderful benefits of freshly milled flour (and there are indeed many) would be the cure-all for my health.

Meanwhile, my husband Jeff (then my friend) had a few appointments with his doctor regarding blood work less than positive results. When the implications of his current eating patterns (lots of soda and other refined sugars) became clear, his diet changed almost overnight! Cholesterol and blood sugar both were high, and the doctor was quite concerned, so all of the sudden, soda was entirely removed from Jeff's diet. The rest of this is basically just what he had recounted to me while all of this was going on. Jeff felt like he had more energy with all the sugar gone, so instead of just cutting out the sweets he switched to xylitol for a few things. That was great for uncooked foods, and it is supposed to cook up just the same as sugar, but somehow everything ended up fluffier when he used it.

When we were getting ready to get married, I was afraid I was going to have to try and convince Jeff that we should do the wheat. Little did I know that his mom had frequently made bread from scratch when he was growing up, and he preferred a heartier bread. He said to me once when we were talking about budgeting, groceries, and the like; "So, we're going to do the wheat, right?" So I ordered wheat right away when we got married, and just went around using other people's mills until we could afford our own. I knew several people who had mills, and all of them were people I enjoy spending time with, so that made it even better. It was not just a way for me to mill flour until we had our own mill, it was an opportunity snippets of quality time with people I like to be with.

We were largely drinking soy milk, because Jeff is allergic to (pasteurized) dairy. Sometimes (in order to not make a big deal of things in public and such) he would just eat/drink dairy anyway, but every time he got really I pretty much just stayed away from cheese and only cooked with soy milk. I was asking a friend for tips on milk substitutes that maybe were a little creamier, and she said, "He's even allergic to raw milk?" I totally did not understand the question. How could pasteurization affect an allergy? She explained to me that pasteurization kills an enzyme that makes casein and other proteins more digestible. I was partly excited about the concept, and partly in stunned disbelief. There was no way this sounded logical or truthful (but I really hoped it was). I stuck the idea on the back burner, not wanting to make an investment of any kind in something that might not work. Then, while we were hanging out with some family down here (aside: it's really complicated to say how exactly "family" is related. My sister in law's fun-loving family continuously grows by association, and we are included in that group. So I could say that it was my sister-in-law's sister Angie who offered us the milk, but that just sounds clumsy and way too dificult. It is easier and more accurate to just say my sister or my sister in law, that said, I'm just going to use sil for short), my sil Angie said, "I have some raw milk, do you want to try it?" I was excited, Jeff not so much. UNTIL...he tried it. Then he was astonished at how it tastes good, while pasteurized milk tastes not-so-good. Better yet, he did not get sick! So we switched.

In a fit of experimentation (those happen to me often, sometimes it works, sometimes it is not so pretty) I decided I wanted to try to make butter. My wonderful husband googled like crazy and found this incredible blog post, complete with step by step instructions and clear pictures. The butter making is not something we do all the time. We really do not enjoy the taste of our milk skimmed (and one of the benefits of raw milk is that there is no need to, health and fats wise), so we only make it when I can get cream from our farmer, too (as opposed to just milk). The experiment went well, though, and I decided to check out Lindsay's blog (see link a few lines back) to see what else she had in store.

Well, to my amazement she had all kinds of health tips, recipes, and more importantly, links to other blogs on the same topics. I began to learn about soaking grains and legumes. At first glance all I could think was, "That just seems like a lot of extra work!" But the more I thought about it, if we were going as far as to freshly mill our own flour immediately before baking to get more benefit from the flour, we were silly not to soak, when that would increase the nutritional benefit by so much! So, I started learning how to soak, but found that my off-the-cuff M.O. didn't really jive with something you needed to do 8-24 hours in advance. Then one day I accidentally stumbled onto a post on meal planning. After the meals were the steps needed to get ready for the next days meals, and I thought, "This is IT! This is how I can keep on top of things (more...not entirely, but more)."

