I’m hardly shy, especially when I hear someone utter the phrase “GLUTEN-FREE”. So when I heard a young man inquiring about available GF deli items at The Merc, I couldn’t help but speak up. “You’re GLUTEN-FREE? I asked as if I had just found my long lost nephew. Have you tried these? Oh, my gosh. They’re wonderful.” As I spoke I opened the bakery case to our left and pulled out a package of The Merc’s own GF treat Bumble Bees.
Now you have to understand, when you become a dedicated GF you automatically join a wonderful group of kindred spirits ready to share “what works” for them. We met again at the checkout where I learned that my new friend was more than GLUTEN-FREE. He was following the Paleo diet and boasted of his GRAIN-FREE, DAIRY-FREE Muffin recipe. I asked if he would mind sharing his recipe and handed him my business card with my e-mail info.
Just as I left the store I began questioning myself. Why can’t I just go along and take care of my own business. Why did I have to talk to him?
Within a day I received this e-mail
I'm the young man with whom you were discussing gluten-free products yesterday at The Merc.
I forgot to mention that in addition to being gluten-free, I generally try to abide by the "paleo" diet: no grains, no dairy, no legumes, no sugar, no yeast/leavening, etc. With that in mind, here is my current "(mostly) paleo muffin" recipe that you requested. RECIPE FOLLOWS AT END OF THIS POST.
I couldn’t help but wonder what had made this robust, twenty something, guy make a commitment to such restrictive diet. So I when I e-mailed him back, to thank him for the muffin recipe, I sent a link to this blog and asked him if he had a story of his own. When a few days had past with no e-mail response, I gave myself another lecture about minding my own business.
Yet within the week, I received the anticipated e-mail and it blew me away. I was supposed to talk to him. I think he needed to share his story as much as so many others need to hear it. The following is his reply which he has given me permission to share on this blog.
I've never been very "hardy"; I was the kid who always arrived home from camping trips sick, I was sensitive, I wasn't athletic, etc. But things started getting particularly bad after I experienced a serious depression in late 2002.
My energy levels started to sink, I had frequent fever-like sensations in my forehead, and was experiencing what I later dubbed "post-exertional malaise" (I felt terrible after exercising). A few months later I saw my family doctor. He took some blood tests and then diagnosed me with Chronic Epstein-Barr Virus. This is the virus that causes mononucleosis, so I had, in a sense, a form of chronic mono. I spent the next few months following my doctor's request to take it easy, but things got worse. My doctor, though, said there was nothing he could do about it.
Since then I have seen practitioners of virtually every brand of mainstream and alternative medicine (infectious disease specialists, allergists, chiropractors, acupuncturists, body workers, energy healers, etc.), tried many forms of exercise/movement (walking, yoga, tai chi, etc.), and tinkered with every lifestyle variable and dietary choice imaginable. There has been no silver bullet.
However, I am MUCH healthier today than I was in 2003, and I don't think it's necessarily because of the body's time to heal itself. Along the way I have accumulated an in-depth knowledge of what helps my health and what detracts from it. This experimentation culminated in the spring in 2008, which, despite being the worst few months of my life (for emotional reasons), was the healthiest I've felt since I was a child. (That experience, for me, put the nail in the coffin of the idea that our minds and bodies have a very simple, direct relationship.)
So here are my biggest health breakthroughs, all of which I was following by the spring of 2008.
1. Cutting down or cutting out dairy. A mainstream doctor actually recommended this to me when I was in junior high school, in response to my complaints of fatigue. Today I find that dairy makes me lethargic and, most interestingly, interferes with my thinking and my speech--almost like I'd had a cocktail. (In fact, I once came across some information on casein [milk protein] causing opiate-like symptoms in some people.) I tend to make verbal mistakes and stumble over my speech more when I have dairy, and my brain becomes less sharp.
2. Cutting down on sugar. Everyone knows that sugar is evil! (But, unfortunately, a necessary evil sometimes.)
3. Avoiding gluten. Over the years I learned through trial-and-error that wheat makes me feel awful. However, according to an MD allergist I saw, I am not allergic to wheat and I don't have celiac disease. (He took a blood test, which I know is not the gold standard of celiac tests, but....) Regardless of the true cause of the symptoms, my experience has shown an undeniable correlation. When I have gluten, I experience sensations of heat in my forehead, malaise, irritability, etc.--but, interestingly, no intestinal issues. ...I went strictly gluten-free in mid-2006.
