Benefits of an Anti-Inflammatory or Mediterranean Diet

One of the things that I have found most beneficial for my MS is to maintain an anti-inflammatory diet. This is because I am lowering my intake of foods that might cause flare-ups such as wheat, dairy, or sugar. It isn’t easy to drop these delicious foods, but it’s doable because there are plenty of delicious recipes available all over the internet and passable alternatives for specific cravings.

Unfortunately, some of the recipes take time and prep and if you are low on energy, that can be discouraging. Making food ahead or finding shortcuts can help minimize food prep-stress.

In the news recently, there’s been a lot of talk about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Looking at the two food pyramids for each diet there’s a lot of similarities between the two. So if you were ever considering doing the Mediterranean, or already on the Mediterranean, then you are maintaining an anti-inflammatory diet.

Food Pyramids

*I am linking to them to respect each site’s copyright.

Comparing the two, Dr. Weil breaks down the Mediterranean Diet in further detail, but each food category is in the same area of the pyramid; there are certain foods types you eat more of and others you eat less of and they overlap. While it may not be 100% the same, the overlaps are significant and the health benefits equitable.

The advantage to recognizing the similarity between the two is it can open up the doors for more recipe options with modifications. When starting new diets, it’s easy to get discouraged by recipe limitations. Having more options available can make the diet shift process smoother and more pleasant.

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Healthy Eating Reset

It’s been several months since my last diet reset, so it is time for a small one to refocus my eating habits. I’ve behaved myself these last four months with a few slip-ups here and there. Surprisingly, no major lapses into unhealthy eating. Just an occasional meal every few weeks or so.

I ate the occasional mammal but stuck close to fish and chicken for my meat-based proteins. Dairy started to trickle in which is not good, though I will cover that in more detail in Friday’s post. Because I am focusing on wellness this month, I want to do a minor three-day reset where I watch my eating habits a little more closely and recommit to eating healthy.

This reset won’t be as serious as the last one and because it’s only three days, it shouldn’t be boring, nor will I feel hungry throughout the three days.

Eating Habits During this Reset

This won’t be a strict “track everything I consume” sort of reset, but a “this is what I will avoid and make do with what’s left.”  Hopefully, it will stay interesting because of that. Nothing sucks more than kick-starting healthy eating with boring dishes and feeling super hungry.

What this reset will entail:

  • Plant-based, no animal products of any kind
  • No sugar substitutes, this includes maple syrup or honey
  • No salt, but plenty of other spices
  • No gluten
  • No caffeine beyond green tea

Three days is not enough time to fully reset bodily cravings but meant as a way to give my body a 72-hour break from problematic foods.

For instance: I am a salt lover. I got that from my mother.

Salt is a complicated issue when it comes to healthier eating. Salt is good for you, but in excess, it can be problematic. I don’t eat a lot of junk food, but when I sit down to eat I will add a lot of salt to the dish throughout the meal. Beginning the process of lowering my need for salt will be good for me because I am worried I consume salt in excess.

I also find that while I may have cut sugarcane out of my diet, I still find other ways to satisfy my sweet tooth: honey, maple syrup, and coconut sugar are all alternatives that don’t leave me feeling bad. Returning to eating fruits as a means to satisfy my sweet tooth will be a good thing and lowering my desire for sweets overall. I don’t plan to cut these alternative sweeteners out of my diet, but to lower my need for them.

Exercise Habits During this Reset

Because I am not doing an extensive reset I am not going alter my exercise habits as much as I did in January.

I will probably do a gentle yoga flow today and Friday but my normal 45-minute run tomorrow. If I find that’s too strenuous, then I will just turn it into a 45-minute walk.

I don’t anticipate this being an extremely note-worthy reset, so I probably won’t reflect back on it anytime soon. I will be doing a run-down of my current health conditions on Friday and may include some final thoughts or feelings about this reset at the end of the post.

If anyone is thinking about beginning a healthier eating routine, doing a slight reset like this is a great way to get started. It’s quick, easy, and isn’t super oppressive. It’s a fantastic way to dip a toe into the healthier eating pond without feeling overwhelmed.


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“Leftover” Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

Quinoa is a power-protein seed and a favorite in our household.  But with any sort of “grain,” you can make too much of it by accident for a recipe or find that you have boring leftovers that need sprucing up.

I am a person that can’t have the same thing too many nights in a row, so when I have extra quinoa in the refrigerator, something needs to be done with it to make it interesting again.

With that in mind, below is a delicious vegan recipe I came up with to handle extra cooked quinoa. It’s also a fantastic make on its own – no need to wait for leftover quinoa.

