Archive for November, 2009

Inflammation – the ultimate frienemy.

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

I’ve been reading a lot about inflammation.   My husband and I are on disability for joint and autoimmune diseases, and most of our health issues are linked to inflammation gone wrong. 

Inflammation is a normal and necessary response from the immune system to bacterial, viral, and allergic stimuli.  It’s a normal reaction, but sometimes it becomes an over-reaction, and inflammation can be triggered when there are no invaders to fight (and the body begins fighting itself instead) or in the case of allergies, no dangerous invaders to fight.

The theory is interesting, especially in regards to the possibility that specific foods may aggravate or reduce unnecessary inflamation.

Interesting theory, but in reading several of the popular books on the subject, it becomes clear this is still a largely unproven theory.  There’s some, but not universal agreement over which foods affect inflammation, and in what direction.  One book identifies hot peppers (capsaicin) as inflammatory, and another says they’re anti-inflammatory.

Several of the authors try to quantify the inflammatory nature of foods, and provide a food list so that you can “count” inflammatory foods, much like you would calorie counting (although you’re pretty much stuck with the book’s list, because how the inflammatory score is calculated is never explained in a way that you can calculate it for yourself for any food that’s not listed in the respective book).

Even with these weaknesses, there are quite a few things the authors agree upon (which I’ll list in a bit), that do seem to make quite a bit of sense.  I’ve been trying to follow those guidelines, and I do seem to be having fewer flares of the autoimmune disease.  I’m not entirely convinced, but so far the evidence is persuasive, definitely worth giving some consideration at least.

As for the guidelines that most of the sources do agree upon:

Omega 3 fats are anti-inflammatory (adding fish oil supplements, and cold-water fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel… is probably a good idea). 

Nuts are anti-inflammatory (but high in calorie – obesity is inflammatory).

Junk foods – fatty, sugary, and starchy foods are inflammatory

Low GI foods are healthy choices when it comes to inflammation (some may be slightly inflammatory, but insulin is associated with inflammation, so reducing the insulin, in theory reduces inflammation).

Exercise, sleep and stress management – Stress and insomnia are inflammatory. 

Vegetables, and to a lesser degree fruits – are anti-inflammatory (some fruits are slightly inflammatory – still a very good choice though compared to foods that are hightly inflammatory like refined sugars).

Grains are inflammatory (especially to those with grain allergies).  Whole grains are a better choice, but some people may be sensitive even to large quantities of healthy grains. 

Gluten-grains such as wheat may be especially inflammatory (but maybe only to people with allergies or celiac disease – though there’s also evidence for sensitivities that aren’t severe enough to be a true allergy or celiac disease).

Dairy – may be inflammatory.  Fermentation (cheeses, yogurts….) may make dairy less inflammatory.  It may only be inflammatory to people with allergies or lactose intolerance.  You may or may not be able to increase your lactose tolerance with probiotics.


Amazing Brussels sprouts (no, really I’m not kidding).

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

To say I hated brussels sprouts, would be an understatement.  As children, we had to eat one piece of everything that was being served at the dinner table.  Which usually wasn’t a problem, because I wasn’t a picky eater and had very few disliked foods (canned carrots and peas, beets, brussels sprouts, cottage cheese, and applesauce or any cooked apple )- can’t think of anything else off hand – I even liked liver, (well if it was fried with onions anyway).

I would cry when I saw brussels sprouts.

I still don’t like canned peas or carrots – but like them fresh or frozen.  I’ve learned to enjoy beets and cottage cheese.  Still don’t like cooked apples (or soft or mushy apples, for that matter), but when it comes to brussels sprouts I’ve not just changed my mind, I’ve experienced a true a conversion – an epiphany really.

Reading a post on roasting vegetables (and already being a fan of pan roasting veggies to bring out awesome flavor), and a poster’s praise of roasted brussels sprouts – I thought it couldn’t hurt to give them another  try.  Though I have to admit, I was skeptical (also an understatement).

A tip if you don’t like this recipe (or in general, hate all vegetables) – make the recipe using a little (or a lot) more oil and seasonings.  I know that’s a sacreligious statement for weight loss – but bear with me – if you find that you like it this way, every time you make it, reduce the amount of oil – until you’re barely using any.

fresh brussels sprouts (I’ve not tried this with frozen, but in theory it would work – but the cooking time would need adjusting)

oil (I prefer canola or walnut – the best thing about walnut oil is that it’s so expensive, it reminds you to use it sparingly).

seasoning of your choice (ranch dressing powder such as a packet of Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix is my favorite.  Goya brand Adobo seasoning is very good also).

I know, I haven’t given amounts.  That’s because exact quantitiess really don’t matter.

Wash and pat dry the brussels sprouts.  Trim the ends and quarter the sprouts (through the core, so that they hold together better).  You can roast them whole or cut them in halves instead of quarters – or even slice them across the core.  I’ve done all of those.  If you cut across the core, the sprouts fall apart.  They taste good, but look very messy (and if you use too much oil, they get soggy).  Leaving them whole, the outer leaves can burn before the center is cooked.  Halved or quartered works best.  Quartered, the seasoning penetrates the sprout best, in my opinion. 

Put the cut sprouts in a ziploc bag or tupperware container.  Add oil. Close container and shake to coat.  The first time I made them, I used 2 to 3 tablespoons of oil per pound of vegetable , now I generally use less than a tablepoon – just enough to moisten the veggies so the seasonings to stick. 

Open container, add seasoning (if you’re using a packet of dry ranch dressing mix – about half to 2/3 the package), close and shake. 

Optional step  – refrigerate up to 24 hours.  I’m convinced that allowing the brussels sprouts to “marinate” in the seasonings improves the flavor – hubby says he can’t tell the difference.  Maybe I’m imagining it.  You decide.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. 

Another optional step.  Line baking dish with aluminum foil.  This isn’t necessary, but the carmelizing does tend to make the vegetables stick to the bottom of the pan (unless you use more oil than you probably want to).  Foil makes for easy cleanup (but it’s not necessary).

 Bake in oven until the veggies are to your liking.  I recommend that you start with 30 minutes, and keep checking every 3 to 5 minutes.  Ovens vary, and so do personal preferences.  Hubby likes them soft, but without much carmelization.  I like carmelized, nearly burnt edges.  30 minutes, he’s happy, 60 minutes, I’m happy and 40 minutes is about right to please us both. 

This is also a great way to make other vegetables.  Potatoes (need to cook longer), Zucchini (will cook much faster, start checking at 20 minutes).  My favorite is eggplant (use thin asian eggplants and cut in chunks, leaving the skin on).  I’ve made it with potato, carrots, zucchini, eggplant, squash, mushrooms, green beans (awesome), snap peas, parsnips, broccoli, and cauliflower

You can combine veggies, but I always try a new vegetable alone first, so that I know that when I combine them, I’m combining veggies with similar cooking times, so the one doesn’t burn before the other is tender.