4. Essential fatty acids (Omega 3's in particular). Helps with my mood, depression, etc. However, after years of taking Udo's Oil (flax oil, basically) on and off, I noticed an inverse relationship between my EFA consumption and my sex drive. I read up on it and discovered that flax contains high levels of phytoestrogens--so does soy. Some seem to think that phytoestrogens are good, but there seems to be a growing consensus that they are bad (at least in high quantities, especially for men) due to their disruption of natural hormonal processes. My dad recently showed me a really scary article in Men's Health magazine that described a man from Texas who started to grow breasts after drinking three quarts of soy milk a day. Yikes! Anyway, my sex drive normalized and my overall health improved slightly when I switched to fish oil supplementation.
5. Avoiding protein powders, especially those made from soy (see above). I don't know what it is, but they just don't make me feel good. Some people say it's because humans didn't evolve eating refined protein. I now use pasteurized egg whites in my shakes instead of protein powders.
6. New Chapter's Berry Green (a grass-less greens powder). This stuff is GOLD. I can cure a headache with a tablespoon of it (I'm serious). However, it's really expensive (about a dollar a tablespoon) and it tastes nasty. But if I were rich, I'd consume a canister of it a day! It's the only commercial product that I'm evangelical about:
7. Paleo diet. This is probably the biggest breakthrough of all, but that's partially due to the fact that it incorporates all the previous breakthroughs! The idea is this: People have been eating grains, dairy, legumes, sugar, lots of salt, etc., for only 10,000 of the roughly 2,000,000 years of human evolution. In other words, for 99% of humanity's time on earth, we ate nothing but meat, vegetables, fruit, and some nuts. This, therefore, is probably the best diet for us and the one most suited to our genetic history. That's the concept, but the proof is in the non-dairy pudding, right? Well, I tried a strict paleo diet for the first time in late 2007, and the changes were more stark than any other dietary change with the exception of avoiding wheat, which was about equivalent. Most notably, I didn't have to sleep as much. I was used to needing nine or ten hours of sleep, but after I started the diet I'd wake up naturally--and unusually refreshed--after seven or eight hours. No other dietary change had affected my sleep that way before. The other change was in evident when I sat down behind my drum kit. At the time I was a drummer in an active rock band, and playing just became easier after I started the diet. My limbs seemed to move quicker and more smoothly, and my stamina increased. It wasn't night and day, but it was immediately palpable to me. ...You asked about gluten-free grains. I still eat them fairly regularly, but in small quantities--especially corn, which messes me up in a variety of subtle ways. Rice is the most neutral grain to me, and that's the one I eat the most. However, I have to emphasize that I while I feel good if I just keep it to some rice and a little bit of corn, I feel best when I don't have any grains at all.
8. Taking a 30-minute walk daily. Call me lazy, but I find it hard to do this on a consistent basis. But when I do, it helps very much!
Runner up: probiotics seem to help with my seasonal allergies and with my immune system, but I'm not totally convinced. I take them nonetheless.
Lastly, I wanted to mention two books have utterly shifted my paradigm when it comes to diet, both of which I read in the last two years. The first is "The Paleo Diet" by Loren Cordain, the one that got me hooked on the idea of paleolithic nutrition (although there are other books on the subject):
The other is "Good Calories, Bad Calories" by science journalist Gary Taubes. The book tells in almost excruciating detail the fantastic story of how we came to believe that saturated fat causes heart disease (it doesn't), cholesterol is bad for you (it isn't), and that low-fat diets help people lose weight (they almost never do!).
Overland Park, KS
LJW’s soon to be famous “mostly” Paleo Muffins
1 tsp coconut flavoring
1 tsp almond flavoring
1 tsp coffee flavoring
4 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup arrowroot
1/4 cup molasses
1/2 cup water
2 T cocoa powder
4 T dark chocolate chunks
6 T coconut oil
a smidge o' salt
1 and 3/4 cups of finely shredded unsweetened coconut (or coconut flour)
2 cups almond flour
Mix all ingredients well, pour into parchment baking cups (no greasing necessary) in a stainless steel muffin pan, and bake for approximately 45 minutes at 325 degrees F. Makes 12 small (or 9 medium-sized) muffins that are MUCH more filling than they look!
NOTE: the recipe can be simplified by ditching the arrowroot, the cocoa, the chocolate chunks, and some of the flavorings (I wouldn't get rid of the coconut flavoring, though), and putting some honey in its place (1/2 a cup, perhaps).