Thursday, March 31, 2011

Gluten Free; Celiac Disease or Gluten Intolerance?

“Gluten Free” is the new buzzword of the day! Fortunately, it has brought much needed awareness to the subject of gluten intolerance and Celiac Disease. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and unfortunately some oats. Okay, so you’re asking, what the heck is gluten? Gluten is what makes bread fluffy, soups thick, and baked goods soft and chewy.
One of the greatest blessings in my life was eliminating gluten from my diet. Up until that point, I struggled with extreme abdominal discomfort, lethargy, bloating, and a few extra pounds to boot! This was extremely frustrating because I’ve been a health and wellness enthusiast for many years. I mean seriously, I was working out like crazy and eating healthy food, yet despite my efforts I never felt quite right. Well, back to my original thought. The reason I say it’s a blessing is because Celiac disease and gluten intolerance are easily treatable by completely eliminating gluten from your diet. I must admit, initially this was difficult; but the good news is that every since I eliminated gluten from my diet, the changes I’ve experienced have been nothing short of remarkable. First, I dropped a full size without even trying, second, I’m not constantly bloated and tired. Best of all, I have more energy than ever! Many of my friends have expressed a genuine curiosity about gluten intolerance and this inspired me to open up and share more about this topic. Also, I want to point out that there is a difference between Celiac Disease, wheat allergy, and gluten intolerance. If images of self-deprivation are filling your mind right now, stop! The best part about a gluten-free diet is that you don’t have to feel deprived because giving up gluten opens the door to so many other amazing foods. As I’ve said on many occasions before, I think diet is a four letter word! More good news; the heighted awareness surrounding Celiac disease has inspired many more gluten-free products which are readily available in most grocery stores. A gluten-free diet is not a life sentence to food boredom! Quite the contrary, I’ve discovered there is a world of delicious and healthy foods out there that are gluten-free. Deprivation is for the birds; I love food (good food!) Okay, enough on that tangent! I’ll move on to my point.

First, I’ll start with Celiac disease. Here’s the nutshell version; Celiac disease can be defined as a permanent intolerance to wheat protein and related alcohol-soluble proteins found in rye and barley. Celiac disease occurs in genetically susceptible individuals who eat these proteins, leading to an autoimmune disease, where the body’s immune system starts attacking normal tissue. This condition continues as long as these food products are in the diet. The resulting inflammation of the small intestine results in the lack of assimilation of critical vitamins and minerals.

Next in line is wheat allergy; wheat allergy is not the same as Celiac Disease. Other problems occur in individuals with wheat allergy when they eat wheat and related proteins. Wheat allergy is one of the top eight food allergies in the United States. Allergic reactions after eating wheat may include reactions in the skin, mouth, lungs, and more often that not the GI tract. Symptoms of wheat allergy can include rash, wheezing, lip swelling, abdominal pain and diarrhea.

Now we have the next runner up, gluten intolerance! It is possible to be non-Celiac and still experience intolerance to gluten. Common symptoms with wheat or gluten intolerance may include gassiness, abdominal pain, abdominal distension, and diarrhea. These symptoms are usually short-lived (although annoying) do not necessarily cause permanent damage.

If you suspect you could be afflicted with any of the above, it is important to identify whether you have Celiac Disease, versus wheat allergy or gluten intolerance. Celiac disease, wheat allergy and gluten-intolerance are treated similarly, in that individuals with these conditions must remove wheat from their diet. It is important to note, however, that there is a difference between these three medical problems. Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition, where the body’s immune system starts attacking normal tissue, such as intestinal tissue, in response to eating gluten. While Celiac Disease, wheat allergy, and gluten-intolerance may be treated with similar diets, they are not the same conditions. It is very important to know which condition you may have. The person with Celiac Disease needs to monitor their diet carefully to avoid nutritional deficiencies and other autoimmune diseases. On the other hand, the symptoms from food allergies and intolerances resolve when the offending foods are removed from the diet.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

March is National Nutrition Month!

With the first blush of spring already here, I’m super excited about all the fabulous summer fruits and vegetables on the way! Just in time for National Nutrition Month; the theme is "Eat Right with Color." This month join me in making healthy choices by incorporating a colorful variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and dairy into your meals every day. This doesn’t require a major lifestyle change; simply start by making small improvements that, over time, add up to significant health benefits. National Nutrition Month is an annual campaign sponsored by the American Dietetic Association to promote nutrition awareness and education. The theme changes each year, but it always focuses on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.

Well, let’s get started with color. This year's theme, "Eat Right with Color," provides an easy way to focus on improving eating habits. Adding a splash of colorful seasonal foods provides your body with a rainbow of powerful nutrients! So, just think variety and color and you have a winning combination. One of my favorites is a tropical rainbow fruit salad; oranges, pink grapefruit, mango, papaya, kiwi, bananas, and grapes. Or how about a Greek inspired salad: field greens, tomatoes, red onion, chick peas, black olives and artichoke hearts.

This is also a great time of year to support “local.” On Saturday mornings, I shop at a farmers market near my home; I buy raw milk cheeses, along with fruits and vegetables from growers nearby. The offerings are fresh picked and in season. Just as important, I have the satisfaction of supporting local growers and helping the environment. The increase in farmers markets is helping consumers all over the country discover the flavors of local produce. Along with sales at roadside stands, family farmers sell products through cooperatives and in some chain supermarkets.

