Week 3: The Meat and Potatoes

The decision to remove red meat (and dairy when we get to that week) comes from a slightly different place than my other food adjustments. Most of my food adjustments revolve around how it might positively impact my MS, but this has a different health origins. I have a family history of high cholesterol, specifically the bad kind. Whenever I get my cholesterol tested and it comes back high, this is the conversation I have  with the doctor:

Dr: You should go on medication to lower your cholesterol.
Me: I don’t want to.
Dr: Well, you should. You’ve an increased chance of getting heart disease.
Me: What about diet?
Dr: Diet will only go so far, medicine would ensure it drops to acceptable levels
Me: …
Dr: …
Me: I’ll think about it.

Back when Ash and I were beginning the pre-conception process, I went and saw a nutritionist at my General Practitioner’s office to see what I could do to maintain a healthy diet throughout the pregnancy.

Sidebar: I had seen this nutritionist before and disliked her. I got the suspicion that she had an eating disorder and she had been giving me bad advice before regarding food and healthy eating habits. I have always been a firm believer of the “calories in; calories out” mentality, healthy choices, and portion control – so I had an expectation of that sort of advice when I went in the first time. Instead of all of that – she was advocating extreme calorie deficits, restrictive dieting with no alternatives, and extreme exercise regimens. I didn’t go back for my second session. So when I got sent back…

The nutritionist went through my numbers and started her spiel of extreme restriction and I stopped her right there:

Me: I am thinking about being a vegan when I get pregnant and wanted tips on how to make sure I get all the nutritional needs for the baby and me.
RDN: You have really high cholesterol and we need to get that under control…
Me: Yes, I know. But I am not here for that. I want to know what my meal plan needs to be if I do veganism during my pregnancy.
RDN: You should be concerned! It’s so high. Here’s some foods you should consider to lower your cholesterol…
Me: Look. My cholesterol isn’t what’s going to kill me. My MS is going to kill me first, so I really don’t care about cholesterol. Do you or do you not have any advice for a possible vegan diet when I get pregnant?
RDN: **sputters** Well, you’ll need some beans for protein […15 minute discussion of protein sources and portion sizes..] and because your cholesterol is so high your should really avoid coconut fats…
Me: [inward eye roll] Okay.

She wanted to me come back again for another session. Needless to say I did not return because I was really annoyed that she was so inflexible and completely short-sighted to what I was saying. Anyone who is familiar with the vegan diet knows that veganism is one of the best diets to limit your “bad” cholesterol intakes (provided you aren’t consuming hydrogenated fats ALL the time).

I had gone in there with the intention of eating in such a way that would have the side benefit of lowering my cholesterol and she couldn’t even see that. To say it was infuriating is putting it mildly.

Full-Disclosure: I wasn’t able to be vegan during my pregnancy, let alone vegetarian. I followed what my body wanted and that was chicken (when I could eat meat without feeling sick) and fruit.

I am not entirely against medication, but if I can limit the amount of medicine I put into my body to the absolutely necessary kind (i.e. MS), and moderate my health via diet and exercise – I think it’s a healthier way to manage my life. If, after putting in the necessary work, that STILL doesn’t solve my numbers problem, then I will reconsider medication.

I am not going to espouse the moral and ethical benefits to shifting vegetarian/vegan because there are thousands of other blogs and websites that do that. With the exception of this blog, I am a firm believer of keeping certain life choices to myself. One of my favorite jokes about vegans goes like this:

“You’ve arrived at a party, how do you tell which person is a vegan? You don’t. They’ll let you know within five minutes.”

If I do my job right – you won’t even notice that I am not consuming meat/dairy by the end of this experiment. Thus this week I am dropping beef and pork and probably won’t discuss the meat topic until “check-in” and when I drop the rest of the meat food groups.

I am thinking this week should be relatively easy since I don’t eat a ton of red meat on my own. I usually consume the red meat whenever Ash wants it, though to be fair, that’s an awful lot. He’s my resident carnivore. I think I might struggle more with chicken and fish because sashimi is one of my all-time favorite dishes. We’ll see how the week goes by Friday.

 

 

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Bittersweet Truths About Sugar

Sugar and sweeteners are everywhere. Sugar is like a drug: it certainly feels addictive when that particular time of day rolls around; for me it’s mid-afternoon and late evening when Jai is asleep. I just have to have something sweet to appease that craving and sometimes one piece of candy will not do. Funny enough, during other times of the day, I could pass by the stuff and not think anything about it.

Plenty of popular Western culture references stems from binging on sugar: from ice cream for heartache to characters with massive sweet tooths.

Women are courted by advertisers to buy chocolate during their menses. Children are bombarded with sugary cereals and treats during their favorite TV shows or mobile games. Men get advertisements for carbonated drinks to help boost their competitive abilities.

There is a clear bias for the stuff. And it makes sense given the narrative: it boosts brainpower, gives you energy, makes you feel good, and is all around amazing. In fact, the idea of going without sugar is one met with disbelief. Go ahead and tell someone that you plan to drop sugar. You’ll get one of these responses:

  • Really? I could never do that. I love the stuff too much.
  • Oh, [Someone’s name] did that awhile ago. She didn’t last 24 hours before caving in.
  • How will you survive without [insert your favorite beverage/treat of choice]?
  • Why? Do you think you need to lose weight?
  • We’ll see how long that lasts. I bet you’ll be back to eating it within a week.
  • Just as long as you don’t get all smug and preachy over it…

Many responses revolve around the narrative that we, as human beings, cannot live without sugar. And the truth is, Western diet is high in sugarcane (or some version of sweetener). So it’s understandable that the idea of dropping something so pervasive in our diet is out of the ordinary.

I watched this video in preparation of today’s post and it sums up the issues we face as consumers of sugar in the Western diet…

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Taking One to the Gut

If I had to make a completely unfounded claim that is based purely on anecdotal evidence, I would make the argument that all things gut related is the current fascination of the scientific and medical world for the past several years. It seems that on a monthly basis a new study comes out relating to the importance of gut bacteria on personal health.

Just in September, these are some of the health connections made in studies regarding gut bacteria:

This study (or a similar one) was making the rounds earlier this year. And that’s the one that got me to thinking: while I can’t cure my MS since it has already developed, could I manage it if I brought my gut flora under control?

Personally, as an everyday person, there is no way of knowing the makeup of my gut bacteria without special tools and the supervision of medical professionals. There are some rudimentary ways of determining the health of my gut flora, but I don’t even know if I will be able to readily find the particular bacteria I need to control/maintain/cope with my MS without having to undergo some more extreme measures.

And maybe these studies will prove to be unhelpful in MS therapy, but I find the connection between gut health and overall health a compelling and reasonable conclusion considering we are talking about billions and billions of microorganisms living in our bodies. Therapies and studies are already moving to reflect the fact that these microorganisms really do have an impact on our overall health.

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