Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Nutrition Now

My eating patterns have evolved quite a bit over the years and the nutrition class I just finished has changed them even more.

Before migraines, I was a lazy, uninformed eater. I bought a lot of frozen and prepared foods, ate out whenever I could afford it, and though I did try and purchase more organic and natural items, I didn't consume a lot of produce. I was afraid of most veggies, so we ate a lot of pasta with jarred sauce, noodle bowls, quesadillas, scrambled eggs, frozen burritos, and mac and cheese. Not that a person can't eat a balanced diet while eating these items, a person can, if a person tries. I wasn't really trying, is the thing.

After I got sick, I started reading quite a bit about migraines, and nutrition was a subject that kept coming up over and over. Foods to avoid were stressed, but more importantly, I found advice pertaining to the foods that we should be eating. More plants, everyone said. The experts seem to disagree about everything else, but that one point: Eat more plants. So, I started buying produce without having a clue what I was going to do with it. I'd get it home and google recipes until I came up with something that sounded tasty. There were failed attempts, and there were some rousing successes, and gradually, amazingly, I started to get good at cooking vegetables.

Once I knew how to cook the healthier foods, I had to start working on how to decrease my unhealthy food intake. There were certain obvious pitfalls to avoid, like deep-fried, processed, and fast foods, but I still wasn't sure what good choices I should make. When I was a teenager I tried to go vegan and ended up feeling crappy and getting sick because all I ate was ramen and spaghetti. I've come a long way since then, but I still didn't feel confident at all that I was getting all the nutrients I needed.

Before the class, I didn't eat meat, but I did eat a lot of eggs and dairy, and fish rarely. I'd started making an effort to work veggies into most meals, but didn't always succeed. I'd been consuming nutritional yeast regularly, as it's a good source of b-vitamins, which vegetarians can be low in, but I hadn't taken a multivitamin in I don't know how long. I regularly read food labels, but didn't always know what they meant and didn't always care.

After the class, I'm definitely eating a more plant-based diet, and I always check the veggie drawers first when planning meals. I still read labels, of course, and I know what most of it means now, but I'm not buying nearly as much packaged food as I once did, so my new talent is wasted. Supplements are the same, I sprinkle my food with nooch, but still don't take vitamins. They're expensive and my textbook (which can awesomely be found online) said that as long as a person eats balanced and doesn't have a absorption issue, that supplements are usually unnecessary. (I do, however, plan on purchasing some, because I tend to get anemic and I'm not positive that diet alone will raise my iron stores if needed. (Iron is much more bio-available in meats (which I don't eat) than it is in plants.) Iron deficiency anemia is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world, fyi.)

My class actually encouraged eating dairy, but my curiosity on the subject led me to some independent sources that said dairy can affect some people's bodies negatively. I decided to try and cut down, for migraine, digestive, and other reasons, and I've been surprised by how little I miss it. The first week or two was rough, but since I've reduced my dairy consumption, whenever I do eat it, I end up feeling really heavy and sluggish, and sometimes more headachy. Or maybe that's how I always felt before and I'm only noticing it now because my body isn't constantly bogged down by cheese. I've also noticed improvements in my skin and last month my normally AWFUL cramps were nearly nonexistent. That's the part that's blowing my mind and I almost can't wait until my next period to see if it continues.

The one dairy product I've been hoping to reintroduce regularly is yogurt. I love yogurt for it's probiotic properties and for it's versatility in meals and desserts, but it may have triggered a massive migraine the last time I had it, so I'm experimenting, carefully.

Most of the what the class taught felt like nutrition common sense, but really in-depth. Which vitamin does what to which parts of the body, how metabolism works, how our needs change over our lifetime; these things were interesting, but I doubt I'll retain them for much longer.

What I really got out of the course was a new perspective on food. I learned that we (USians) tend to eat way more protein than we need and too little fiber. I learned that the cultures around the world that base their diets on vegetables, fruit, nuts and fish, in that order, live the longest and have the least chronic disease. I learned that nutrition is important, every day, and that what we eat now affects us for the rest of our lives. I learned that if we can make healthier choices, if we can afford fresh or frozen produce, if we can buy local, organic meats, if we can make all of our meals from scratch, without preservatives and artificial ingredients we don't need, we'll feel better and live longer.

I know, it's idealistic. A lot of us can't afford fresh, healthy food. A lot of us can't even access it. A lot of us don't have the time or energy to make meals from scratch. A lot of us have health issues that wouldn't be affected at all by diet change. But, a lot of us aren't making changes that we could, and it's those changes we should all be thinking about right now. Cut down on bacon, or make one vegetarian meal a week, or stop salting your food before you taste it (my latest challenge), or chop up some bananas and strawberries to dip into that chocolate for dessert. It can be the little things that add up to big changes in the end.

Here's a list of some meals I've made recently, to give you an idea of how I'm eating now:

-Halved, roasted acorn squash, covered with a mountain of a wild rice/lentil mix to which I added onions, roasted garlic, mushrooms, almonds and pineapple.

-Soft tacos stuffed to the brim with wild rice/mushroom/lentil/almond/pineapple filling*, roasted eggplant, butter lettuce, a little fresh tomato, topped with a cool yogurt dill sauce and a drizzle of salsa verde, for funsies.

-Roasted eggplant* and potato* burrito

-Grilled tilapia* sandwich on whole wheat bread with a fat layer each of cucumber, tomato, and romaine, and a healthy sprinkling of sauerkraut.

-Soft tacos filled with lentils, mushrooms, caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato and avocado.

-Tons of chopped, steamed broccoli and bell peppers over baked golden potatoes*, covered in a roasted garlic and mozzarella sauce.

-Egg and soymilk omelet scramble, with a big bunch of baby kale, mushrooms, onion, garlic, with some mozzarella sauce* over the top.

-Grilled zucchini and bell peppers over leftover wild rice/lentil mix*, topped with caramelized onions

-Quesadilla stuffed with grilled veg*, caramelized onions* and wild rice mix*, with a thin layer of mozzarella.

So, I'm eating well, for the most part. I still eat unhealthy foods when I really want them (toaster oven s'mores ftw), I just make sure to consume them in moderation. I can see that there's a lot of repetition in my menu, partly because I get into food phases and crave the same five foods for weeks or months, and mostly because I purposely make huge amounts of whatever's for dinner, so I can use the leftovers for the next meal or eight. In the above menu, I've put an asterisk* next to the items that were leftovers for that meal. Recycling and repurposing previous meals saves me precious time and energy in the kitchen, making it possible for me to cook as much as I do. Most of our meals are made from leftovers, simply because I don't have the ability to start from scratch every time. I know my limitations, now it's all about learning the workarounds.

Oh, and you may have heard me whining about how I was only going to get a B in that nutrition class and I'd worked so hard and my woe threatened to swallow us all, but then final grades were submitted and I somehow got myself an A+.

Asskicking, yes I am.


SavvyChristine said...

Yeah absorption issues! (Er... if that wasn't obvious, I have them.) The paragraph of yours that starts with "What I really got out of the course..."? That's why we're planning a farm.

Bee tee dubs, I'm really glad you wrote this post, from that bit about yogurt/cramps to your recent meals. I'm hungry right now, so it is doubly delightful to read about your food. :)

Migrainista said...

Congrats on that awesome A+! An even bigger congrats on making these difficult changes and feeling the benefit from it.