Leave a comment with your thoughts and modifications to the recipe below.


“Leftover” Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

MM-Closeup-Stuffed-Red-Bell-Peppers-with-Spinach

Serving Size: 6

Ingredients
3 large red peppers, sliced lengthwise and de-seeded
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 small white onion, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt (omit if you are making low sodium)
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 (14.5 ounces) can diced tomatoes, drained and juice reserved
1 Cup vegetable broth
1/2 Cup cooked quinoa
1 (16 ounces) can vegetarian refried beans
Large handful from 1 (5 ounces) package fresh spinach
1/4 Cup Nutritional Yeast (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Using 1 Tablespoon of olive oil, coat the bottom of a 9 x 13-in glass baking dish and arrange the peppers with the skin down.
  2. Roast peppers in the preheated oven until tender for about 30 minutes. Dab the excess liquid that collects in the peppers with a paper towel. Leave the oven on.
  3. While the peppers are roasting, use the remaining olive oil, heat skillet over medium heat and cook the onion until translucent and softened. Add garlic, cumin, salt, black pepper, and chili powder to the onion; cook and stir until fragrant (about 1 minute).
  4. Mix in tomatoes, vegetable broth, and cooked quinoa to the onion mixture; stirring occasionally. Cook until everything is heated through (about 6 minutes) and some of the liquid has cooked off.
  5. Stir in refried beans and cook until the beans incorporated into the mixture (about 3 minutes). You want this to have a thick consistency (not too soupy), but you also don’t want it to be too dry, so allow to simmer for a few minutes or add in reserved tomato juice to get the desired consistency.
  6. Add in spinach, stir until it just wilts. Remove from heat.
  7. Spoon the mixture into the roasted red peppers, top with nutritional yeast.
  8. Bake in the oven until the pepper gets crispy around the cut portions, about 20 minutes.

 

Notes

  • To reduce the spice level, use only 1/4 teaspoon of chili powder.
  • To increase the spice level, add a chopped, deseeded jalapeno to Step 4.
  • Add in 1 Cup of frozen sweet corn to step 5 with the refried beans to get a sweet contrast.
  • To make non-vegan version: substitute chicken broth and a shredded Mexican cheese blend for the vegetable broth and nutritional yeast respectively. Add any chopped leftover chicken as well.
  • Leftover white or brown rice will work as a nice substitute for the quinoa.

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1 pepper half
1 Serving: 170 Calories; Fat: 6 g; Sat. Fat: 1 g; Protein: 7 g; Fiber: 7 g

Bonus Recipe – Vegan Nachos

This recipe will leave you extra filling for 3 more peppers. If you don’t want to make another batch:

Ingredients
Leftover quinoa stuffing
1 (4.5 ounces) chopped green chilies, drained
Tortilla Chips
Vegan cheese good for melting (or shredded Mexican cheese blend)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking pan with parchment paper and top with a layer of tortilla chips.
  2. Mix in green chilies to the quinoa mixture.  Just before putting into the oven, sprinkle a layer of the stuffing and top with your favorite vegan cheese.
  3. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the cheese has melted. Serve with your favorite salsa.

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Checking In: Adapting Eating Habits

One of the primary goals of this blog was to track my eating and exercise habits and see how it would help me manage my MS. I have found that some of the adjustments were easier to make, but there were other adjustments that were harder to maintain because of temptation or certain physical needs not being met.

I am still struggling with certain aspects of my diet, but after doing some research, I realized that it is more important to listen to my needs in a modified way than deny my body something it needs to refuel or heal from training.

Original Eating Intentions & What Worked

My overall intention was to drop all meats, dairy, gluten, sugar, and alcohol while maintaining a clean eating diet. The hope was it would manage my MS symptoms until I restarted my medication within the next year.

I started off strong, finding I had no problem dropping each food group week-by-week. I found that my weight would also drop because I was making healthier choices, and I was feeling somewhat better overall. MS symptoms abated and my neurologist was happy with the changes.

What worked best was dropping sugar, dairy (milk), and gluten; I found that I have issues whenever one of those items sneaks into my diet, intentionally or not. If I have cane sugar, my neck seizes up and I get a massive headache for the duration of the day; if I have milk/cheese, I find that I feel bloated and get a stiff neck; and if I have gluten, I find that my joints pop more and another stiff neck.

Clearly, my body does not like these food groups and so continuing to keep them out of my diet is to my benefit. I don’t know if it is an allergy per se, but there is a definite sensitivity correlation.

I am also happy to keep fried foods out of my diet as well, but this is mostly because of health reasons. I am still concerned about keeping high-cholesterol foods out of my diet and fried foods are unnecessary. I want to walk into my yearly physical with a low blood cholesterol level this year.