Meal planning made things even easier, because it broke my cook time down into shorter segments. One for milling and soaking, and one for adding the final ingredients and baking. So I found it was much easer to soak grains and to plan ahead than it was for me to bake at all without soaking. This may not be the case for everyone else, but it was certainly the case for me. Once again when I thought Jeff would be weirded out by some new thing, he said, "I'm pretty sure my mom soaked her bread dough." So another smooth transition took place (Praise the Lord!).

In reading posts on soaking, I came across making your own kefir often. Now, for those of you who have no idea what it is, kefir (pronounced "kuhFEER"), it is a probiotic food. It is a lot like yogurt, except that is consistency is thinner (more like a smoothie), and it has more probiotic cultures. I was already familiar with kefir from my time in Boston. I had a housemate from Russia who taught me how to say it, and recommended it when I could not eat very much (I was dealing with stress, and have tended to take my stress out on my stomach. When I would get very anxious, I would be hungry, but would be creating so much extra acid that I was also nauseated. Kefir was the only thing I could drink when that happened, and I'd basically drink kefir and eat bread for two days until my stomach was okay again). Anyway, I had already started making yogurt, but I had no idea that you could make kefir! I was very excited about a) having it on hand again, and b) only spending just over $1 a quart, instead of $3 a quart.

The dictionary definition above lacks in one way, it only references 2 cultures. Yogurt generally has 2, but kefir usually has several. Lifeway Kefir (which I highly recommend if you can't / don't want to make your own or can't get raw milk anyway) has ten probiotic cultures in it. Homemade kefir from raw milk, I recently learned, can have as many as 28 probiotic cultures in it. The acid-culture environment of both kefir and yogurt makes the calcium in milk more absorbable (as well as a host of B Vitamins!), so I began to make kefir smoothies a part of my daily regimen (well, not much I do is planned, so it pretty much was my daily regimen). Every morning for breakfast I would make a kefir smoothie (and most mornings I would eat granola or a hard-boiled egg, too). Jeff eats the yogurt, but even sweetened, the kefir is a little too sharp-tasting for him. Sweetened with some sucanat and vanilla, I love to add it to a banana and a handful of strawberries. I have also started making our own cheeses and such. Mostly just Mozzarella and Riccotta. And straining some batches of yogurt to make "yogurt cheese" or basically, cream cheese.

We also, after much reading, switched over entirely from processed white and brown sugars to sucanat, in order to help out with Jeff's blood sugar, but also because mine had gotten a little weird. I had always tended toward being hypoglycemic, and recently had noticed that if I ate anything with too much processed sugar, I was suddenly quite lacking in energy, almost to the point of falling asleep. Knowing that reactive hypoglycemia such as that can be a precursor to diabetes (which I have a family history of), we decided to turn our little baby step of using xylitol sometimes into a leap of faith in using sucanat all the time.

I have read so many more wonderful ideas on so many blogs (such as the ones I've been linking to for Fight Back Fridays, Menu Planning Mondays, Real Food Wednesdays, and Gratituesdays - yes, they're not in order, because they didn't come to mind in order), and we've wanted to implement many more of them, but at the moment I've had to learn to be stop for a while and be content where we are. We have a small kitchen (a small apartment in general), with no room for a garden, so at this point we have had to say, "we will do this later." But I am very excited to say that with just those changes in place (raw milk, freshly milled flour, sucanat, and soaking) Jeff's recent labs were almost miraculously better, and my blood sugar is normal! Not only that, but we (who had previously been getting sick with head/chest colds 1-2 times a month) have not been sick in like six months!

Typing it up, it really sounds like a lot of changes; but adding them one step at a time was crucial! These changes, though have really affected us for the better. I was just getting to a point of getting bored with some of it (yes, it happens!), when Jeff came home and said his cholesterol had gone down 100 points in the last year (yes, if you're wondering, that is incredible to achieve with no medications), and that he was no longer borderline diabetic. Talk about news that motivates you. I regained my wind, so to speak, and haven't looked back. Our health is so much better than where it was, and REAL FOOD is largely at the root of it!

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