As always, bon appétit!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Boom Boom Burgers

If you haven't had a Boom Boom Burger yet, you’re in for a treat! Not only are their burgers delicious; all their ingredients are fresh and local. This is the kind of place I definitely want to support. Their beef is all grass-fed (which is more nutritious.) A major benefit of raising animals on pasture is that their products are healthier for you. The old saying “you are what you eat” is true for animals as well! Their bacon and cheeses are made at local farms and the bread is from the Flour Garden Bakery. The Flour Garden Bakery is locally owned and only the best ingredients are used to create fine, handcrafted breads. The bacon is from Polyface Farm; Polyface is a family owned, pasture-based, organic, local-market farm in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. Boom Booms vision is inspiring; “Our vision is to enrich the lives of our neighbors, customers and employees through local, naturally fresh food and our holistic business model.”

The menu is simple and I think there’s something to be said for that. When I looked at the menu, I had my heart set on the BBQ Boom, but decided to go with the Boom Classic instead. The Boom Classic comes with Colby, grilled onion, BOOM sauce, and pickles for $8.00. I added bacon for an extra $2.00 and it was well worth it! First I’ll start by saying that the “BOOM sauce” should be renamed the “Boom Boom Wow Sauce!" This sauce was absolutely delicious and it was very difficult to maintain my lady-like composure and resist the urge to lick my fingers! The burgers are made fresh to order; they are not assembled. I actually watched the guys in the back making the patties by hand! The burgers are then broiled with cheese and assembled. The burger was just the right size and best of all it wasn’t dripping in grease. Boom Boom doesn't have traditional sides; instead they have seasonal fresh sides. Today's options were sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and collard greens. I chose the collard greens braised with onions and wasn’t disappointed. I'll definitely be back for more; I want to support an establishment like this that serves quality food and has a focus on fresh and local. Although it's a little more expensive that other places, it's definitely worth the extra few extra dollars for the quality of ingredients they have to offer.

Now the skinny on grass-fed beef:

Switching from grain-fed to grass-fed meat is simply returning to a diet that is most in harmony with our physiology. A major benefit of raising animals on pasture is that their products are healthier for you. Every cell and every system of our bodies will function better when we eat products from animals raised on grass. Grass-fed beef is naturally leaner than grain-fed beef. Omega 3s in beef that feed on grass is 7% of the total fat content, compared to 1% in grain-only fed beef. Grass-fed beef is loaded with other natural minerals and vitamins, plus it's a great source of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) a fat that reduces the risk of cancer, obesity, diabetes, and a number of immune disorders. Beef, in its natural grass-fed state, is a health food of the highest order.

If you live in Richmond, you’re in for a treat! Boom Boom is open Mon-Sat (11am - 9pm).

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Sunday, March 6, 2011

Health Benefits of Chocolate

Lets face it, when you have a sweet tooth, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a mouth-watering piece of chocolate! Well fellow chocolate lovers rejoice! Dark chocolate is not only delicious; it contains many health benefits as well. A direct quote from a good friend of mine; “dark chocolate is so much more satisfying than milk chocolate; normally I would kill a whole candy bar, but I only need two pieces.” Thanks, Jacob—I concur! I could easily polish of a whole Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar; but if I choose high-quality dark chocolate, just a few pieces are quite satisfying.

Chocolate is made from plants, which means it contains many of the health benefits of dark vegetables. These benefits are from flavonoids, which act as antioxidants. Cocoa beans are rich in flavonoids, which are part of a class of plant-derived antioxidants called polyphenols shown to have heart-protective effects. Fruits, vegetables, tea, and red wine also contain flavonoids, but certain types of chocolate have higher antioxidant levels than these foods and beverages. Antioxidants protect the body from aging caused by free radicals, which can cause damage that leads to heart disease. Dark chocolate contains a large number of antioxidants. Although cocoa beans have substantial flavanoid levels, many chocolate products are highly processed, a procedure that often adds sugar and milk, lowering the flavonoid content of the finished product. The bottom line is the darker the chocolate, the higher its cocoa and flavonoid content. White chocolate does not have any of the same benefits because it is a mix of cocoa fat, sugar, and flavorings. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine noted that ordinary plain dark chocolate is 43% cocoa, plain milk chocolate, 30%, and a typical candy bar, only 15%. Chocolates made in Europe are generally richer in cocoa phenols than those made in the United States. Just remember, if you want to indulge and also reap the health benefits; darker is better. If you can find organic chocolate even better. Organic chocolate is better for you for many of the same reasons that buying organic is better in the first place. You can support fair trade practices in countries where cacao beans are grown; shade grown beans encourage biodiversity, and you also avoid toxic chemicals.

If you’re going to indulge; slow down and enjoy it. Chocolate is a complex food with over 300 compounds and chemicals in each bite. To really enjoy and appreciate chocolate, slow down and take the time to taste it. Professional chocolate tasters have developed a system for tasting chocolate that include assessing the appearance, smell, feel and taste of each piece. One of my favorite ways to enjoy chocolate is with a cup of hot tea or chocolate; the warmth makes the chocolate melt in your mouth.

The bottom line: Moderate amounts of dark chocolate may have some heart benefits, but many claims are unproven and much more research is needed before chocolate can take its place among true healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables, which also contain vitamins, minerals, and fiber not found in chocolate. That said, replacing the regular sweet treat in your diet with the darkest chocolate you can find (look for a high cocoa content) certainly won’t hurt you and you’ll reap some health benefits.

Check out this CBS news clip "The Truth about Chocolate";photovideo

As always, bon appétit!