What Didn’t Work & Adaptations

I am in desperate need of protein.

I liked the idea of being plant-based for ethical and health reasons, but it was easier to maintain a vegan diet before Jai. When I was younger, I could spend a lot of time preparing high-protein foods that checked off all my nutritional needs, but between chasing Jai around the house and coping with fatigue, I really don’t have the time or energy to spend hours in the kitchen.

I found that I was sneaking meat-based proteins into my diet and when I “cheated” I didn’t cheat with “good” foods. It would be a high-fat beef dish or chicken that was smothered in salt/ high-calorie sauces.

So to stop this trend of making unhealthy choices, I’ve decided to reincorporate certain types of fish, chicken, and egg dishes back into my diet. Salmon is high in Omega-3 Fatty Acids which is good for brain health and chicken/eggs for running proteins.

I have decided not to re-incorporate any red meats, beef or otherwise. I will have the occasional “cheat” day, but by removing red meat from my diet I am eliminating a major inflammatory source that could affect my MS exacerbations.

Future Eating Habits

My diet will still be mostly plant-based, but once a week I will incorporate some sort of meat-based protein that will help satisfy any nutritional cravings I am feeling and prevent me from lapsing into unhealthy choices.

I have also hit a bit of a weight plateau and I suspect not being kind to myself with my eating habits is a source of sabotage. While I am a normal weight by BMI standards, I want to lose a little more to be solidly within the normal BMI range. By being more honest and adapting my diet to my individual needs I should start seeing my weight starting to drop again to a satisfactory number.

So while I had grand intentions to be gluten-free, sugar-free vegan, I am at this point a clean eating pescapollotarian that is gluten, dairy, and sugar-free.

I definitely recommend trying the diet shift, especially going slow through it so it isn’t a complete shock, but I am finding that it didn’t work as well for me at this point in time. I think once Jai is a little older I may have more time to focus solely on a plant-based diet again.

I don’t consider this giving up or losing – I consider this a win because I am accepting myself in this moment of time and doing what works best for my current needs.


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Final Thoughts for this Week

Today is the final day of my diet reset. Overall it went well and I am feeling better about my eating choices, though it wasn’t an easy process to get through. It got rather boring by the end and I was excited to be eating different types of fruit throughout the day if only for the variety they provided. The food that I made for the reset was delicious, but even delicious can get boring if you are eating the same thing over and over again.

How I am Feeling

I feel much better at the end of the week, a little bit lighter (I lost 2 pounds), and I don’t feel as bloated as I did on Sunday. I think that has a lot to do with the water I’ve been drinking; it certainly helped flush out the extra water weight I retained from high-salt and fatty foods. I also found that I enjoy drinking high-alkaline water, not because I think they do anything specific for my health, but because I like the taste and it’s easier to drink. I learned something new about myself.

I also feel more energized, though I am still feeling fatigue from the last vestiges of my flu. Once I have finally shaken off my flu fatigue, I can already tell that I am  motivated to dive into my running again. I just need the temperature to go up a little bit in the mornings. Running in temperatures lower than 20F are rough. I can do it, but it’s hard to be motivated to get out there when bed is so warm.

Cravings I Encountered

Some cravings I encountered throughout the week: fried foods, eating late, coffee, and bacon.

I was really surprised by the fried foods craving since I haven’t had anything deep fried since October. I think that was a carryover from the flu at the beginning of the week. I have learned that when I am sick, I really love to have fried foods for comfort.

The desire to snack after 7 pm wasn’t entirely surprising: that’s when I do the bulk of my snacking during the day. Once Ash is home and Jai is in bed, Ash and I sit on the couch and will snack while catching up on our shows. The snacks may be healthy in nature, but it’s the quantity that becomes unhealthy. There are nights where I will grab a snack just before going to bed because the idea hit me that I was “hungry.” Through this reset I realized that I was less hungry and doing it out of habit.

The craving for coffee was a surprise to absolutely no one. I went from drinking two cups of Americano a day to nothing. I use coffee as a natural means to boost my energy in the morning and early afternoon. I really love the taste of it, especially during cold winter days. I find it very soothing because of its familiarity and I missed that with the cold snap we’ve been going through. I had a few mild headaches that may have been caffeine withdrawals, but I drank a bunch of water and herbal tea to help minimize the discomfort.

I found that I was craving salty protein some of the time, specifically bacon. I don’t eat a lot of bacon, though when given the option, I will take it. This might also be attributed to the cold weather – looking to derive some pleasure in high-fat foods which is fine in small doses, but hard to moderate in the dead of winter.

Some Reflections

The detox/reset went relatively well, but not as well as I would have liked. I ran into some issues following the protocols I had planned by Day Four because life got a little hectic. I wasn’t able to do my morning ritual from that day forward because Jai picked up a really bad cold and needed care as early as 2 am some mornings. Getting up after that to do yoga was really hard despite going to bed around 10 pm.

When experts say to plan detoxes/cleanses around periods of time where it will minimally impact your life, they aren’t kidding. I couldn’t account for Jai’s cold, but considering I just dealt with the flu and he’s in close proximity to me, it wouldn’t be hard to extrapolate that he’d get sick too. So I probably should have delayed given the circumstances.

While this was a good start as far as length is concerned, I think a longer reset would be more effective for me. They say that it can take up to two months for a habit to stick and while I wouldn’t want to spend that amount of time on a reset, perhaps spending at least 9 to 12 days on it would be more ideal. It will help give me more time to break through some of my bad habits and understand my deeper cravings. I believe that the longer I go, the more random and intense the cravings are and I assume those are the really ingrained cravings that I might not normally notice. By bringing them to light, I can decide how to deal with them.

I think that my daily energy and feeling lighter comes from not eating after 7 pm. In fact, I would argue that the best thing I did through this entire reset was not eating after 7 pm. I think I have a lot of psychological energy tied up in my snacking late and this helped show me how dependant I was on it. I think that some of my extra weight comes from eating late and if I go a few more weeks not eating past 7 pm I might see some more weight lost because of it.

I don’t know how this impacted my MS, in fact, I don’t think it impacted it at all. It’s too short of a time for me to notice any appreciable changes in my health, but I did find that focusing on the regimen gave me something to think about and not worry about my MS as much.

Moving Forward

I am going to keep the following things from the reset: no eating after 7 pm and try to be in bed by 10 pm. Even if I don’t fall asleep right away, being in a position of rest helps get me through the next day and feel less tired when Jai wakes up in the middle of the night.

I am, however, going to pick up coffee again. I already have an Americano with my name literally on it waiting for me tomorrow morning. I really can’t go without my caffeine, no matter how healthier it might be for me. I need some vices.

I think I will consider doing some form of a reset every 6 months, almost like a booster shot. I considered doing a 3-day version every 3 months, but I will have to examine I am feeling with my diet at the beginning of March before I make any commitments. Doing it when my motivation is flagging will help keep me going and feeling good.

While I liked this modified version of the Ayurvedic detox, I am interested in examining other types of healthy resets. A juice cleanse, a raw food reset, possibly Keto, or just a very bland diet with nothing special to it. I want to make sure that whatever I try in the future it will be healthy and safe for me. By experimenting with different types, I might find the one that fits best for me or combine a couple into something that works. The whole point is to give my body a rest from all the junk I’ve put into it and feel refreshed by the end of it.

I will be eating a strict plant-based diet (no animal products whatsoever), no gluten, no sugar, and no alcohol. I may need to make a few exceptions here and there, but this will be stricter than I have been since before the holidays. So if I have a day or a meal where I indulge in something, it won’t be continued beyond that.

I want to shoot for June, a full 6 months of eating this way, as that will give my body plenty of time to remove the old stuff from my system, remove bad gut bacteria and allow the good bacteria to flourish. It will also help me determine if I have any allergies or sensitivities I was previously unaware of, like sugar.

2018 Health Goals

I anticipate that during the next 6 months I will reach my ideal body weight for my body type. If I want to be successful in this weight loss, I will need to maintain that ideal weight for at least 2 years. In order to do this, I will want to be more aware of my eating habits and if I re-incorporate anything back into my diet, do so in moderation. Allowing my eating habits to go out of control is what got me to my highest weight originally. I would like to not return to that point again.

When I go to see my neurologist in March, I want him to tell me that I am still doing well and that we don’t need to alter my treatment until I am ready. I already mentioned that I want to go the entire year flare-up free, which I think I can do by eating healthy, being mindful of my stress, and exercising.

I want to get my natural energy levels up to what I perceive is normal for everyone as often as I can. MS makes that difficult to do everyday, but if I can have more days with higher energy levels than not, I will consider that a success. This will be harder to measure, but if I feel that I can go the entire day without needing an actual nap, and just an hour of rest while Jai is sleeping, then it would be considered a low-fatigue day.

I will continue to check-in from time-to-time with how I am doing like before, but I will be shifting my blog focus away from my personal habits and onto healthier living habits overall.

What healthy goals have you made for this year? What are your plans to keep them?